Showing posts with label Suffering. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Suffering. Show all posts

Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Impossible Problem

When Jarred Cinman wrote an opinion piece for his blog in 2015 entitled “The five best reasons not to believe in God”, I doubt he imagined he was breaking new ground in the ongoing debate over whether the world would be better off without religion. He couldn’t have. After all, he quoted Stephen Fry, whose own swipes at God have prompted the occasional comment in this space.

Unbelief is hardly a novel concept.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Dear Dinesh: On Evil and Suffering

[Dinesh D’Souza is a writer, scholar, filmmaker and Christian apologist.]

Dear Dinesh:

Thank you very, very much for your 2007 book, What’s So Great About Christianity? I regret having not gotten around to reading it earlier. What a fine piece of writing!

It seems to me it fills a very necessary gap in our growing corpus of apologetics literature: rather than merely defeating atheist reasoning (yet again), it rightly points to the need for a more positive take on Christian achievements. It is an apology without an “apologetic” tone, if you take my meaning; a confident treatise on the goods of faith, rather than a defensive reaction to the current round of atheist hate literature. More of this is what we need.

In the spirit of supporting that, I wonder if I could offer a thought that might further strengthen the case you are so courageously putting forward?

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

When the Chickens Come Home to Roost

In his classic The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis wrote a scene I loved as a child, and have never been able to forget as an adult. The lion Aslan (Lewis’s Christ analog) is speaking to Aravis, the Calormene girl who has fled her family and home country to avoid a forced marriage, and is currently recovering from a fairly serious injury inflicted on the way to Narnia by a previously unrecognized lion.

So Aslan tells her the real reason for her injuries.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Sympathy and Solipsism

Much of scripture is historical. No surprise there. We learn that in Sunday School.

History is just the words and doings of men recorded by other men, but Bible history is a little different in that the Bible’s historians recorded what they did not just to provide an accurate account of what happened, but with spiritual ends in view. Sometimes the conversations and speeches the Bible’s historians documented for us were essentially truthful; other times they were not.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Grace in the Wilderness

It is essential to our well being that how we think about ourselves and our circumstances (our philosophy) be governed by what we know about God from scripture (our theology). This is especially true when we are experiencing physical pain, mental distress or unwanted and unexplained trials over an extended period.

If our theology does not take charge, we find ourselves in a state of guilt or self-pity. Neither helps.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

When Life Really Hurts

There’s a woman in my church — a lovely woman, a mother and a wife, and selfless servant of the Lord’s people, one most highly esteemed. She has been a grief and addiction counselor, and has spent her whole life ministering to others in their moments of darkest sorrow. Her husband is also a wonderful person, and his career for several decades has been as chaplain to the elderly, caring for fragile souls on the doorstep of eternity.

This woman has just been diagnosed with aggressive, metastasizing liver cancer. The fatal kind.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Intended Meanings and Frivolous Applications

Disclaimer time: our loving Father is not indifferent to the details of his children’s lives. He cares about our strained relationships, our problems at work, our finances and our trips to the doctor’s office. It matters to him when we grieve over a lost pet. If you are not grateful for that level of divine attention today, you certainly will be at some point down the road.

The bone of contention in what follows, then, is not whether God cares, but how his care is normally expressed to us. After all, we can’t appreciate the Lord’s love if we can’t recognize it. If we are expecting it to manifest one way and it manifests in a different way, we may feel God doesn’t love us at all.

More importantly, we really don’t want to lead other Christians to expect from the Lord things they are most unlikely to receive.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Provided We Suffer

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Simon Peter didn’t want to suffer with Jesus.

Oh, he said he did. He thought he did. When he made his promises of loyalty, he wasn’t virtue signaling to the other disciples or pretending to love his Lord more than he really did. At least, it doesn’t read that way to me in the gospels. “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” Emphatic statements made from the heart, and quite ingenuous.

Then, to his horror, Peter found he wasn’t up to the job. His aspirations exceeded his execution. Put to the test, he discovered he wasn’t really ready to suffer with the Lord Jesus after all.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

A Profound Apology

So I was supervising some young Christians, along with at least one unbeliever. They were viewing an apologetics video. It was one that had been professionally produced — you know, the kind that had enough money put into it to reasonably approximate Hollywood or TED Talk production values. Their local church had made it available, off that Christian video-streaming service that some churches seem to like.

The topic was “Why Does God Allow Suffering and Tragedy?”

What a great topic, I thought. Whether you’re a Christian or an unbeliever, that’s got to be something you’ve asked yourself, because you don’t live long in this world without running into some kind of suffering. If you’re fortunate, it’s small; but it’s astonishing how huge the things some children face can be.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

COVID-19 and the Will of God

“It was God’s will.”

Ah, the magic phrase. You hear it said by devout people at funerals, usually with palpable resignation. “He was taken before we were ready, and we’re all hurting, but somehow we know — though we can’t quite see how it might be since he was such a great guy and will be so profoundly missed — that his untimely and painful death was God’s will.”

So that’s all right then. Even if it isn’t, really.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Point of Faith

“I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Imagine for a second that at the time you came to Christ you had been told that your life from this day forward was to be characterized by people throwing rocks at you, telling lies about you, betraying you and letting you down, calling you names, hitting you, throwing you in jail and trying to kill you. Moreover, in addition to all the abuse you could expect as a matter of course from your fellow man for the sake of your testimony to Christ, you could also expect more than your fair share of all the nasty, apparently random things that happen to people the world over: getting mugged, having to work hard, getting no sleep, getting sick, suffering chronic pain from old injuries, lacking food and having your transportation fail regularly in spectacular and dangerous ways.

Would that have changed anything? Might a bout of frantic back-peddling have ensued?

In some cases, maybe.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Time and Chance (14)

There is a certain apparent randomness to hurricanes, cancer and car accidents. There is nothing at all random about oppression. Oppression is something one human being deliberately inflicts on another, and for which the oppressor will one day give an account.

A hurricane does not have to explain itself, or pay some future price for the havoc and misery it has produced. An oppressor certainly will.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Dear Dinesh: On Evil and Suffering

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Hope Against Hope

I’d like to play an under-par round of golf this summer. I’d also like to play QB for the Browns once Baker decides to hang up his jersey. Sadly, neither the PGA nor the NFL have been in touch to schedule my appearance. If you’re making a list, I also wouldn’t mind winning the lottery; although apparently I’d have to actually buy a ticket to have a chance of that happening.

Some people might call those things “hope”. I call them pipe dreams.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

When Waiting is Worth It

“O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

Here we find Moses complaining to God that the Lord is not fulfilling his promises quite fast enough for Moses’ taste. Perhaps you may have voiced something similar once or twice.

We know how this particular story ends, right? God brings his people out of Egypt with a series of mighty, miraculous works, and makes a name for himself from one end of the known world to the other. The tale is still being told today.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Anonymous Asks (33)

“Why does God allow trials, tribulations, and suffering?”

If we are speaking of suffering in general, whole books have been written in answer to this question. Our own Immanuel Can wrote an open letter about it to conservative author Dinesh D’Souza in 2016. If you are looking for a philosophical explanation for the necessity of pain in a fallen world, you may find it there.

One thing we can be sure of: the answer is not simple. Another thing we can be sure of is that people who observe suffering are bound to speculate about its cause. It’s human nature. Perhaps you remember the question Jesus’ disciples asked upon encountering a blind man: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?”

They were wrong, of course. Those are far from the only two options.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

When Life Really Hurts

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Into the Crucible

“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.”

If for some reason you needed to melt gold at home, you could actually do it with an acetylene torch, assuming you have the right sort of container to melt gold in. Gold becomes liquid at around 1,943°F (1,064°C). Once you’ve tried melting gold, silver is comparatively easy, melting between 1,640 and 1,762°F (893-961°C).

The process by which precious metals are refined and purified is intense. Going from solid to liquid can’t be much fun either. If we are to learn anything from the first two clauses of this verse, it is that our Father does not bring us to the place of crisis trivially, nor does he do it in order to leave us as he found us.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Anonymous Asks (11)

“How can I help a non-believer friend who is extremely struggling?”

I’m going to assume (with no evidence) your friend is a girl, since writing “he or she” a thousand times is tedious, but almost everything I’m about to say applies to young men as well.

I too have unbelieving friends who are struggling, so I feel the same deep concern for them you do. I think most Christians will relate to your question.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

A Distinction with a Difference

Isaiah makes the following statement, generally considered to be messianic:

“But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me?”

Now, hold up there for a moment. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord Jesus was both shamed and humiliated.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Profound Apology

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (3)

Jessica Misener at Buzzfeed wrote a piece a while back on “shocking Bible verses” and happened to include this one:

“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”

Jessica’s tongue-in-cheek characterization? “Slavery rocks.”

Monday, September 18, 2017

Our Purgatory Is Now

It’s always wise to let those who teach error define their own terms, otherwise we end up flailing away at straw men of our own construction. Nothing is gained from such exercises.

In that spirit, from Catholic Answers, a definition:

Purgatory (Lat., purgare, to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.”

Hmm. Let’s chew that one over a bit.

Monday, April 24, 2017

John Was Not Surprised

Once in a while the force of an expression gets a little buried in translation. Take this verse, for example:

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

Here are two related statements tied together with the word “so”. First, we are told that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Next, we are told that Jesus deliberately took his time going to see someone he loved who was seriously ill.

The word “so” might seem an odd way to connect these two ideas.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Quote of the Day (27)

It was Epicurus who first posed this famous paradox around 350 BC:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

At least we think it was Epicurus. Some believe the lines were misattributed to him by later philosophers like David Hume. But it hardly matters who said them and when: the fact is that men have struggled to explain suffering as long as men have been thinking about their place in the universe, and this particular formulation is one of the ways they have attempted to deal with the question.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Dear Dinesh: On Evil and Suffering

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, August 01, 2016

What We’re Here For

I don’t know how many people remember Rocky (1976), the boxing drama about a loan shark’s debt collector from the Philadelphia slums who gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship. It was released forty years ago, after all.

I saw it as a kid and don’t remember being particularly impressed by the story or enthralled by the characters. I found it all a bit grimy, if I recall. What stuck with me about the Rocky Balboa character, though, was that he just wouldn’t stay down.

Oh, he takes a beating alright.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

When Life Really Hurts

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Inbox: The Worst Possible Answer

Bernie continues to muse about suffering from a biblical perspective:

“Some other things to consider:
  • Of the four identified types of suffering [see previous post], Christians get all four (yay!), non-Christians only get the first two.
  • Suffering of types two and three is not the mark of a failing Christian, it is the mark of a succeeding one. The more we do for God and the more we get serious about bringing Christ-likeness out fully, the more we will feel the knife — or, a better image — feel the weight of the cross. Opposition grows as we mature and become productive. This is (I think) why the people closest to God seem to suffer the most and endure the greatest hardships.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Inbox: Applied Grace and the Smoking Ruins of My Life

Bernie holds forth about four causes of suffering:

“I suggest the source of suffering is four-fold in a mature Christian view:
  1. Sin in me (bad choices I make to my own detriment) — God’s purpose is discipline and correction.
  2. Sin around me (sins of others / fallen environment) — God’s purpose is to produce a stronger faith and, in our dissatisfaction here, a longing for our true home.
  3. Satan against me (the opposition made to those who are seeking to be productive for God) — “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus ...” You know the rest. If you’re going to be productive for God, you’re going to get hit often and painfully.
  4. God for me (a loving Father conforming me — through suffering — to produce Christlikeness: “The fellowship of his suffering”).

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thought Experiment #2: Light Momentary Affliction

Paul was, in his own words, a former blasphemer, persecutor and ignorant opponent of Jesus Christ.

That’s not Paul being humble. That’s simply factual.

Acts 8 tells us that before his encounter on the road to Damascus with the One he was persecuting, Saul ravaged the church, entering house after house, dragging off men and women to have them imprisoned.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Profound Apology

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Digging In for the Long Haul

On the wall-mounted flatscreen across from my table in the restaurant where I enjoyed lunch today a news item flashed by. It reappeared every three minutes or so until I started to pay attention.

Apparently 77% of Canadians support assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

Canadian doctors, thankfully, are not yet on board with the idea. But of course Dying with Dignity Canada felt compelled to get in an obligatory shot, suggesting the poll validates the Supreme Court decision in February that struck down the federal law against assisted suicide.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Circumstantial Evidence

You found and got approved for just the right apartment even though you weren’t exactly qualified. You were admitted to the internship program you really wanted. That girl you have your heart set on seems to be showing the character qualities you were hoping to find.

You prayed about all these things. Must be the Lord, right?


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sins and Dominos

The consequences of sinful acts are rarely limited to the life of the sinner. A series of sinful acts can issue in ongoing repercussions. Like dominos.

Many of the circumstances we face in our lives are the product of choices made by our ancestors, by government, neighbours and even our fellow Christians. Much less obviously, in a democracy they are increasingly the result of decisions made by unelected administrative functionaries, more or less by fiat. To dominos it is not apparent what starts the chain reaction that causes their fall.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Christians Are Not Exempt

If you think it looks easy, try a few lines ...
The prosperity gospel is bunk. This is not a profound revelation.

Anyone who pays attention to the word of God is aware that in the ordinary course of things, we Christians are not exempt from the ills of the world. Believers do not get a free pass on pain and suffering. God’s primary concern for us is not that we “have a good self-image and feel right about ourselves”, notwithstanding Joel Osteen’s latest work of fiction.

Most Christians understand this in principle, but when it’s my life that’s being put through the wringer, I may have a little more trouble than usual believing it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Two Crowns

“And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head …”
(Matthew 27:29)

This event is recorded in three of the gospels and has become the basis for many paintings over the centuries. A crown of thorns is commonly referenced in pop culture and there are relatively few who aren’t familiar with the Christian source of the image.

But pause for a moment and ask yourself this: where would someone get a crown of thorns? These are not naturally occurring items that come easily to hand at a moment’s notice. Instead — as the gospel accounts tell us — such a crown needs to be woven together; it would actually require some skill, care and time.

Monday, February 09, 2015

By Special Request

Stephen Fry’s little burrowing friend ...
Probably to his regret, in the process of trashing the Christian God comedian Stephen Fry ran into the logic buzzsaw that is libertarian Vox Day.

Fry was doing an interview for an Irish television show called The Meaning of Life. When asked if he thought he would get to heaven (Irish interview shows apparently ask more intelligent questions than their American counterparts), he decided to pontificate on the character of God.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

When Life Really Hurts

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

God’s Sovereignty vs. Suffering

There is very little more disorienting and disturbing than a sudden change of circumstances for the worse. Even those who have studied and enjoyed the word of God for years can be knocked off their pins by tragedy.

I remember reading C.S. Lewis’ book A Grief Observed as a very young believer and thinking that for a mature Christian, he sure didn’t seem to handle loss very well.

Yeah, right.

A few years went by. A few things went wrong. I discovered what real pain feels like.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Inbox: How Can God Allow Evil?

A reader emails a thought on a post earlier this week:
“There’s more to be said on this subject: What would a situation look like in which human beings were fallen, but creation itself was not? Or what would a situation look like wherein evil type 1 (human evil) would be present but evil type 2 (i.e. ‘natural’ evils like earthquakes and cancer) were not possible?
Consider this:
A fallen humanity plus a protected creation means that while the knowledge of good and evil exists, only good can be actualized. It means a condition of ability-to-choose exists for humanity, but no ability-to-act-on-choice. Humanity can dream evil, but never put it into action; therefore, no actual freedom or choice is created, but humanity is constituted as inwardly wicked. Furthermore, since there would exist a permanent disconnect between inner nature and external action, it becomes questionable how a) sin could become recognized for what it is, and b) how salvation would be possible, since all we know about it suggests it is constituted by external events actualized within the world itself. Would humanity then be caught in a permanent condition of sin, with no remedy? Perhaps. But what is abundantly clear is that there would be no genuine ‘choice’ between good and evil, between God and sin, since no person could ever act upon such an inward impulse. 
If this is right, then a fallen humanity necessitates also a fallen creation — since humanity must have a place in which to actualize its choices and a stage upon which the drama of redemption can be set. And if having sin be recognized as sin, and if having a stage that is flawed in such ways as to allow for that all-important drama to take place entails a few instances of chaotic evil, a few earthquakes or cases of cancer, is that really surprising?”

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

How Can God Allow Evil?

People who wonder how a loving God could allow people to go to hell often pose this question as well. But the very act of asking it defeats the argument, for the first question assumes that God judges too harshly, the other that He does not judge harshly enough!

Where Evil Grows

Evil does not float around unattached, like a big black cloud over the earth. Rather, evil originates in men’s hearts and is committed by men. Sin and death came into the world when Adam disobeyed God in Eden. God could have destroyed mankind then, but He chose to redeem us instead.