Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen

My wife & I were watching what seemed like a two-hour-long movie on TV. We didn't know until about three-quarters of the way through it that it was a movie sponsored by a purportedly “Christian” organization. The storyline focuses on a male teen about ready to graduate from high school with full scholarship to the university of his choice. He was a likable youth, popular in school, star athlete, highlight at every party, and easy going. He was not the least bit religious and thought of religious people as emotionally “needy” and just plain strange.

Then, in quick succession, his life takes a number of bad turns. He finds out his girl friend is pregnant and his parents are getting a divorce, and some of his close friends turn on him (I wasn't quite clear on the reason for that.) Through a series of events, he finds himself willingly talking with a religious youth counselor. The young man says he isn't religious and feels very uncomfortable in the setting. But after a while he lets his guard down and pleads to understand why all these bad things are happening in his life. (At this point, I had to chuckle--he in effect tries to shirk his own responsibility in the matter of his girlfriend being pregnant and implies that God should have stopped it!)

But the real “stick in  my craw” (aka, annoyance) was what the youth minister said in response: “Nobody knows why God allows bad things to happen to people.” What about you? Have you ever heard a reasonable explanation as to why God allows bad things to happen, or have you also resigned yourself to the answer that there is no answer? It really is not that big a secret but apparently people are not being taught it by their religions. And no, this is not based on mere personal interpretation. It is based on solid research and reasoning and simple scriptural principles that anyone can understand.

The springboard scripture I like to start off with is 1 John 4:8,9. There, John, a man who personally knew and spent extensive time learning from Jesus, said that if we've made any other conclusion about God except that he loves us, we really do NOT know God at all. Then he goes on to talk about one tangible way God demonstrates his love--by allowing his son's life to be put in harms way to provide a ransom for us to live. So God (Jehovah) went to great lengths to demonstrate how much he cares. To illustrate: Imagine you have an adult son whom you treasure and love as much as your own life. You both are on a fishing boat when you notice a large ship sinking. You both are skilled fishermen and very adept swimmers. You want to throw a lifeline but your son dives in the water to save as many as possible. He is able to save many, but stops breathing in the process. You drag him aboard and after several tense minutes, you successfully resuscitate him. Although he willingly gave his life, you had the knowledge and power to bring him back again. But it doesn't negate the sacrifice you both made to save others.
That is what God and Jesus did.

some might say: "But if Christ’s life “saved” us, why are we humans still suffering? The human condition hasn't changed before or after Jesus came to earth.” Part of the reason that may be true in their lives is that they still haven’t found the true global brotherhood of believers that are unitedly living in peaceful co-existence amidst a world in chaos. For the time being, that Christian brotherhood is source of real peace and comfort. They also have not yet discovered just how concrete and tangible a benefit it is, to have an accurate understanding of the Bible. Having those two things helps people finally make sense of what is happening in this world. But what about the fulfillment of Jesus’ words at Matthew 5:5? It reads: “Happy are the mild-tempered ones, since they will inherit the earth." That time will come but in the meantime there are issues to be resolved--and these are the big reasons why God has allowed bad things to continue on earth.

There are two lies that Satan told that needed time to be addressed. The first issue is a lie Satan told the first humans (Adam & Eve). He said that God was selfish and wanted all power, knowledge and control to himself. Satan told Eve that there was a way to enlightened freedom--by disregarding the direction God had given them.
Have we humans successfully, happily set our own standard of good and bad and been able to have human rule that truly satisfies everyone? No, instead, mismanagement, unfair treatment, adamant disagreements, oppression, war, and much more have gone from bad to worse. Yet mankind still insists they can work out their own ways. Just look at the promises being made by politicians and world leaders today. In lands espousing democracy, each successive political candidate promises to “fix” what the prior administration hadn't fixed--and yet it never gets fixed. What conclusion are more and more people coming to realize from this? Just as the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah wrote: “"I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step." (Jeremiah 10:23)

The second lie that Satan said is mentioned at Job 1:8-11. This time, he attacks mankind as a race, claiming in front of God that the only reason some people are faithful to Him is because of the personal benefits they receive. Satan claims that humans are basically selfish and have no pure motives for trying to befriend God. Yes, Satan taunts God every time we selfishly pursue a wrong course. This is the reason God encouragingly reminds us: “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.” (Proverbs 27:11) So Job, and others like him down through history, have proven that even in the severest of trials, they will not disown God or compromise their integrity.

There is much more that can be said about this, but those two main points help to answer the reason why God has continued to allow wickedness to exist. First, it has taken all these centuries, all the different forms of human rule, all the individuals with their new ideas, to come forward and prove Jeremiah’s words as true--we really cannot rule ourselves successfully. Second, it also takes time for generations of people to come and go in order to build up a mound of testimony that there are indeed people that would go so far as to sacrifice their own life in order to prove that they unselfishly love God and humbly obey his direction.

In the meantime, because mankind has chosen and continues to choose an independent course, God allows the suffering we incur from our own choices to affect us. However, as mentioned, He provides the both the Bible and the true Christian brotherhood to help us cope. So now the question comes back to you (each one of us). God didn't make the provision of his Son’s sacrifice so that only a few people would benefit. The apostle Peter, another close associate of Jesus, wrote: “Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) This is yet a third reason why the conditions in this world continue--God is patient with us collectively in the hopes that some individually will come to a realization that they need to get their lives right with God. Does seeing the issues Satan raised make you want to take a stand on God's side? What can you do besides living a "good life"? If you'd like to know what is expected of us, I'd be happy to discuss that with you. But please note, just as in the past when God has acted against disobedience, at some point his patience will run out for this world. At some point, loyal ones deserve and will receive the benefit mentioned at Psalm 37:10,11.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Free Will Is Not a Free-For-All

This article expands on a previous article that briefly mentioned free-will.

When some hear “free” they equate it with “all you want, all you can take.” However, guests that do exactly that at a dinner are considered rude and socially uncultured.  Social events are just that, a means for socializing, not for emptying the pantry.

When some get a driver’s license, they think it entitles them to do just about anything possible within the laws of physics. They drive as if they “own the road,” being rude, cutting people off, driving recklessly without consideration for pedestrians, speeding and running red lights and stop signs. But that is not the way state laws intended people to view a driver’s license. It is a document that implies you have taken a certain amount of training and passed an on-road driving test. Had you driven poorly during that test, you would not have a license. So the license means you understand you are to conduct yourself responsibly, lawfully, and with consideration for others on the road. We are free to travel on public roads but it is not a free-for-all. We are free to do many things as long as it doesn’t break the vehicle codes or endanger life.

The first time your parents left you alone at home, they did so with the trust that you would respect their wishes and their property. Although you are free of their immediate supervision, chances are they left you with a list of expectations. If they return to find you have broken their trust, you likely will not be trusted to be left alone again for a long while—(not to mention that you will probably be punished for whatever blatant disregard you may have shown).

What do the three items above have in common? They illustrate that freedom is not the same as a free-for-all. We are expected to exercise restraint and good judgment for the freedom we are given. These aptly illustrate the faculty of free-will that God is said to have given us. Within the limits that he sets, we are free to drink alcohol (in moderation), we are free to enjoy sex (within the heterosexual marriage arrangement), we are free enjoy sports (as long as it does not flagrantly disregard safety and the value of life), we are free to do many things as long as it doesn't break God’s laws.

So a driver who misuses their freedom of travel and drives recklessly may find that they lose not only the freedom of travel but are now caged in a prison cell. Likewise a person that uses their freedom as an excuse for loose conduct will find that they have lost God’s favor and, eventually, lose their future opportunity for life. So we all have a choice—act responsibly with the freedom we have, or act irresponsibly, thinking only of what we want regardless of how it affects others or our relationship with God.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Pigeonholing God (or, God-In-The-Box)

It surprises me as I go about my outreach program how many people pigeonhole God, stuffing him into a convenient box in the back of their mind and opening it on Sunday when they “go to church.” I recently met a woman in her 70s who, after my introduction, piously announced, “Well, I believe in the Lord Jesus as my savior” and then arrogantly challenged, “do you?” I affirmed that I do indeed believe in Jesus but before I could get another word out of my mouth she cut me off and said, “well then, there is nothing more for us to discuss” and closed her mind (and door) on me.

As I reflected on the conversation I thought how clever she was with her question. Regardless if I had said “yes” or “no” to her question, her response would have been the same, “Well, there is nothing more to discuss.” In actuality, this person, like so many I’ve met do not enjoy talking about their faith. I’ve had some use the excuse that I’m cheapening God by talking about him outside of “church.” (They likewise abruptly ended the conversation because they likely knew I would point out that Jesus preached publicly, and not just in the Jewish religious meeting place known as the Synagogue.)  I have also met those who say they don’t discuss their faith with strangers. In saying that, I have to wonder if they even know they are completely disregarding what Jesus told his disciples to do (Matthew 28:19,20) Finally, there is vast multitude of those I meet that say, “I have my own religion” or “I just went to church on Sunday” and then turn aside from me. All of these people put God in a very convenient little box that they open whenever they feel they want to.

So for those claiming to follow the Christianity that Jesus outlined and not whatever flavor of belief the “churches” of today espouse, what is the Bible-endorsed, Bible-promoted attitude and actions to incorporate into your life regarding your relationship with God? First of all, the two “Greatest Commandments” come to mind. The first was to love God with every fiber of our being (not stuff him into the back of our mind and relegate him to one day of the week). Think about it: If we loved God like we love so many other things in our life, wouldn’t we enjoy talking about Him? For example, I have interests in photography and wireless technology and engage in lively online discussions about those topics—as do hundreds of others. So for those that excitedly discuss personal hobbies and interests but then turn around and treat God as of little consequence, what does that say about them? If that were your best friend, your girl friend, you mate or someone else in your life and you treated them that way, how would they feel?—Unappreciated, unimportant?

Even in everyday mundane things such as sports scores and teams, politics, and such, if the person we are talking to doesn’t agree with everything we say, we still enjoy their company. Why does talking about God and the Bible have to be so different, so rigid? In my observation, there are two classes of people that act this way. First are the ones that really have not come to know the Bible (and hence God) that well, so they are embarrassed when they meet others that do know and can show them things they may never have considered. Second are the ones that adamantly have a closed mind to anything but their own opinion on matters related to God and the Bible. These self-righteously condemn anyone that doesn’t agree with their viewpoint. They don’t even want to share what they DO know and demand you leave them alone.

The second of the two Greatest Commandments was to love our neighbor as ourselves. Anyone reading the book of Acts (following the “Gospel” accounts in the Christian Greek scriptures) can readily see that Paul, an “apostle to the nations,” made every earnest yet respectful & calm effort to reason not only with the common people but even with Roman leaders of the time. In like manner, those who adopt the Christianity taught by Jesus and practiced by his early followers recognize that the greatest love we can extend to our neighbors is to bring them the same message of hope and comfort that helped us. We don't just accept the message and then bottle it up inside, not willing to discuss it. Instead, we let our light shine.

"But what if opposing views surface?" That actually is bound to happen. In those cases, I remember advice I was once given: “Its okay to disagree, but you don’t have to be disagreeable.” I was told that by a friend one day when, years ago, I used to become argumentative. Now I’ve learned to respect that others are entitled to their viewpoint just as much as I am to mine. I also remember that when I go from inside to outdoors, my first reaction is to squint and block my eyes from the bright light. Metaphorically, our eagerly sharing the light of Bible understanding can have the same effect. Sometimes people feel the light is intrusive. So I respect their choice and try to part company on a friendly note.

I hope that anyone reading this gives consideration to their viewpoints regarding discussing God. If you truly love your creator, talking about him should be as natural as anything else you discuss. If someone has a differing viewpoint, consider why they view it that way. See if you need to adjust your viewpoint, but don’t shut them out and don’t relegate God to some box called Sunday church.

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