Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Why Pain?

One of the most common questions from atheists is this: If God exists and is good, why did he create pain (and/or evil from which pain arises)?

One can know, from a careful reading of the Bible,  God is not the originator of pain. But wait, you may say. If God is the great creator, did he not create pain? 

Many cultures (including the Christian one) hold the belief that the world arose from chaos. We, of course, are viewing this from a Christian perspective. Let's look at the first couple of verses of Genesis to glimpse the chaos:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Note that the earth was formless--in other words, in a state of chaos. Let's consider an analogy. Take a typical artist's studio. What would you see when you entered? Unless the artist is very unusual, you would see paint splattered on the easel, walls, and floor; tubes of paint, some half-used, some almost full, lying around; jars full of various paintbrushes; and perhaps you'd see the artist, not well-dressed, but wearing an old paint-spattered smock or apron. 
What would be the word to describe such a state? Chaos. Is the chaos evil? Of course not--it is neutral. 
A typical set-up for an artist
The artist selects a blank canvas and begins the process of painting. Perhaps the artist creates a painting such as this:


Most of us would agree it is a nice painting, a beautiful painting some would say. From chaos, came an object of beauty. 

Consider another artist enters the SAME studio, uses the SAME paints, the SAME easel, the SAME brushes, and changes the painting to create this:

Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder, and some may prefer the last painting to the first. If so, simply reverse the two paintings. The point is that two artists may enter the same chaotic environment and create two vastly different paintings. 

How is it that two individuals within the same studio are capable of producing objects so diametrically opposed? The answer is simple--they possess free will and can use the paints, the brushes, the canvases in any way they wish. Both positive and negative objects or intents may come from neutral chaos.

God created a perfect world, one he pronounced good. He then created humankind and gave them free will. Within this perfection, humans are free to take chaos and create whatever they wish, and all too often, that is pain or evil. 

Some may protest that not all evil comes from people, that often it comes from nature. Because of the fallen nature of humankind, nature was changed into a more hostile environment. Exposure to certain things in nature will produce cancer, or the exposure to certain things in our environment will create mutations, the vast majority of which are harmful. (Although where do most of these come from? People concentrate them in our environment)

Consider those things, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, that we think are beyond us. In truth, they can be mitigated by humans. Vast destruction comes about when humans fail to properly plan. Houses are built on beaches with no thought of anchoring them to withstand the storms. We once lived in a house that had an anchoring system to withstand hurricane-force winds even though we lived hundreds of miles from the beach. The person who built the house made it hurricane proof and mitigated the effects of other type of storms.

Let's consider another analogy. Fire is chaos. Out of the chaos we have either a great creative force or a great destructive force. People can use it to warm their homes and cook their food or to perpetrate great evil. 

Our lives are filled with many more such chaotic forces (money, sex, power, children, family, marriage, etc.), in and of themselves neither good nor evil. It is our choices, the exertion of our free will that will bring about good or evil. 

Our former minister, Mark Littleton recently share a three-minute video on Facebook that gives us some insights as to how to behave as Christians when faced with pain. In this video, Mark makes the point that we do not blame others (and that includes God) for the pain and evil in the world. Instead, we roll up our sleeves and get busy to alleviate the pain.

We tend to want to assign blame and, along with that, attempt to make a person or God into someone who is evil. God, of course, is perfect good. We, as mere humans, tend to be neither entirely good nor entirely evil. We make wrong choices that lead to more pain or right choices that will alleviate pain. 

Here is the important point: God created us in his image--and that includes as creators. We have the power to reach into the chaos and create either good or evil, either alleviate suffering or add to it. 

The United States (the world, for that matter) is in a state of chaos as we deal with Covid-19. We want to assign blame, whether it is against the Chinese or other countries (conspiracies theories abound) or to our president and governors. 

During this time, we can contribute to the greater good, or we can join with the voices that create greater chaos and division. We are told in the Bible we will have trials and tribulations in the world. Our job is to trust in Jesus who says he has overcome the world. 

I have one further thing to say and then will wrap this up. Our Declaration of Independence grants us the Right to Life. However, our government is not responsible for my safety and well-being. I am. If I am sick, it is me, myself, and I who need to get me to a doctor. 

Covid-19 is a disease arising from the chaos, and it is everyone's job to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. The temporary stay-at-home orders were NOT to stop us from ever contracting the disease. That would be an impossible task. Instead, it was to prevent our health-care system from being overwhelmed. And not just our health-care system. If too many workers contracted the virus at once, vital businesses would be shut down. 

Allow me to repeat that: The government will not, cannot, keep us from contracting Covid-19. It is up to us to safeguard ourselves, and even if we practice good hygiene, chances are we will contract it. 

It is not up to others but to us to choose wisely, choose carefully, and choose as Christians to alleviate suffering and not to add to it.

Stay blessed!

(After watching Youtube videos from Jordan Peterson and Roger Scruton, who recently passed away, and reading C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and others, I began to glimpse an answer to this question and wish to credit them with these thoughts. Also, the pictures used in this post were found on Pixabay.)


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Wide is the Gate

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. ~Galatians 3:24 (KJV)

(https://pixabay.com/photos/still-life-school-retro-ink-table-851328/)
According to this verse, the law is our schoolmaster. Perhaps we can think of it like this. For the first years of a child's life, the parent teaches the child rules to live properly in our world--brush teeth, take a bath, be polite, wait your turn, share with others, etc. These rules are to bring our children into compliance with society so he/she can live a good life. Note that living a good life is not devoid of suffering because suffering is part and parcel of this life, defines this life, and walks hand in hand with children as they grow to adulthood. These rules are needed for the child to meet life head-on and to be strong enough to not let life destroy them. 

The law is our schoolmaster to prepare us for life, not to rule our lives with an iron fist and instill fear in us. The rules are guidelines to allow us to live our best possible lives, automatically, with no one forcing us. Most know, if they choose to know, that living out the things we have been taught by our schoolmasters (if, indeed, they taught us correctly) is the best way to live. Otherwise, our teeth will decay, our health will deteriorate, and we will not be gainfully employed.

We also see this in the words of Jesus. He said, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."


(https://pixabay.com/photos/goal-door-input-gate-house-facade-991460/)

This scripture is often used to refer to entering heaven. Nowhere does it say that "unto life" means unto heaven although I agree that if we find the right "life" here on Earth, it leads to heaven. However, by focusing this verse solely on heaven, we miss out on its core meaning--i.e., how to live the best life on Earth. This is a fine point, but one I think worth considering.

Also note this part: "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction." Destruction does not necessarily equal hell, although again, it may well imply that. The core meaning is that we can, and often do, destroy our lives here on Earth. We see it daily with infidelity, drugs, alcohol, lying, gossiping, and being critical and unthankful for our blessings, to name but a few. 

One can but look around to see few have found true joy in life, the narrow gate, the peace that passeth understanding, and the love that flows both inward and outward.

So, exactly what am I saying? Learning is not a matter of getting our sums right and being able to recite the alphabet. We attend school as a privilege so that we can prepare to "graduate" and become employed and productive. Schoolmasters do not follow us around for the rest of our lives, demanding we show our competence in our school subjects. Instead, we are free to use our education in any way we choose. We have free will and most of us are not forced down a certain vocational pathway. 

Some choose to squander their education, to throw away all the preparation for a life of drug or alcohol addiction, or some of us are simply lazy and do not use what we have learned. Our education, in other words, prepared us, or should have prepared us, for adulting. It is we who must do the "adulting," not someone waking us each morning, telling us to shower, driving us to our jobs, etc.

In the same way, we graduated from the laws of the Bible. What we learned prepared us for adulting in a way that will lead to an abundant life, a Christian life. It is not a "narrow" way in the sense that we have schoolmasters following us around to make sure we are checking off the right boxes. (Did not murder anyone today. ✅ Took a casserole to my sick neighbor.✅) We do these things automatically, just as we brush our teeth each morning automatically because we once were under the tutelage of the law. After "graduating," we now go forth into the world and live our lives, with these concepts in place, so firmly ingrained that we should not even think of them. It is narrow in that so few get it right.

In Mark 16:15, Jesus says, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

According to some, this actually means "as you go into the world." As we are living our daily lives, we preach. Often, or perhaps I should say always, it is our lives that preach the gospel, the good news. 

Christians should automatically share the "good news" of how to live the abundant life here upon the Earth simply by their being. We are the light shining on the hill, calling to others, as candles to moths. 

Remember the famous line from Field of Dreams--"If you build it, they will come"? Build your lives upon the rock, with deeply ingrained beliefs that you live out daily, and they will come.

Sit and learn at the feet of the master and graduate, no longer drinking milk but eating meat. Then, we will be "adulting" in the way that leads to life, entering through the narrow gate.

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