Tag Archives: Beliefs

You Are Time

Imagine you know you’re part of an army but you don’t know who your allies are. You know you’ve got enemies, but you don’t exactly know who they are. For all you know, they’re invisible. They’re often smarter than you, and they’re masters of trickery. It’s dark, you’re tired, and you know your side is losing. You start to wonder if resistance is futile. Eventually it really starts to seem that way. Then something drastically changes. Defeat seems inevitable until a new ally suddenly appears. He fights valiantly and he teaches you his ways. He heals your allies and defeats innumerable enemies.

Then, once again, something changes. He warns that it is only a matter of time before his death, but your victory. He is captured, tortured, and killed, and you are forced to fall back, but miraculously, just days later, he is alive and your enemies vanquished. He was right, and he celebrates your victory with you because now that enemy you faced is conquered for good. He eventually says that he has to go, but he will send his spirit so he can always love you and guide you and help you, and he keeps his promise.

Centuries go by until it seems that the whole world knows him, or appears to know of him. He is glorified in acts of heroism that mirror his own. He is honored in acts of love and goodness. Fantastic works of af art are created by those who love him still. You find, nonetheless, that things inevitably change. Slowly but surely, in many places he is forgotten; in many places is made into a laughing stock; even his very name is dishonored, thrown into the mire of language with unutterable words.

And you ask, “what does it matter? What is a name?” A name is how you are known. You are known by your name as a writer or a thinker or a worker or a finder, or something else that makes you who you are. He is a hero, still here, still living, and his very identity is used as a curse. His name has weight; it is precious.

The Moment Of “I Love You”

I’ve tried to write this several times over and haven’t been able to. Partly, I haven’t known where exactly to begin, partly I haven’t known what to include, partly, I find this kind of thing a bit cliche, and partly, it’s a bit of a novel. All that being said, I’ve decided to start with a preface. As I said, More often than not, I find a lot of “coming to faith” stories at least somewhat annoying. A lot of them have the same, or at least a similar notion that the writer was so terrible before, and drastically better, morally speaking, immediately after their conversion. I also find it problematic when a person shares their story and neglects basic rules of writing style, spelling, and grammar. While it may be more important on some level to simply get the story out, the neglect lessens its credibility. More could be said, but I think those are issues for another post. Now I will share my story.

I grew up Catholic, largely because of a promise my mom made. When I was a year old I was diagnosed with a kind of Muscular Dystrophy (MD) that would kill me by the age of five if I was lucky. I don’t really know the time frame for all this, but when my parents got the news, my mom started praying like a maniac. I had tests done, and the news continued to be bad. I need to pause for a moment to explain a Catholic peculiarity here. A common misconception is that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. The truth is that she has a very high place of honor, being that she is Jesus’ mother, and we recognize that her prayers are helpful and influential. Now to get back to my story, the news was bad, and eventually my mom gave up. Rather, she stopped praying to God, and asked Mary to pray for her because if anyone in the world knew what it was like to lose a child, it would be her.

Circumstances continued like this for about six months, if I remember correctly until one day my dad called my mom. He had taken me to an appointment and inexplicably, things had drastically changed. What had seemed like a ritual reiteration of a death sentence for six months had suddenly turned to a promise of life. Somehow the test results had drastically changed. I had a kind of MD, the effects of which were not entirely certain, but I would grow up, go to school, and do “normal kid stuff.” I did mention that my mom made a promise. When she asked Mary to pray for me, she promised that she would raise me as a “good Catholic girl,” so CCD was included in the “normal kid stuff” I ended up doing.

The truth is I have always been a believer in the sense that I want things to be true; I’m a bit gullible; my natural impulse is to trust people. As a child I believed in God, but when I was very young I knew him only vaguely as the Creator of the universe, and even then, not necessarily one who had a conscious mind or paid any attention to us. Eventually that changed. I came to believe that he paid attention to us, but mostly like someone watching an ant farm. As an older child, particularly in my middle school years, I just lost interest in God. I got busy doing more “normal kid stuff,” as does everyone.

In particular, my friends and I became very busy defending Mythic Island, an invented universe that was under siege from the wolf demon Agorauth. One of my friends and I created a comic for the school newspaper. I wrote the story and she drew the pictures. Every Friday night we would all congregate at my house, eat terrible pizza and play Star Wars Battlefront. Of course, since it was middle school, it wasn’t all fun. We can only assume that our group was comprised of the most unpopular kids in school. We all got picked on in one way or another.

High school changed things drastically and quickly. The summer before our Freshman year, we ended our Mythic Island adventure. That same year, one of my closest friends got incredibly busy with sports, so much so that we could hardly hang out. He also got a girlfriend, and I realized that boys could be more than just friends. Towards the end of that year I got a guitar who I named Francisco. You can probably imagine why.

At that time, I was still in CCD, and for a reason that was inexplicable at the time, I was hating it less and less. Most of my friends’ parents had allowed them to drop out years earlier, but my mom was not going to break her promise. CCD classes in ninth and tenth grade were structured towards getting students ready to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, should they choose to receive it. A “Yes” signifies that a person is an adult and active member in the Church. The odd thing was, though I was becoming more receptive to what we were learning, there was little emotion in it. It was just another class.

Another friend of mine was enrolled in the program after his parents divorced in the middle of our Freshman year because his dad thought it would be helpful for him. He hated every second of it. He had changed after the divorce. It had made him a completely different person. He was dispondent and reclusive. He stopped doing homework; wouldn’t hand in projects; intentionally failed tests. He was also rather disrespectful to our teacher in CCD, which I did not appreciate. I only mention these details about my friend because in part, I think it made me want to make up for it, so I participated more in class and I really listened. I wasn’t passive during that time.

We completed the Confirmation class at the end of our Sophomore year. It concludes with an all-day retreat at which we had discussions, weird spiritual activities which I didn’t exactly understand, and a mass, if I remember correctly. There was also a lot of free time, and my friend and I spent that time silently playing cards. At the end of the day we were given a letter written by our parents. I don’t remember much of what mine said. I do remember them saying they were proud of me, and that from this point on, my spirituality was my business. Finally, we were asked, “Will you be confirmed?” I said I would.

At the beginning of my Junior year I went through the actual ceremony, and I did keep going to church, but had I been asked at the time, I would not have been able to tell why. For the next two years I can, I think, accurately say that I was a Catholic in practice, but an agnostic in belief. I still didn’t really know who God was. I knew what he did, but that was it. During that time, I had begun to feel an increasing sense of loneliness. One of my friends had already had a girlfriend and a break-up. My other friend had been in a relationship for three years. I had never dated. However, this loneliness was more complex than the desire for a partner. I constantly needed to be around people. If I couldn’t find someone to be with on Friday nights, I would sit alone and cry. I felt unneeded, and I hated it.

Inevitably, we all graduated, and my friends went away to college. Because I need help with a few basic things, I commuted to school and lived at home. It so happened that I applied to two schools, and was only accepted to one, so that’s where I went. I had hated the school search. The whole thing felt wrong to me, but something about Gordon was different. Their campus was really nice. The people there were really nice. They had a creative writing program, which sounded really nice. I somehow felt at home there. Gordon is a Christian school, and I think normally I would have had reservations about that, but unlike every school I looked at, it just felt “right.”

Starting classes at Gordon was like stepping into a whole new universe. We started classes by praying. We were required to attend chapel three times a week, and I enjoyed it. People freely talked about having a relationship with Jesus. This was all great, except that it made me more lonely. The one thing I hung on to was that my classmates and teachers and chapel speakers had taught me to pray in a way my church hadn’t. Don’t get me wrong, now that I’ve been Christian for five years, I appreciate and use the more formal Catholic prayers quite a lot, but first I had to learn how to talk. It was shortly after we had begun classes in mid August that I had begun praying that God would help me find someone to love me. I prayed this almost every night before going to sleep with increasing desperation.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I can conclusively say I truly became Christian one night in October, 2011. I was lying in bed, and I was crying. I was praying from the darkest, lowest, smallest, loneliest part of my being. I don’t know what would have happened had it passed like any other night, but for some reason I said, “I love you,” and I felt an overwhelming sensation of comfort and peace and warmth, and I felt like I wasn’t alone in the best possible way. It was spontaneous, and my only explanation is that he was saying, “I’m not going to find someone for you. I love you.” A lot has happened since then. I almost left the Catholic Church, but have since fully embraced it for a number of reasons, which I won’t explain here. I’ve never dated and have become perfectly content being single. What was sparked at the moment of that “I love you” has turned into a real relationship. I have a writing career, and am studying theology independently. I don’t necessarily know where it will go, but I trust God.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly

A Question For Atheists

This is kind of a two-part question. I’m not trying to pick a fight or argue for my faith. I just want to understand more precisely where you’re coming from. My first question is more general. I see this among atheists and my agnostic friends. People deny the possibility of any deity’s existence because of the lack of some kind of proof. It occurred to me that I have no idea what kind of proof you’re looking for. Furthermore, it seems to me that, in many cases, not just in the case of spirituality, what constitutes proof is at least somewhat subjective. I would love to get a few different perspectives, so my question is, what would prove to you that God exists?

My second question is a little more personal, but less complicated. I’ve noticed that when atheists write posts or comments, here and in other places, they most frequently attack Christianity in particular. I assume this is partly because Christianity is one of the most prominent religions, if not the most prominent religion in the U.S. and in the West overall. My question here is, do you have an actual problem with Christianity specifically, or do you argue against it the most simply because of its prominence?

Admittedly, I do get tired of people only attacking my faith. However, it seems to me that your arguments would be stronger if you could make a case against multiple religions, and not just the one you know best or dislike the most. I would also like to add that many arguments against Christianity are, in fact, against bad behavior based on wrong interpretations of Jesus’ teaching. These are, in my opinion, justifiable, but misdirected. Like I said, I’m not trying to pick a fight. I really just want to understand.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

The Language Of Love

Words are very powerful. They can change our entire outlook on life. They can inspire us. They can make us feel good. They can change the world. Words spoken with authority make things happen. Words spoken with love can make you fall apart. Words can move us even if we don’t understand them initially. Still, sometimes words cannot express the beauty or tragedy of certain situations or artistic expressions.

I spent four years of my life essentially studying words. I learned how to write poetry and stories. I learned about the difference between heard and read language, and its emotional impacts, as well as its artistic value. I learned that words really can make someone immortal. I discovered my love for Seamus Heaney the year he died. His poetry is perfectly put together, even when its subject matter is ugly. It isn’t always fluid, but even when it seems stylistically cold or even rude, there’s some kind of life in it. I still find it beautiful.

I’ve been trying to make sure I work on my novel every day now, and I’m getting a lot done. I like what I’ve been coming up with, both in terms of where the plot is going, and in terms of style. There are parts of my novel that are intentionally very technical. Admittedly, I like sounding smart, but these very technical explanations are also simply necessary for the potential audience to understand what’s going on in the world and how things like psychic abilities work. I’m very grateful for what I learned at school, through practice, and for all the great writer’s I’ve been introduced to. Not all of them are well known. These include fantasy writers, movie script writers, and songwriters, as well as some of the “greats” I was exposed to at school. As a science-fiction writer, some of my greatest influences have been amazing, underrated movies.

As a songwriter, poet and composer, I’ve also come to realize that sometimes words have the most meaning in their absence. In my latest musical composition, there’s a lot of silence, but it’s certainly not dead space. The meaning is in the silences. Truthfully I haven’t thought a whole lot about it, but I think it’s evocative of the idea that we don’t realize how much value something has until it’s gone. The leading part of it is the violin. There is a part of this piece that is meant to be uncomfortable. All other instruments cut out and the violin part seems almost faulty, like a flickering light that could go out at any moment. The point is that the light doesn’t go out. The piece is called “Love For You.” True love doesn’t die. True love is immortal.

Over the past year I read the Bible cover to cover. From an artistic standpoint, it’s not pretty. From an artistic standpoint, it seems downright chaotic. If one were to put it into musical terms, it might turn out to be something like free form Jazz with lots of augmented and diminished chords. It would probably sound rather jarring. This is according to a strictly aesthetic reading. Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God. This is particularly important for someone who calls herself an artist and a writer. Quite frankly, I can’t stand Jazz, particularly free form. I don’t read the Bible from a strictly aesthetic standpoint. If I do, it sounds like free form Jazz. However, the Word of God isn’t simply what’s written in a book.

A lot of things about God, and quite frankly, about life in general are paradoxical. For one thing, spirituality is both objective and subjective. It is an individual striving for objective Truth and Beauty. In a Christian context, we believe that Jesus is alive and that he is the Word of God, and we believe that the Bible is the Word of God. We also believe in the Holy Spirit who works in us individually and collectively. God is one nature in three people: Father, Son, and Spirit. The Church is the body of Christ, so ideally, it’s one nature in a heck of a lot of people.

What does all this mean for an artist, particularly one whose main medium of artistic expression is written word? What does it mean in a broader context? Language matters. There’s no way around it. We can’t relate to the world outside of language. We can’t really even think outside of language. I’ve noticed that Saint Paul emphasizes the impact our use of language has when relating to other people. We’re meant to speak wisely and not offensively. At the same time, we’re meant to relate to other people in order to teach by example who Jesus is. This presents an odd dilemma when it comes to writing my novel. Most of my language when I speak is pretty mild, depending on who I’m with. I hardly ever swear, and when I do, it’s because I’m making a joke and I know the person I’m with will find it funny. On the other hand, some of my characters have very dirty mouths.

In some ways I find myself in my characters. It’s probably impossible not to. In fact, I initially intended to model Kithryd, my first character, very much after myself. However, I think she had absolutely no intention of being me. At some point, probably even earlier than I could identify, she took on her own identity. She’s very assertive and vocally bitter about things, but she is like me in that she’s introverted. I find myself more in another character I had not even entirely intended to create. Iris has a great love for her friends and her little brother, and she greatly desires to work for the greater good. However, she deals with a lot of mental illness, which simply isn’t a problem for me. I find myself least in Tabby. Tabby has no real love for the world as it is, but does keep the greater good in mind. However, she’s a generally angry, pessimistic person. She’s also very impulsive and does not care who she offends. For some reason I find her to be one of the easiest characters to write.

I created Tabby. I created an angry, offensive woman. She came from me somehow. She is somehow part of my soul. All of my characters, in one way or another, represent some part of my soul. They’ve all lost someone or something very important to them. They’ve all been shunned for one reason or another. Some of them are angry. Some of them are scared. Some of them, like Aven, are peaceful and unafraid. My novel as a whole presents the world as a dark, scary, Godless place. I don’t view the world in this way, but I know a lot of people do. I’m writing this for a few different reasons. I’m writing because I can and because my parents told me to. I’m also writing because I think God wants me to, though why he wants me to write this particular novel I don’t know. “Why” isn’t a question he often answers. In some ways it’s a thought experiment.

I don’t know if we become our words or our words become us. Maybe it’s both. The same could be said for any art form. Jesus is the Word of God in the most literal sense. This means a lot. For the record, I’m stealing several of my next points from Bishop Robert Barron because he’s smarter than me. Jesus is alive. In other words, he is active in the world. What does it mean for the Word to be active? It means he is causal. He is authoritative. He’s making stuff happen. Two points that Bishop Barron brings up are that God’s Word is active by nature. God creates simply by speaking things into being. He also emphasizes the opening lines of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This means that whatever Jesus does and says is necessarily true in an active sense.

Words, like music are significant and often causal in their absence. The absence evokes ideas and emotions. In fact, we can’t have language without the absence of words. The Word of God is living language. It is the Language of love. What is significant about this is that a language can only be “alive” if it is shared, i.e. spoken among living people. Jesus said that after he went up into heaven he would send his Spirit. Bishop Barron suggests that the best way to understand the Holy Spirit is that it is the love of God, both between the Father and the Son, and between God and humans. This love can never die because it is shared in the Trinity. We don’t have to participate for this language to live. Jesus allows us to participate when he introduces the Eucharist. John 6:56 says, “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you are one with me and I am one with you.”

Just before this, he talks about how one has to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. God is eternal and infinite. Jesus is God. If we share in the Eucharist we are one with him. We become one with him in the way that a family can be seen as a single unit, for example. If we are one with him, we have eternal life. If Jesus is the Word of God, i.e. the Language of Love, then by extension, the Eucharist is the Language of Love. I said that words can make a person immortal. The words of Shakespeare endure to this day. The difference is that Shakespeare’s words are not truly “alive” in the sense that they do anything other than entertain and perhaps inspire good writing. However, Jesus invites us to speak his language.

Language is not simply expressed in what we say or what we write. Ideas are conveyed through body language and actions. A principal I learned at school is that in good writing, less is often more. In order to convey an idea, we should show, not tell what a character is feeling or what’s going on in a particular situation. We know that certain facial expressions, for example, can be understood and translated into actual words, but they are not needed. Love is like this. A feeling or a spiritual prompting turns into an art piece or an act of charity. Love has no reason. It just is. Because of its nature it cannot simply be expressed in words. Love in words alone is empty. It isn’t love at all. True love entails action, and on some level, it always entails sacrifice. To truly love someone one must give one’s self to the other. This always means different things to different people at different times. John 15:13 says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Jesus is referring to his very literal sacrifice of love for all of us. However, because God’s Word is eternal, he is also telling us what we must do as his friends for the rest of humanity. Love entails some kind of sacrifice. Maybe it means sacrificing some comfort. Maybe it means sacrificing some excess money. Maybe it means sacrificing time we could be spending having fun. Maybe it means sacrificing our pride. As I said, it means something different for every person.

Love and life are synonymous. Without love, life is not worth living. The fact of the matter is that everyone is loved, and this is why it’s so important that people know Jesus. It’s not about where we end up when we die. It’s not about judgment. It’s not about religion or where we’re supposed to be on Sunday morning. That stuff is secondary. It’s about knowing that we are loved. When Pope Francis was visiting the U.S. a little kid asked him, “What did God do before he created the world?” He answered, “Before God created anything, he loved.” God created the world because he loved the world. He created each of us because he loved us first. That’s the message Jesus wants us to tell the whole world. That is the most important thing in the Christian faith. Without love, nothing else matters.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

We Want Answers

Why do good people suffer? Why, if Jesus promised to return, has it been 2,000 years? How do science and faith relate? How do you explain impossibilities in the Bible? How do you explain the violence that is not only prompted, but often orchestrated by God? I see these questions come up a lot. Christians and Atheists alike ask them, and I would like to try and address them from a personal perspective. I will try to remain unbiased where I can, but much of my discussion will be coming from a Christian perspective and will be driven by personal experience. Furthermore, this article will not offer an exhaustive study of each topic, but serves as an overview of each and a study of how they relate to one another. Lastly, you will note that I do not cite conventional sources. This is because I am not a Bible scholar. I have a degree in Creative Writing, and secondly, this is, in part, an opinion piece, and although it might help, I don’t think you need a degree to study theology. If that doesn’t interest you, then I’d suggest moving on.

I can’t prove God’s existence. A lot of people want proof, and as much as I would love to, I cannot provide that. What I can tell you is that proof comes with faith. Proof comes with a willingness to follow, even if you don’t know where you’re going. That’s not the end of anything. That’s where things start. Once you have faith, God will answer your questions, but nothing will happen unless you are willing to suspend disbelief in the first place. My advice is to do your research. You won’t find conclusive evidence for God’s existence, but you will find numerous evidence in history and various scientific fields that point to it. I will leave that up to you because, as I said, I’m not here to prove God’s existence. I’m writing this to try and help make some things make sense.

If this does interest you, we’ll start here: why do good people suffer?

I use the word “good” instead of “innocent” on purpose. People tend to ask why innocent people suffer when I think this is the wrong question. It’s a dicey topic because, for one thing, “innocent” means different things to different people. Is a man who steals from a grocery store only to feed his family innocent or guilty? It depends who you ask. According to the law of the land, he’s guilty. He stole. On the other hand, some might say that his actions were justified because they were for a noble cause, and therefore, he is innocent.

Regardless, no one is truly innocent in the eyes of God. I get that this seems harsh. It doesn’t seem fair that some people get to be born in America, completely by chance, eat what they want when they want, and watch football on Sunday night, while a poor family from Syria has to flee their country and seriously worry about where they’re going to get their next meal. Furthermore, it’s entirely possible and even probable that the people who suffer more have more faith than the people with very easy lives.

Then there are those who choose more difficult lives. They choose to suffer a little to help those who suffer a lot. Sometimes the most wonderful, selfless people suffer the most. There are people in this world who would sacrifice everything to help someone else, whether it’s their child or a stranger who really needs their help. These people go out of their way and make their own lives difficult to help others who have it worse than they do.

And what about the child who is born with a serious birth defect and dies before he’s a year old? Surely he was innocent. Surely a loving God wouldn’t let something like this happen to him and his parents. But it does happen. People die of starvation: are forced to leave their homes: contract treatable diseases that kill them because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I can’t provide a completely satisfying answer. The answer I can provide isn’t even completely satisfying to me, but it’s the best I can do. First, a quick explanation of what actually happened when Jesus rose from the dead and what it meant. The resurrection meant that humans were saved from sin. It did not mean that we were no longer sinful. Even saints are sinners. Quite frankly, it’s extremely difficult, and probably impossible to live a completely sinless life. Whatever happened a long, long time ago, it infused our human nature with something nasty, whether it literally involved an apple or not. Secondly, we need to remember two statements that Jesus makes that help understand the context of this question. He states in Mathew 26:11, “The poor you will always have with you…” and in Mathew 20:16, he says, “The last will be first and the first will be last.”

From the beginning, God tells his people to take care of the poor and vulnerable. He constantly makes mention of orphans and widows, and makes sure that these people are remembered by the Israelites (and eventually everyone as his kingdom grows). What I think we have to remember is that humanity is much more interconnected than we think or even want it to be at times. We’re one big dysfunctional family, and whether we like it or not, it is our duty to take care of the people who need us. God has a special place in his heart for those who suffer, so he certainly hasn’t forgotten them.

But why will the poor always be with us? I think there are several answers to this question.

  1. It’s human nature. Whether we like it or not, people have selfish tendencies. No matter how good of a person we are, we naturally take things that we want and whether by accident or intentionally, we keep things from other people. This isn’t always a bad thing. It’s partly a survival instinct. All animals do it with territory, water, and food. We just happen to do it particularly with money because in a civilized society, money is a survival resource.
  2. Socialism doesn’t work. There will always be haves and have-nots. For a similar reason as I just explained, a society will never be entirely equal. There will always be people who work harder than others, and those who want more than others. For some, living on the bare minimum can be satisfying, while to others, it’s just not. Ideally, in a socialist society, the people who are more ambitious or simply have better-paying jobs or just have more resources for other reasons would freely share those resources with the less fortunate. It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t work because a) there are selfish people in the world, and b) too many people take advantage of the system. You can’t receive if you don’t give anything.
  3. This is also related to my previous points. Along with money comes status. While it isn’t necessary to have money in order to have status, they are generally related. Furthermore, regardless of the means by which it is achieved, people strive for status, and while a given social structure may be fluid, there is, and always will be a status quo. In order to be high on the social ladder, by necessity, there needs to be people below you.

So what does Jesus mean by “The last will be first and the first will be last?” A lot of people, including, previously, myself tend to think that this means our social, and perhaps our economic status will be reversed in heaven. However, this article (http://www.gotquestions.org/first-last-last-first.html) suggests that it might be something else. I don’t think a definitive answer is given here, but some good options are presented.

  1. The first to believe will be the last to enter the kingdom and vice versa.
  2. Everyone’s reward in heaven will be completely equal, so this actually means that there will be no social or economic status at all. There will be no status quo.
  3. It is noted that this refers to the reward of eternal life. However, peoples’ rewards for different actions and choices will potentially be different. “Of course, Scripture also teaches that there are different rewards in heaven for different services, but the ultimate reward of eternal life will be achieved by all equally.” Unfortunately, the article does not elaborate on what exactly this means.

When it comes to the question of child labor, child death, sex slavery and other such tragedy involving children, there are a few things to remember. These things by no means make any of it okay, but they can shed a little light into some dark places. First of all, children who die before the “age of moral accountability” are automatically saved. They go straight to heaven. This could mean that a child who would otherwise have a short and miserable life is now in paradise with their heavenly Father. Again, I’m not saying it makes it any more okay. But what about the children who do grow to be a little older, only to be cut short without ever hearing about Christ? I think the answer can be intuited. Never hearing specifically about God or Jesus isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s rejecting him that causes problems. Want proof? “The truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Romans 1:19-20, New Living Translation). I found this after a very brief Google search.

That being said, it doesn’t give us license to slack off when it comes to telling people about God and his promises. We are clearly told that we must spread the Gospel throughout the whole world. It’s a pretty clear job description for anyone who calls herself Christian. On the flip side, it also doesn’t give us license not to seek the truth about God when we have the resources readily available. This actually helps answer our question: why do people suffer? It also leads into the question: why has it been 2,000 years since Jesus’ resurrection? First, good people suffer because the rest of us don’t do enough to stop it. Remember that the Church, which ideally encompasses all of humanity, is the body of Christ. Most people just think about it in the context of salvation, in other words, we tend to think of it in a very spiritual sense. What it actually means is that we are here now to do Jesus’ work in the world. We are here to literally heal the hurting and feed the hungry. We are literally here to be his voice and hands and feet in a very physical, real-time sense.

This means finding a cure for cancer through serious medical research. This means starting schools in places where education isn’t really available for kids. This means volunteering for or donating to nonprofits that help refugees. This means blogging and trying to answer the hard questions. This means standing up to the bullies who just want to tell you you’re an idiot for believing in something. It also means praying. It means being proud of what you believe in. It means not trying to change the subject when people bring up religion, even if that’s way easier than having that difficult conversation. It means working together with people, even those who we might not like, or who might not like us. It means keeping in mind the greater good. This is as much a reminder to myself than anyone else, so bear with me.

We are a significant part of God’s plan. What is also important to remember is that God has a different understanding of time than we do, so what seems like a really long time to us, can seem like no time at all to him. At the same time, we’re told to be ready because Jesus could return and things could drastically change tomorrow or within the next hour. We could argue that so much more could get done and the world could be made a lot better a lot quicker if God chose to be more directly involved. In the Old Testament particularly, he is depicted as doing absolutely miraculous things for the Israelites, singlehandedly winning battles for them. These days it seems that miracles aren’t quite as noticeable, or have we just lost our ability to see them? We cured Polio; we figured out how to use electricity; we figured out how to make a smart phone, for crying out loud. Are any of these things not miraculous? A friend of mine pointed out to me that we call something a miracle when we don’t understand it. It’s like magic to us. We are so scientifically and technologically advanced now, and we understand how so much stuff works that I think we’ve stopped seeing miracles for what they are. While things happen slower in our eyes, I think we should consider it a privilege to be so involved in making God’s world a better place. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that the Jewish religion, which was the context in which the Church was born, started out pretty tiny. This could explain why God had to really directly help them out. Jump ahead to the present day, and not only are we much more advanced in many ways, but Christianity is now the largest religion in the world. These two factors really seem to be significant.

We see things in short bursts of time, but God connects things over years and centuries that are difficult to see or understand. Think about it in terms of a really long and complicated Rube Goldberg machine. It might not be immediately evident why things happen, but often when we view the events of our lives in retrospect, even the bad ones, we see how important some of them were, and we can often see how they got us to where we are now. Think of it this way: when my dad was a kid, he grew up in Needham Massachusetts. My mom grew up in Portland Maine. My dad is, and always has been interested in carpentry and woodworking in general, but he also has good business sense, so he went to school in New York for finance. My mom went to school for a year, but couldn’t decide what she wanted to study long-term, so she decided to go work for an insurance company. It was there she met France. It just so happened that my dad’s parents moved to Portland somewhere within that time frame, so when my dad graduated from school, he moved up there, too and got a job working for a local bank. It was there he met Bill, who was married to France. Bill and France decided my parents should meet. Long story short, my parents eventually started dating and got married a couple of years later. What they weren’t expecting; what they found out the hard way, was that they both carried a gene that causes Muscular Dystrophy, which they passed on to me. So if my grandparents hadn’t happened to move to Portland, and my dad hadn’t happened to get a job up there, and if my parents hadn’t happened to have some mutual friends, and if they hadn’t happened to carry the same defective gene, I wouldn’t exist. Jump ahead a few years and I decided I wanted to learn to play guitar. If my friend hadn’t happened to recommend Alpha Omega, I wouldn’t have happened to meet my teacher, who happened to be Christian. I probably wouldn’t have been encouraged to be confirmed in the Catholic Church, and I probably wouldn’t have gone to a Christian college. Years would have gone by, and I probably wouldn’t be writing this. So coincidence, God’s plan, or even a miracle was directly involved in my existence as I am now.

As I said, it all sounds like a long convoluted coincidence. Miracles and answered prayers often do. Sometimes we even forget we prayed for something and weeks, months or years later, our prayer is quietly answered. God sees how things will play out over long periods of time. Sometimes we have big, extravagant plans and ambitions that require years of school or practice or exploring–lots of trial and error–but none of it is assured. We may have our plans, but it could literally rain cats and dogs tomorrow. It might be unlikely, but it could happen. God works in real time, and he works in the physical world. He is capable of literally anything, but he takes into account the fact that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, he takes into account how and when a prayer is answered, and how it will affect other people, and the world in general. That being said, there have always been miracles that no one can really explain.

These medical miracles took place mainly in the 1960’s and 70’s.
http://www.collective-evolution.com/2015/05/17/the-top-5-medical-miracles-that-science-cant-explain-or-can-it/

Here is the story of an unexplained miracle rescue.
http://www.godvine.com/God-Sent-a-Mysterious-Angel-to-Pray-with-Victim-of-Terrible-Car-Crash-3762.html

Here is a story of a little girl whose accident cured her of two diseases, and who had a near-death experience, in which she claims to have gone to Heaven.
http://insider.foxnews.com/2015/04/14/miracles-heaven-near-fatal-fall-cures-sick-little-girls-symptoms

This is a Facebook page where anyone can write in their miracle stories. There are a lot.

Miracles can happen in many ways that we take for granted. Many times we see them just as coincidence or luck. I have a few miracle stories of my own that might change your mind, though.

  1. My friend told me that he has often had dreams about things before they happen, and they often happen exactly as they did in the dream. This has been happening to him for years now, and is usually the only kind of dream he has these days.
  2. My friend also told me that his girlfriend’s family sometimes gets premonitions and intuitively knows things about the past or future that wouldn’t make sense unless they were told these things. For example, my friend’s girlfriend intuitively knew that her aunt’s house once had a balcony that was taken down before she was born.
  3. Towards the end of high school, into my first year of college I was starting to have emotional problems. I felt very lonely a lot of the time, even though I knew that my family and friends loved me. I was missing something. I thought I needed a romantic partner, and I prayed about this a lot, though at the time I didn’t quite know God. One night, two months into my Freshman year I said “I love you” for the first time in a prayer, without really even meaning to, and an indescribable feeling of love and peace came over me. I’ve felt different ever since.

Consider the fact that life on earth exists. The conditions had to be exactly perfect. The planet had to be an exact distance from the sun. There had to be water. The conditions in the air had to be just right. Narrow it down to human life. I don’t know the exact odds, but it seems unlikely that any species on earth would be intelligent enough to learn to use language, learn to write, understand abstract ideas, or be spiritual. None of these things help us survive, so from that perspective, they are completely useless abilities. There are explanations for why these things happen, but at the same time, they are extremely unlikely. A miracle is something that seems impossible but happens anyway. Maybe one day we will find a scientific explanation for every miracle, but I see science as a way of understanding God.

In some sense, the answer to any prayer can be considered a miracle, even if it looks like coincidence. Many people assume that God only does or would do miracles through supernatural means, but often, God answers prayers by putting people in the right place at the right time or allowing natural events to happen that allow a person to get ahead or even save their life. God is the commander and creator of both the natural and supernatural world, and these two aspects of reality are much more interconnected than one might suppose.

However, many of the events that are written into history are natural impossibilities. We have already seen that God uses natural and supernatural means to do the impossible, but many of the events in the Bible seem quite unbelievable. They just don’t make any sense. How do we explain things like the Creation story, or the flood in the story of Noah, or the parting of the sea in Exodus? To answer this question we need to look at several things. We need to look at the Bible as a whole and determine what, if anything, is supposed to be taken literally or figuratively, we need to look at the historical and cultural context, and we need to look at what these stories are actually trying to tell us if the Bible is supposed to be believed as the timeless Word of God.

First let’s look at the Creation story. The first story we are told in the Bible is about the six day creation of the world. Scientifically, this story is completely inaccurate and could not have happened, if it is taken literally. A world cannot be created in six literal days, and even if it could, everything is created in a completely nonsensical order. The theory of evolution teaches that all species originated from one life form and branched off from there. Species were born and went extinct and continue to do so and will always continue to do so. The Big Bang Theory goes back further and teaches that the Universe was created after a singularity exploded and all matter developed from there. If you want the details, I’m afraid you’re reading the wrong article. The question is, where did the singularity come from? To me this seems to be an unanswerable question, at least for a girl who studied creative writing with a little philosophy and theology thrown in. However, what we do know, in terms of scientific facts seems very compelling, and some use these scientific theories, which however compelling, could still be proven wrong, as evidence against the supernatural. This is where we must look at two things: historical context, and the use of language.

While many teachings in the Bible are timeless, one must remember that many of the stories, particularly in the Old Testament were written at a fixed point in time, about a fixed point in time. The writer of the Creation story would have had no knowledge of evolution or the Big Bang Theory. They would have had no idea about how atoms interact or how life was created, from a scientific standpoint. Therefore, they pieced together from their understanding of the universe, an explanation of how the Earth was made. However, it isn’t the creation that is truly the focus of the Creation story. The focus is God’s relation to his creation, and most importantly, his relation to humanity. God creates the universe peacefully, and it is greatly emphasized that this creation is good. It is also emphasized that humans were created in God’s image and that we are here to take care of his creation. This is the point we are supposed to take from the first part of Genesis. God’s creation is innately good, and we are a significant part of it.

So then what about the story of Noah? What are we supposed to take from a story about the near destruction of the whole human race by the God that created it? The point of this story, it seems, was not to describe literal events, but to demonstrate a point about human nature, the nature of faith, and what a relationship with God provides and entails. Noah survives the flood because he is faithful, while many do not survive the flood because of their sinful behavior. I would like to pause and address a related question before moving on. Stories such as this, including stories in Exodus, Joshua, and Judges depict horrible violence, largely orchestrated by God himself towards large groups of people.

It does seem that many of these stories are meant to be taken literally. The Israelite conquest of Canaan was, in fact, a real, traceable series of events. Jesus tells us in Mathew 5 that we are to love our enemies as well as our neighbors. However, the depictions in the Old Testament of conquest and violence make this command seem almost hypocritical. There are several reasons why the violence committed by God and his people may have been exaggerated, for one thing, and also may have been justifiable. Professor Lawson Stone from Asbury Theological Seminary explains in this article, which I will provide in full.
http://seedbed.com/feed/violence-in-the-old-testament-starting-points/

“It’s hard to imagine anyone today who is familiar with the Bible not being concerned about the violence in the Old Testament. It’s a fashionable bomb tossed by the so-called new atheists, and the easiest way for critics of Christianity to dismiss the Bible. To hear them talk, on every page of the Old Testament cities are burned to the ground, whole populations annihilated. Yahweh, the God of Israel, is in turn portrayed as a wrathful tribal deity constantly calling his people to commit atrocities in his name.

The problem of violence in the Old Testament centers mainly around the stories of Israel’s struggle to settle the land of Canaan. These stories center on the books of Joshua and Judges. So establish some starting points by looking in a general way at the question of violence and war in the Old Testament. Then in the installments to follow, we’ll turn specifically to Joshua and Judges.

All these presentations will share one important conviction: central to getting the Bible right is hearing it in its own cultural and historical setting. This is not just good scholarship; it’s good listening. That’s why I’m excited to be sharing with you from a place called Bedhat es-Sha’ab, a little-known and infrequently visited site just west of the Jordan river that is possibly one of the earliest places where Israelites assembled and worshiped as they settled in the land of Canaan. Being an outsider in this barren, desolate place reminds me that the biblical characters didn’t live in a world of civilian police, ambulance and 9-1-1 service. Nor did they have 2000 years of reflection on the whole Bible. The Old Testament characters need to be seen and heard in their own time, not dismissed from the perspective of our time.

With that in mind, here are seven facts to to help focus the question of violence in the Old Testament:

FACT ONE:

Jesus and the NT writers never complain about the violence in the Old Testament. That should flash at least a yellow, caution-light on our hasty dismissal of the Old Testament. Are WE more morally sensitive than Jesus and the New Testament writers? Did they see something in the Old Testament that we miss?

FACT TWO

Secular historians and the Bible itself tell us that the land of Canaan at the time of the Israelite settlement was not inhabited by a uniform, indigenous population. Canaan was a crossroads and a diverse culture of many different groups: You know, all the “-ites”-Canaanites, Amorites, Perizites, stalactites, stalagmites… If you’d asked a random inhabitant of Canaan “Whose land is this?” You’d have gotten different answers. It was a no-mans-land.

FACT THREE

Genesis 12-50 tells us the Israelites’ ancestors had actually lived in Canaan for centuries before their sojourn in Egypt. They were not outsiders trying to take a land from its original owners. In fact, the Pharaohs of Egypt would have seen no real difference between Canaanites and Israelites. They came from the same place, spoke the same language, had the same physical anthropology, i.e. they looked alike. So there is no parallel between the book of Joshua and, say, the European settlers in North America displacing the earlier inhabitants.

FACT FOUR

This a biggee. By Joshua’s day, Canaan had long suffered under a harsh political system. Canaan in the time of Moses and Joshua had been ruled for centuries by Egypt. Egypt had been ruled by foreign kings known as the Hyksos, who possibly came from Syria-Palestine. A native Egyptian dynasty expelled these foreign kings, pursuing them into Canaan. To insure they never came back, Egypt annexed Canaan and ruled it with two aims: first, never-ever would Canaan be a corridor for anyone attacking Egypt!

Second, Pharaoh exploited Canaan economically. He administered Canaan by appointing rulers in the top 30 or so towns. They managed the country like a giant agricultural plantation, a kind of “factory farm.” They focused on producing a small number of crops valued by the Egyptian upper classes, mainly olives and a type of grape that thrived only in Canaan.

This reality had serious consequences.

The focus on massive production of a few crops not only risked depleting the land, it also destroyed the locally integrated, self-sustaining economies of small villages and towns throughout the hill country. These  communities needed mix of farming and herding just to survive. The Egyptians also yanked the best of the work force out of these towns and villages to toil as forced labor, emptying the rural hill country of Canaan. Many people from Canaan, not just future Israelites, wound up slaves in Egypt. Settlement patterns in Canaan about 1300 B.C., just before the exodus and conquest, show the central hill country of Canaan was largely emptied out.

Under this kind of regime, Canaan was unstable and violent. The city rulers fought each other, hired mercenaries, sometimes cruelly treated the local populace. Bandits terrorized the highways. Men stripped of their land and living gathered around warlords, some of whom were good men, others just thugs or gangsters.

So, by the time Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, the place was dark and bloody ground. It’s just possible that, far from being seen as invaders, Joshua and the Israelites represented the arrival of order, justice, and even peace.

FACT FIVE

The Old Testament shows us that, even in the conquest stories, the Israelites were not a militarized nation. While other nations boasted of their weapons and crack troops, the Israelites were not a professional army.  Likewise, the Israelites were not a huge group. The idea found in some textbooks that there were at least 2.5 million Israelites comes from a  misunderstanding of the Hebrew terminology for numbers. Archaeologists tell us that likely weren’t 2.5 million people living in all of Canaan and Syria combined!

The books of Deuteronomy, Joshua & Judges stress that, from a military perspective, the Israelites were out-numbered, out-maneuvered and out-gunned. After Joshua, they had no central authority. They were only a coalition of tribes, often divided, often untrue to their own religion. The Bible says they needed miraculous divine intervention just to survive. Hardly the profile of a nation of bloodthirsty, imperialists!

FACT SIX

Warlike nations, and all of Israel’s ancient neighbors, gloried in their superior weapons and firepower. Images of Pharaoh portray him holding his hapless enemies by the hair and smiting them with a mace or battle axe. Or, we see Pharaoh thundering along in his war chariot, horses’ reins tied around his waist, unleashing arrows at cringing, fleeing foes. The Old Testament, in contrast,  stresses that the Israelites were poorly armed, confronting fortified cities or huge chariot forces on foot. The Old Testament also emphasizes Israel’s lack of metal workers. Again, not exactly a warrior nation.

FACT SEVEN

Finally, the world of Moses, Joshua, Gideon and David was a world of unspeakable violence perpetrated by massive, well-armed professional armies. The kings of Egypt, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia gloried in their brutality and savagery. In countless inscriptions throughout the history of the ancient Near East, the great kings boasted of  boring through their enemies’ bodies, ripping their entrails out, galloping their horses and chariots through the gore of enemy bodies, splashing through enemy blood as if crossing a river, impaling thousands of “rebels” on stakes around conquered cities, flaying the skin off of their defeated enemies in full view of their families, and hideously mutilating the dead. And you know, almost nobody in the ancient Near East found this shocking. Rather, most thought it glorious proof that the gods had favored the king. Compared to the graphic detail, intensity, and sheer mass of these ancient descriptions, the Old Testament looks rather tame, even modest.

Whatever problems we might have with the violence in the Old Testament, it was One who claimed to be the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament, Jesus, whose Hebrew name was Joshua, who appealed constantly to the OT witness. Schooled in the Old Testament, Jesus called his people to love their enemies and to be peacemakers, not in spite of his Old Testament heritage, but because of it.

That’s something to think about.”

This, to me, is extremely compelling. However, does it justify the killing of women and children? This article may help answer that question. Note that I personally do not agree with everything that is said in this article, but as I said, I want to stay at least somewhat neutral.
http://www.gotquestions.org/Old-Testament-violence.html
There are two main points I want to focus on.

  1. “A basic knowledge of Canaanite culture reveals its inherent moral wickedness. The Canaanites were a brutal, aggressive people who engaged in bestiality, incest, and even child sacrifice. Deviant sexual acts were the norm. The Canaanites’ sin was so repellent that God said, “The land vomited out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:25). Even so, the destruction was directed more at the Canaanite religion (Deuteronomy 7:3–5,12:2-3) than at the Canaanite people per se. The judgment was not ethnically motivated. Individual Canaanites, like Rahab in Jericho, could still find that mercy follows repentance (Joshua 2). God’s desire is that the wicked turn from their sin rather than die (Ezekiel 18:31-32, 33:11).”
  2. “… The Scripture teaches that we are all born in sin (Psalm 51:5;58:3). This implies that all people are morally culpable for Adam’s sin in some way. Infants are just as condemned from sin as adults are….  an argument could be made that it would have been cruel for God to take the lives of all the Canaanites except the infants and children. Without the protection and support of their parents, the infants and small children were likely to face death anyway due to starvation.

It’s worth noting that most people, myself included, like to see the supernatural with rose colored glasses. We like God’s love, and ignore the parts that are scary. God’s justice can definitely be scary. As with more allegorical stories like the Creation story, the Flood account, and parts of the Exodus, there is a timeless takeaway from all this. God is serious, and God is righteous. He isn’t just one-sided, and he expects us to live a certain way. That being said, he does give us a lot of chances to change, and he helps us out in that effort.

One final point I would like to make before we beat this topic into the ground is that these stories are told from the point of view of the victors. In this next article, Professor Stone narrows his focus down to violence in the book of Joshua. You can find the whole article via the link, but I would like to focus on one thing that, I think, is really key.
http://seedbed.com/feed/7-keys-to-understanding-violence-in-the-book-of-joshua/

“Scholars of ancient military texts remind us that in the ancient Near East, battle accounts used very stereotyped, extreme language. Nuance was not their strong suit! A king would claim he killed every single occupant of a land, only to report how much tribute the presumably dead enemies had to pay each year! Clearly, the claim of annihilation there only meant to convey total victory.

We should also remember that our modern notions of genocide and total war come from our knowledge of weapons of mass destruction and the actual experience of genocide by these means. The ancient world, for all its ferocity, couldn’t do better than spears, arrows, swords and catapults. They had no way to envision the literal extermination of whole populations. The language was stock military rhetoric that conveyed an unquestioned, uncontested victory. Maybe that could help us with those statements in Joshua too.”

I think that, with caution, this understanding of exaggerated and allegorical language can be applied in our interpretation of many parts of the Bible. Some would argue that if the Bible is not taken literally in its entirety, then none of it can be taken literally, and therefore, many significant teachings can be dismissed. I disagree. If all parts of the Bible are taken literally, they become inapplicable to our modern world. In some sense, they become meaningless. If the book of Revelation is taken literally, it becomes an interesting, but very confusing, and quite frankly, very unbelievable story. Perhaps what is written in Revelation is literally what the Apostle John saw, but even that does not require that the vision be interpreted literally. On the other hand, it is clear that most, if not all of what is written in the letters of the Apostle Paul should be taken literally, though it is still important to keep in mind historical and cultural context.

The most important thing to remember when trying to answer any of these big questions is that God wants us to know him. His Word is timeless, and it will always reveal truth to us. That being said, the things God says and does won’t always make sense. People don’t always make sense, even when they have the best intentions, so we especially shouldn’t expect an all-knowing, all-powerful God to always make sense to us. God is good, though, and he does love us. This is a personal and emotional issue for a lot of people, and it’s been proven through the personal experiences of millions. Yes, many believe simply because they want to, and yes, faith provides an emotional crutch to lean on sometimes, but if the stories and teachings we believe in are nothing more than just stories, then a very large portion of the world’s population is certifiably insane, claiming to have seen, felt, done, and experienced the impossible. Beyond that, though, it seems that if it weren’t true and if it weren’t still relevant today, Christianity would have died out a long time ago.

That’s not to say that Christianity can’t change. There are many examples of how God’s people have changed over time, most notably with the birth of the Church shortly after the Resurrection, the official adoption of Christianity by the Romans, and the Reformation, which marked the birth of Protestantism. However, Christianity constantly goes through much more subtle changes. Worship style may change slowly, but the music that is used, for example, changes much more quickly with whatever genre of music happens to be popular at the time. This is a good thing, and there are many other examples of similar changes. The Church and the broader culture are meant to be amiable partners.

Freedom of religion means we have the right to believe whatever we want, and we also have the right not to believe anything without being bothered about it. However, it seems that because of this freedom, we’ve largely given up on the idea of absolute Truth for several reasons. Firstly, postmodern society, particularly in America and other first world countries, has become extremely relativistic. In other words, most people believe that anything could be true, but nothing is necessarily true. No one can claim to know the full truth about anything, but there is nothing wrong with asserting that a particular belief system or philosophy is true. This assertion gives us conviction and direction. In fact, this claim is actually made by those who firmly believe that there is no higher power. In a sense, atheists are often some of the most convicted in their belief (or lack there of). It is important to practice humility when claiming something as the truth. This means admitting that, while we know something to be true, we can never know the full extent of that truth in its entirety.

This brings us to my second point. No one is willing to claim any knowledge of absolute Truth because we have become so concerned about offending people. In any given conversation about religion or philosophy, you will often hear phrases such as, “This is just what I believe,” or “I don’t know for sure, but…” There’s nothing wrong with claiming something is true as long as we can back it up with sufficient reasoning, whether it’s scientific or historical evidence, or logical explanations, or even personal observation. The problem is that people often see disagreement as a personal attack, and many have the mentality that if you strongly believe something to be true, and if you are unflinching on the matter, you are arrogant and self-righteous.

Third, “Because God says so,” is no longer a valid reason for anything outside of Christian circles. To be fair, it’s often not a satisfying answer to me at all. I find it extremely frustrating when I’m trying to figure out the reasoning behind a particular teaching, and the only reason I can find is “Because God says so,” or “Because the Bible says so.” The truth is, this should be a valid reason for things, but it’s not a satisfying one.

Lastly, we’ve become impatient, and we’ve turned elsewhere for answers. Biology, Chemistry and Physics tell us about how the world works, and how life works in it. Psychology and Sociology tell us about how the human mind works and why we do things the way we do. Economics and Politics give us a social structure to live in. The list goes on. There’s a field of study for just about every question imaginable, but we’ve erased God from the picture. Some would disagree with me, but I see this as a problem for several reasons.

  1. Having faith in God gives me a reason for seeking answers. It gives me a reason to keep on living. It brings purpose to life. Knowledge without purpose is empty. One might argue that the purpose of seeking knowledge is simply so we can be better at what we do; so we can have smarter and smaller technology, so we can cure diseases, so we can be more efficient and have a more productive society. But what’s the point? If there’s nothing after this life–if there’s no greater purpose–then why does any of that matter? There are surely selfless people who would want to make life easier for the next generation, or for a few generations down the road, but they would have no reason for doing it other than, simply, they were nice. It’s much more compelling and motivating to me to believe that there is something to look forward to after this, and I am part of a bigger plan.
  2. Faith in God provides the most stable moral code. Many would argue that you don’t need a god to have a moral code. In a sense, I agree. Whether we have a concrete idea of God or not, morality seems to be partly built into human nature, partly because a lot of it is just common sense. If I’m nice to you, you’ll be nice to me. However, a friend of mine addresses this a little more eloquently on his blog: (https://curtiseschulz.wordpress.com/2015/09/18/living-in-denial/) In short, he says that, at least from an atheistic standpoint, one should conclude that the universe is amoral, and that morality is a matter of preference only.
  3. If I can’t be reliant on God, I have to be completely reliant on myself. Having faith in God, at least to me, allows “I don’t know” to be an acceptable answer. Furthermore, if I have to completely rely on myself to get things done, not much will get done. I’m only one person. Not only that, but I’m not physically capable of doing a lot of things. If I can rely on God, I can do the impossible. Prayer works, and if I can rely on God I’m never alone.

God is absolute Truth. Therefore, yes, I believe that everyone should believe generally in the same thing, and our world should strive for that Truth as one. I will not back down from that belief. However, what is also true is that God wants us to have the freedom to choose what we believe, and so do I. I support peoples’ right to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster if they so choose. I support peoples’ right to believe in absolutely nothing at all. While it is the duty of the followers of Christ to tell the Truth, it is not our duty to impose it. We should all surround ourselves with people who do not share our beliefs. We may not ever change each others’ beliefs, but we can promote respect, tolerance, and good listening in the world. Remember that Jesus hung out with weirdos and sinners. He didn’t have status or power in mind. His mind was set on love, and so should ours.

We have free will exactly for this reason. God gives us a choice. He allows us to struggle and to fail and to disappoint him so that we learn and understand more fully what it means for him to love us, and for us to love God and our fellow humans. We can’t love or be loved if we are robots. Without a choice, love is empty. Let me explain a little better. Lately I’ve been telling people that I hate Donald Trump. I think he’s arrogant and talks a lot without actually saying anything. I try to pick apart everything he says to find everything wrong with it. The other night I was ranting to my dad about how much I dislike him, when my dad said, “Jesus doesn’t want you to hate him.” He’s been telling me that a lot, but it didn’t sink in until just the other night. I’ve written at greater length about how love is a choice, but what didn’t entirely register in my mind until now was that hate is a choice, too.

God allows people to reject him so that it actually means something when we choose to follow him. It’s easy to think of God as just a benevolent deity who is idly watching from on high, like someone playing Simcity. If we believe that we were made in his image, though, we have to assume that God has emotions and feels things at least somewhat like we do. Anyone who has survived middle school knows what it feels like to be rejected by those we think are cool. Now imagine what that must feel like to a God who is Love; a God who made the very people who reject him. Imagine what it must feel like to be loved and even worshiped by those you loved all along. Something Pope Francis said while he was here in the U.S. really stuck with me. He said he spoke to a child who asked him: “What did God do before he created the world?” His answer was that God loved.

That is what I want to leave you with. No matter how crazy things are; no matter how alone you feel; no matter how unfair the world is, God loves you. The truth is that things might not work out the way you want them to, but the truth is that you are special to God, and he has a place for you in his coming Kingdom. Jesus says in Mathew 5:3-12:

3 God blesses those people
    who depend only on him.
They belong to the kingdom
    of heaven![b]
God blesses those people
who grieve.
    They will find comfort!
God blesses those people
    who are humble.
The earth will belong
    to them!
God blesses those people
who want to obey him[c]
    more than to eat or drink.
They will be given
    what they want!
God blesses those people
    who are merciful.
They will be treated
    with mercy!
God blesses those people
whose hearts are pure.
    They will see him!
God blesses those people
    who make peace.
They will be called
    his children!
10 God blesses those people
who are treated badly
    for doing right.
They belong to the kingdom
    of heaven.[d]

11 God will bless you when people insult you, mistreat you, and tell all kinds of evil lies about you because of me. 12 Be happy and excited! You will have a great reward in heaven. (Contemporary English Version)

It doesn’t make the waiting any easier, and it doesn’t make it any easier to witness war and suffering and sickness and hunger. It doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to the people we lose, but it gives us hope. I hope this was helpful in answering some of your questions or at least in giving you a head start. As I said, we can’t expect God’s actions to always make sense to us, but what we can trust is that they are always good, and we can trust that God keeps his promises.

Nonsense!

NOTE: This is a rough version of a project I’m working on. I’m posting it now because I would like some feedback, so comments are much appreciated.

I can’t prove God’s existence. A lot of people want proof, and as much as I would love to, I cannot provide that. What I can tell you is that proof comes with faith. Proof comes with a willingness to follow, even if you don’t know where you’re going. That’s not the end of anything. That’s where things start. Once you have faith, God will answer your questions, but nothing will happen unless you are willing to suspend disbelief in the first place. My advice is to do your research. You won’t find conclusive evidence for God’s existence, but you will find numerous evidence in history and various scientific fields that point to it. I will leave that up to do because, as I said, I’m not here to prove God’s existence. I’m writing this to try and help make some things make sense.

This is about the big questions. Why do good people suffer? Why, if Jesus promised to return, has it been 2,000 years? How do science and faith relate? How do you explain impossibilities in the Bible? How do you explain the violence that is not only prompted, but often orchestrated by God? I see these questions come up a lot. Christians and Atheists alike ask them, and I would like to try and address them from a personal perspective. I will try to remain unbiased where I can, but much of my discussion will be coming from a Christian perspective and will be driven by personal experience. Furthermore, this article will not offer an exhaustive study of each topic, but serves as an overview of each and a study of how they relate to one another. Lastly, you will note that I do not cite conventional sources. This is because I am not a Bible scholar. I have a degree in Creative Writing, and secondly, this is, in part, an opinion piece, and although it might help, I don’t think you need a degree to study theology. If that doesn’t interest you, then I’d suggest moving on.

If this does interest you, we’ll start here: why do good people suffer?

I use the word “good” instead of “innocent” on purpose. People tend to ask why innocent people suffer when I think this is the wrong question. It’s a dicey topic because, for one thing, “innocent” means different things to different people, and secondly, there are no truly innocent people in the eyes of God. I get that this seems harsh. It doesn’t seem fair that some people get to be born in America, completely by chance, eat what they want when they want, and watch football on Sunday night, while a poor family from Syria has to flee their country and seriously worry about where they’re going to get their next meal. Furthermore, it’s entirely possible and even probable that the people who suffer more have more faith than the people with very easy lives.

Then there are those who choose more difficult lives. They choose to suffer a little to help those who suffer a lot. Sometimes the most wonderful, selfless people suffer the most. There are people in this world who would sacrifice everything to help someone else, whether it’s their child or a stranger who really needs their help. These people go out of their way and make their own lives difficult to help others who have it worse than they do.

And what about the child who is born with a serious birth defect and dies before he’s a year old? Surely he was innocent. Surely a loving God wouldn’t let something like this happen to him and his parents. But it does happen. People die of starvation: are forced to leave their homes: contract treatable diseases that kill them because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I can’t provide a completely satisfying answer. The answer I can provide isn’t even completely satisfying to me, but it’s the best I can do. First, a quick explanation of what actually happened when Jesus rose from the dead and what it meant. The resurrection meant that humans were saved from sin. It did not mean that we were no longer sinful. Even saints are sinners. Quite frankly, it’s extremely difficult, and probably impossible to live a completely sinless life. Whatever happened a long, long time ago, it infused our human nature with something nasty, whether it literally involved an apple or not. Secondly, we need to remember two statements that Jesus makes that help understand the context of this question. He states in Mathew 26:11, “The poor you will always have with you…” and in Mathew 20:16, he says, “The last will be first and the first will be last.”

From the beginning, God tells his people to take care of the poor and vulnerable. He constantly makes mention of orphans and widows, and makes sure that these people are remembered by the Israelites. What I think we have to remember is that humanity is much more interconnected than we think or even want it to be at times. We’re one big dysfunctional family, and whether we like it or not, it is our duty to take care of the people who need us. God has a special place in his heart for those who suffer, so he certainly hasn’t forgotten them.

But why will the poor always be with us? I think there are several answers to this question.

  1. It’s human nature. Whether we like it or not, people have selfish tendencies. No matter how good of a person we are, we naturally take things that we want and whether by accident or intentionally, we keep things from other people. This isn’t always a bad thing. It’s partly a survival instinct. All animals do it with territory, water, and food. We just happen to do it particularly with money because in a civilized society, money is a survival resource.
  2. Socialism doesn’t work. There will always be haves and have-nots. For a similar reason as I just explained, a society will never be entirely equal. There will always be people who work harder than others, and those who want more than others. For some, living on the bare minimum can be satisfying, while to others, it’s just not. Ideally, in a socialist society, the people who are more ambitious or simply have better-paying jobs or just have more resources would freely share those resources with the less fortunate. It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t work because a) there are selfish people in the world, and b) too many people take advantage of the system. You can’t receive if you don’t give anything.
  3. This is also related to my previous points. Along with money comes status. While it isn’t necessary to have money in order to have status, they are generally related. Furthermore, regardless of the means by which it is achieved, people strive for status, and while a given social structure may be fluid, there is, and always will be a status quo. In order to be high on the social ladder, by necessity, there needs to be people below you.

When it comes to the question of child labor, child death, sex slavery and other such tragedy involving children, there are a few things to remember. These things by no means make any of it okay, but they can shed a little light into some dark places. First of all, children who die before the “age of moral accountability” are automatically saved. They go straight to heaven. This could mean that a child who would otherwise have a short and miserable life is now in paradise with their heavenly Father. Again, I’m not saying it makes it any more okay. It’s still tragic and quite frankly, unfair if you ask me. But what about the children who do grow to be a little older, only to be cut short without ever hearing about Christ? I think the answer can be intuited. Never hearing specifically about God or Jesus isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s rejecting him that causes problems. Want proof? “The truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Romans 1:19-20, New Living Translation). I found this after a very brief Google search.

That being said, it doesn’t give us license to slack off when it comes to telling people about God and his promises. We are clearly told that we must spread the Gospel throughout the whole world. It’s a pretty clear job description for anyone who calls herself Christian. On the flip side, it also doesn’t give us license not to seek the truth about God when we have the resources readily available. This actually helps answer our question: why do people suffer? It also leads into the question: why has it been 2,000 years since Jesus’ resurrection? First, good people suffer because the rest of us don’t do enough to stop it. Remember that the Church, which ideally encompasses all of humanity, is the body of Christ. Most people just think about it in the context of salvation, in other words, we tend to think of it in a very spiritual sense. What it actually means is that we are here now to do Jesus’ work in the world. We are here to literally heal the hurting and feed the hungry. We are literally here to be his voice and hands and feet in a very physical, real time sense.

This means finding a cure for cancer through serious medical research. This means starting schools in places where education isn’t really available for kids. This means volunteering for or donating to nonprofits that help refugees. This means blogging and trying to answer the hard questions. This means standing up to the bullies who just want to tell you you’re an idiot for believing in something. It also means praying. It means being proud of what you believe in. It means not trying to change the subject when people bring up religion, even if that’s way easier than having that difficult conversation. This is as much a reminder to myself than anyone else, so bear with me.

One thing to remember is that we are a significant part of God’s plan. The other thing to remember is that God has a different understanding of time than we do, so what seems like a really long time to us, can seem like no time at all to him. At the same time, we’re told to be ready because Jesus could return and things could drastically change tomorrow or within the next hour. We could argue that so much more could get done and the world could be made a lot better a lot quicker if God chose to be more directly involved. In the Old Testament particularly, he is depicted as doing absolutely miraculous things for the Israelites, singlehandedly winning battles for them. These days it seems that miracles aren’t quite as noticeable, if they even happen at all. On the other hand, we cured Polio; we figured out how to use electricity; we figured out how to make a smart phone, for crying out loud. Are any of these things not miraculous? While things happen slower, I think we should consider it a privilege to be so involved in making God’s world a better place. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that the Jewish religion, which was the context in which the Church was born, started out pretty tiny. This could explain why God had to really directly help them out. Jump ahead to the present day, and not only are we much more advanced in many ways, but Christianity is now the largest religion in the world. These two factors really seem to be significant.

So the question is, do we ever see miracles that could only be explained by the existence of God?

These medical miracles took place mainly in the 1960’s and 70’s.
http://www.collective-evolution.com/2015/05/17/the-top-5-medical-miracles-that-science-cant-explain-or-can-it/

Here is the story of an unexplained miracle rescue.
http://www.godvine.com/God-Sent-a-Mysterious-Angel-to-Pray-with-Victim-of-Terrible-Car-Crash-3762.html

Here is a story of a little girl whose accident cured her of two diseases, and who had a near-death experience, in which she claims to have gone to Heaven.
http://insider.foxnews.com/2015/04/14/miracles-heaven-near-fatal-fall-cures-sick-little-girls-symptoms

This is a Facebook page where anyone can write in their miracle stories. There are a lot

Miracles can happen in many ways that we take for granted. Many times we see them just as coincidence or luck. I have a few miracle stories of my own that might change your mind, though.

  1. My friend told me that he has often had dreams about things before they happen, and they often happen exactly as they did in the dream. This has been happening to him for years now, and is usually the only kind of dream he has these days.
  2. My friend also told me that his girlfriend’s family sometimes gets premonitions and intuitively knows things about the past or future that wouldn’t make sense unless they were told these things. For example, my friend’s girlfriend intuitively knew that her aunt’s house once had a balcony that was taken down before she was born.
  3. Towards the end of high school, into my first year of college I was starting to have emotional problems. I felt very lonely a lot of the time, even though I knew that my family and friends loved me. I was missing something. I thought I needed a romantic partner, and I prayed about this a lot, though at the time I didn’t quite know God. One night, two months into my Freshman year I said “I love you” for the first time in a prayer, without really even meaning to, and an indescribable feeling of love and peace came over me. I’ve felt different ever since.

Then consider the fact that life on earth exists. The conditions had to be exactly perfect. The planet had to be an exact distance from the sun. There had to be water. The conditions in the air had to be just right. Narrow it down to human life. I don’t know the exact odds, but it seems unlikely that any species on earth would be intelligent enough to learn to use language, learn to write, understand abstract ideas, or be spiritual. None of these things help us survive, so from that perspective, they are completely useless abilities. There are explanations for why these things happen, but at the same time, they are extremely unlikely. A miracle is something that seems impossible but happens anyway. Maybe one day we will find a scientific explanation for every miracle, but I see science as a way of understanding God.

In some sense, the answer to any prayer can be considered a miracle, even if it looks like coincidence. Many people assume that God only does or would do miracles through supernatural means, but often, God answers prayers by putting people in the right place at the right time or allowing natural events to happen that allow a person to get ahead or even save their life. God is the commander and creator of both the natural and supernatural world, and these two aspects of reality are much more interconnected than one might suppose.

However, many of the events that are written into history are natural impossibilities. We have already seen that God uses natural and supernatural means to do the impossible, but many of the events in the Bible seem quite unbelievable. They just don’t make any sense. How do we explain things like the Creation story, or the flood in the story of Noah, or the parting of the sea in Exodus? To answer this question we need to look at several things. We need to look at the Bible as a whole and determine what, if anything, is supposed to be taken literally or figuratively, we need to look at the historical and cultural context, and we need to look at what these stories are actually trying to tell us if the Bible is supposed to be believed as the timeless Word of God.

First let’s look at the Creation story. The first story we are told in the Bible is about the six day creation of the world. Scientifically, this story is completely inaccurate and could not have happened, if it is taken literally. A world cannot be created in six literal days, and even if it could, everything is created in a completely nonsensical order. The theory of evolution teaches that all species originated from one life form and branched off from there. Species were born and went extinct and continue to do so and will always continue to do so. The Big Bang Theory goes back further and teaches that the Universe was created after a singularity exploded and all matter developed from there. If you want the details, I’m afraid you’re reading the wrong article. The question is, where did the singularity come from? To me this seems to be an unanswerable question, at least for a girl who studied creative writing with a little philosophy and theology thrown in. However, what we do know, in terms of scientific facts seems very compelling, and some use these scientific theories, which however compelling, could still be proven wrong, as evidence against the supernatural. This is where we must look at two things: historical context, and the use of language.

While many teachings in the Bible are timeless, one must remember that many of the stories, particularly in the Old Testament were written at a fixed point in time, about a fixed point in time. The writer of the Creation story would have had no knowledge of evolution or the Big Bang Theory. They would have had no idea about how atoms interact or how life was created, from a scientific standpoint. Therefore, they pieced together from their understanding of the universe, an explanation of how the Earth was made. However, it isn’t the creation that is truly the focus of the Creation story. The focus is God’s relation to his creation, and most importantly, his relation to humanity. God creates the universe peacefully, and it is greatly emphasized that this creation is good. It is also emphasized that humans were created in God’s image and that we are here to take care of his creation. This is the point we are supposed to take from Genesis. God’s creation is innately good, and we are a significant part of it.

So then what about the story of Noah? What are we supposed to take from a story about the near destruction of the whole human race by the God that created it? The point of this story, it seems, was not to describe literal events, but to demonstrate a point about human nature, the nature of faith, and what a relationship with God provides and entails. Noah survives the flood because he is faithful, while many do not survive the flood because of their sinful behavior. I would like to pause and address a related question before moving on. Stories such as this, including stories in Exodus, Joshua, and Judges depict horrible violence, largely orchestrated by God himself towards large groups of people.

It does seem that many of these stories are meant to be taken literally. The Israelite conquest of Canaan was, in fact, a real, traceable series of events. Jesus tells us in Mathew 5 that we are to love our enemies as well as our neighbors. However, the depictions in the Old Testament of conquest and violence make this command seem almost hypocritical. There are several reasons why the violence committed by God and his people may have been exaggerated, for one thing, and also may have been justifiable. Professor Lawson Stone from Asbury Theological Seminary explains in this article, which I will provide in full.
http://seedbed.com/feed/violence-in-the-old-testament-starting-points/

“It’s hard to imagine anyone today who is familiar with the Bible not being concerned about the violence in the Old Testament. It’s a fashionable bomb tossed by the so-called new atheists, and the easiest way for critics of Christianity to dismiss the Bible. To hear them talk, on every page of the Old Testament cities are burned to the ground, whole populations annihilated. Yahweh, the God of Israel, is in turn portrayed as a wrathful tribal deity constantly calling his people to commit atrocities in his name.

The problem of violence in the Old Testament centers mainly around the stories of Israel’s struggle to settle the land of Canaan. These stories center on the books of Joshua and Judges. So establish some starting points by looking in a general way at the question of violence and war in the Old Testament. Then in the installments to follow, we’ll turn specifically to Joshua and Judges.

All these presentations will share one important conviction: central to getting the Bible right is hearing it in its own cultural and historical setting. This is not just good scholarship; it’s good listening. That’s why I’m excited to be sharing with you from a place called Bedhat es-Sha’ab, a little-known and infrequently visited site just west of the Jordan river that is possibly one of the earliest places where Israelites assembled and worshiped as they settled in the land of Canaan. Being an outsider in this barren, desolate place reminds me that the biblical characters didn’t live in a world of civilian police, ambulance and 9-1-1 service. Nor did they have 2000 years of reflection on the whole Bible. The Old Testament characters need to be seen and heard in their own time, not dismissed from the perspective of our time.

With that in mind, here are seven facts to to help focus the question of violence in the Old Testament:

FACT ONE:

Jesus and the NT writers never complain about the violence in the Old Testament. That should flash at least a yellow, caution-light on our hasty dismissal of the Old Testament. Are WE more morally sensitive than Jesus and the New Testament writers? Did they see something in the Old Testament that we miss?

FACT TWO

Secular historians and the Bible itself tell us that the land of Canaan at the time of the Israelite settlement was not inhabited by a uniform, indigenous population. Canaan was a crossroads and a diverse culture of many different groups: You know, all the “-ites”-Canaanites, Amorites, Perizites, stalactites, stalagmites… If you’d asked a random inhabitant of Canaan “Whose land is this?” You’d have gotten different answers. It was a no-mans-land.

FACT THREE

Genesis 12-50 tells us the Israelites’ ancestors had actually lived in Canaan for centuries before their sojourn in Egypt. They were not outsiders trying to take a land from its original owners. In fact, the Pharaohs of Egypt would have seen no real difference between Canaanites and Israelites. They came from the same place, spoke the same language, had the same physical anthropology, i.e. they looked alike. So there is no parallel between the book of Joshua and, say, the European settlers in North America displacing the earlier inhabitants.

FACT FOUR

This a biggee. By Joshua’s day, Canaan had long suffered under a harsh political system. Canaan in the time of Moses and Joshua had been ruled for centuries by Egypt. Egypt had been ruled by foreign kings known as the Hyksos, who possibly came from Syria-Palestine. A native Egyptian dynasty expelled these foreign kings, pursuing them into Canaan. To insure they never came back, Egypt annexed Canaan and ruled it with two aims: first, never-ever would Canaan be a corridor for anyone attacking Egypt!

Second, Pharaoh exploited Canaan economically. He administered Canaan by appointing rulers in the top 30 or so towns. They managed the country like a giant agricultural plantation, a kind of “factory farm.” They focused on producing a small number of crops valued by the Egyptian upper classes, mainly olives and a type of grape that thrived only in Canaan.

This reality had serious consequences.

The focus on massive production of a few crops not only risked depleting the land, it also destroyed the locally integrated, self-sustaining economies of small villages and towns throughout the hill country. These  communities needed mix of farming and herding just to survive. The Egyptians also yanked the best of the work force out of these towns and villages to toil as forced labor, emptying the rural hill country of Canaan. Many people from Canaan, not just future Israelites, wound up slaves in Egypt. Settlement patterns in Canaan about 1300 B.C., just before the exodus and conquest, show the central hill country of Canaan was largely emptied out.

Under this kind of regime, Canaan was unstable and violent. The city rulers fought each other, hired mercenaries, sometimes cruelly treated the local populace. Bandits terrorized the highways. Men stripped of their land and living gathered around warlords, some of whom were good men, others just thugs or gangsters.

So, by the time Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, the place was dark and bloody ground. It’s just possible that, far from being seen as invaders, Joshua and the Israelites represented the arrival of order, justice, and even peace.

FACT FIVE

The Old Testament shows us that, even in the conquest stories, the Israelites were not a militarized nation. While other nations boasted of their weapons and crack troops, the Israelites were not a professional army.  Likewise, the Israelites were not a huge group. The idea found in some textbooks that there were at least 2.5 million Israelites comes from a  misunderstanding of the Hebrew terminology for numbers. Archaeologists tell us that likely weren’t 2.5 million people living in all of Canaan and Syria combined!

The books of Deuteronomy, Joshua & Judges stress that, from a military perspective, the Israelites were out-numbered, out-maneuvered and out-gunned. After Joshua, they had no central authority. They were only a coalition of tribes, often divided, often untrue to their own religion. The Bible says they needed miraculous divine intervention just to survive. Hardly the profile of a nation of bloodthirsty, imperialists!

FACT SIX

Warlike nations, and all of Israel’s ancient neighbors, gloried in their superior weapons and firepower. Images of Pharaoh portray him holding his hapless enemies by the hair and smiting them with a mace or battle axe. Or, we see Pharaoh thundering along in his war chariot, horses’ reins tied around his waist, unleashing arrows at cringing, fleeing foes. The Old Testament, in contrast,  stresses that the Israelites were poorly armed, confronting fortified cities or huge chariot forces on foot. The Old Testament also emphasizes Israel’s lack of metal workers. Again, not exactly a warrior nation.

FACT SEVEN

Finally, the world of Moses, Joshua, Gideon and David was a world of unspeakable violence perpetrated by massive, well-armed professional armies. The kings of Egypt, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia gloried in their brutality and savagery. In countless inscriptions throughout the history of the ancient Near East, the great kings boasted of  boring through their enemies’ bodies, ripping their entrails out, galloping their horses and chariots through the gore of enemy bodies, splashing through enemy blood as if crossing a river, impaling thousands of “rebels” on stakes around conquered cities, flaying the skin off of their defeated enemies in full view of their families, and hideously mutilating the dead. And you know, almost nobody in the ancient Near East found this shocking. Rather, most thought it glorious proof that the gods had favored the king. Compared to the graphic detail, intensity, and sheer mass of these ancient descriptions, the Old Testament looks rather tame, even modest.

Whatever problems we might have with the violence in the Old Testament, it was One who claimed to be the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament, Jesus, whose Hebrew name was Joshua, who appealed constantly to the OT witness. Schooled in the Old Testament, Jesus called his people to love their enemies and to be peacemakers, not in spite of his Old Testament heritage, but because of it.

That’s something to think about.”

This, to me, is extremely compelling. However, does it justify the killing of women and children? This article may help answer that question. Note that I personally do not agree with everything that is said in this article, but as I said, I want to stay at least somewhat neutral.
http://www.gotquestions.org/Old-Testament-violence.html
There are two main points I want to focus on.

  1. “A basic knowledge of Canaanite culture reveals its inherent moral wickedness. The Canaanites were a brutal, aggressive people who engaged in bestiality, incest, and even child sacrifice. Deviant sexual acts were the norm. The Canaanites’ sin was so repellent that God said, “The land vomited out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:25). Even so, the destruction was directed more at the Canaanite religion (Deuteronomy 7:3–5,12:2-3) than at the Canaanite people per se. The judgment was not ethnically motivated. Individual Canaanites, like Rahab in Jericho, could still find that mercy follows repentance (Joshua 2). God’s desire is that the wicked turn from their sin rather than die (Ezekiel 18:31-32, 33:11).”
  2. “… The Scripture teaches that we are all born in sin (Psalm 51:5;58:3). This implies that all people are morally culpable for Adam’s sin in some way. Infants are just as condemned from sin as adults are….  an argument could be made that it would have been cruel for God to take the lives of all the Canaanites except the infants and children. Without the protection and support of their parents, the infants and small children were likely to face death anyway due to starvation.

It’s worth noting that most people, myself included, like to see the supernatural with rose colored glasses. We like God’s love, and ignore the parts that are scary. God’s justice can definitely be scary. As with more allegorical stories like the Creation story, the Flood account, and parts of the Exodus, there is a timeless takeaway from all this. God is serious, and God is righteous. He isn’t just one-sided, and he expects us to live a certain way. That being said, he does give us a lot of chances to change, and he helps us out in that effort.

One final point I would like to make before we beat this topic into the ground is that these stories are told from the point of view of the victors. In this next article, Professor Stone narrows his focus down to violence in the book of Joshua. You can find the whole article via the link, but I would like to focus on one thing that, I think, is really key.
http://seedbed.com/feed/7-keys-to-understanding-violence-in-the-book-of-joshua/

“Scholars of ancient military texts remind us that in the ancient Near East, battle accounts used very stereotyped, extreme language. Nuance was not their strong suit! A king would claim he killed every single occupant of a land, only to report how much tribute the presumably dead enemies had to pay each year! Clearly, the claim of annihilation there only meant to convey total victory.

We should also remember that our modern notions of genocide and total war come from our knowledge of weapons of mass destruction and the actual experience of genocide by these means. The ancient world, for all its ferocity, couldn’t do better than spears, arrows, swords and catapults. They had no way to envision the literal extermination of whole populations. The language was stock military rhetoric that conveyed an unquestioned, uncontested victory. Maybe that could help us with those statements in Joshua too.”

I think that, with caution, this understanding of exaggerated and allegorical language can be applied in our interpretation of many parts of the Bible. Some would argue that if the Bible is not taken literally in its entirety, then none of it can be taken literally, and therefore, many significant teachings can be dismissed. I disagree. If all parts of the Bible are taken literally, they become inapplicable to our modern world. In some sense, they become meaningless. If the book of Revelation is taken literally, it becomes an interesting, but very confusing, and quite frankly, very unbelievable story. Perhaps what is written in Revelation is literally what the Apostle John saw, but even that does not require that the vision be interpreted literally. On the other hand, it is clear that most, if not all of what is written in the letters of the Apostle Paul should be taken literally, though it is still important to keep in mind historical and cultural context.

The most important thing to remember when trying to answer any of these big questions is that God wants us to know him. His Word is timeless, and it will always reveal truth to us. That being said, the things God says and does won’t always make sense. People don’t always make sense, even when they have the best intentions, so we especially shouldn’t expect an all-knowing, all-powerful God to always make sense. God is good, though, and he does love us. This is a personal and emotional issue, and it’s been proven through the personal experiences of millions of people. Yes, many believe simply because they want to, and yes, faith provides an emotional crutch to lean on sometimes, but if the stories and teachings we believe in are nothing more than just stories, then a very large portion of the world’s population is certifiably insane, claiming to have seen, felt, done, and experienced the impossible. Beyond that, though, it seems that if it weren’t true and if it weren’t still relevant today, Christianity would have died out a long time ago.

That’s not to say that Christianity can’t change. There are many examples of how God’s people have changed over time, most notably with the birth of the Church shortly after the Resurrection, the official adoption of Christianity by the Romans, and the Reformation, which marked the birth of Protestantism. However, Christianity constantly goes through much more subtle changes. Worship style may change slowly, but the music that is used changes much more quickly with whatever genre of music happens to be popular at the time. This is a good thing, and there are many other examples of similar changes. The Church and the broader culture are meant to be amiable partners.

Freedom of religion means we have the right to believe whatever we want, and we also have the right not to believe anything without being bothered about it. However, it seems that because of this freedom, we’ve largely given up on the idea of absolute Truth for several reasons. Firstly, postmodern society, particularly in America and other first world countries, has become extremely relativistic. In other words, most people believe that anything could be true, but nothing is necessarily true. No one can claim to know the full truth about anything, but there is nothing wrong with asserting that a particular belief system or philosophy is true. This assertion gives us conviction and direction. In fact, this claim is actually made by those who firmly believe that there is no higher power. It is important to practice humility when claiming something as the truth. This means admitting that, while we know something to be true, we can never know the full truth.

This brings us to my second point. No one is willing to claim any knowledge of absolute Truth because we have become so concerned about offending people. In any given conversation about religion or philosophy, you will often hear phrases such as, “This is just what I believe,” or “I don’t know for sure, but…” There’s nothing wrong with claiming something is true as long as we can back it up with sufficient reasoning, whether it’s scientific or historical evidence, or logical explanations, or even personal observation. The problem is that people often see disagreement as a personal attack, and many have the mentality that if you strongly believe something to be true, and if you are unflinching on the matter, you are arrogant and self-righteous.

Third, “Because God says so,” is no longer a valid reason for anything outside of Christian circles. To be fair, it’s often not a satisfying answer to me at all. I find it extremely frustrating when I’m trying to figure out the reasoning behind a particular teaching, and the only reason I can find is “Because God says so,” or “Because the Bible says so.” The truth is, this should be a valid reason for things, but it’s not a satisfying one.

Lastly, we’ve become impatient, and we’ve turned elsewhere for answers. Biology, Chemistry and Physics tell us about how the world works, and how life works in it. Psychology and Sociology tell us about how the human mind works and why we do things the way we do. Economics and Politics give us a social structure to live in. The list goes on. There’s a field of study for just about every question imaginable, but we’ve erased God from the picture. Some would disagree with me, but I see this as a problem for several reasons.

  1. Having faith in God gives me a reason for seeking answers. It gives me a reason to keep on living. It brings purpose to life. Knowledge without purpose is empty. One might argue that the purpose of seeking knowledge is simply so we can be better at what we do; so we can have smarter and smaller technology, so we can cure diseases, so we can be more efficient and have a more productive society. But what’s the point? If there’s nothing after this life–if there’s no greater purpose–then why does any of that matter? There are surely selfless people who would want to make life easier for the next generation, or for a few generations down the road, but they would have no reason for doing it other than, simply, they were nice. It’s much more compelling and motivating to me to believe that there is something to look forward to after this, and I am part of a bigger plan.
  2. Faith in God provides the most stable moral code. Many would argue that you don’t need a god to have a moral code. In a sense, I agree. Whether we have a concrete idea of God or not, morality seems to be partly built into human nature, partly because a lot of it is just common sense. If I’m nice to you, you’ll be nice to me. We know intuitively that we shouldn’t steal or cheat or commit murder. Furthermore, many belief systems share very similar ideas when it comes to morality. However, without God, morality can change over time, which changes society, sometimes for better, but sometimes for worse. Also, without God, our morality is based on faulty human ideas. With God, the rules don’t change.
  3. If I can’t be reliant on God, I have to be completely reliant on myself. Having faith in God, at least to me, allows “I don’t know” to be an acceptable answer. Furthermore, if I have to completely rely on myself to get things done, not much will get done. I’m only one person. Not only that, but I’m not physically capable of doing a lot of things. If I can rely on God, I can do the impossible. Prayer works, and if I can rely on God I’m never alone.

God is absolute Truth. Therefore, yes, I believe that everyone should believe generally in the same thing, and our world should strive for that Truth as one. I will not back down from that belief. However, what is also true is that God wants us to have the freedom to choose what we believe, and so do I. I support peoples’ right to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster if they so choose. I support peoples’ right to believe in absolutely nothing at all. While it is the duty of the followers of Christ to tell the Truth, it is not our duty to impose it. We should all surround ourselves with people who do not share our beliefs. We may not ever change each others’ beliefs, but we can promote respect, tolerance, and good listening in the world. Remember that Jesus hung out with weirdos and sinners. He didn’t have status or power in mind. His mind was set on love, and so should ours.

Making Sense Of Things

It took me a very long time to understand how one is supposed to love and fear God, when actually, it’s not all that complicated. There are a lot of passages in the Bible where, in the same sentence, the speaker will say one ought to fear the Lord and, oh by the way, he loves you. On the surface that sounds contradictory, but what I think it means is that God is exceptionally powerful, and his power, understandably, should be feared and respected. There are a lot of verses that instruct the reader not to be afraid of dangers in the world. We are loved by the most powerful being in the universe.

Before I continue, I want to address some objections. The ones I can think of off the top of my head are as follows:

1) If God loves us (all of humanity), then why is there so much suffering in the world? If God is so powerful, why doesn’t he just fix everything?

2) If God truly loves everyone, then why does the Bible, as well as many followers of the Christian faith say that a large portion of the world’s population is going to Hell where they will be tortured for eternity?

These are two questions I encounter a lot, and they are questions that have bothered me for a long time. I don’t think I will ever find answers that will completely satisfy me, let alone anyone else, but I wanted to share the conclusions I have come to over the past several years.

1) God has a plan. It’s a good plan, and God intends to redeem humanity: to make the world a better place where there will be no more suffering. For whatever reason, it’s taking a long time, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. It just means that it has to take this long.

2) The fact of the matter is, I know close to nothing about the afterlife. I am certainly not an authority on the issue. I have come to a couple disjointed conclusions, based on research and personal experience, which are as follows:

I: No one is predestined for Heaven or Hell. I should preface this by saying that my understanding of Heaven is being in the full presence of God, while Hell is complete separation. In God’s presence is love and joy and peace, while outside of it is some sort of emptiness and danger. I believe that, in this life, we are stuck somewhere in the middle. That being said, It’s a choice where we end up.

II: Jesus died and rose from the dead so that all of humanity could be redeemed. God doesn’t want anyone to be left outside. Historical and linguistic evidence suggests that while some might go to Hell, it won’t be forever. When the Kingdom comes, even the worst, most immoral people who rejected God their entire lives will be returned to him. In fact, there is reason to believe that Hell is a place of reformation. This is evidenced by the development of the idea of Purgatory.

III: It isn’t the duty of any Christian to condemn people. It’s our duty to teach love and salvation. For one thing, it’s more effective, and for another, it’s closer to the Truth.

Another objection I can think of is: If salvation is universal, then why bother being Christian?

Salvation isn’t about booking a room in eternity. It’s about making the world a better place. Most of what Jesus told people to do was relevant to here and now. It was about taking care of the poor, making peace among enemies, and respecting people because they are worth a lot to God. It’s a way of life: not strictly an escape from death.

I just wanted to get this out there.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Why Kids Hate Religious Education

I’ve been teaching CCD (Christian Child Development) for the past 2 months or so. The kids have a class about once every three weeks, and it’s been difficult to get them engaged and get them to like me. You might say that it doesn’t matter if they like me; it only matters if they’re absorbing the information. That tends to be the philosophy of a lot of teachers, at least from my experience, but it doesn’t work.

I had sucky math teachers in high school, which is the biggest reason that I suck at math. They all assumed that we were instinctively good at it, and they taught that way. They looked down on the students who clearly were not getting it, and it made me hate them and hate math. The exception was my trigonometry teacher. I took trig in my senior year of high school even though I didn’t have to because I thought it would look good on my college resume if I did well. It happened to be the one of the best high school classes I ever took. Our teacher liked us, and we liked him, even though some of us really struggled with math. We all ended up doing so well that he didn’t give us a final. He often taught things other than math as well. He taught us self worth, perseverance, kindness, and in some ways, love. Sometimes we would spend half a class not talking about math in any way what so ever, but it helped. It all helped.

So how does this apply to religious education? From my experience, the administration at our church looks down on teenagers. They act like 14 is the new 8, which is actually really bad, since at 14, a lot of people want to be thought of as adults. Because of this, the kids act out, or don’t engage at all. One of my co conspirators–err, teachers, acts exactly like many of my high school math teachers, from what I’ve heard. She says she teaches with rules. She will be taking none of their unruly shenanigans, and because of this, her classes tend to be very well behaved. They get through all of the material, and everything is hunky dory.

And you know what? Maybe it works. Maybe her students are engaged, and maybe they do grow in their love of Christ, but from my experience, this kind of teaching doesn’t work. Again, this is super subjective because I’m going off of my own experience. However, the point is, that I don’t teach that way. I let my students get distracted. I engage in their conversations, I use naughty language in class, and I let them know that we are equal and this is, or at least should be, a fun, safe place. I want to get to know my students, and I want them to get to know me. I want them to know that I think of them as people, not just as kids. I let them talk about their talents, and I talk about mine. I constantly remind them that all this is about is love. I want them to get to know love–of neighbor and self; of so called enemies, and of God.

Another problem I’ve run into is that some teachers assume that everyone at least believes in some idea of God. They don’t acknowledge the skeptical ones at all, and the fact of the matter is, that not everyone in CCD believes. Almost no one wants to be there. On the first day I had my students go around and say why they were there. Maybe peer pressure had something to do with it, but the unanimous answer was “my parents are making me.” I let them know that I get it. That was my answer to. I let them know that being skeptical is okay, and that I’m going to try and persuade them otherwise, but I’m never going to tell them that they have to believe anything. Faith is between them and God.

I decided to teach CCD in the hope that I could be helpful. If I can convince one kid that God is real and that Jesus loves them, I will be a happy camper. If I can’t, I want them to know that that’s fine, too.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Choice And Belief.

I don’t believe in ghosts for a few reasons. The first is that I’ve seen no convincing evidence of their existence. I’ve always thought those ghost hunter shows on TV were total bogus and nothing has happened in real life to convince me otherwise. Part of the reason I don’t believe in ghosts however is because I choose not to. The whole idea of specters, spirits, etc freaks me out, so I choose to believe that they don’t exist.

My cousin asked me something along the lines of “Isn’t believing in ghosts sort of similar to believing in God?” In some sense, yes. People have plenty of stories and evidence to support their beliefs in both. I had to take into consideration whether it’s by choice that I believe in God. I’d say it at least partly is. I also believe that Jesus came to me in a dream and told me to follow him. It’s a little difficult to argue with that.

There are plenty of people who don’t believe in God at all, so my question is; is that by choice? Can you have an experience like that and simply choose not to believe it? If so, why would that be? I’m sure there’s probably a scientific, rational explanation for it, but couldn’t it be both?

I don’t like the idea of supernatural beings. I do believe in demons, but I don’t believe that they are distinct entities. I believe that they rely on human feelings such as anger or fear to exist. Other than that, I’m not even sure that they are describable. I don’t believe that spirits of the dead can hang around in the world of the living because it completely screws with what I believe about the afterlife.

I’d love to know what people think about this stuff. 🙂

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Belief vs Knowledge

Is believing something different from knowing it? I had a theology question a day or two ago, so I went to a discussion forum I had joined about a year or two ago to see what people thought. It had been several months, if not a year since I had gone there because last summer I decided that I was addicted to social media, so I quit everything except Facebook and flyinguineapig.

Anyway, I couldn’t find any threads about my particular question, and I didn’t feel like posting a new one so I left. Before I did though, I read a few posts on a thread about believing versus knowing something. I almost posted something, but I didn’t feel like getting into an argument, which actually happens a lot on that forum, but I thought I’d share my thoughts here.

Normally I would like to keep this open to belief in general, but I think in this case I might have to talk about it in the context of my personal beliefs. I think “belief” implies a lack of knowledge in one way or another. The online dictionary says that belief is “the acceptance of something as true or real.” Knowledge on the other hand is “What is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information.” I think faith may actually require both. There are things I know because I have accepted them as fact. There are also things that I believe, but don’t have enough information to accept them as fact or make judgments one way or another.

I think if one is to follow a particular religion or philosophy that there are beliefs within that system that they need to accept as fact. For example, Christianity is a very individual-oriented religion. One’s personal relationship with Christ is often what makes or breaks their faith. Therefore at the very least, people need to accept their salvation from sin and death as fact. Not knowing that for certain makes for a weak faith. I think Knowledge actually implies a very strong belief. There were facts in science that people accepted as true and real until they were proven false by innovation. For example, at one point in time people thought the earth was the center of universe. This was accepted as a scientific fact until it was refuted and a new model of the solar system was created.

In short, here are my definitions of  knowledge vs belief:

Knowledge: The acceptance of information as true based on evidence and conviction

Belief: The acceptance of ideas as true based on limited information and one’s personal desire/inclination to believe them

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!