Tag Archives: Morality

The Hard Choices

I’ve written a few things lately that I’d like to explain more deeply. Recently I wrote a post on why Catholics go to confession with a priest. I’ll summarize by saying that it’s also called the sacrament of Reconciliation, and essentially a person is speaking to Christ Himself in the sacrament, but we also speak to the priest who represents the Church, who we also need to be reconciled with.

My last post was a reflection on my journey back to the Catholic Church after being agnostic for quite some time. I mentioned two important points that I want to go deeper into. The first is that I didn’t know for a long time what sin is. The second is that I didn’t understand that the Eucharist literally is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.

Further, I explained recently what an examination of conscience is; that being an honest look at one’s self through the lens of the Ten Commandments. Through these commandments, as well as the beatitudes, and Jesus’ teaching in general, God, who is Truth, and Goodness itself, has revealed His will, which is by nature, always good, and always perfect. We can’t always know God’s will perfectly. Because of our own nature we are limited, but we do know what is generally good, and what is not. Sin is essentially saying, “God, I know what you want. What I want right now isn’t what You want, but I’m gonna do it anyway.” If we consciously make this choice, we are taking ourselves out of communion with God and the Church, which is why we go to confession.

When we receive the Eucharist at Mass, we call it communion. Because, as Catholics, we believe the Eucharist is literally Christ Himself, we must be in a state of Grace. In other words, we must not be in a state of mortal sin. Having any sin at all on us is obviously not good, but some sins are worse than others. For example, lying under oath in court is obviously worse than telling a “white lie” to surprise someone on their birthday. This is the difference between venial or “small” sins and mortal or “deadly” sins.

It used to be the case that confessions were much more readily available. Today it’s often the case that the only time to go is right before Mass. That doesn’t change anything about the sacrament itself, but it somewhat changes a dynamic of it. It used to be much easier and reasonable to go to confession if one knew of and felt guilty for venial sins. Now that isn’t so much the case. One can have their venial sins forgiven if he/she truly is sorry and admits their guilt directly and spiritually to God. Further, receiving the Eucharist “washes away” the guilt of venial sin. This cannot be taken for granted, and it is why we collectively acknowledge our sins at the beginning of Mass.

At this point, it should be noted that sins can only be forgiven if a person actually feels remorse for what they have done (or failed to do). Further, it must be pointed out that venial sins are not always entirely intentional, and are often the result of simple human weakness. Mortal sins are called such because three things must factor in. 1) It must be grave/serious matter, 2) it must be done with full knowledge and awareness, both of the thing being done, and the gravity of the action (decision, etc), and 3) it must be committed with deliberate and complete consent.

The ultimate point I want to make is that one should not receive communion if they know they are in a state of mortal sin. I bring this up because many choose to receive anyway. This is problematic for the Church in general for a few reasons. First, every Christian, is a member of the Church, which is the mystical Body of Christ, which means that when we sin, we’re hurting ourselves spiritually, and we’re offending our God, but we’re also hurting each other at least spiritually.

It’s also like saying “I love you” without actually meaning it. As Saint Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, we really should correct our fellow Christians. This means pointing out sinful choices and actions. Obviously this should be done with kindness. In today’s culture, it is a daunting task, even if our purpose is to lead people back to Christ.

Our culture tells us two really dangerous things. First it tells us there is no objective good; there is no black and white; anything goes. Then it tells us that everything we do matters: where we work; what we do; whether we go, or have gone to college; what we wear; what we do for fun, where we go; what we say; and we have to do it all right. Unfortunately, this leaks into our spiritual life. Sometimes it can lead us to be not entirely honest with God, or even to avoid Him at times. It can also tempt one to “get in line” to receive communion, even when one is fully aware that he/she shouldn’t.

This only matters, however, if we really believe that the Eucharist is Christ Himself. Jesus’ teaching in John 6 expresses it perfectly. He says in verse 33, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…” Then emphasizes it. He says:

48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Later, at the Last Supper, he says, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” He does not clarify to mean that the Eucharist is a symbol. He is speaking literally and emphatically.

Some take issue with the idea that the Mass is a sacrifice. It does not mean that Jesus is suffering again. It means we are being made present at His once-and-for-all sacrifice. The reason we receive the Eucharist again and again is that by this experience, Christ can offer us the Grace of His sacrifice again and again, making us spiritually stronger, and closer to Him.

He is also offering us His Love. Jesus died to redeem humanity, but He also died for each one of us individually; to save each one of us. He loves every person uniquely. Jesus is God, but He is also a man. From a perfectly human perspective, He knows what rejection feels like. We can understand this because presumably, everyone knows what rejection feels like on some level. When we choose sin, and even if we choose to receive the Eucharist indifferently, we are actually rejecting, or at least ignoring the One who deserves it least.

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Thou Shall Not Kill

My dad and I have been binging on “The Walking Dead” lately. We’ve just got to the part where the crew has escaped Terminus, and have met with an Episcopalian minister named Gabriel, and of course, Rick asks his questions: “How many walkers have you killed? How many people have you killed? Why?” Gabriel replies, in order: “None. None. The Lord abhors violence.”

The sixth commandment in the ten, which is basically God’s moral road map is, “Thou shall not commit murder.” In some translations, The Bible does say “Thou shall not kill.” I take that commandment to mean, “Do not take an innocent life without purpose or cause.” For example, I am opposed to hunting simply for sport. I am not opposed to hunting for food. Furthermore, violence, and even the killing of another purely in self defense is absolutely permissible.

If you haven’t seen “The Walking Dead,” Terminus is a bad place. It basically is like a factory farm. The people who run it have turned to cannibalism. They trick people into going there, promising “sanctuary and community,” and then kill them and eat them. Rick and his crew (the main characters), are tricked into going there, but they destroy and escape the place, at which point, they run into Gabriel who takes them in at his church. The problem is, some people who ran Terminus survived and tracked them down. Inevitably, there is a showdown at the church. It also comes out in the midst of things, the dead started being zombies, Gabriel got scared, and locked people out of his church. He panicked, and they were eaten by walkers.

Of course he feels guilty about this. He did not take innocent lives, but he allowed innocent lives to be taken. Jesus is often referred to as “the new Adam.” I heard an analogy once. Satan is sometimes referred to as a dragon. When Adam blamed Eve for what he did, it was like he was shoving her in front of the dragon to save himself. When Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, it was like He jumped in front of the dragon to save His people. Gabriel rightly says in the show that he made a choice; he chose to play the part of Adam.

Obviously, with “The Walking Dead,” we’re talking about a fictional character in a hypothetical end-of-the-world situation. In real life, we are faced with the same choice. It can apply to what we do with our time, who we choose to associate with, how we choose to talk to strangers, friends, or family, what we choose to do when we make mistakes, what we do with our emotions, and really anything else in the present moment. How we live matters.

In a Catholic Mass, we begin with a general confession, and a prayer for mercy. We admit that we have sinned in what we have done, and what we have failed to do. It’s that second bit that always gets me. I don’t speak when I should. I don’t write when I should. I don’t pray when I should. I don’t act when I should. I fail to do a lot of things, or I do them too late. The Mass begins in this way because our sins have consequences. I think I do believe in the butterfly effect, in a sense. Good and bad things we do or fail to do, even if they’re seemingly insignificant, effect other people.

I’ve avoided writing about this for a while because I haven’t known how. When I heard about the “Reproductive Health Act,” which was passed in New York last month, I did several things. I wrote a short, but well thought out post on Facebook, I wrote to several Massachusetts Lawmakers because I wanted them to at least know how I felt about it, and I prayed. I had trouble at first because I didn’t want to be honest with God, but then I told Him the truth. I asked Him how He could have allowed it to happen. I told Him that I didn’t want to, but I blamed Him. I cried, and had a tantrum. When I was done being angry, I listened, and I understood.

He let it happen because He loves the people who do terrible things enough to let us do them. God, our Heavenly Father who is Goodness, Love, and Peace, gave us free will. He loves us enough to let us choose evil; he lets us fail; he lets us learn; he gives us infinite chances to turn back and be forgiven. What’s more is that He can take the worst things possible, and still make good of them, even if it takes a long time. God redeems. It’s who He is. It took me a little while, but I’ve forgiven because Jesus taught me how. That doesn’t mean I have to be okay with this evil law. Any civil law that allows anyone to take an innocent life directly violates God’s law, and is, therefore, evil. Abortion is evil.

It is marketed as freedom; it is marketed as a reasonable choice; it is marketed as responsible, even. I don’t understand the circumstances or thought process that leads people to choose this. That is why I want to make clear that God loves the people who make this choice, no matter the circumstances, and He gives every sinner infinite chances to repent. God hates sin, but He loves every sinner. That being said, it’s still a choice. It’s always a choice, and it’s never the right one.

What people need to understand is that God makes choices, too. When a woman is made pregnant, it’s because God has chosen her to bring life into the world, and He’s decided that the person being created should exist. God is intimately involved with bringing life into the world. At the moment of conception, God breathes a soul into a person. That is precisely what a person is; a body and a soul. Abortion is packaged into a strange category called “women’s rights.” I am not a feminist. I am a humanist. Let us defend human rights. Men and women should be equal across the board. I agree with that. When abortion is packaged along with women’s rights in the pursuit of that equality, it essentially gives a woman the right to murder, as long as the person she’s killing hasn’t been born yet. Some will argue that to “abort” a child would be a responsible choice because the child might have some kind of disability. Another argument is that the biological mother will not be able to afford a child. There is always the option to put the child up for adoption.

To choose abortion would be to take an innocent life without purpose or cause. A pregnancy is sometimes really inconvenient. It might jeopardize a relationship or an income. To anyone reading this, you are inconvenient. I am inconvenient. Every human being is inconvenient. I don’t think Jesus thought of us as convenient when He came to be with us, love us, teach us, lose many of us, and die for us. Any real relationship is inconvenient. We have to make sacrifices to help our friends or spend time with our families. Nine months is a long time, but to anyone considering abortion, it’s not really that long considering the length of an entire lifespan. It literally is the difference of life and death. Choose life. Remember this, too; God loves you.

Legality And MOrality

Before I start this post, I would like to explicitly say that I am Catholic. What I mean by that, in this particular case, is that I believe in the Authority of Catholic doctrine and hierarchy. I wanted to say that first because this is the first of two posts having to do with two major teachings of the Catholic Church that I don’t entirely understand, or am still uncomfortable with. The first is the teaching on gay marriage. The second is the roles of spouses in traditional marriage. Some might wonder why I follow a church with certain teachings I may not entirely like or understand. I believe in the Catholic Church for historical reasons, logical reasons, and theological reasons which I won’t go into here, but I do want to explicitly say that I believe in Catholicism and not any other denomination of Christianity because this is where God has led me.

Now I’ll get into the uncomfortable stuff. The truth is that a few teachings on marriage make me uncomfortable. When I was a little bit younger I thought I wanted nothing more than to get married. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is for creating a family, and for growing in holiness together in a particular way. The Church also teaches that the family as an institution of sorts is the basis for society. Lastly, the church teaches that the sacrament of matrimony actually takes place when the couple (forgive the explicit language) has sex for the first time. Furthermore, the Church teaches that such an act has two purposes. The first is procreation. The second is pleasure. If such an act is incapable of accomplishing either of these affects, then it’s wrong. Therefore, gay marriage is not allowed in the Catholic Church because procreation cannot be accomplished.

What makes me uncomfortable about this is that the Church teaches that gay marriage should not be legal, even in society at large. To some extent I understand why. If a traditional family (mom, dad, and kid(s) is the basis for society at large, then a marriage that is incapable of naturally growing a family would seem problematic. However, this raises another question that I would like to touch on. I am asexual. In fact, aside from a biological perspective, I can’t really think about that without feeling uncomfortable. I am also disabled in a way that would make procreation impossible. Recently, however, I’ve entertained the idea of adopting a child when I get older. I don’t know if the Church would permit that. I would like to clarify here that the Church does not teach that any sexuality is in itself sinful. Only certain actions and choices are sinful.

That being said, it could be argued that things like gay marriage should be allowed from a strictly legal standpoint because other things that are considered immoral or sinful are perfectly permissible in larger, secular society. For example, lying, while generally considered wrong, even outside of Christian circles, is completely legal even though it tends to hurt the one lying and the one being lied to, in the end. Of course there are cases in which lying is not legal, like in court, for example, but generally speaking, it is so commonplace that it’s almost expected. Along this line of thought, one might argue that something like gay marriage should then be legalized because the worst that could happen would be that the couple breaks up. It only hurts the two people involved.

The fact of the matter is, we live in a democratic republic, not a theocracy. Our laws are only loosely based on a Christian moral code, and increasingly less so. Therefore, our laws and lawmakers do not recognize sin as something real. However, I think it is safe to say that most Americans, regardless of their belief system recognize that humans have a soul, or a spiritual aspect of their being. That being the case, it would seem that a moral code is necessary to protect that aspect of our being. This again poses difficulties because America is a very diverse country, and not everyone living here is Christian. However, if most people recognize that we do have a soul, we need a moral code to live by, even if we are not legally obligated to do so, to protect our souls. If this is the case, it would seem that our laws do need to enforce this moral code.

The question then is, where would this legal moral code come from? The problem with our laws today is that they try to determine right and wrong from an atheistic standpoint. I simply mean that our laws do not have a standard for the ultimate good. If they do not have a standard for the ultimate good, they also do not have a standard for the ultimate bad, or the ultimate evil. Without a standard for good and evil, one eventually finds that, in the end, even the most straightforward laws become arbitrary. We need to know what the ultimate good is for the human soul, and we need to live up to that ultimate good. That is why, though some of its teachings make me uncomfortable, I believe in the Catholic Church, and I believe it is right.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

What Christianity Is Not

To figure out what Christianity looks like, I think we have to figure out what it doesn’t look like. What actually makes someone a Christian? What are the duties of a Christian? What does it mean to practice what we preach? Why does it sometimes seem like the church is dead or ineffective? As I said, I think the best way to answer these questions is to first figure out what Christianity is not.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christians have to prove that God exists, yet the Church spends ludicrous amounts of time, effort, and sometimes money to do just this. The fact of the matter is, it’s not our job. It is our job to tell people the “Good News.” However, I think even Christians themselves have lost their sense of what this actually is. Salvation is not about where you end up when you die. It’s about knowing that you are a sinful person, and that you are forgiven, you are loved, and you will never be alone.

Being Christian does not give you license to judge anyone. Look at the U.S. in particular, however, and you will find that some of the most judgmental people call themselves Christians. In fact, many will judge other Christians very cruelly because they belong to the wrong denomination. The Church is supposed to be the unified body of Christ, not a house divided against itself. Every denomination has something about it that is imperfect. We can not adequately emulate Christ if we are fighting among ourselves or even being downright cruel to people who adhere to different ideologies than us.

Christianity is not at war with philosophy or science. It can and should inform our understanding of both, and both can give us a more concrete understanding of how God works in the world. God wants to be known, and the fact that the world and the universe can be studied and understood by the human mind is a testament to this. He can never be known completely in this life, but he gives us clues through philosophy and science as to what he is like. For example, Jesus says that he is the light of the world. Genesis says that the universe was created when God said, “let there be light.” I once read that at the moment of the big bang, there was most likely a tremendous flash of light. I also recently read that scientists discovered a zinc spark–a kind of flash–that occurs at the moment of conception. Every human mind is unique. It’s like it’s own little universe. Chew on that for a bit.

In a similar vein, Christianity should not be afraid of art. I am unashamedly very Catholic. I am also a science fiction writer, I hang out mostly with atheists and agnostics, I watch movies and play games in which religion is out of the question, or other gods exist and have real power. Art never, under any circumstances, brings God’s  truth or omnipotence into question. Some genres portray sinful behavior as normal or even good. It’s up to the individual to decide whether these portrayals are personally problematic on a spiritual or emotional level. If they are not, then there’s no reason why the story as a whole should not be appreciated and enjoyed. Art should be primarily judged for its artistic quality.

Lastly, Christianity is meant to be personal, but it is also meant to be active. The reason why the Church often seems boring, outdated or “dead” is because many have completely internalized and abstracted the faith. It is true that Christianity encompasses a philosophy or a set of “rules” by which an individual should live. However, Jesus said that the most important thing is to love God and to love our neighbors. Love is communal and concrete. At the very least, two people must be actively involved. Love obviously can take many forms, whether it’s a work of charity, the act of forgiving someone, or a selfless personal relationship with another. Love involves giving of one’s self, but it is often misconstrued as something like an abstract, impersonal respect, particularly when it comes to acquaintances or strangers. Put simply, people just don’t pay enough attention to each other. Christianity demands that we start paying more attention.

People have lost faith. There are plenty of reasons for this, but I think the simplest is that we are no longer willing to believe the unbelievable. Why don’t we see miracles happening anymore? It’s because we doubt their validity. We see them as “magic,” and magic is directly opposed to what we know and are capable of through science. We have more faith in doctors and engineers than we do in God. I am absolutely guilty of this, so while I’m pointing the finger, I’m pointing at myself, as well.

Further, society has lost its sense of what sin is. Sin is a refusal to do what is right, and what is asked of us by God. By extension, it is separation from God. God is the ultimate good, and the true manifestation of love. Therefore, separation from God is separation from love. Sin isn’t always as concrete as people might think. It’s complicated. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect….” Obviously no one is nor can we be perfect, but it is something we must strive for. Union with God brings peace and joy. I’ve realized that something I have to overcome is impatience. Sin does not only refer to specific actions. It encompasses sentiments and ideas as well. What I want to emphasize is that being sinful does not make someone a bad person. It just means that one is imperfect and therefore, apart from God.

So what does Christianity look like in an actual, practical sense? We are given specific duties. I think these duties can be summed up in three commands.

1: Love God. Worship him and honor him, and pay homage to his kindness and greatness.

2: Tell people about God and about salvation.

3: Be kind. In other words, be self-giving.

It sounds straightforward, but actually, the way in which we do these things involves some creativity. This makes the task more personal, but can also make it more difficult. Furthermore, they are all intertwined. In doing one, we tend to accidentally, or intentionally do one of the others to some degree. Truthfully, we can’t love God without loving other people because God has infinite love for all people. Therefore, worshiping God involves spending time with people and being kind. Then there is communal and informal worship. Communal worship is what we do in church. Informal worship is more personal. Prayer is a kind of worship, and again, this is somewhat structured, but is still more personalized. Completely personal worship is when we do our work or create something in order to honor God. Loving other people and loving God requires that we tell about salvation because we should want people to know about the greatest love there is.

This is often difficult because people have been force-fed the wrong message and mistreated by those who claim to be followers of Jesus. The message that we ought to be spreading is actually rather simple. All we really need to tell people is, “What you believe is between you and God, but I want you to know that the God of the universe loves you, and you can know him and he will always be with you because Jesus paid for all the evil in the world and he is alive now. Everything will be made right.” The point is there is nothing negative in that statement. We can’t start with sin. Starting by telling a person that they are sinful does not work in a relativistic society. People have lost their concept of objective morality. We have to start with love and move towards a concept of sin, emphasizing all the way that we must strive for the good, but that we are safe.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

I Made Up A Conversation!

“Jesus saved us from our sins.” Okay… so what does that actually mean? What is sin?

It’s basically two things: rebellion against God, and by extension, death.

How does one rebel against God?

Basically, “in the beginning,” however you want to interpret that, humans were told to obey and trust God… we didn’t do that. Thus, evil entered the world and was passed down through the generations. Later, Jesus tells us that the most important thing for us to do is to love our God and to love our neighbors (friends, family, etc, as well as our fellow humans in general). We’re generally pretty good at loving our chums, but peeps tend to forget about the first part.

Why do the actions of some people a wicked long time ago affect us now? How is that possibly fair?

It’s more like a genetic defect than a crime we inherited the guilt from. It’s not your fault per se. It’s just a part of you. It’s really your choices and actions as a result of the inherent evil within you that matter.

Who or what defines “good” or “evil?” Some things that are good for, or help some people hurt other people, so isn’t it all relative?

If morality is relative, one has to assert that nothing is good or evil. Therefore, things like murder should have no repercussions other than perhaps they would be seen as distasteful. Therefore, morality cannot be relative. If it is not relative, it has to be defined by someone or something. Only someone or something that could understand the concept of morality could define it. Therefore, someone intelligent must define it. Furthermore, absolute morality must be defined by someone who could understand how a small action in Boston could affect someone in Afghanistan. Only God can see the whole of humanity through all of time. Thus, God defines morality.

Can you prove God exists?

Not without using some personal experience (my own and that of a lot of others).

Okay, fine. Assuming God exists and sin is a thing, why did we need Jesus to “save” us, and what does that mean?

This gets a little complicated. We don’t just have evil in us. We think evil things and do evil things, even if they’re small and we don’t mean to. Jesus is God in human form. He died in our place so that we would be forgiven. He taught us how to be good in the eyes of God so that we wouldn’t do evil things. We have to believe in him and follow his example because he is God, and is, therefore, the ultimate good.

What happens if you don’t believe?

I think it depends from person to person. I can say that I’m much happier knowing Jesus than I was when I didn’t know him, and faith matters in this life. What happens when you die? I have only a very vague idea, and I can’t really say. All I know is that God judges everyone. How he does that, I don’t know. I do know that Jesus died to save everyone, and I figure we at least owe him our faith.

Humans! Send me more questions and I will attempt to answer them!

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.

The attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris really hit home for me. My family has a few friends who live in Normandy, and for a little while we were really worried about their safety. Maybe it would have been less concerning if the terrorists hadn’t seemed so well trained and professional. For a while I was sure that they were going to get away, and who knows what they would have done next. Secondly, Paris is a big, modern city in a first world country with good intelligence and security in place. How were these terrorists able to do this completely under the radar? Apparently they had records and (as far as I know) were on a U.S. no-fly list. Shouldn’t they have been watched a little more closely? Lastly, it just seems to me that France is so close to home: just across the pond, as it were.

I know where France is. I can easily find it on a world map. I know things about their culture and history. My brother has been there, and we’re planning on going there as a family in June. Therefore, it’s more meaningful to me when something like this happens there. When something really terrible happens in Iraq or Syria, it does trouble me. People get hurt; people needlessly suffer; Christians are persecuted and killed, and that really is a personal issue for me. However, I don’t know much about Iraq or Syria. I don’t know their culture or history, and I probably couldn’t find them on a map. They seem far away, and the danger and the impact seem less immediate.

I was amazed to hear that several million people marched together in Paris in solidarity with the victims of the attack. World leaders put aside their differences for a little while to show their support for France and for freedom. “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) became a common theme. Charlie Habdo stood for freedom of speech. They published satire that in many cases was downright offensive, and they did it intentionally and to everyone. Honestly, I haven’t read their material, partly because it would take me forever (I can barely read French), but I know they have said and portrayed some nasty things about Jesus, and I know that if I did read it, it would probably make me angry. It bothers me when people use my God as a punchline.

However, what Charlie Habdo does is different. They do it to everyone, and they don’t do it out of spite (at least it doesn’t seem that way). While some, or much of what they do might be tasteless, I think the point that they are trying to make is that no one is perfect, no religion is perfect, and we all can and should take a step back and laugh at ourselves from time to time. That being said, I personally feel that intentionally offending anyone is wrong on a fundamental level. I also think that publishing offensive cartoons of Muhammad, in particular, was asking for trouble. I don’t know much about Islam. However, I do know that it tends to lead some people to violence. This is a well-known fact, and they should have taken this into account. The thought process seems to have been: let’s do this and see what trouble we can stir up. Most of the time this is just obnoxious, occasionally funny, and harmless. However, it seems that just because you have the freedom to do something doesn’t mean you should. There are certain people who just aren’t worth pissing off.

On a side note, my friend brought up a good point the other day: asking moderate Muslims to take responsibility for this kind of terrorism is kind of like asking me to take responsibility for the Crusades, or for people like the Westboro Baptists: something I refuse to do. I want nothing to do with these kinds of people, and it shames me that, because I am called Christian, someone who doesn’t know me might assume that I am like them. In my mind they are not Christian, and in theirs I probably am not. The same kind of thinking must apply to Muslims (I assume). However, no one is saying anything.  Granted, this happens in the Church sometimes as well: that a priest does something morally wrong and no one says anything or everyone tries to keep it a secret. However, what these terrorists did is not a secret, and no one has said anything. I would assume that doing this kind of thing under an Islamic flag must make people angry, but no one has said that this is not Islam. It paints a very bad picture of Muslims, but no one has said “This is not us.”

Ultimately, it comes down to this: two wrongs don’t make a right. Violence is never the answer. Ever. End of story. Charlie Habdo is offensive and blasphemous, and I support their right to be so. I support everyone’s right to be so. I would prefer that no one was, but I would never hurt someone over it. I just don’t watch or read things that I know will offend me. I can ask people not to say blasphemous things around me, but I can’t monitor what they say and think 24/7, and I don’t want to. There are peaceful ways of denouncing or protesting blasphemy. One can write about and against it. One can get a group of people together to peacefully and visually protest it. One can create art that glorifies love, glorifies peace, and most importantly, glorifies God. One can teach.

What we have to remember is that people died in this attack. people who we may disagree with on a fundamental level lost their lives. They should be mourned; they should be remembered; they should be prayed for. On some spiritual level, yeah, they might be “the enemy,” and, like us, they are children of God.

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Shameless

When I became a Christian, somebody told me that the day I accepted Jesus, there was a party in Heaven for me. At the time I liked the sentiment, even if it is a little hokey. In the past couple of days I’ve just been wondering what it actually means when someone goes from a life of sin, or even just a life of unbelief to believing in Jesus; or from another perspective: why does God allow us to be in dark places sometimes?

When I was a teenager I was agnostic. Because I was searching for God, or a religion through which I could (somewhat) understand him, I did a lot of questionable things. Believing in an all-powerful God allows me to accept that I don’t have control or power over a lot of things and that he will take care those things for me. At the time, however, I wanted control, so I tried to gain that control through exploring the power of what I would probably now call witchcraft, only because I don’t really have another name for it. I did a lot of spiritual improvising, and I suspect at least some of it was a bit dangerous.

Last week I was seriously questioning my faith, and I had to decide whether to believe God or believe what people were telling me. In a lot of ways, it was a pretty big setback. I was really at a crossroad, to use an old cliche. However, what was important about that night was that the choice was mine. I was trying to figure things out when a question came to my mind.

“Do you still trust me?”

I realized that the answer was an overwhelming

“Yes.”

How could I not? I have had at least 4 really powerful spiritual experiences, and on top of that, God has answered too many of my prayers for me to count. How could I not trust him? In spite of that, I mess up. That is God’s forgiveness. He forgives us no matter where we are, no matter where we’ve been, and no matter where we fall to. He forgives us every time we mess up. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to be better when we make mistakes. In fact, we’re meant to try and be perfect, even thought it’s quite obvious that we can’t be most of the time.

God is a merciful judge, and he doesn’t judge the past without looking at a person’s whole life. Some people are born into wealthy families and are brought up in the Church and have a strong faith all their lives. Then again, some people come to faith much later in life, sometimes after doing some questionable things, and have an equally strong faith. In fact, some people come to faith in prison, or on their deathbeds. I just wonder how God looks at that. I think a lot of times, he uses those people in ways that he couldn’t use people who have been given their faith at birth. I’m sort of speculating.

When Jesus came among us in human form, he hung out with sinners. When he was questioned about this, he said that it isn’t the healthy who need a doctor. He wants to be with those of us who need help and encouragement. I like to think that my faith is strong and that I live by God’s commands. I don’t; not perfectly, anyway. I try, but I mess up. I remember hearing in church one time that we have a tendency to remember God only when we feel we really need him. I try very hard not to do this, but the reality is that I sometimes feel closest to him when I completely give up and he fixes things for me. I often feel very close to him when things are going great as well, but in some cases, I have to be more intentional about remembering him.

He didn’t come to shame us, he came to save us. He called people out on things, but it was always for the purpose of changing them, and it was always in love. Last week he called me out on the fact that I was doubting him after everything I’ve seen him do. He did it kindly. He just asked me a question, and that cleared everything up. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Gordon, I Love You, But Sometimes…

Last night I saw a story on the news about Gordon College–my college. It was not flattering. The mayor of Salem Massachusetts has broken ties with Gordon; they will no longer be involved with the management of the Old Town Hall. This is because the president of Gordon, D. Michael Lindsey wrote a letter President Obama, along with several other religious organizations, asking to be exempt from a national law that clearly states, no business or organization can discriminate against anyone in the hiring process.

Gordon, along with the others were seeking exemption for religious reasons. Specifically, they were seeking the right to exclude members of the LGBT community from their hiring process. While this is the wish of the president, it is certainly not the desire of many of the students. Christian morality is important, but who defines it? It is both a communal and deeply personal faith, and thus, both aspects must be taken into consideration.

I read an article by Rev. Chuck Currie arguing that it is precisely these types of requests and actions that are in fact opposed to what Jesus taught. By openly requesting that they be allowed to exclude certain types of people, Christian organizations are showing the world that they are unwelcoming and judgmental. Perhaps they are not overtly so, and perhaps on an individual level the people at the head of these organizations are very nice to people of different sexual orientations. However, Currie cites the countless examples in history where religion has been used to oppress a specific group, whether it was women, African Americans or other groups. Now the target group happens to be anyone who isn’t straight.

I personally have a hard time with the issue of sexual orientation. Many of my close friends and family believe that it is inherently sinful because of specific Bible passages. However, these verses refer more to one’s conduct and fidelity than what type of person they are attracted to, in my opinion. Honestly, it just doesn’t seem to me that God would make people of different sexual orientations if they weren’t meant to be. Why would he allow them to happen otherwise? It used to be believed that disabled people were disabled because they were being punished either for their own sins or for the sins of their parents. I don’t know why I’m disabled, but I do know that God wouldn’t have made me if I wasn’t meant to be. God loves me, and he loves my gay friends too.

Many conservative Christians are afraid to give up their traditions. That’s fine. Tradition is great. However, one must be able to reconcile tradition and contemporary culture. Culture shapes religion; or at least it ought to. There are certain standards and beliefs of Christianity that shouldn’t and won’t change based on loyalty, selflessness, kindness and love. if one lives by these virtues, the rest can and should adapt. People tend not to like change. We all get comfortable in our own little worlds with our own ideas about what is right and wrong. The truth is there is only one Right and Wrong, and we’re only capable of knowing a little bit of that Truth. We are told not to judge so that we may not be judged. Obviously there are times when we know something is clearly wrong, but what about when it comes to gay Christians or philanthropic, upstanding atheists? It simply gets too muddled, in my opinion; at which point, I think it’s our job to be friendly and love our classmates, friends, coworkers, and whoever else we are in contact with in our lives.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

My Food Problem

I’ve recently become vegetarian after watching a documentary called Earthlings. It’s about how animals are raised, treated and killed on industrial farms. I’ve been a vegetarian for a few weeks now, but I’ve been noticing some things that I’m guessing aren’t so good about it. The first is that instead of meat I’m eating a lot of carbs. I’m not sure of the exact effects this will have, but I suspect it won’t be good long term, especially since I don’t get a lot of exercise. Secondly I’ve noticed that I’ve been more hungry and more tired lately, and I’m wondering if it’s because I’m not getting enough protein. I have been eating eggs maybe once or twice a week, but I used to eat chicken a lot more than that.

The reason I’m writing about this is because I’m having some questions. I stopped eating meat on moral principle; animals have as much right to live comfortable, natural, happy lives as humans, so I believe that eating animals from industrial farms is immoral. My brother argued however that I’m literally not doing anything by not eating chicken. One person isn’t going to change the way animals are treated. That’s not the point, though. The point is that if everyone stopped eating meat then animals wouldn’t have to suffer.

My dilemma is that in the long run I might not be doing anything, and I’m hungry. I’m also worried that in trying to prove a point I’m compromising my health. Maybe that shouldn’t be that big a consideration; people who feel strongly about a cause comprise their safety and health all the time for that purpose. The thing is that even if I’m not making a difference, I’m not sure I could go back to eating meat with an entirely clear conscience, even though chicken was (and I guess still is) my favorite food and I want to eat it.

I would really appreciate some guidance on this issue.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!