Yes, God Can! (Questions that shouldn’t need to be asked)

We say “God can do anything.”
But God doesn’t do all the good we expect: planes crash, ferries capsize, people die of common illnesses, resources aren’t made available for our neighbours outdoors, and refugees are imprisoned.
We say “With God nothing is impossible.”
But then put limits on God’s power and ability. After all, how could God forgive Hitler? How could God love that rapist-murderer? And how could God save anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus or who was born into the wrong religion?
We say “God is king over all creation.”
imageBut then we assign ourselves the task to make the rules other people must keep in order to please God: “You mustn’t swear. You must attend Church. You must read your Bible. You must not think about sex. You must disapprove of gays, abortionists, socialists, Catholics, liberal politicians, or (insert profession, people-group or minority here).”
Pope Francis says that Jesus saves all, even if they don’t seek him.
Can God do that?
Rob Bell seems to believe there will be millions more in God’s kingdom than we would ever suspect–that we will be surprised at the reach of God’s love.
Can this be true?
Can God move in ways we cannot imagine? Yes! Yes! Hallelujah, YES!
Can God save anyone simply because of God’s instinct of love? Yes! (I believe this is called “grace.”)
Can God refuse to be limited by our human understanding of Divinity or our interpretations of revelation? Yes!
Could Pope Francis, Gandhi, the Buddha, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and St Paul all have a similar underlying understanding of God that ruthlessly opposes any attempt at figuring God out or assigning a role statement to the One-who-cannot-be-contained?
Yes!
Could it be that now we see as in a mirror, dimly? Could it be that worship of the Bible or our group’s way of seeing it is more important to us than letting God be God? Could it be possible that one day we will look back and be astounded by how small our imagined God was?
Would it be too far-fetched to assume that, when all the dust settles after all the wars are fought, that, in the end, love really is the highest aspiration of all creation and this love indeed has won?
I dare you to believe that this is the way it could be.

Losing Faith: Resurrection

EEmpty tomb aster has come and gone. Chocolate eggs have been found and (almost) all eaten. Easter services have been experienced around the globe, marking the amazing claim: Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed.

Part of the pain of losing faith is the journey. It’s never an instantaneous event where one wakes up simply to find no trace of belief left. It is a process.

Likewise, rediscovering faith is also a journey. It may happen over months or years. And it may result in a totally different faith–or radically changed perspective on truth–than previously held.

For those on this journey, Easter is a difficult time. It is a time of reflecting, mourning what is lost, “seeking the living among the dead,” wondering, hoping, praying (if one still believes enough to indulge in prayer).

Like facing down someone with a mental illness, well-meaning folks will say things like, “Jesus is risen! Just believe.”

This is like telling a manic depressive to “just get over it” or a crack addict to “just say ‘No’.”

The truth is those who doubt haven’t necessarily turned their back on faith. Most of them truly want to believe–they just can’t see their way clear to honestly do so at the present time. Talk of resurrection may bring hope that perhaps, just maybe, there is some truth to Jesus coming alive out of the garden tomb. Emotions may rise on singing the glorious Resurrection anthems, Christ The Lord is Risen Today, or Thine Be the Glory. Yet, to believe in what they sing is too far out of their reach.

Thats why the story of Thomas is so close to my heart. Thomas was a man like me who wouldn’t take things on board simply because someone told him they were true. He had to test the facts, run the experiments, document the evidence, check the science. . . .

And when he finally saw Jesus, alive, face-to-face, I don’t get the impression that his heart was amazingly and miraculously filled with faith. I take from his statement that there was something deep in the back of his mind that he still couldn’t shake, a distrust, an “I need more proof” space that was still open for other answers, other more reasonable claims.

And so he proclaimed, maybe timidly and maybe with some wonderment, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Maybe you are praying that prayer today. Perhaps the answer is on its way, but possibly it will take some time. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of faith, no matter where you came from or where you are headed, God offers you the gift of resurrection. You don’t need to believe it right now. You don’t even need to want to believe in the resurrected Christ.

Honestly, you may never come to a place where you can believe in this Biblical claim of resurrection–be it the account of Jesus coming back to life or any faith in life beyond the grave.

But you need to know there is one thing that no depths of doubt, no amount of unbelief can take away from you, and that is the gift of God that we see in the resurrection story:

The gift of Hope.

Losing Faith

I don’t know about you, but I have a faith problem. My faith problem is simply that I often lose my faith. It’s not a matter of maintaining appearances–I can do that awesomely; after all, I am a pastor’s son. I can look happy and spirit-filled at the drop of a hat.

No, this is far deeper, raw and honest; it’s a place where I find myself all too often.

Maybe it’s the books I read. People have said stuff to me like, “Don’t read (insert name here)’s books. Your faith can’t last if you expose yourself to such dangerous ideas.” Maybe its the blogs I visit and the topics they discuss like post-evangelicalism, post-modernism, post-Darwinian thought, post-Christian, post-colonialism, etc. Maybe its the stuff I put in my ears–words that tell me I need to think freely, have an open mind, be more inclusive, love more/hate less. . . .

Regardless, apart from the fact that there are certainly elements of danger every time I open my mind to entertain a new thought, I would say the greater danger remains in trying to maintain a status quo, an attachment to a system that just doesn’t work and is losing its credibility more each day. I can’t buy into the Evangelical culture any more than I can buy into consumerism, wanton capitalism, or corporate warmongering.

Ideals aside, it’s still Good Friday (and I digress).

Today we remember the cross, the sacrifice of Jesus, the rigged execution of the God-man who came to be revered as Lord,  King and Saviour.

It is a dark day and, perhaps, “Good” Friday is too sanitised a version of this story. This particular day was horrible, terrible, dark, depressing. It was a  time of pain, of loss, of an end to a promise. . . .

The disciples fled.

The women wept.

The soldiers mocked.

The earth kept spinning into night and the one who promised it all had died.

God had left the building.

There was no more promise, no more hope, no more kingdom.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living that day.

Sometimes my faith gives way to anger, pain, regret. Too often God is distant,  silent, unknowing and uncaring. This is my own personal Good Friday . . . or Monday,  or Thursday, or Sunday. . . .

How about you?

(To be continued)

Nobody Won

Bill-Nye-vs.-Ken-Ham-Debate_f_improf_645x254One would have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the much-publicised debate in the U.S. between Bill Nye (can I not resist adding, “The Science Guy” after that?) and Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis) held February 4th in Kentucky. Well, OK. If you don’t live in North America and you’re not either an Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian, or an atheist, you possibly don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

But, nonetheless, it happened. “Ham on Nye” as it has become known.

There are numerous clips on YouTube and well past hundreds of search results on Google that will show you anything you wish to know about this event.

But, for me, the sound bites say it all. The answer to the question, “What would it take to change your mind?” was, according to Nye: “A single piece of solid evidence.” According to Ham: Nothing. That’s right. Nothing. Since the Bible is obviously literally (according to Ham’s interpretation of it) fully accurate in Science and History, he needs no other evidence. Nothing will change his mind that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and created in 7 literal 24-hour days (albeit, several of those days did not have the time-telling benefit of the sun–go figure!).

How does he know the earth is less than 10,000 years old? He’s done his Math and added up the generations found in the Bible’s genealogies. This is what he calls the “historical science” method. Since his literal understanding of the Bible is correct in all matters historical, then so is his guess of the earth’s age.

And here’s where the debate is unwinnable: the basic underlying world-views of these two men couldn’t be further opposed to each other.

To those of fundamentalist ilk, Ham was the hero, standing for the truth, defending the faith, and holding fast to sound doctrine and a literal reading of Genesis 1 against the tide of the Satanic theory of evolution.

To atheists and more progressive Christians, Bill Nye won with his solid evidence and logic, his proven hypotheses and superior intellect. To the atheist, the foundation of Ken Ham’s argument was as shaky as that of a flooded beach: how could one trust a book written by men of an ancient tribal culture (see *Note) with the aim of proving their deity was superior to those in the lands around them? After all, every culture has its own creation myths.

To the more progressive Christian, while claiming the sacred text to be inspired by God, it is seen to be, still, as bearing the indelible imprint of humanity with all its tendencies to interpretation in the light of current culture and the desire to prove tribal superiority. Progressives care not so much about the “how” of the universe’s origin as much as the “why” and the “what does this mean for us now?” So, while this event aroused cursorily, it held no real sense of consequence.

In the days following, source after source declared Bill Nye as the hands-down winner (even Christianity Today’s poll showed a 9-1 lead). However, in my opinion, “Ham on Nye” proved to be a fizzer, a debate which was more of a publicity stunt to showcase Ham’s Creationist exhibit and the organisation he has created to promote his own views.

Surely the church has learned from its own dealings with scientists such as Galileo or Copernicus. Surely they cannot take as historical fact a creation account that was written from the perspective of a flat earth, a fixed ‘dome’ (or firmament) and a sun, moon and stars that orbited over and under this flat earth. But this variant of the Christian Religion still prefers to remain staunchly opposed to proven scientific theory and overwhelming evidence. Its adherents see no need for science and evidence except when it bolsters their own interpretations of the world. The simplistic answers to the complex questions of origins are comical and, as one blogger states, takes the Jesus Movement back ten steps in its respectability and relevance.

Unfortunately, the wide brush of dogmatism has splattered the rest of Christianity with its ignorance and stubborn refusal to consider the evidence thousands of earnest scientists have uncovered since the dark ages.

Nobody won. Unless, of course, we have learned that debating those who choose to remain in the dark ages is futile, in which case good sense has won the day.

____________

*Note: This is a huge flaw in reasoning that I see in many creationist writings: they assume the reader will accept “The Bible says” as authoritative evidence when, in fact, many would see ‘The Good Book’ as having no more authority than a Superman comic. Even when I accepted their teachings, I cringed every time I read their work because I knew it would carry absolutely no authority in the secular world. They are indeed preaching to the choir.

Merry Christmas, Seriously

holidaysYes, I’m writing a post on Christmas Day.

After enjoying a beautiful Christmas Day service with my Church family and a light lunch with my awesome wife, I’m watching some fantastic school kids performing on a repeat of the Schools’ Spectacular on TV.

Watching these kids sing and dance, and put all their heart and soul into their presentations, my heart is encouraged with hope that our nation’s future may be something that is positive, uplifting and bright. These young people are our future. They have the right perspective on the evil of warmongering, the importance of genuine reconciliation with and giving a voice to the indigenous peoples, and just plain enjoying life.

Um . . . what was that you said? Oh,  but they don’t have anything to say about Jesus and seem to fail mentioning or giving glory to God for their gifts?

Hm. . . . I guess that’s where this blog on Christmas Day is headed.

Like ‘Christmas,’ religious folks tend to take such things so seriously. No longer  can we be wished ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Greetings of the Season.’ If ‘Christ’ is not kept in Christmas (because ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’), then it is a sure sign the world is going down the tubes on a highway to hell.

It seems that one of the great heroes of the Christian faith,  St Paul, probably  wouldn’t agree with your take on the ‘war  on Christmas.’ In fact, he was one who would take a poem written by a Greek poet about Zeus and turn it on its head by saying it speaks of the Christian God. Yup. “In Him we live and move and have our being” was written about the god Zeus by Epimenedes. This didn’t seem to be an issue with the apostle. He didn’t flinch at all. He never told his listeners to ‘turn or burn’  and he definitely didn’t hold up any ‘John 3:16′ signs.

I don’t know about you, but if Paul was ready to take a pagan tome about a well-known Greek god and, essentially, say ‘He was speaking of  God, the father of Jesus the Christ,’ then we can surely take a well-intended ‘Happy Holidays’ or a song like ‘Jingle Bells’ sung by carollers to be a sincere wish for good health and happiness.

Hope, Joy, Peace, Love. We celebrate these through Advent arriving, as Christians, to the Christ-child on Christmas Day.

To the non-religious, these are found in family, in relationships, in fun times and social interaction. They may not know or recognise this, but these are gifts from a generous God.

Even something so blatantly non-religious like making the holidays a time to spend with family and friends can be that which brings the positive energy and happiness, memories of which will sustain us in future days of despair, absence or loss.

We may not know that, during these dry seasons of our life, we are being held by a loving, gracious God. God, through the families he gave us. The bonds we nurture and grow by God’s providence, often pulls  us through. Though we don’t always attribute this to God, it is through all our life and relationships that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Yes, those warm fuzzy feelings you get when you think of home–God put them there. That longing for relationship and intimacy–that too.

Looking back at the end of a life well-lived, we may well see that God has provided through well-intentioned people, funny song lyrics, and seemingly-God-absent-wishes of friends, all the encouragement,  love and grace we needed.

And,  seriously, a little white wine in the sun with family and friends on Christmas Day  won’t go astray either.

Happy Holidays everybody!

God got you a parking space? Really?

My mother provides me with a mountain of anecdotes about life, Christianity and growing up. As she ages gracefully, many of her idiosyncrasies seem to become more exaggerated (or maybe I just notice them more).

One such idea (which, it seems, is not at all unique to my mum) is the idea that God is so intimately concerned with every little incident in her life, even to the point of making sure she never has to walk any great distance into the supermarket because, “God always finds me a parking spot.”

Really?

God did that? For you?

Seriously?

parkingYou prayed, “Lord, please help me to get a parking space close to the entrance,” and God answers with a resounding, “Here you go, my beloved child, two steps from the door! It’s all yours”?*

Wow! You must be on God’s favourites list. I am impressed!

Children are dying of starvation in Ethiopia yet, somehow, God has decided your request for a shorter walk is more important than hearing their cries for enough food to keep them alive another day?

People are desperate for clean water after a typhoon, but what the Almighty really wants (even more than to quench the thirst of millions of God’s children) is to make sure your gas-guzzler finds easy access at the Mall?

(This is even funnier when I see how she now has a ‘Disabled’ sticker on her vehicle which allows her to park right next to the door. Obviously the faith-thing didn’t work as often as she would have liked.)

But I believe this is only a symptom of our creation of an individualistic faith in which God’s love and grace, God’s salvation, God’s blessing, God’s interest, God’s promises and God’s devotion is focused on me, my and mine.

Perhaps this is also a symptom of a consumerist mentality that sees God as another commodity or service to be used for our own purposes and desires. We have truly fashioned a God who not only supplies all our needs, but our wants as well.

Regardless of what the underlying problem is, seeing God as a magical genie who is waiting for your prayer so blessings may be released in your direction is exclusivist and self-centered at its core.

homeless_ethiopiaWe speak of community but think only of what we want. We talk together-speak but, in the end, we’re out for our own parking space–too bad for you if you were praying for one as well because I got a hold of God’s ear first!

And bad luck for you if you’re famished, homeless and alone on the streets of Addis Ababa because (funny how this happens!) my easy life as I stroll into Mega Mall to spend what I have so deservedly earned is so much more important to God than your shelter, food and sense of belonging.

Really?

(* Thanks to my pub group whose banter provided, once again, inspiration for a post.)