Saturday, July 28, 2012

Colorado Shootings, Where Were You God?

Lots of people around the internet are talking about the Colorado shooting. About the victims...about acts of heroism...about the coincidences that brought some to the theater and the coincidences that kept some away.

And they are talking about the shooter, his history, his friends and family, his mom's comments, (that Keith tells me were taken totally out of context by some over zealous reporter) About the "I'm a crazy man" look in his tortured eyes.

And of course there is ongoing, heated debate about guns and gun control. For the record, I loathe guns...but if my neighbor, or my dad, or my boss wants to own a gun and is responsible with the use and storage of the weapon...I am content to "myob." However, I see no feasible reason ( or how it could be construed as a threat to the 2nd Amendment) to not do whatever it takes to keep weapons that can fire dozens of bullets without reloading...out of the hands of crazy men. Out of the hands of EVERYBODY for that matter. But I digress. That is the subject of another post....someday. Back to the Colorado shooting.

So the conversation goes round and round. Everybody has an opinion. Everybody has questions. Ultimately, the discussion turns to God....and most everyone, in one way or another wonders the same thing..and (consciously or subconsciously)asks the same question of God. "Where the hell were you??!! when these victims were being gunned down??? And why didn't you do something??"

That question is the crux of the age old mystery of theodicy. The immortal question, "If there is a good, all powerful God, how can evil exist?"

The conclusion many come to is that there is no God. "Sorry folks, you're on your own."

Others (like Harold Kushner of the "When Bad Things Happen To Good People " fame) settle on the belief that God is not all powerful. He would like to do more to help but, sadly, his hands are tied.

Others settle on the belief that he is not all good...because as far as they’re concerned not stopping atrocities like the shooting is as bad as actually causing them.

And some folks...the total determinist/absolute sovereignty believers believe just that….that he actually causes these things to come down. They believe he is all powerful, all good and the first cause of all causes. In other words, he directly ordains these things(for our own good, of course) There is a case to be made for that viewpoint.

Some folks believe man's free will is the ultimate deciding factor and that God never...or rarely, intervenes. There is a case to be made for that viewpoint, too.

Although diehard believers on both sides of the “free will/sovereignty” line will disagree that a case can be made for the opposite side.

I see so many things in shades of gray, along the lines of Adam Hamilton's book "Seeing Gray In a Black and White World.” I suspect that the truth about most things is somewhere smack dab in the middle, or at least not totally to the far left or the far right.

This question haunted me for years. I read, I pondered, I obsessed. I was totally pissed off at God for the way he set things up...starving children in Africa, death, disease and pestilence everywhere. I couldn't just write him off as an imaginary friend because I've felt his touch and know he exists as surely as I know I do. Non belief was not an option. Pouting at him was. But in my heart, I knew that whatever evidence gets stacked against him, he is good, he is love and his mercy endures forever.

I've stopped pouting. I've even stopped asking the "where were you" kinds of questions. And I'm not dead set sure what I think about his involvement in world events but I suspect sometimes he causes, sometimes he prevents and sometimes he intervenes in very mysterious ways.

A Facebook friend posted a link shortly after the shooting. It leads to blog post written by a pastor in Colorado. He told the story of a young woman in his congregation. Petra Anderson. She is in her early twenties (22, I think) and she was in the theater that night. She was shot multiple times. One of the shotgun blasts sent a pellet through her brain....front to back. The prognosis was bleak but when the neurosurgeons operated, they discovered Petra had a brain anomaly that had been present since birth. It caused no symptoms. She had no idea it was there. Nobody did except, of course, her Maker.

It was a tiny channel that ran from front to back. Just big enough for a shotgun pellet. The bullet entered her nose at that exact spot and made its way to the back of her brain, via the channel, causing next to no damage. The blog author said that the tiniest variation in the entry point would have caused the pellet to bypass the channel, ripping through and damaging/destroying vital brain tissue.

No matter what your theology or opinion about the POE (problem of evil), sovereignty and free will, this story (that has also been mentioned on the news and other sources) gives one cause to pause and ponder. An old hymn and two Bible verses come to mind.

The Bible verses...

Isaiah 43: 7"...everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”


Psalm 139:14 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. NLT

The blog post about Petra went viral and received hundreds of comments, many that expressed disdain for the idea that God was responsible for this anomaly/ miracle yet didn't come through for the other victims.

Which brings me to the words of the old hymn by William Cowper -

'God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform"

There is another thing about the Anderson family that seems to deepen the mysteries of God's ways.  Petra's mother is battling a reoccurrence of (terminable) breast cancer...her prognosis is not good...and she is not expected to survive. 

Since this is getting long, I'll finish up in another post (really, I will)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Could you believe in Chan’s God?

From Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We've Made Up (p. 22).

Do you want to believe in a God like this? Here’s my gut-level, honest answer: No. No way. I have family and friends who reject Jesus. I do not want to believe in a God who punishes non-Christians. Okay, maybe He should punish extremely wicked people—that makes some sense. But punishment in hell for seemingly good people, or those who simply chose the wrong religion? That feels a bit harsh, at least according to my sense of justice.

But let me ask you another question. Could you? Could you believe in a God who decides to punish people who don’t believe in Jesus? A God who wants to show His power by punishing those who don’t follow His Son? Now that’s a different question, isn’t it?

You may not recognize the difference immediately, but read them again and you’ll see that these two questions—do you want to? versus could you?—are actually miles apart. The problem is that we often respond to the second question because of our response to the first. In other words, because there are things that we don’t want to believe about God, we therefore decide that we can’t believe them.

Chan dismisses the want to aspect of belief in a God who punishes display his great power and emphasizes the "COULD you" part.  As if that is somehow an easier question to answer than the "do you want to?"  And he admits that, of course, none of us WANT to believe in this vengeful God filled with retributive wrath for all those who do not believe in his son Jesus Christ.  (although a few Christians come to mind that seem a bit too relieved at the prospect of their enemies burning....and try....just take hell away from them)

So could you?  Could you believe in the God Chan describes? 

But "could you/would you/do you" is not really the most important question for his readers to ponder.  I can think of a much better question.

Could you LOVE this God? 

You him the way Jesus told us we should when he summed up the two loving our God and loving our neighbor? 

Matthew 22:36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (NIV)

So....could you love this God with all your heart, mind and soul? The way Jesus tells us to.  Or is what we call love for this God merely a survival instinct, a twist on Stockholm Syndrome?

And there are more questions this book brought to mind.  Some of the questions are asked in the text....others piqued in my thoughts as I read. 

? What kind of mindset is spawned by a belief in the ECT God described in the book Erasing Hell?

? Is God equally Judge and equally Father?

? What does true justice entail?

? Does He dole out His mercy and His wrath in equal portions?

? Does His mercy and grace end with our last breath?

? Are there levels of hell?  Are some parts of hell "hotter" than other parts?

? What about the Cross....? 

? When the Bible talks about the wicked being obliterated, is it referring to wicked people...or the wicked aspects of our being? You know as in old nature/new nature.  Old Man/ New Man.  Adamic Man/Carnal Man?

? At the end of Revelation when the Spirit and the Bride bid someone....come and drink....who is it they are talking to.  Do the gates of the city really never shut?

? What about the meanings of some of the proof texts in the original language? Is everlasting really forever?  Does all mean all?

I want to deal with some of these questions in upcoming posts.  I've read a lot while pondering this series. I've come upon some quotes and insights that are gems. Too good to tuck away in my quotes file in Evernote.

I didn't need convinced, of course, because I have no doubt that everyone will eventually be reconciled to God.  Every. One. I am one of those folks  Chan refers to as the least cautious of the universalists.  The dogmatics.

It may take a long time....”aions”....but pit God and a naked soul (no matter how rebellious) in a spiritual "stare down" and guess who looks away first.  God is omnicompetent. All will come.  All will bow.  All will joyfully proclaim to the glory of God the Father. 

More to come in this series....slowly but surely.....

Monday, July 9, 2012

Just Do It….?

There is a motivational quote that's made the rounds on Facebook....and caps...cups, pins, magnets, bags, aprons and buttons.

No matter how slow you go you're still lapping everyone on the couch. 


The focus is usually exercise....specifically running...but it applies to all kinds of things.  In our busy world, it is hard to dredge up the motivation, carve out the time, inspire ourselves to action and like a Nike advertisement...JUST DO IT.

Just do it?  Uhhhh….how about “Just shut up!” because “just do it” is not all that easy!

I want to be healthy and fit (and skinny too, of course....but like THAT’S ever gonna' happen.)  Remind me of the healthy and fit thing at 4:30 in the morning when my alarm goes off signaling the start of another day….and that it’s time for a trip to Planet Fitness.

"Are you kidding me" I ask myself in disbelief, “ jest." 

Some mornings I make it there, sleepy eyed and half awake....but too many times, I get a cup of coffee...snuggle up here on the couch and "research" all kinds of stuff for this blog.  In my thesaurus, I find that a synonym for "research" is surf the web. Did you know that?

And many times I do stumble upon a quote or snippet that I earmark for a future blog  post. This post, for example, is the result of wasting time in google reader...scrolling through the RSS feeds of a couple hundred blogs...clicking on the posts that piqué my interest. Topics, quotes, ideas I plan to write about....someday.....after I do enough "research."

Ahhhhh....writing.  I love to write.  Always have.  Yet...many days the only things I write are short and snappy emails to coworkers...or meeting minutes...or tomorrow's to do list which, almost always includes..."write a blog post.". Do I? Most day...nope.

Why? I have an abundance of things to say, share, explore, discuss, muse about.  Part of it is time...part of it is motivation...procrastination...haphazard organization. 

I've come upon a similar message in many of the things I've read lately. (Serendipity?) The bloggers version of the Nike slogan.  Just write.  Just do it.  And today, in post on a blog called Write Anyway...penned by an author named Alice Bradley I found the following quote.....

….and if you write a little every day, you end up–well, a lot farther along than if you had written nothing.

In other will still be "lapping everyone sitting on the couch."

It's not just about writing...or dieting...or running either.  Let's think slow and steady here (as in wins they race), the tortoise and the hare...the ant and the grasshopper. Steady, sustained effort moves us ever closer to our goals.

Following is the quote in it's entirety....

If I wrote a little bit every day, I discovered, I could actually get a decent amount done. Maybe not AUSTER-LEVEL CONTENT OUTPUT (Sorry for the caps lock, still mad). But a little, and if you write a little every day, you end up–well, a lot farther along than if you had written nothing. So my genius strategy was (and is): write as much as I can. If I can fit in a half hour, so be it. An hour is spectacular. That’s usually the best I can manage. And it’s fine.

Check out the article....and the blog

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Three Categories of Universalists

Chan divides universalists into categories….

There are the pluralists.

these people believe that Jesus is one of many ways to salvation. Pluralists believe that all religions present equally valid ways of salvation—Christianity is simply one among many.

There are the “hopefuls”

They believe that Christ is the only way, but they hold out hope that God will end up saving everyone through Christ in the end. But they go beyond simply hoping this will happen (don’t we all?). They’re hopeful, and they see strong biblical support for this view, though their view is often tempered with caution.

And then there are those spiritual daredevils…the “dogmatics”….

The least cautious Christian Universalists call themselves dogmatic Universalists. Like the previous group, they believe that Christ is the only way, but they go a bit further and say that the Bible clearly teaches that all will be saved. They find the view not just possible, but the most probable: They believe that the Bible clearly teaches that all will be saved through Jesus in the end.

So I’m guessing that someone who writes an essay and calls it “I Am a Convinced Universalist” would fit in the dogmatic category?  The guy who wrote those words….in his autobiography… in a chapter entitled just that ….I Am a Convinced Universalist…was William Barclay.

Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at Glasgow University and the author of many Biblical commentaries and books, including a translation of the New Testament, "Barclay New Testament," and "The Daily Study Bible Series."

Very. Mainstream. When I typed his name into the search engine at, about 90 or so results came up.  He was a prolific writer and his books line the book cases of many mainstream Christians worldwide.  Many (most?) aren’t aware of his pronouncement of a “dogmatic” belief in universalism since many of them….no way/no how would read the writings of a universalist. Universalism is one of the biggest, fattest heresies there is…

Brian McLaren said:

In my theological circles, universalism is one small step removed from atheism.  It is probably more feared than committing adultery, and to be labeled universalist ends one’s career.  Decisively. 

But William Barclay declared it…flat out.  He didn’t skirt the issue or talk around it….or make vague references to it.  He wasn’t coy about it.

I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God.

And he gave several reasons for his beliefs….

First, there is the fact that there are things in the New Testament which more than justify this belief.

Coming from a New Testament scholar/Bible translator/Professor of Divinity…that should carry some weight. 

Second, one of the key passages is Matthew 25:46 where it is said that the rejected go away to eternal punishment, and the righteous to eternal life. The Greek word for punishment is kolasis, which was not originally an ethical word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better. I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment.

And to be fair…Chan did include this quote in his book.  Okay…so it was in the footnotes….but it was there if one was inclined to dig a bit.  But he never mentioned Barclay’s popularity, or prolific writings…or the…you know…Convinced Universalist part. 

Third, I believe that it is impossible to set limits to the grace of God. I believe that not only in this world, but in any other world there may be, the grace of God is still effective, still operative, still at work. I do not believe that the operation of the grace of God is limited to this world. I believe that the grace of God is as wide as the universe.

There is of course the verse that (in my mind) definitively declares that death cannot separate us from God….

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And the fourth reason…

Fourth, I believe implicitly in the ultimate and complete triumph of God, the time when all things will be subject to him, and when God will be everything to everyone.

Then Barclay goes on to muse about God as Father…and how it might be considered a triumph to wipe out His enemies or to torture them in hell forever if God were simply a judge or a king but God is also a Father

..he is indeed Father more than anything else. No father could be happy while there were members of his family for ever in agony. No father would count it a triumph to obliterate the disobedient members of his family. The only triumph a father can know is to have all his family back home. The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love. The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by and in love with God.

So will God be able to pull this off? 

Chan describes this belief in his book:

At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most “depraved sinners” will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God

So….will God be able to turn the hardest heart back to Himself?  To bend the stubbornest knee…and loosen the most reluctant tongue?  Will all mankind bow and joyously proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord?  It says so….three times no less…in scripture.  (And…it is a joyous proclamation that is implied in the original language.  Not a grudging concession before being cast into hell or obliterated…but a joyous proclamation)

And surely God has ways that I cannot even begin to fathom. Is anything too hard for Him?  Is His arm to short to save?

"I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? Jeremiah 32:27

Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. Isaiah 59:1

I don’t know how he will accomplish it but as I ponder, I am reminded of a quote by Anne Lamott. I saved it in my files a few years ago when I read through all of her books, one right after the other.

The quote was in a book (name escapes me) that was written after 9-11.  She was very upset with the war and the political atmosphere.  She was very angry.

My Jesuit friend Tom once told me that this is a good exercise because in truth, everyone is loved and chosen, even Dick Cheney, even Saddam Hussein. That God loves them because God loves.

This-- more than anything does not make sense to me,” I said.

“Because you are a little angry,” Tom explained. “But when people die, they are forgiven and welcomed home. Then God will help them figure out how to clean up the disgusting messes they have made. God has skills and ideas on how to do this.”

So God has skills and ideas on how to do this. Is that just too simple?  Somehow it seems that there will be at least an era of ”weeping and gnashing of teeth” for some of us.. as God works on us and in us and makes us willing to clean up the disgusting messes we’ve made in this life. 

Or perhaps after we die and leave these fleshly bodies behind…when death has taken off the mask (William Penn) we will be able to see clearly.  It won’t be the same playing field we find ourselves in here, in this life. 

More on God as Father (not Judge) in an upcoming post.  And more thoughts on whether our last breath is indeed our last chance.