Why the Ham-Nye Debate Wasn’t Helpful

I’m writing part of this post on my laptop in a coffeehouse just off the Baylor University campus. For many who may not know, Baylor is a private Christian school; it’s motto is Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana (“For the Church, for Texas”). However, Baylor also finds itself at the culmination of an ambitious, decade-long initiative its regents called “Baylor 2012,” an aspiring, expensive plan to achieve higher levels of academic excellence in all aspects of university purposes and functions. One of the cornerstones of this plan was the construction of a massive science center that would revolutionize Baylor’s impact on the science and research communities, offering state-of-the-art training in competitive degrees such as chemistry and biochemistry, environmental science, geology, physics, psychology and neuroscience.

Also, the coffeehouse in which I sit is called Common Grounds.

It's a rule that the trendier the coffeehouse, the clearer the coffee pun must be.

It’s a rule that the trendier the coffeehouse, the clearer the coffee pun must be.

Because that’s the point. It’s the belief at the core of Baylor’s plan, it’s the hope residing deeply in so many of the educators and students working in this community, and it’s the cry of Christians all over our country and our world who are fed up with the prevailing view that science and religious faith are mutually exclusive – that they cannot coexist.

And then these same Christians and scientists turn the channel to CNN last Tuesday night and witness a “debate” between two individuals who have no interest in finding common ground between their respective fields of study. We stare at the screen, shake our heads, release a frustrated sigh, and listen as these two men only serve to fortify the wall they believe exists between science and religious faith. Thank you, gentlemen.

The only thing worthwhile about this debate was to whether neck tie or bow tie would prove victorious.

The only thing worthwhile about this debate was to whether neck tie or bow tie would prove victorious.

The Popularity of the Conflict Model

Here’s the main problem with the Ham-Nye debate. It took place within a “Conflict model” interpretation of the relationship between science and religious faith. The renowned scholar, Ian Barbour, who focused much of his attention and career on the interplay of science and religious faith, proposed a four-fold typology for understanding how the two fields of study can interact. In laymen’s terms, he figured there were four ways a conversation about faith and scientific research could go.

On one end of Barbour’s spectrum is “Conflict.” In this model, the fields are viewed as unable to coexist. One must be fully correct and the other must be fully incorrect. Many who embrace Barbour’s reasoning are quick to point out that this model is the least helpful, but the most exciting. Because conflict is exciting – it’s what drives action movies, political discourse and pretty much every reality TV show ever filmed.

"We need some conflict, stat! Let's have one of these ladies throw a party and then hide everyone else's Xanax."

“We need some conflict, stat! Let’s have one of these ladies throw a party and then hide everyone else’s Xanax.”

However, there are other ways to consider the relationship between science and religious faith. These models are less popular and more difficult for both “camps” to absorb into their understanding. However, they are perhaps more beneficial and edifying than the Conflict model.

Why the Ham-Nye Debate Wasn’t Helpful

Just because a debate, by definition and practice, is an argument between two different points of view, does not mean either point of view must be accepted to the complete exclusion of the other. A debate that truly educates and energizes deeper thought and study is one that is willing to concede that both sides have something to offer to the general consciousness.

Unfortunately, the two players in Tuesday night’s Creationism-Evolution debate are not interested in adopting that kind of overarching philosophy. Call it a fear of appearing weak or uncertain, or perhaps plain ol’ stubbornness, but I’m also apt to believe that fewer people would tune in for a debate that was clearly driven by a “Dialogue” or “Integration” model, in which common ground and the ability to learn from one another exists at the heart of the argument.

Everyone knows the neck tie and the bow tie hate one another with a passion.

Everyone knows the neck tie and the bow tie hate one another with a passion.

As Peter Enns put it in his own article on the debate, “Ham needs his theology just the way it is in order to maintain his strong grip on his understanding of reality. His theology requires a science that supports biblical literalism. Failure in this regard is not an option for Ham. … Nye is clear that he has no delusions of convincing Ham. The debate presumably is aimed at dissuading those who listen to Ham.”

Anyone else bothered by that? Sure, there is something satisfying when your belief about a certain something is proven to be the right one, but the deeper and more profound the question, the less likely you will ever arrive at such a feeling. Certainly within debate there is a loyalty issue; a person feels compelled to stifle dissent that might scratch and claw at the fabric of his or her belief. But that loyalty, and the desire to protect one’s viewpoint, only exists in those who are trapped in the Conflict model. And the longer you’re trapped there, the harder it becomes to see things even slightly differently.

It's a scary thing when these two guys prove to be a more agreeable pair.

It’s a scary thing when these two guys prove to be a more agreeable pair.

The Debate that Could Have Been

Sitting in Common Grounds, I can overhear students talking. Contrary to the stereotype that only Christians attend a Christian university, I can hear plenty of conversations and arguments ping-ponging back and forth across tables. Pro-choice or pro-life? Should homosexuality still be considered a sin? Is capital punishment unChristian? Should stem-cell research be banned? Should a Christian support alternative energy initiatives?

Which style of cravat is lamer?

Which style of cravat is lamer?

I can’t help but believe that every student who engages in these conversations walks away with a sharper understanding, not only of his or her viewpoint, but also of the other side and the data and conviction it also has to offer. The conversation partners are not only  better informed by the conversation/argument/debate’s end; they have been made, in some small way at least, more patient, perceptive, and gracious people.

Is that too much to ask, also, from a televised debate on one of the defining arguments of the last century? I don’t think so.

But after last Tuesday, I’ve come to suspect that more and more people – be they people of faith and/or supporters of scientific progress – are walking away from such contests with one thought clearer than all the rest. That the only relationship between science and faith is a warring relationship. That it’s a fight, a bitter dispute, and anyone who doesn’t dig a trench and draw a line in the proverbial sand is a weak, hesitant person, full of doubt and lacking conviction.

May we come to see that the exact opposite is not only the real truth, but also the only real hope for peace and progress we have left.

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The Girl on the Road: What Mary Teaches Us About Controversy

Social media is abuzz with impassioned posts about freedom of speech, judgment vs. judging not, and the difference between showing tolerance and being clobbered by it.

"Hey! Leggo my hand!"

“Hey! Leggo my hand!”

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or you are the happy few who pay little attention to social media feeds and entertainment news), you know that a rich, white, Southern guy with a well-known cable reality TV show has been accused of spouting bigotry and racism during an interview with a popular magazine. He claims his comments are based on his Christian faith and interpretation of the Bible. Some people, whether they’ve read the article or not, are outraged. Others are outraged at those who are outraged. Apparently, it is THE most important issue for Christians to think about and talk about and argue about and spend their energy and emotion responding to … this week.

I have no direct response to this issue. Oh, I could say some things, sure. But I won’t for three reasons. The first is, I just don’t care. I know this rich, white Southern celebrity is my brother in Christ and that I should show at least some measure of concern for what he has to say as a representative of Christianity. But I just don’t care. If I have to concern myself with his words, then I must concern myself with all the words spewed by all my other Christian brothers and sisters who are attacking what he said, defending him for saying it, or sitting on the fence until the winds of controversy dissipate. So, instead, I will ignore the talk and simply offer this blog post as my only “stance” on the issue.

The second reason I won’t straight-up respond to the controversy is that I recognize it to be one of those times in which the more you comment, the less clear the issue becomes. Whether you speak from conviction or merely out of loyalty because you’re a fan of the guy’s TV show, your words will only muddle the issue – make it sloppier and more complicated than it already is. Some people will agree with your points, while others will make it their mission to refute every little idle word they can identify. This I have learned from experience – unproductive experience.

The third reason I will not throw my hat into the ring of this particular controversy is Mary.

Here’s the deal. This controversy, like so many others that have set the Internet and cable news networks ablaze in 2013, boils down to one thing: what to do with sinfulness.

Read enough comment threads or Huffington Post articles or religion-themed blogs and you will find that with any issue concerning accusations of bigotry or a controversy generated by a person (or an organization) allegedly standing up for “what the Bible says,” there are those Christians who feel it is the dutiful thing to “support” and/or “stand with” the person (or organization) being “persecuted,” and there are others who, instead, point out where that person (or organization) went wrong and how they could have been less judgmental and better exemplified the Christian’s call to “love others.”

Was that enough quotation marks for you?

Was that enough quotation marks for you?

Maybe ‘tis the Season, but rather than these two trains of thought, I can’t help but think of Mary. Virgin Mary. The girl from Nazareth. The girl on the road. The girl who was visited by an angel, entrusted with an extraordinary promise, and willingly accepted the consequences.

You see, with Mary, God seemed to break his own rules. The Gospel of Luke makes it clear that while Mary was engaged to Joseph (the word is “betrothed,” indicating a promise of marriage had certainly been made), they had yet to be fully married and nothing had been consummated. Ask any evangelical Christian if it is okay to conceive a child out of wedlock, and they will shake their heads and point to Scripture to back up that conviction.

But it doesn’t stop there. Mary is called “highly favored” by the angel Gabriel, but then she is found to be with child “by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, she is unmarried and pregnant, and so, in the eyes of the public, she is a sexually active loose woman. In the eyes of the Law of Moses (which Jews believed was almost literally handed down by God to the people of Israel), she is an adulteress. According to that same law, both she and the man with whom she committed adultery (if it is indeed not Joseph) should be condemned to death (Lev. 20:10). If she escapes a death penalty (by any other excuse than she is the victim of a rape, which we cannot believe she claimed), it is only on a technicality that the marriage to Joseph had not yet been consummated and because she is therefore, for all intents and purposes, a prostitute. Is it any wonder that Matthew’s Gospel tells us Joseph was seeking to annul their engagement? Is it any wonder Mary spends three months of her pregnancy living with her cousin far from her hometown? Is it any wonder she is willing to travel with Joseph to Bethlehem, to leave her home and make that long journey south, before they are officially married?

Like this, only less honeymoon-ish and more sand and swollen feet.

Like this, only less honeymoon-ish and more sand and swollen feet.

According to ancient Church tradition, before we can revere the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus into the world (i.e. the season of Christmas), we must sit for a while in anticipation of his coming. This season is called Advent. It is marked by hoping and waiting. Hoping for the best, and waiting for God to show Himself. And of all the biblical stories that correspond to this time of hoping and waiting, the one at the center is that of Mary, the girl on the road, the girl of scorn and shame, the girl with a bastard child growing inside her. Hoping that she will endure the scorn and remain obedient to God’s will. Waiting for God to show up and sanctify what everyone else sees as sinful.

Because, according to what the Scriptures say, Mary should be condemned. One wonders if the reason why “there was no room in the inn” had more to do with keeping sinfulness at bay than it did with a particular house being at capacity. One wonders if the reason the baby Jesus was placed in a manger was to keep his uncleanness and unlawfulness (according to Leviticus) at a distance from the good Jews who did not want to be rendered unclean by association. One wonders if one of the main reasons the angel announces the birth to a bunch of shepherds is because those lowly peasants might have been the only ones unfazed if they were to have learned the sordid nature of the baby’s family history.

"Ummmmmmmm…"

“Ummmmm! We’re gonna tellllll…”

If the story at the heart of Advent teaches us anything, it is that God is more concerned with proclaiming the birth of his Son – and ALL it entails – than he is with laws and rules and naming sins. This is not to say that the law – in this case the moral, sexual statutes in the latter half of the Book of Leviticus – is pointless. However, when it comes to the good news of Jesus Christ, it takes a backseat. A way way backseat. What matters is Jesus, come to earth. What matter is peace on earth and (to cite an outdated translation) goodwill toward men.

With the help of a divinely inspired dream, Joseph recognized this before it was too late. Instead of distancing himself – joining the finger-pointers and keeping his distance for the sake of propriety and good, wholesome morality – he chose the way of love. He gave no arguments, made no rationalizations. He simply erased the distance between himself and the one who was scorned. He willingly journeyed to Bethlehem.

One hopes that, each year, we will choose likewise.

The Gospel According to Intolerance

This post dabbles in controversy, and that can lead to defensiveness and trench-digging. Best to kick things off with a lighthearted illustration:

How Intolerant Christians See Themselves.

How Intolerant Christians See Themselves.

How Other People See Intolerant Christians.

How Other People See Intolerant Christians.

Here’s the thing. It can be tricky to determine what it means to be a Christian. What is the point – the essential, defining characteristic? What is the crux of the Christian life?…

… Pun most definitely intended.

The If/Then Statement at the Heart of Christianity (that few people heed)

From everything I have read, in the Bible and outside of it, it seems the cross (the English translation of the Latin, crux) is the crux of the issue. And the thing about the Gospels – those four hagiographic stories that describe and methodically theologize the life, death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth – is that they attribute a whole lot more meaning to the cross beyond it being merely an instrument for execution upon which Roman centurions impaled a young, upstart rabbi at the start of the first century.

It turns out, the cross is less of an instrument and more of a lifestyle.

Three of the four Gospels quote Jesus saying, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” See for yourself  in Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9; the latter  even adds the word “daily,” a temporal qualifier that reminds followers of Jesus that this selfless and sacrificial lifestyle should not be seen as a one-time commitment but a perpetual choice.

Yet even as we turn to these particular statements, we’re aware that we hold in our hands a very large book. It’s got some weight, the print is small and the text is organized into two columns per page. For crying out loud, it’s big enough to make Melville’s Moby Dick, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, or Stephen King’s The Stand feel no longer than a limerick. It’s hard not to want to add a bunch of other laws and statements and sayings and theological expositions to answer the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian?”

And, yes, I am aware that I just lumped a book by a popular horror writer about an end-of-days battle in the wake of a superflu outbreak together with what is arguably the greatest novel of American Romanticism and the guy Graham Greene once called the greatest novelist of the 20th century. Deal with it.

And, yes, I am aware that I just lumped a book by a popular horror writer about an end-of-days battle in the wake of a Superflu outbreak together with what is arguably the greatest novel of American Romanticism and the guy Graham Greene once called the greatest novelist of the 20th century. Deal with it.

So let’s break down what Jesus said a bit more, shall we? Let’s be pragmatic about this. The first thing one might notice about his statement is that it is structured as an if/then declaration.

If a person is seeking practical answers, if/then statements are the most helpful because they set up a very clear, very simple cause-and-effect. (Or, perhaps in this case, the better phrase would be a call-and-response.) Jesus acknowledges a person’s desire to become one of his followers and then supplies the conditions by which this desire becomes reality. You want to be my follower? he (essentially) asks. Here’s what you do: deny yourself, take up your cross (daily), and follow me. He ends with the same word with which he starts – “follow.”

If/then statements are helpful to modern readers, and they weren’t foreign to the people of Jesus’ day either. Even a cursory reading of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy or the majority of the Old Testament Prophets reveal that God’s covenant with his chosen people – the Israelites – was structured by an if/then understanding. As one example of many, take Deuteronomy 28:1:

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.”

Now, before we start reducing in our minds God’s commands or Jesus’ call to a kind of business deal or contractual obligation, we need to remember the fundamental difference between the two. A business deal or contract is an agreement by two parties to meet one another’s needs.

When God shakes hands, do you think He goes up-and-down like a jumprope or back-and-forth like He's sawing wood?

When God shakes hands, do you think He goes up-and-down like a jumprope or back-and-forth like He’s sawing wood?

The if/then statement of Jesus does not describe a co-dependent relationship. We do our part not to meet Jesus’ needs, but rather to transform our own life experience. If we reject the conditions of the call, the world goes on a-spinnin’ and, according to a bunch of other statements scattered across those faux-gilded pages of this massive book, Jesus goes on a-lovin’ us anyway.

Reveling in Persecution

So, back to the point. In this day and age, there are a lot of people who view Christians as intolerant and judgmental. We’re believed to be superstitious, regressive and close-minded. We’re seen as morality police. We’re called hypocrites (a word that originally meant “actors” but has come to mean insincere and deceitful). And despite such negative press, there are a lot of Christians who seem to almost revel in the name-calling.

I know some people who sneer at the criticism and, in a kind of high-minded self-righteousness, will point to passages about how “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted” (2nd Tim. 3:12) and “if the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

Sadly, this is often the most accurate representation of what comes to some Christians' minds when you bring up the concept of persecution.

Sadly, this is often the most accurate representation of what comes to some Christians’ minds when you bring up the concept of persecution.

Not only have some Christians chosen to interpret “persecution” as mere name-calling or political opposition, but we seem to think such criticism solidifies our affiliation with Jesus. The verses I hear quoted the most as a means of shoring up this identity-via-enmity is Matthew 5:11-12:

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

You see! It’s okay to be intolerant. It’s okay to pull back from fellowship and friendship with people who behave in ways contrary to what I believe. It’s okay to treat other people as the sinners that they are, and it’s certainly okay when they respond with denunciations and slanderous vitriol. They know not what they’re saying, and Jesus himself said that this is proof we are blessed.

"Good, Timmy! That's good picket sign-holding technique. Daddy's proud of you."

“Good, Timmy! That’s good picket sign-holding technique. Jesus is proud of you.”

Except, as far as I can tell, that’s not what Jesus was saying at all. The passage in Matthew makes it clear that the criticism directed at Jesus’ followers is false. However, there are a lot of so-called “Christians” who are hypocrites. They’re narrow-minded, inhospitable and just downright mean. They claim to be standing up for “truth,” but what is that truth anyway? When Jesus stood up for the truth, he had already been chained, spit upon and beaten, and there were still rods, whips and nails to come. And yet, he had not one unkind or judgmental word to utter against his criticizers and denouncers (John 18:33-38).

Oh, how much has changed since the first century! Strange, since his definitive if/then statement seems to describe imitation. Odd, considering that, at another time when he was asked what was the single greatest command, those same three Gospels record this reply:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, Matthew 22:37, Luke 10:27).

as well as his quick addition, “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And when he was asked who exactly made the cut as “neighbor,” he went on to tell a story of your sworn enemy selflessly saving your life.

Holding On to Our Intolerance

So, what? Is it wrong to be intolerant? Is it wrong to speak out against behaviors that seem contrary to what is written in this heavy book with its faux-gilded pages? I mean, c’mon! Are we just supposed to roll over and play dead? Are we just supposed to stand idly by while marijuana is legalized, the government attempts to take away our guns, homosexuals receive the right to marry and vegans are treated as real people? Didn’t God call us to love what he loves and hate what he hates?

I mean, I know pigs would probably appreciate no longer being slaughtered, but I can't start my day without a few cuts of their delicious flesh.

I mean, I know pigs would probably appreciate no longer being slaughtered, but I can’t start my day without a few cuts of their delicious flesh.

In response, I can only point us back to what seems to be the essential call of a follower of Jesus: to relinquish any urge toward self-interest, to adopt a lifestyle of humble self-sacrifice, and to keep our hearts, souls, minds and strength focused on the guy who perfectly modeled this for us. Furthermore, nowhere within that if/then statement can I find justification for taking a stand against naughtiness over loving the naughty.

Some will no doubt argue the old “love the sinner, hate the sin” adage. Others might even claim that not pointing out a person’s sin is, ultimately, unloving, because it leaves the person to wallow in their wrongness. Maybe. But until you can make practical application of unconditional love a true priority in your life, I’d encourage you to zip your lips and step down off the soapbox. You may think you’ve been representing the truth, but I guarantee no one has been learning anything about self-denial and self-sacrifice from you. No one has gleaned from you an uninhibited, unbridled love of the heart, soul, mind and strength for God. And if they haven’t seen it, it’s because you haven’t really been living it.

Go home. Work on that part for a while. The essential part. The what it all means part. And when you’re ready to speak again, maybe we’ll be ready to listen.

Christian Pessimism

Last week, I was listening to several ministers respond to college students’ questions when a particular metaphor struck me. Regarding issues such as prayer and the question of gender in ministry, a few of the ministers spoke about “the lenses we bring to the Bible” and how our presuppositions often prevent us from recognizing what a certain chapter and verse actually means.

This comes as no shock to the majority of us. Christians, Jews, Muslims and even atheists the world over have encountered proof-texting in some form. It especially seems the natural pastime of many Bible-thumpers, to see how many random Bible verses they can apply to issues within our society today. These are the same people who say things in general conversation like, “I have a verse for you,” or even “God spoke to me this morning about you.”

"Really? I wonder why I didn't hear from Him directly. I guess I was in the shower."

“Really? I wonder why I didn’t hear from Him directly. I guess I was in the shower.”

Even mediocre English teachers are quick to correct students when they offer a sweeping analysis of The Great Gatsby‘s themes based on half a chapter, or when they attempt to interpret “Mending Wall” solely from the line, “‘Good fences make good neighbors.'” However, those scruples rarely find their way into Bible studies and small groups. Context is one of the first things to be rejected when it comes to the applying Scripture to one’s life. Most of the time, it’s just more convenient to jump straight to personal analysis.

There are numerous problems that are born of careless reading of the Bible, but perhaps the most pervasive is the damage done to a person’s theological mooring. If the words of Scripture are so easily manipulatable to any given situation, you can end up with an incredible spectrum of conviction when it comes to particular issues and divisive matters in one’s culture. It’s why you might see Westboro Baptist Church members picketing gay marriage on one side of city street, and find members of another local Baptist church standing on the other side of the street picketing the picketers.

It's a mad mad mad mad denomination...

It’s a mad mad mad mad denomination…

Lenses

There is much to protect when it comes to freedom of interpretation, but we must be careful how quickly we apply both the Bible and even fundamental theological arguments to our present situations. This has to do with those “lenses” I mentioned before. Christians are very often as guilty of bringing a pre-established assumption about life to their reading of Scripture as a high school freshman is to assuming Fahrenheit 451 is about literary censorship.

Over the past decade or so, we have been bombarded with evidence that the world in which we live seems to be grappling in the dark. Liberties are being stolen away and evil is on an unprecedented rise. We have multiple twenty-four-hour news networks that pour over the minutia of injustice and alleged tyranny. We spend hours and hours every week clicking around the Internet and reading comment section after comment section in which vitriol is spewed and conspiracies are blamed. We sit down with friends for coffee and spend the majority of our time complaining about federal encroachment, the decline of public schooling, the supposed threat to the institution of marriage, or any number of issues. Whether we are aware of it or not, all these things fill us with a deep sense of pessimism and distrust.

Whatever happened to the old adage, "If you can't say something nice..."?

Whatever happened to the old adage, “If you can’t say something nice…”?

Christians believe solace can be found in reading the Bible and in prayer, but the irony of such disciplines is that we drag all of this angry, fearful baggage right into the middle of our times of study or meditation. We spend the vast majority of our weeks embroiled in all the problems and regrets of our society, and it becomes impossible to separate these worries from genuine times of theological reflection. Thus, what most often happens is that we turn our Bibles into a litmus test for our particular culture and give no thought to the extensive history that has unfolded since those scriptures were first spoken and later transcribed. Our times of prayer are saturated with begging God’s deliverance – for him to roll back this pervasive darkness that has apparently spread itself over every aspect of life.

It’s no wonder most people don’t see anything appealing about the Christian faith. On a day-by-day basis, how many of us exude authentic hope and unbiased joy?

Theological Suicide

In the song “Hopeless Wanderer” by Mumford & Sons, a repentant line rings out, “I will learn to love the skies I’m under.” Unfortunately, I think the concept of embracing the world we live in – actually loving it – seems an impossible task for many Christians. Why? Because we are beset on every side by voices crying BEWARE! and LOOK OUT! and DON’T TRUST HIM and THEY’RE COMING FOR YOU!. It takes a very centered person to hold all the fear-mongers at bay and truly keep the faith. It’s hard to transfer our faith away from a political ideology or an economic policy or a gun license. Solo fide in an all-knowing, almighty God is scarce these days.

I’ve written before about Mike Huckabee’s now well-known response to why the Sandy Hook massacre took place last December. His response is just another example of this kind of pessimism and the dangers of presuppositions when it comes to the Scriptures. Huckabee seems to believe that human lawlessness and the deletion of government-sanctioned prayer in public schools can effect the proximity and attitude of an almighty God. Many others who were emotionally swayed by his argument are quick to agree that the Bible reveals such terrible things can happen when people reject God. The logic seems to click – you kick God out of schools, God won’t protect you when you need him.

But a careful reflection on this thought process ends up making God look like the Little Red Hen who didn’t share her bread with the duck and the cat and the dog because they didn’t help her pick the grain and make the dough. It’s theological suicide. A person who believes this has, in their minds, effectively put to death an immovable God who perseveres in love, and has instead erected the idol of a vindictive, karmic god who has no qualms about people getting what they (apparently) deserve. Grace goes out the window. What is more, there is no evidence the God of the Bible ever acted in such a way or was ever willfully absent from any historical tragedy. In fact, the Old Testament prophets take great pains to communicate that in even the darkest and most violent moments in history, God is present and active.

"I've got a tee time with Enoch, Noah and Methuselah. Tell those Babylonians to call on that Marduk fella. I'm out the door."

“I’ve got a tee time with Enoch, Noah and Methuselah. Tell the Babylonians to call that Marduk fella. I’m out the door.”

Cleaning the Lens

So what do we do? How can we avoid such small-minded, misguided readings of Scripture? How do we free ourselves from pessimistic prayer? How do we treat the darkness we see in our world in a way that does not overshadow the hope we have in redemption and our responsibility in this “the ministry of reconciliation” (2nd Corinthians 5:18)?

Like many problems of addiction, the first step to solving the problem is admitting there is one. And Christian pessimism is certainly an addiction – a lifestyle that is difficult to escape. The second step would be to practice as much patience as possible, and to remind oneself that the news and the Internet and the complaints of other fearful people are mere opinions, and that truth is much bigger and goes much deeper than what they can touch. They will never acknowledge the full story of this life unless we limit ourselves solely to their pronouncements.

"I'm not listening. La la la la la la la la!"

“I’m not listening. La la la la la la la la!”

Finally, in addition to patience, we must seek to understand humility. Not just practice it, but understand what it is, at its core. And we must approach Scripture and prayer and even the most general of theological conversations with that healthy sense of humility. That meekness that acknowledges that we were never meant to be the end-all purveyors of truth, nor is God’s character meant to be interpreted solely by one culture in one time period other than the time of Jesus Christ on earth. If you’re going to start anywhere, start there.

And maybe, if we can calm ourselves and slow down, we will begin to see the true nature of a God who has, thankfully, never abandoned us to our waywardness. It turns out he’s been standing right beside us all the while.

Bearing (Bad News) with One Another

“The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one…”

Ever feel compelled to deliver bad news to a friend? If you’re like me, on the rare occasion that you act on such a conviction, doing so is never easy. One of the main reasons this is difficult is that no one likes to receive bad news, and neither do decent people revel in delivering it. Another reason is that human beings have this odd and innate capacity for denial, and we can activate it in a myriad of ways. We can reject the bad news outright. We can refuse to listen. We might also project our uncomfortable feelings outward – call the messenger uninformed, uneducated, duped, or just a flat-out liar. We can even find ways to disprove what we don’t enjoy hearing, even if the bad news that’s come to us is spot-on accurate. On such occasions, logic becomes a doomed toy suspended in a tug-of-war between two fussing sides. Continue reading