Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Week Off... Sort of.

Two months is too little. They let him go. They had no // Sudden healing. To think that providence would // Take a child from his mother while she prays // Is appalling. ...

This is what it means to be held. // How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life // And you survive. // This is what it is to be loved. // And to know that the promise was // When everything fell we'd be held.

Natalie Grant, "Held", from the album Awaken

Pesonally, I'm no fan of mushy songs. In my estimation, Natalie Grant's song is all of that. However, when I first heard it, what kept me from turning the dial was how she would answer the unasked question: Why does a good God let bad things happen - to even His own?

Since we took a break from Tuesday night as most attendees are preparing for finals (Good luck, guys!), I thought I'd address an idea that's been on my mind, especially lately.

There's a man who attends our church who came from Chicago. He's Greek in origin and physically, he's built like a rock. I haven't really gotten to know his entire story, but I do know he's had a pretty tough go of things. For example, occupational hazards left him with MS which has progressively worsened. When I first met him, he needed a cane to walk - then two. Now he's confined to a wheelchair. Add to that numerous other health complications, two failed marriages and a daughter who is so rebellious she can't live at home and you have a person who's seen a lot of the bad things life has to offer. He's got a heart of gold though, and he's loved by our congregation - many of whom have gone well out of their way to help him as his health has worsened. It's a tough story, but what made it tougher was the news I recieved via our email prayer chain Sunday. Apparently, his house was broken into and he was severly beaten. Last report was that he was in the hospital and not doing very well. When I read the news I was simply dumbfounded. Of all the people to attack, why a guy bound to a wheelchair?

I've often heard the unbeliever's battle cry (which is often more a criminal accusation than an honest question), that if God were good and really loved us, He'd not let these sorts of things happen. It is a valid question - regardless of what one believes (or their reasons for asking it), and I honestly believe that how a religion or faith answers this question is telling of the essential nature of its dogma.

For example, in Islam, both good and bad come from God. God is not personal, He's not knowable, He does what He wills and there's no rhyme or reason to it - only the knowledge that God sees, knows, and can do everything. Thus, no matter what events befall a faithful Muslim, it is "whatever Allah wills", be it good or bad. Ultimately, there isn't even any guarantee of salvation for the faithful. As a Muslim, maybe God will save you, maybe He won't. There's no way to know for sure

In Buddhism / Hinduism, God is not really real. There is God, but not in any real sense, and the pain and evil one suffers in life is due to the results of past sins. Karma and reincarnation comprise a system of eternal punishment - you spend each life paying for the last. Eternal unforgiveness.

So what sets Christianity apart from other religions on this question?

Francis Schaeffer was a prolific writer and apologist who was stricken with cancer at the end of his life. Asked by a reporter how he felt to be told he's dying of cancer, Schaeffer responded, (to paraphrase), "Why shouldn't I get cancer and die?" He went on to point out that this world is one marred by sin and that his hope was not a happy and healthy life here, but in the hereafter.

Knowing this is what gives us staying power. It seems to be an ongoing phenomenon that unless you're "experienceing God" in some tangible way (from speaking in tongues to getting unexpected checks in exactly needed amounts), then you're missing out. I will readily admit that it's a valid desire, especially in this age, to want to feel something in one's spirituality. But if you ask many well-meaning Christians what makes their faith real to them, you'll likely hear about those mystery checks or those moments of ecstatic emotional sentiment that makes God so real.

I'm not saying that tangible proof of God's blessings in our lives should be disregarded, but it seems to me that many Christians are quick to put the cart before the horse. After all, what would happen when somone has an "off" Sunday and they leave worship feeling empty or unfulfilled or the money gets tight and that mystery check never comes?

I find it often helps to check faith with Scripture. Regarding how we are to love God, Jesus simply stated, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37, NIV)

The idea is fairly simple: Our relationship with God is more than just emotional. In fact, to really study the idea, it is our wills that we use to worship God, not our emotions. Emotinal sentiments are secondary. That is, what gives our faith staying power is not merely knowing what we believe (or experience), but why we believe it.

It's been said that you can learn more by studying your Bible every morning over breakfast than you can in four years of seminary. One great way to strengthen your faith and learn about the Bible is to ask the challenging questions. You know, the ones you think of that don't really seem to have an answer...

Go ahead. Ask the questions you think don't have answers. Then go looking for answers and don't stop until you find them. Not only will the search itself will enrich you greatly, but you may even find you were asking the wrong question.

Philosopher and apologist Ravi Zacharias has made this statement a part of his ministry's mission:

What I believe in my heart must make sense in my mind.

He stated this idea quite succinctly in a forum at Harvard University. During an opportunity to interact with the audience, Zacharias was challeneged with the question, "Should one turn to Christianity because it helps me find happiness / contentment (or deal with pain)?"

His answer: "Absolutely not."

He went on to state,

If it is true, it will help you deal with the issue of pain and suffering. ... It is not true because it helps you deal with pain and suffering.

As an exercise, we can take Dr. Zacahrias' model for religion and apply it to the case of the mother in the song "Held":

Assuming Islam is true and the sovereign God is not good, bad or personal, then the grieving mother should be able to find comfort in a God who may or may not care about her pain but caused it nonetheless.

Assuming Buddhism is true, then the mother should be comforted to know that her child either died because of a sin they committed in a previous life or that she herself committed.

Finally, assuming Christianity is true, the comfort comes in knowing that God does not cause, desire, or take pleasure in her pain, nor does it's presence dimish His presence in her or her child's life, now and hereafter. The pain is not an end in and of itself.

Take your pick, but in my estimation, Dr. Zacharias is right - what I believe in my heart must make sense in my head. Emotion sentiment does not make truth. Rather, knowing the truth is what should determine how we feel.

Have a great week.

We're praying for you, Denny.

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