God’s Greater Vision.


I hope we have eyes to see that God is doing something we cannot see. This takes discipline, but we have help. God has a vision far greater than my sight. He has an imagination that infinitely outweighs mine. We think a person is an impossible case: but God is in the business of the impossible. After all, He saved you and me.
J.S.


Art from thehopeletter

How Do I Know If It’s God or the Devil? A Mega-Post On Pain, Evil, and Suffering

Anonymous asked a question:

Would God purposely put His children in a situation where they would be hurt in any way (rape, kidnapped, something like that)? Or is this the work of the devil? I don’t think He would, but I don’t know.

My dear friend: There’s probably a huge list of questions I’d like to ask God the second I see Him (right after I collect my eyeballs back into my head).  So right upfront: I’m not sure why the devil is given such a long leash.  I’m going to ask God about that one, probably with my arms crossed and eyes rolled (and my head on fire).

The Question of Evil has not been adequately answered by the greatest philosophers of history, and I probably won’t be the one to crack it today, either.  It’s the kind of stuff that makes me doubt God everyday.  Even if I did have some solid theology on why certain atrocities happen, I still doubt it would satisfy the victim of abuse and slavery and oppression and terminal illness, no matter how much “logical sense” it makes to the brain.  Even if I concluded, “All the bad stuff is really from Satan,” then a suffering person could only reply, “So what?”

I can only offer a few thoughts that might help you on your journey here, because this tension of why bad things happen will never be resolved by any single answer.  Anything we say on pain will always be inadequate for the actual suffering person.  No such all-encompassing answer from any belief system really exists. I say this as a chaplain who works in the hospital, who has seen the very worst kinds of suffering, knowing that any amount of inspiration or explanation will never be enough.

I can only say that I believe the Christian perspective best accommodates the problems we see today.  I’m also aware that some of us will never meet eye-to-eye on this and we can “deconstructively reduce” anything I’m saying with snark and cynicism. That’s easy mode.  And that’s okay.  We’re free to disagree and wrestle and think for ourselves.

And please know: I would never, ever enumerate these reasons out loud the moment after a person has been seriously harmed.  I would never bring this to the bedside of any of my patients in their inexplicable grief. None of this theology really matters as much as you being there in the trenches with a heart of listening and love.

As always, please feel free to skip around.

Continue reading “How Do I Know If It’s God or the Devil? A Mega-Post On Pain, Evil, and Suffering”

Jesus Welcomes the Worst of You.


Jesus welcomes doubts, questions, confusion, frustration, venting, and disbelief. He welcomes those who draw near and say, “I feel so far.”

If you haven’t talked to him in a while, he will not bite your head off.

His arms are always open. Jesus can handle your clenching of the teeth and shaking of the fist. What he does not want is for you to stay there.

J.S.

Art from worshipgifs

Don’t Believe All That You Believe


Occasionally I’ll binge-read atheism blogs to re-examine my faith and to remember what it was like when I was an atheist. Some of the online debates are absolutely terrible, but a rare few are civil, compelling, and thoughtful. I have to really pause and consider the implications of a godless universe.

It’s always such a balancing act to question your own faith, but I also think most Christians are too afraid to look over the edge, to dance on that precarious cliff of hard questions, so we run to easy answers and bad arguments. We’re too scared to investigate doubt. We’ve equated a lack of confidence in faith to some kind of moral value judgment, as if “doubt” means personal failure. I refuse to believe that questions must mean a lack of character. I propose the very opposite: that we must have a place of safety to ask those questions and to not be threatened by curiosity.

I hope that whatever you believe, you would investigate it thoroughly to the very bottom and think through every foundation. Please do not let anyone do this for you. Simplistic platitudes will not get us through the darker times, but we also believe more lies than we think.

— J.S.


My Faith Is Up and Down and All Over The Place

Multiple anonymous questions —

[As always, please feel free to skip around]

– Hey Pastor. I guess I’m just wondering if I’m the only Christian who blows hot and cold. I’m terrible about reading my Bible or even praying. I tend to go in phases where I’ll do really well and be on it every day and then I hit a spot where I go weeks without cracking open my Bible once, and then I just sorta feel guilty so I keep staying away. Sometimes I second guess myself and wonder if I’m even saved, because if I was, wouldn’t I love Christ enough to give Him that time? I know that I am born again, and I also know that Christ has enough grace even for this, even though it’s the same thing over and over, and I know that I am the one shaming myself. I guess I’m just wondering if you’ve ever struggled with this yourself, and if you have advice on how to combat it?

– I’m glad I came cross your blog, I’ve been lacking my relationship with God. You can say even wondering about His existence … But lately I’ve been struggling and tried to talk to God but I don’t get answers and feel like He either left me or everything that happened was in my imagination…

– I need help, I’m lost I’m a struggling Christian who sometimes finds it hard to believe in god and other times it’s easy, but I still attend church every Sunday. I love being a Christian however over the last few weeks I’ve been getting into things like drugs, alcohol, and lots of sexual activity. what should I do? I’m questioning weather I should give a testimony at my church about who I really am, and the things I do, the truth, but even in the house of god I know I will still be judged.

My dear friends: You’re not the only ones who feel this way.

Most Christians are shocked that they can’t maintain a certain level of excitement and discipline in their spiritual walk — but I’m wondering where we got all these crazy parameters from.

It’s probably the unfair church culture that has hyped each Sunday into a let’s-top-last-week rock show.  Or it’s the way the preacher keeps guilt-bombing with, “When was the last time you really read your Bible and sang from your heart?”  Or it’s the Westernized ideology of performance and competition.  Or it’s just our own self-criticism.  Or you’re exhausted.

But please allow me to give you a little grace and freedom here.

Not everyday of your marriage can be like your wedding.  No one is expected to duplicate the first feelings of chemistry into their fifth decade of a relationship.

Faith is a tough, messy, muddy, organic sort of thing.

I know that’s probably the hipster thing to say.  But so long as we live between a perfect loving God on this hostile fallen world, we’ll have trouble believing the unseen eternal.  Some of us will struggle with that more than others, and no one can blame you for that.

Continue reading “My Faith Is Up and Down and All Over The Place”

A Faith Crisis: When My Theology Is Shaken by Science, Debates, and Headlines

Anonymous asked a question:

So I’m taking an honors world history class taught by an atheist teacher and we’re learning about evolution and it’s really really testing my faith. Honestly I don’t know what’s true right now. My theology isn’t the greatest because I’ve only accepted Christ for two years now. I’m just now finding it hard to believe in the Bible and God right now.

Hey dear friend, thank you for sharing this with such honesty.

The truth is, every single type of belief system will eventually get shaken somewhere. When this happens, we can 1) investigate deeper into what we really believe, and 2) incorporate the new information into our beliefs somehow.

We each experience a kind of cognitive dissonance when our worldview is shaken. It can actually make you disoriented, nauseous, and depressed. Sometimes it’s from learning more about the world, or it’s from a terribly brutal tragedy, or it can be a very persuasive argument that uses flowery language. And these experiences will inform our theology and philosophy, and vice versa. But none of this has to be a threatening, stomach-punching trauma.

While we’re certainly going to feel what we feel, we can still explore this new information in light of what we currently know, and then navigate a way through it. It’ll be tough, and you may be scared or surprised by your conclusions, but it can actually make you a more thoughtful, whole person, too.

Continue reading “A Faith Crisis: When My Theology Is Shaken by Science, Debates, and Headlines”

How Can We “Judge Not”? What About Calling Others Out?

Anonymous asked a question:

How can we not judge others? What if they are doing something wrong and I wanna correct them? Does that mean I “judged” them? What if I categorized their action as a sin? Still “judged” them?

Hey dear friend, I believe this is one of those myths that needs to be cleared up with a big dose of nuance and balance.

If you ask most people about the general message of the Bible, we might say, “Love everybody” or “Don’t judge or you’ll be judged!” And those are true. The problem is: that’s way too simplified for our human condition. The Bible also offers many extra layers for us, because we’re all squishy fragile beings with three lb. brains that need more than a sloppy idea of “love” and “don’t judge.”

Love includes telling the truth (Ephesians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 13:6). It includes accountability, wisdom, boundaries, and healthy exchange (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:12-13, 1 Cor 6:19-20). We’re called to be as pure as doves but as wise as snakes (Matthew 10:16). Love doesn’t mean we let people off the hook, and there are plenty of examples where Bible figures spoke up at the risk of death: Esther, Nathan, Micaiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and John the Baptist, who was beheaded for it. And saying “Don’t judge” is often a hidden ploy that really means, “Don’t judge me because I want to be selfish and destructive without your finger-wagging nagging.”

The famous passage on judging, Matthew 7, actually says:

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

That final verse is important. Paraphrased, it says: First look at yourself, and then you can actually see someone else.

In other words, there’s actually a way to judge someone that isn’t a passive-aggressive, flesh-driven, smug, backhanded superiority, but a sincere effort to see the best in someone when they’re slipping up. It necessarily starts with looking at ourselves first. Am I judging this person out of my own need to win? To just get things off my chest? To just tell them off? To let them have it?

Continue reading “How Can We “Judge Not”? What About Calling Others Out?”

I Don’t Feel Bad for the Bad Guy


[An angry post.]

You know, I’ve dealt with abusive, manipulative people nearly my entire life—and more and more, people want to show “empathy” for the abuser instead of the abused, and we’re too quick to explain away how much suffering that the abuser has actually caused.

One thing the movies get wrong is that they give the abuser some “depth” and “layers” and “multi-dimensionality.” Terrible villains are given backstories to justify their behavior and make them seem like “underdogs” who got dealt a bad hand. While this idea has some merit and it makes good movies, it also creates a harmful narrative where abusive people have a supposedly good reason to be abusive, or external factors are to blame, or you should feel really bad for them.

This completely leaves behind the abused person.

It’s as if abusive behavior can only be redeemed after the abuser sees how much suffering they’ve caused, and if that’s the cost to redeem an abuser, it’s too high of a price. Remorse shouldn’t be born at the expense of trauma.

I can see why the media would “feel bad” for a disgusting rapist and his future, because we’ve become trained in glorifying and empathizing with the bad guy. We offer way too much benefit-of-the-doubt. And yes, some people are just terrible. Not everyone has depth and layers and sad backstories. No, they’re not irredeemable, but we underestimate the detestable capacity for evil and we over-promote self-esteem (perhaps because we then must admit we’re also each capable of the same evil). We use words like “empathy” without also considering boundaries, safety, and trust. Good people get used up because they are fearfully obligated to a morally heightened, hyper-dramatic view of “love,” when it’s really just enabling. And some of us selfishly appear to have empathy to be awarded as outstanding citizens, when there’s neither an ounce of compassion for the abuser nor the abused.

In all this, we force the victim to take the “higher ground.” We trivialize and simplify the victim’s role to be the “bigger person” all the time.

But if we only place the impetus on the victim to forgive, to rise up, to heal, and to reconcile, then we’re not any better than the abuser. Doesn’t the victim have to be redeemed, too, from the pain that was caused? The abuser can certainly feel remorse, but are we going to ignore the remorse that the victim feels from both their pain and “blame”? The abuser can feel bad, but are we going to ignore how awful the victim feels from the actual wound?

It seems unfair to appeal to both sides when nothing about abuse is equal, and it must be on the abuser to pay for their crimes, to make reparations, and to be restricted unless they can prove otherwise that they can be trusted again.

I always want to hear “both sides of the story,” but in cases of obvious abuse, I’m not forfeiting justice out of some misguided sense of courtesy. Justice was already forfeited by the abuse. I must stand staunchly and stubbornly with the victim, and to do that, I must sit with them first, in their pain, not at my tempo but theirs, and to look evil in the eye with courage, unflinching at excuses and rationalizations, and to offer grace when it is no longer foolish, by the plumb line of wisdom and trust.
J.S.