Fighting Over Theology: “My Way Is Right, Your Way Can Go To Hell”

Photo by Dave Tada

erelah-tabbris asked a question:

What do you do when you have a bunch of different people telling you their interpretation of the bible a bunch of different ways, and if you dont believe in their way you go to hell? There are so many. If you sin you lose salvation, if you aren’t perfect, if you don’t do works, if you like un-godly things, if you mess up at all, all these ways saying its that way or hell. How do we know who’s is the right way? And what if we are all wrong?

Hey dear friend, to be truthful: I think having multiple interpretations is okay. What’s not okay is when these interpretations turn me into a jerk.

When a church says, “My way is the only way,” I think the main intent is that everyone likes to be in the Insider’s Club. It feels cool to have the keys to supernatural secret-sauce. We like a tiny little narrow doorway of doctrine.

Continue reading “Fighting Over Theology: “My Way Is Right, Your Way Can Go To Hell””

Heroes, Villains, and Coffee

No one is the one-dimensional, black-and-white, evil caricature that we so wish them to be. No one is the version of a person you worship on a pedestal.
It is easier to hate a cartoon-parody idea; to denigrate a hologram; to blast an artificial; to praise the effigy.
If you and I could sit down for coffee: we would discover multiple dimensions, a mess of motives, hidden layers, two profoundly broken people hanging on.
We are wildly struggling, conflicted, complex.
We are not wholly evil nor holy good.
Let go of heroic prejudice and villainous archetypes. There was only one hero, crushed at a cross; and one villain, who was defeated there too.
So we blood-stained sinners are stripped of pretension and cling to the true good; us sinners saved by an undeserved grace.
The sooner we get there, the sooner we are known and truly know.

— J.S.

Preparation For Dating and The Long Haul of Marriage

everarking asked a question:

Hi pastor Park, what are helpful questions to think about when discerning starting dating /going into relationships?

Hey dear friend, I must first applaud you for taking this seriously. Relationships are no small thing, and for you to even pause to ask questions means you’re ahead of the game.

Please allow me to share this post, which showed up in my first book:

– 6 Ways To Be Ready To Pursue A Relationship

Also, here’s a list of questions that showed up in my book on relationships, which is not an entirely complete list, but could help for a start.

Continue reading “Preparation For Dating and The Long Haul of Marriage”

What To Do About The Old Testament Law

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2sharksswimming asked a question:

Can you explain to me why we don’t follow all the old testament laws? Thank you 🙂

Hey dear friend, definitely. Please allow me the grace to point you to a few posts here, some of which you can also find in my first book

– The Down-Low on The Old Testament Commands

– God Seems A Little Crazy In The Old Testament — A Mega-Post on the OT

– The Old Covenant Law Versus The New Testament Principle

Though the Old Testament Law was entirely fulfilled in Christ for us, the OT Law still stands in principle for us today. Even the weird things about shellfish and fibers shows a very meticulous God who was perfect, even quirky, and shows a God we could’ve never made up.

I want to be careful that I’m not downplaying the Old Testament at all. I often hear preachers who dismiss the OT rather abruptly, and though I understand their intentions, we must recall that Jesus had a huge reverence for the Hebrew Scriptures. The OT Law was much more than a “precursor” to all Jesus did, but revealed the entire perfection of God’s character. It outlines our need for a savior all the more.

— J.S.

What Is God “Teaching” Through Pain and Suffering?

Image by Jessi Lynn

imkwonjihye asked a question:

Hi pastor j.s! I think you may cover this in your new book, but still wanted to ask, does God aim to teach us something when we go through difficult circumstances or is it to bring us to him? Often times I feel like I have to justify my suffering and get something out of it, just so I don’t go crazy at the reason for it all. At the same time, constantly justifying suffering leaves me in a state of battle, instead of just being (?) I don’t know if I’m making sense. What does God want me to do…

Hello dear friend, this is very much covered in my newest book about persevering through pain, which you can find here.

The main crux of the book is that I don’t believe pain always has a lesson. In other words, I think it’s unfair to connect the dots to some epiphany on every instance of pain. When a preacher says, “God is using this for your good” or “God has an amazing plan for your life,” it can be very cruel and degrading to an actual suffering person.  This only works in the quiet suburban stillness of a privileged gated community. It hardly works for cancer, a car accident, or a dilapidated third world village.

Certainly, pain can bring us towards God. It can be sublimated for strength and wisdom and deeper friendships. But I don’t know if God is using it for those things. Pain is part of a fractured, fallen world. God is not some cold teacher who waits for us to “get it.” I believe He grieves with us, and there’s no bigger evidence of this than the sending of His Son.

Continue reading “What Is God “Teaching” Through Pain and Suffering?”

I Will, Anyway.

In the end, you can’t really force someone to do anything, even if it’s for their good.

You can’t force someone to respect your feelings or care about your passions or believe your dreams.
You can’t force someone to believe your side of the story, even when you’re right.
You can’t force an apology.
You can’t force someone to engage in social justice or fight for the poor or to become nuanced in culture and history.
You can’t force growth.
You can’t force someone to show up on time, or even show up at all.

In the end, I’ve learned that people will do whatever they want, even if that means stepping on you or neglecting you or abandoning you or belittling you or choosing others over you. I’ve probably done this as much as it’s been done to me. It’s a terrible cycle that leaves us bitter, suspicious, paranoid, and completely jaded.

I’ve also learned that I don’t care if you don’t care. I have to love anyway. I have to be patient anyway. I have to be jaded to being jaded. Because I don’t want to perpetuate someone else’s cycle of apathy and neglect. I don’t want to be one more rung in the ladder of indifference. I don’t want to be a reactionary pawn.

No, I cannot force anything on you, and I won’t. I can only pour out what I have. Even if you don’t care. Especially if you don’t care. I’ll pour out anyway. In the end, our lives will have been given over to dust. I’d rather mine will have been given over to you.

— J.S.

Thank you, Rachel Denk!

Very thankful for Rachel Denk’s wonderful review of my latest book, Mad About God.

An excerpt from her review:

“How many times do you feel like you have to be ‘in the right mindset’ or at a ‘good place’ with God in order to come before Him? Don’t you ever feel like you’ve been told since God is almighty and righteous that we have no right to be upset or angry with Him? And when we can’t suppress pain, anger, or bitterness, all of that is somehow transformed into guilt.

“… J.S. Park beautifully deconstructs all of these notions that have been drilled into us for far too long. And guess what? It’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to doubt. It’s okay to not understand why things happen and question God.

“J.S. asks the hard questions. He prompts the difficult ideas. He opens the can of worms that may never truly be shut. My favorite passages from the book include Hijacking And Reclaiming Jeremiah 29:11, Our Hollywood Craze To Live An Epic Life, and The Problem With Job: As We Bleed, We Find Our Deepest Need. Sound intriguing just from the titles? You better believe it. These passages floored me – I often caught myself reading this and thinking how someone seemed to understand this little aspect of my heart and soul that had been secretly struggling for so long.”

Tough Week: Keep It Up.

Photo from pr0mise.tumblr

It might have been a tough week.

Don’t beat yourself up over the setbacks and losses.

Don’t replay that loop in your head over and over.

Do look up.

Do look forward.

Receive His grace.

Believe He is enough.

He is.

— J.S.

The Downright Impossibility of Friendship

yoonsense asked a question:

Is friendship supposed to be super hard? Or am I, are we, doing something wrong?

Hey dear friend — yes, friendship can be remarkably difficult. In fact, most of the time, it’s impossible. I guess you were hoping for good news, which there is, but it’s front-loaded by a whole bunch of bad news.

We’re each naturally going to be selfish. We’re all about self-preservation and protecting our egos. At the same time, we want company and community and we know that life is usually better together. In our friendships, we all tend to collide in those selfish areas, and our flaws and traumas and dysfunctions come spilling out in dramatic fashion. It’s unavoidable. You will eventually run up against someone else’s fault lines, just as you’ll have your own exposed too.

I used to think, “Well the good is worth the bad.” But that makes friendship sound transactional, as if I’m weighing how “good” it can be like an opportunistic salesman. Certainly there are some standards for friendship, and if it gets too toxic, we should consider walking away. Yet friendship is about accepting all the good we have yet to discover and all the bad we have yet to see. The deepest friend who exemplifies this, of course, is Jesus himself. He knows us as we are, yet loves us as we are.

Continue reading “The Downright Impossibility of Friendship”

I Don’t Have It All Figured Out Yet / Perpetually Skeptical

Hello dear friends! This is an audio preview of my book Mad About God: When We Over-Spiritualize Pain and Turn Tragedy Into a Lesson, about persevering through pain and suffering.

Preface 1 – I Don’t Have It All Figured Out, and That’s Okay
Preface 2 – Perpetually Skeptical: Screaming Through The Red Sea

Preface 1 is about our crazy need to connect pain with a lesson.
Preface 2 is about the constant, uncomfortable doubts about the existence and goodness of God.

Stream here or download directly here. The book is both in paperback and ebook.

Love y’all and be blessed!
— J.S.

3 Lessons I Learned Instantly In My First Week of Marriage (That I’ll Need For Life)


They say everyone gets a honeymoon period at the start of your marriage, but whoever brandished that idea: I want a refund.

Marriage is hard work right out of the gate. Our sentimental ideas about romance get tossed out very, very quickly — and I want you to be ready. Everyone told me what to expect, but no matter how much you prepare, it’s still a jump in the deep end. The more you know about what’s coming, the quicker you can stand on your two feet.

I know that marriage isn’t for everyone (contrary to our culture, singleness is not an illness), but whether you’re not in the dating scene or you’ve been married for years, here are three things I learned instantly in the first week of marriage. These lessons could be valuable and necessary for our entire journey.

1) Marriage pulls down the hologram and brings about the gritty reality of your spouse (and yourself too).

My wife and I dated for six years before we were married, and in those six years, I have never heard her pass gas once. I would constantly tell her that it was okay, but my wife was dead-set on maintaining an air of elegance. No pun intended.

About four days into the marriage, on a wonderful crisp morning in Florida, I asked my wife, “Are you boiling eggs?”

She said, “No. I’m not boiling eggs.”

“Are the sprinklers on outside?”

“No. The sprinklers are not on.”

“But then what’s that sm—”

And it hit me. Pun intended.

[By the way, I have my wife’s permission to share this story. I’m proud to say that she now regularly passes gas around me with the most exuberant freedom.]

In dating, we’re often on our best behavior. It’s like a job interview, where both sides show off their impressive benefits and credentials. In marriage, you see the rough, raw edges of the entire person. Marriage creates perhaps the closest proximity you will ever have with another human being. You’ll see every insecurity and neurotic tendency. There will be friction.

This is more than just about keeping up a pretty image.

It’s also a way of learning how to love an entire person and not just the parts that you like.

In Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, he discusses how we each have fault lines in our hearts, like the cracks of a great bridge. These fault lines get exposed when we collide with another person, so that we spill anger or jealousy or anxiety. A married couple, because they’re so close in space, will inevitably drive a truck through each other’s hearts: which exposes all the fault lines. Deep-seated flaws will shake out of us like shaking a tree in the autumn. It’s in this exposure that we can choose to face our flaws, so that they would be re-shaped by the love we share. The sooner, the better.

You’ll also see every dream, hope, talent, passion, and ambition in your spouse. You’ll see what lights them up and gets them excited. This means that marriage is often about showing grace for your spouse’s worst and promoting their very best. Love sees a greatness in someone who cannot see it in themselves. And if marriage is one of the most intimate unions in the universe, then it has the power to encourage a person beyond their self-imposed limits. Though this can happen in many types of relationships, marriage offers a profound intensity to spiritual growth. Finally, we can pull down our holograms of who we pretend to be, and actually become the people we were meant to be.

Continue reading “3 Lessons I Learned Instantly In My First Week of Marriage (That I’ll Need For Life)”

I Can’t Love A God Who Would Do That

forestwater87 asked a question:

I’m really struggling to love God. I don’t feel Him, so people say to read the Bible. But when I open it, I see stories of slaughter—often of children & innocents—& God hardening people’s hearts, & I find it really hard to love Him. Why does He create people just to destroy them? Are our lives so insignificant that He can end them just to prove a point? If faith itself is a gift from God, why doesn’t He give it to everyone & not send anyone to Hell? Most important, how do I love a God like this?

Hey dear friend, thank you for your honesty and may I simply say: I totally feel you on all this. I have so much love in my heart for you right now, really. I wrestle daily with some of the tough parts of the Bible, and I’ll probably ask those questions until my time on earth is over. I wish I had a more adequate intellectual answer for you, but I’m certain I’ll fall short of explaining away some of these things. There are also so many different interpretations that I couldn’t claim to be the one who’s unlocked all the mysteries today.

Here’s an attempt to offer a jump-off point for some of your concerns.

Continue reading “I Can’t Love A God Who Would Do That”

Keeping Faith in a Faithless Place

Anonymous asked a question:

Hi, Im taking up a BA in History and I get exposed to theories & philosophies that are either not in line with the truth of God or blatantly against Christianity. Sometimes I run out of arguments&words to stand up for my faith. I don’t know if I should be dealing with these or should I just ignore it. I hope you could help me out of this. I don’t want to drift away and be taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophies just as what Paul wrote to the Colossians. Thanks for your response.

Hey dear friend, to be truthful, I’ve gotten rather jaded about defending my faith to myself and to others. I’ve found that there are just about equal piles of evidence both for and against the existence of God and Christianity. I could easily argue on either side and create a compelling argument for both. So ultimately, it’s about what I choose to believe. At the start and end of each day, I must make that choice.

The hard part is that we are naturally biased to believe that a personal God must not exist. We each have a rebellious streak against authority; no one likes being told what to do; we all want some kind of freedom, whether sexual or financial or psychological — so the deck is already stacked against God. We never walk into such a debate on neutral terms. We all have a conflict of interest when it comes to believing in Him. Nobody is without bias on every side of this.

Continue reading “Keeping Faith in a Faithless Place”

What Gives You The Right To Be Heard? And Our Fascination With Going Viral Instead of Being Alive

Whenever a blogger is telling me to do something, I want to know: “What gives you the right to teach something? What do you do? What have you done? Why should I listen? Are you just blogging to blog at me?”

I get the suspicion that some bloggers are only telling people what they’re not really doing themselves. I’ve been guilty of the same thing. Maybe it’s a vicarious self-punishment. Maybe it’s to look hard. Mostly though, I sense it’s just to go viral, because everyone eats that up. We always want to know the Top Twelve Things To Do Before We’re 22. We love those quotes from books we’ve never read that stir our guts for a few seconds. We love the insider secrets and pseudo-religious feelings of inspiration and guilt. So most bloggers are barely stitched up collections of quotes and inspirational zingers, like a literary Frankenstein with zero soul.

I’m sorry to sound so harsh: but those quotes weren’t written just to quote, you know. Great people wrote them to move us into greatness.

I see too many young-ish bloggers trying to go viral just by blogging. It’s a bit Kardashian-esque, like being famous for being famous. I don’t mean that blogging young is wrong. It’s great if you go viral with your words. But when the fancy articulation is over, I hope you actually care about people.

I want to know that you’re looking out for my best.
I want to know you have credibility.
I want to know you love real people’s stories and not your own glory.
I want to know you’re actually living out your blog.
And most of all, I’m preaching this to myself. I hope you’re preaching it to you, too.

Continue reading “What Gives You The Right To Be Heard? And Our Fascination With Going Viral Instead of Being Alive”

Table of Contents for “Mad About God”

This is the Table of Contents for my book on trials and suffering, called Mad About God.

The book also talks about True Detective, Louis C.K., the Serial podcast, the pressure to be “radical” and do “great things for God,” the romanticism of third world missionaries, overly inspirational Instagrams, The Shawshank Redemption, the misquoting of Jeremiah 29:11 and David & Goliath.

It’s now in both paperback and ebook. Be blessed and love y’all!

— J.S.

Breaking Codependency and Unhealthy Attachments

Anonymous asked a question:

How do you fix or work against codependency?

Hey dear friend, I wrestle with the very same thing, and I wish I had an easy answer for you. There are so many different reasons for codependency, and extracting ourselves is a messy process that requires a tough self-examination, sometimes daily. One of my reasons is that I constantly need approval to be certain of my self-worth. I’m hugely insecure for long stretches of time, so I tend to surround myself by people who are overly gushy or positive. When I hear criticism, it totally crushes me.

Other reasons might be that we affix value on ourselves by the number of relationships we have, or we need company to avoid facing our own inner-demons, or we need romantic love to fill the gap of love we never got as children.

There’s no easy fix, but here are two things to consider.

Continue reading “Breaking Codependency and Unhealthy Attachments”

The Cost of Friendship.

Image from Quote Mirror, used with permission

I’ve learned that if someone asks you for advice and you tell them the hard truth and they fight you in response, they weren’t really asking for advice — but self-affirmation to keep doing the wrong thing. That’s asking for less love, not more. And I can’t do that to you. Love means I have to tell you everything, even if my voice trembles and my hands shake and my eyes burn with weeping. Love means I will throw my body in front of you when you’re heading towards the cliff. It will cost my comfort with you. It’s a cost I’m willing to pay.

— J.S.