If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning — just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning. Similarly, the fact that eyes exist suggests that light must exist. And the the fact that we have spiritual longings … the fact that we even have a meaningful category of thought and speech called spirituality … Suggests that there is some corresponding reality out there which we have the capacity to “sense”. That capacity would be called faith, and that reality, God.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1943, p. 46)
Another day, and another mass shooting (or more than one) hits the news. In the wake of these senseless acts many are drawn to ask some very straight forward questions…
How can a loving God fail to intervene and stop the harm that humans cause in this world?
If God has a plan for us, and for our lives, does that mean that part of His plan includes living in a world filled with such utter evil?
Is this really His plan?
I’ve struggled with these questions often. Yet my faith remains strong. In fact, my faith has grown along with my struggle.
I know there are those who don’t understand how that can be. I’m not going to pretend to have answers for anyone other than myself. My thoughts on this subject may not be helpful to you at all. But… if there is any chance that they might help, I would be remiss if I didn’t share them. So, for what it’s worth, here’s what I think.
I think that the core of our confusion comes from a misunderstanding about the nature of God Himself. Without intending to, or understanding that we’re doing it, we ascribe human qualities and attributes to God when we think about these things. We presume that God sees the world the same way that we do.
God is love. When He created us He created us to be able to experience Him. To have relationship with Him. To love Him. When we love, we are engaging in relationship with God.
In order for our ability to love to have meaning we must also have the ability to not love. God gave us the choice to love or not in order for us to be able to comprehend His love for us.
Think for a moment of some of the great opposites of life.
Light and dark.
We can’t understand light, without dark. One requires the other in order to provide the framework for understanding either.
Hot and cold… soft and hard… loud and soft…
Good and evil.
Love, or hate.
We can choose love… choose relationship with God.
We can choose to not love… we can reject God. The cumulative effect of the rejection of God is the introduction of evil into the world.
God knew that many would rebel against Him. But He also knew that many would choose to follow Him and have a relationship with Him.
God knew that the effect of those turning against Him would be suffering in the world. However, suffering was not His purpose. It’s a consequence of our rejection of Him. Yet, He takes our suffering and uses it for His purpose.
It’s through our suffering that we are able to gain sufficient perspective to understand what Grace is all about. God exists in a constant and unending state of Love that we can take part in. Without suffering His grace would have no meaning.
To appreciate light we have to experience dark.
In response to events such as these we have a choice. We can turn away from God or we can turn toward God. Through the suffering of His son, God has experienced human suffering at its worse. He understands our pain. He provides us with an option for relief from our pain. He offers us the opportunity to transcend our humanity and to join with Him in perfect eternal relationship of spirit.
I can’t say that I know how God will use these senseless acts for good. But… Here I am, writing about His love. Encouraging you to turn toward Him rather than away.
Here I am, stepping forward to be counted as a man of faith – and sharing my faith openly with others. This is not a path I imagined for myself.
In a strange, counterintuitive way, these tragedies strengthen my faith and my resolve to do my part to share the message of God’s love for us.
Some people think that a spiritual quest of any kind is a colossal waste of time. For them, the only things that are real are those that can be proven and measured. They might think, Life boils down to earning and buying and selling … eating and drinking and having fun … respiration, digestion, elimination, ovulation, ejaculation, gestation, reproduction, antiquation, expiration. Why search for something that we can’t prove? Why don’t we just get real and get over it? Why waste energy on a spiritual quest? There’s nothing more than psychology and biology, which is nothing more than chemistry and electricity, which is nothing but physics, which boils down to mathematics. That’s all there is.
Others think my search is a waste of time for a different reason. They think they’ve got Jesus and his message figured out, reduced to their own kind of mathematics. It’s these three concepts or those four steps or this simple little five-part formula — no more sophisticated than an elementary equation, really. It’s 3+4=7. It’s 16-9=7. It’s -7+7=0. Why is Brian so misguided or difficult that he doesn’t just repeat them and get with the program?
But many people seem to share my hunch that neither a formulaic religious approach nor a materialistic secular approach has it all nailed down. Think of all the people who in recent years have read (or seen) The Da Vinci Code — not just as a popular page-turner but as an experience in shared frustration with the status-quo, male-dominated, power-oriented, cover-up-prone organized Christian religion. Why is the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown’s book more interesting, more attractive, and more intriguing to these people than the standard version of Jesus they hear about from churches? Why would they be disappointed to find that Brown’s version of Jesus has been largely discredited as fanciful and inaccurate, leaving only the church’s conventional version? Is it possible that even though Brown’s fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church’s conventional versions of Jesus may not do Him justice?
Brian McLaren – The Secret Message of Jesus – Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything.
I continue to be a little confused by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s book, The Grand Design.
Following from their work in this book Stephen Hawking uses their theories to explain why it’s possible for the universe to have begun spontaneously, created from nothing. From this basis Hawking postulates that being able to use the laws of physics and nature to describe how the universe could have sprung into being is sufficient to explain that it could not have been created by God.
I’ve long had a problem with this idea because it seemed to ignore the questions of what came before and how this could be. Yet I figure out a way to explain why it wasn’t sitting right. I understood what my issues with the theory were, but I couldn’t find appropriate language to explain it.
I recently read a response by Gerald Schroeder which I feel goes a long way toward explaining why I felt something was seriously wrong with Dr. Hawking’s conclusions. The paradox is that Mr. Hawking has demonstrated very eloquently that the laws of nature must have existed prior to the big bang and the creation of the physical universe. In my view, there is no difference between “laws of nature” and God. The “laws of nature” are God and God is the laws of nature. Thus, Mr. Hawking has provide us with a theory supporting the existence of God (nature) by showing us how nature (God) could have caused the physical universe to spontaneously spring into being.
In “The Big Bang Creation: God or the Laws of Nature” Schroeder explains it best…
The Grand Design breaks the news, bitter to some, that … to create a universe from absolute nothing God is not necessary. All that is needed are the laws of nature.
there can have been a big bang creation without the help of God, provided the laws of nature pre-date the universe. Our concept of time begins with the creation of the universe. Therefore if the laws of nature created the universe, these laws must have existed prior to time; that is the laws of nature would be outside of time. What we have then is totally non-physical laws, outside of time, creating a universe. Now that description might sound somewhat familiar. Very much like the biblical concept of God: not physical, outside of time, able to create a universe.
My opinion is simply stated. Being physical, we know and relate everything to our physical world. God is alien to us in this regard. Being spiritual and not physical we cannot and should not try to fit the experiential possibilities of God into the constraints of our physical world. Understanding this, it follows that if we can track the evolution of our physical world back in time to a singular point where it all began, and we base our understanding of this beginning on the laws of nature and physics that we observe to govern our physical world, that we must conclude that something occurred to bring about the laws of nature and physics and were necessary to bring about the physical world. If the laws of nature and physics are not physical in and of themselves, perhaps we can think of them as spiritual. If the laws of nature and physics are spiritual then perhaps we can think of them as God.
What do you think?
“Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable. I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but I was perceptive. I always know when someone’s uncomfortable at a party. It all became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat… It’s often wrong.”
–George Costanza – “The Opposite”, Seinfeld Episode 22, Season 5
If I’m truthful, I have to say that I’ve found this tendency to be true in my life more than I’d like to admit. As I pondered this reality I began to realize a bigger truth…
This is often the case for many people, not just me. It’s also true for entire groups and institutions. Rarely are we really in control. Rarely do events turn out the way we envision them. In fact, when we stop and think about it we begin to realize that we’re not really in control of anything. Yet we continue to function as if we can be.
Recently, I’ve seen this played out in a particularly peculiar way in my church.
As is so common in the Christian community today, my church struggles a bit financially. We make ends meet. But we also suffer from corporate worry about failing infrastructure and systems that we just don’t seem to have the means to care for. Sure, we could appeal to members to give more so we can pave the parking lot. But, it’s not a very sexy appeal is it? Let’s face it. If given a choice more people would toss in more money for the installation of a coffee bar than for a new furnace. Unless of course it’s the dead of winter and we can’t keep the building warm. Although…. Even then…. Folks might be inclined to just complain and not come. But if we had a coffee bar? And if the coffee was free!?! Yeah boy! Count me in!
So… my church could use some additional funding. We have infrastructure needs and expenses that we have to juggle to pay for. We could ask more from our members. But, the economy has been rough and some people really are giving all they can. Right? Besides, there’s the whole “what do we ask for” question that I posed above.
Okay. So I need to get back on topic.
The natural inclination in situations like this is to look at what we need to do to attract more members. More members = more money. More money = funding for projects. Funding for projects = bathroom repairs. What could be wrong with that?
Simple. It never works.
We’re like George. We instinctively work tirelessly to solve the problem faced by a lack of funds. When what we need to do is to fight our instincts and do the opposite.
Interestingly enough, there is biblical guidance that also suggests that we should fight our instincts. Heck, just look at the entire way that Jesus lived his life. Eye for an eye? No! Turn the other cheek. Fight against Caesar’s taxes? No! Give Caesar what is Caesar’s. The poorest are the richest. Give up your life to have life.
He taught us that all of life is paradox. It’s not what it seems to be. We have no control.
So how do we function in light of this realization? We DO faith! That wonderful yet completely misunderstood concept. Faith.
All my life people have told me that I should HAVE faith. That it’s good to HAVE faith. To BE faithful. I was taught to believe that faith was something that I could possess. And if I possessed enough of it, I’d be okay. Kinda like money. If ya got enough… what have ya got to worry about, right?
Of course we all know that even people with “enough” money still have problems. So, if you can’t have enough money…. can you have enough faith?
The problem is that faith isn’t something you possess. It’s something you DO. It’s an action. A state of mind. A state of being. It becomes you when you become it. It’s a philosophy of being, not an understanding. The same is true of control.
This life is not controllable by us. The most we can hope for is to react well. God set a miraculous chain of events in to motion when He began to create. We’re a part of that creation – not the creators. Sure, we can influence things. We have that power. But can we really control them? I think not. Nor should it be the point.
George Costanza stumbled on a great truth. Control is a myth. It’s an illusion. Sometimes, the best course of action is to ignore our desire to try and control things and learn how to live within the boundaries of the gifts our life gives us.
Quantum physics tells us that while we fell compelled to know absolutes, they will always elude us. Nature was designed to be unknowable.
Nature rolls dice. Nothing is certain. The fundamental laws of our world are dependent on the acceptance of chance and probability.