Praise God from Whom All Evil and Suffering Flows?

The Christian music duo Shane & Shane sing a song called “Though You Slay Me,” a worship song about suffering which features an excerpt of a John Piper sermon. Though it’s been out for several months, I’d not heard the song before yesterday. And to be honest, the lyrics (some of which were borrowed from the Book of Job) troubled me.

I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You struck down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need.

Maybe I’m in a minority, but my spirit cringes when I hear those kinds of big statements about God, statements that make God out to be an abuser rather than a loving parent, a destroyer as opposed to a healer, an Almighty who slays, ruins, and tears apart as opposed to bringing new life. Now, it’s one thing to praise God through pain and suffering. That’s not easy to do. But as a person of faith, I do believe we can/do find healing and hope in suffering through gratitude. My grievance with this song is what it says about God. In these lyrics, God is a monstrous presence, a deity who is cruel and unusual, a Great Inflicter of pain… are there limits to what this so-called awesome God will do?

I understand that these same themes show up in the Book of Job. But Job, as book, is a complicated, and as a man, is complex. Some believe the story to be historical in nature; others suggest that it’s a grand allegory that sheds light on the relationship between God and people. Either way, Job is an uneasy biblical narrative that has befuddled wise people for thousands of years. And for good reason. That dialogue between God and Satan alone is filled up with complexities and details not easily understood as they relate to today. Do we really believe that every time somebody dies or gets cancer or loses everything that Satan and God have been wheeling and dealing? Are we supposed to assume that every time there’s a school shooting or a natural disaster that it’s an event spearheaded by God? Is that what we really think about God, that amid our human suffering, as we struggle through, seeking God’s light and healing, that we are also to assume that God is the author of our hopelessness? Is that what we’re supposed to believe?

And if so, are there any limits to this kind of God? I mean, if this God slays us and ruins us, does he also set up rapes? Does he schedule miscarriages? Murders? I mean, is God our hope and salvation or the disease-maker and/or terrorist?

Yes, I know what you might be thinking: But God allows suffering, suffering that God, if he wanted to, could stop. And yes, that is a confusing and complicated idea, that God allows suffering as opposed to stopping it from happening. But still, I think there’s a huge difference between finding reason to praise God through the mysteries and questions of human suffering and praising a God who purposely puts cancer in somebody’s body or demolishes a town with a tornado just because he needed a little glory that day.

While I don’t like to use human examples to portray concepts about God, many believers do it often. The most common example is that of a father who swoops in to rescue his child from danger. Many of us would praise that father, or at least, celebrate the rescue. But what if we found out that the child’s danger had been prearranged by the father, that the child’s rescue had been actually been grand scheme authored by the father so he could receive our praise. Most of us would say that’s sick and demented. And again, while no human example is good at explaining the complexities of God, that is what this song suggests. That is what Shane & Shane are singing about.

And yes, many believe that Book of Job suggests the same. But does that give us permission to assume that the story of Job is happening all the time? Is it wise for us to make these great assumptions about about every form or instance of human suffering. Do not genetics and habits and evil play a role? Doesn’t the Book of Job demand more than to be simply applied to our every struggle? Shouldn’t it at least be used with caution and mercy.

Because I’m all about praising God in and through all things. But I also believe that we should use a little grace, humility, and common sense when applying a 5000-year-old text to our circumstances, especially as it relates to making big seemingly ugly assumptions about God.

Do I understand every nuance and idea surrounding the ways of God and the realities of suffering? No, I don’t. And chances are, neither do you. And sometimes, rather than promoting our thoughts about God like they’re the gospel truth, the best theology one can offer is I don’t know.

Because in many cases, especially in circumstances involving suffering, we don’t know.

(You can listen to the entire song here and learn the story behind the song here.)

This is strange and awkward, even for Francis Chan

Francis Chan recently spoke at International House of Prayer (IHOP), the Kansas City church led by controversial minister, Mike Bickle. It doesn’t take too much searching on Google to discover that Bickle has made more than a few enemies in his day. And even if you dismiss the plethora of people whose personal interactions with Bickle and his ministry have been less than pleasant–heck, some are downright strange–there’s enough crazy in Bickle’s “theology” and “ministry” dealings to make the average believer approach with caution. There’s that terribly dark “vision” he had for America. He’s also quite connected to the Christian movement in Uganda, the same movement that helped create the intolerant laws against gays and lesbians in Uganda. And then there’s his cultish church, IHOP. And that’s just the tip of the IHOP iceberg. Like Chan says in his introduction, lots of people think Bickle is “creepy.”

And so not only does Chan ignore the drama and speak at IHOP (which is his right, of course), he begins his sermon with an over-the-top and very awkward public testament to how much he LOVES Mike Bickle. Chan has always had a somewhat quirky delivery, a seemingly earnest passion that just doesn’t always translate on video like it does live or in person. His expressiveness can often get in the way of what he’s really trying to say. (For instance, remember his book trailer for Erasing Hell?

Even if you don’t agree with Chan’s theology, most still find him endearing as a speaker. Yes, he’s quirky. But his passion is believable. Which I think is one of the reasons he’s garnered such a massive fan base.

But here, in the above clip, Chan’s quirky love for “creepy Mike Bickle” isn’t believable. I think he wants to believe it. But I’m not sure he really does, not like he believes in and loves Hell.

What do you think? Does Chan really LOVE IHOP creepy, Pastor Bickle? And if so, isn’t it an odd and awkward match?

(Clip found at Christian Nightmares.)

Christian ‘Rocker’ Sues A&E, Barack Obama for being mean to ‘Duck Dynasty’

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Looks like somebody is looking to get a little publicity in hopes his music career will become a reality.

Because according to Wonkette, this is happening:

A Nashville guy who claims he’s a member of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s church is suing A&E Network for its suspension of Robertson. Chris Sevier claims that the private company’s personnel decision will have a chilling effect on decent Christian weirdos like himself, inhibiting them from preaching damnation for the gheys. For good measure, the lawsuit also names President Obama (TOLD YOU!!!), because obviously he tells cable teevee networks what to do. This is just logic.

TMZ is also reporting this “news.”

The man’s Facebook is already filling up with messages from people who think he’s a brave soul and others who think he’s nuts.

According to TMZ…

Chris Sevier, who claims to be a lawyer, has previously sued pretty much everyone under the sun, including Bill O’Reilly, CBS, Facebook and Apple.

This time around, Sevier has put together 91 pages of law and religious propaganda, quoting scriptures about the evils of homosexuality. Sevier claims the fact that A&E has indefinitely suspended Phil is going to have a chilling effect on other churchgoers — himself included — when it comes to preaching what he believes is the word of God.

Chris does love Phil Robertson though… his Facebook page is slathered with pro-Phil memes…

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And lots of pictures of himself…. look very much like a Duck Dynasty fanatic.

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And apparently he’s into Destro from G.I. Joe, too. He even has a costume…

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Thoughts? If it’s a publicity stunt, it could work… I mean, Duck Dynasty is HUGELY popular. So… anything is possible… in America!

Meeting Santa Claus at the mall should come with a warning, y’all… #TrueStory

So… we stood in line to meet Santa Claus on Sunday. Yep. Me, Jessica, Elias and Adeline. But it gets worse. We did this at a mall. Yes, the mall.

Taking your kids to meet Santa at the mall should come with a warning y’all. Because it’s hell. Hell. But I didn’t know this. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought I was engaging a “happy holidays” event with my family! I didn’t know that I was basically taking my kids to stand in line at the North Poll’s DMV.

Because I didn’t know. When my wife suggested that we should take the kids to the Green Hills Mall so they could tell “Santa” the list of toys that we’d already bought, wrapped, and hidden in the garage, I happily nodded my head yes. Why did I do that? Because I didn’t know.

I hadn’t visited Santa Claus at a mall since I was four years old. By the following Christmas, my family had joined an Independent Fundamental Baptist church. As a Baptist, I still believed in Santa but since I was Baptist, he and I had to stop meeting each other at the mall. My parents were afraid that one of our new Baptist friends, nice people who believed “Santa” was no more than an anagram for “Satan,” might catch us in line attempting to make contact with Santa and we’d be outed as Santa/Satan followers. It was all very dramatic and otherworldly. But its suffice to say that I grew up judging people who met Santa inside malls.

Before this year, our kids met Santa at a fundraiser for our kids’ school. But this year, the school didn’t invite Santa. Instead, they tossed Jesus a birthday party. Which I’m sure was amazing or weird. My kids didn’t want to meet Jesus; they wanted to meet Santa Claus. Which is why on Sunday morning we got dressed up, put the kids in their holiday best, and darted off toward the Green Hills Mall.

Santa was due to arrive at noon, so we arrived thirty-five minutes early. Of course, since it was the Sunday before Christmas, we weren’t the only people in Nashville who’d made plans to meet Santa at the Green Hills Mall. At least 40 people stood in front of us. Elias was jumping-up-and-down excited. Adeline was whining, which meant she was excited, too. The first five minutes was AMAZING. We hummed Christmas songs. We talked about all the things that we were going to tell Santa. We ate snacks. Those first five minutes were Heavenly.

Then, Adeline had to potty. Meanwhile, Elias started becoming restless. We talked about Darth Vader. He sat on my shoulders. He ran circles around me. And then he started throwing kicks and punches into the air. Without any warning at all,  one of his air punches landed right in my groin. The first time was an accident. The third time was not. Thankfully, his punches were only hard enough to bring a couple of tears to my eyes, just enough oomph to give me a constant reminder that I have testicles and what happens when they get angry.

Five minutes after Adeline returned from going potty, she needed to go potty again. And then she needed to engage in an emotional breakdown in front of the Lucky Brand store.

All of this happened before Santa had even arrived. When he did arrive, Elias and Adeline wanted to see him. While Jessica took them over to catch a glimpse of Santa, I stood in line, trying to pretend that my jingle bells weren’t still ringing. The kids and Jessica returned just as the first family prepared to meet Santa.

Seven minutes later, the second family met Santa. However, every time it was time for a family to meet Santa, the group of people who were waiting in line to meet him were joined by other family members not standing in line. So families of three and four turned into families of eight or 10.

And Santa’s helpers? Well, sometimes I wondered what they were helping Santa do. Whatever it was, they were doing it slowly, painstakingly slow.

Adeline started chasing Elias. Elias chased Adeline. Adeline had to go potty again. Elias’s voice started morphing into that of an elf, high pitched and whiny.

Then, Adeline had to go potty… again.

Forty-five minutes into our wait time, I was ready to tell the kids that Santa wasn’t real, that he was make-believe, and possibly just an anagram for Satan!

Forty-five minutes after that, I officially hated Santa. But it was finally our time to have our seven minutes with Santa, so I had to pretend that I loved the dude, that I believed he was real.

Adeline, who was so excited to meet Santa, cried the moment she saw him. Jessica worked her “Mommy” magic and somehow found a way to get her into his lap without any real crazy happening. Santa’s helper snapped three pictures. On the third one, she said, I think I got a good one! It was decent, but not worth its 25 dollar price tag. Still, we paid it. I smiled big as I helped the  kids hop off Santa’s lap. However, the whole time I was whispering I hate you, Santa. You’re not the real Santa. You’re a fake Santa.

On the way out, I looked at Jessica, “That was an amazing experience. Let’s do it again next year!”

She laughed.

I said, “Why don’t they have two or three Santas here to handle the demand?!”

“They can’t do that,” she said, “the kids might think he’s not real!”

“He’s not real!”

She looked at me. “That birthday party for Jesus sounds pretty amazing right about now, huh?”

Bah humbug. “Let’s not do that ever again, okay?” My wife smirked. My testicles said “AMEN!” And Elias said, “I’m hungry…” Adeline skipped, fell down, and cried.

And I smiled and started singing, “Happy Holidays… Happy Holidays… ”

Why Does Jesus Turn Decent People into Jackasses?

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One of my friends in college had a very personal relationship with Jesus, one that, on occasion, led him to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and spend 90 minutes of quality time with Jesus before class. When I first met “D,” I was sort of jealous of his spiritual discipline. At the time, I was experimenting with Calvinism and easily shamed by the intensities of other people’s relationships with Jesus. But overtime I stopped being jealous of D’s close relationship with Jesus. Because I began to notice that the more time D hung out with Jesus the bigger jackass he became. We could always tell when D and Jesus were engaging in “bro” time, because that quality time always seemed to make D angry, prideful, and intoxicated with his own spiritual certainty. As a recovering Baptist who, at the time, was a young and flourishing Presbyterian, I didn’t want to end up being one of Jesus’s jackasses.

Why do close relationships with Jesus turn some people into jackasses? That idea seems counter to everything that Jesus taught about God’s Kingdom. Still, sometimes Jesus comes into a person’s heart and makes them shape shifters.

I’ve known lots of people who Jesus has helped. I’ve seen Jesus help alcoholics to begin recovery. I’ve seen Jesus help fix marriages. I’ve seen Jesus make rich selfish people into rich giving people.

None of those things surprise me at all, because I believe that Jesus saves, that Jesus heals, and that Jesus changes people’s lives.

But let’s face it: how a relationship with Jesus affects people seems to vary a good bit. Because as much as Jesus brings some people hope, healing, and resurrection, that same Jesus also makes some people turn into intolerant name-calling Christians who seem downright entitled to utilize the Bible as a device to be mean and hateful. If engaging scripture and prayer and going to church makes us act like nasty, self-righteous jackasses, we’ve completely missed the point.

Engaging God’s story in scripture should not make us certain, but it should help us to be merciful.
Trusting in Jesus should not make us intolerant, but it should help us to be peaceful.
Spending time in prayer should not make us angry people who are bent on shouting our opinions from the rooftops, but it should help us to be gracious and thankful.

A lot of us Christians, rather than being followers of Jesus, we’re defenders of religious certainty. And having certainty about what is and isn’t true, good, and holy is actually not faith, it’s just certainty. And certainty regarding matters of faith isn’t Christian.

So we end up acting like jackasses, kicking and galloping and trolling around like we own the place. All the while bellowing scripture and unfounded statistics…

We can’t love people when we’re intoxicated with certainty. We can’t serve people with a pure heart if we’re burdened by certainty. We can’t be anything remotely close to “Christ-like” when we’re certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that we know what’s up regarding God. Why?

Because we’re too busy defending our rightness to be kind, thoughtful, and good.

So instead, we kick, stomp, and wake up the neighbors shouting. And then we blame Jesus for the messes we make.

What Yesterday Was Really About…

I never know what to write about after a blog post like yesterday, one that seems to connect with a lot of people. Because no matter what the post was/is about, within a few hours, we’re all sick and tired of seeing the topic show up in our feeds, let alone putting forth the energy to keep talking and caring about it. The current topic is no different. Though there are a handful of readers still hashing it out on my blog (and the country at large is still making it trend on Twitter), most of us are feeling hungover after yesterday’s buzz. I know I am.

Many of those who read yesterday’s post and then ripped me a new one in the comment section or via email (which is fine—I can take it!) alluded to the fact that yesterday’s uproar was about far more than just the topic at hand. According to them, yesterday was about fighting for basic liberties and religious freedom. For some, it was about standing up for God’s Word and for the values that they believe to be holy. Many of them suggested that they were tired of the media beating them down for what they believe.

Lots of people mentioned that last frustration. Which I can understand. Some members of the media can be hard (and even cruel) toward religious folks. While I don’t believe there’s some grand conspiracy against Christianity, Jesus, and God, I do think that some media folks go out of their way to make Christians look like buffoons. But I also think that we Christians often make buffoons of ourselves. However, that said, I get it. A whole bunch of Christians feel attacked and beat up by the media. And if the tones of their comments is any indication, some of them are angry, some are just cynical, and some are exhausted.

And again, I hear that. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to me. Moreover, it’s one of the reasons I believe the Church should be careful and concerned about how it engages cultural dialogue; because beat up people beat up people. And we the Church beat up a lot of people. While I don’t expect all of us to understand that, the truth is, some of us Christians are just a little difficult to get along with and at times. In fact, some of us so hurt and angry and feeling beat-up that we are downright careless in our attempts to make our points. And many of us can be especially cruel toward those with whom we disagree.

Friends, though you and I might disagree on things like theologies, politics, and other cultural matters, what we can unite on is our common belief that Jesus saves and is making all things new.

But uproars like yesterday’s big topic often make me wonder if any of us really believe that Jesus saves or if Jesus has any earthly worth at all. Because if we did believe that Jesus saved, we’d showcase faith void of fear and fear tactics. We’d use scripture to build up and promote God’s love rather than a stake to be tied to come hell or high-water. And if we truly believed that Jesus saves we’d join his cause of “making things new.” We’d stop blaming everybody else for our circumstances. We’d look in the mirror and self reflect. We’d stop using God as an excuse (or crutch) to say all kinds of mean and/or hateful things about other people. And we’d include a little bit of humility in our words and opinions. Why? Because we might be wrong. Which is what makes our faith faith.

Did Jesus ask the Church to wage wars against people? I don’t think so. Now, our Christian history might suggest otherwise but always fighting with each other wasn’t Jesus’s original plan. According to the Apostle Paul, our enemies are not made of flesh and blood.

Yet sadly, after yesterday, there are a lot of gay Americans who feel beat up. And there are a lot of black Americans who feel beat up. And not just by the comments from an old man with a long beard, either; but by Church people, so-called followers of Jesus.

Many of those who didn’t like what I wrote yesterday made a very good point. Yesterday was indeed about far than the topic at hand. It was about people. Lots of people. Hurt people. And hurt people who hurt people.

People that I believe were created by God and loved passionately by God.

And that’s something that seems to get lost amid today’s social media battles, that we are all people, made by God, loved by God.

What if Hell is actually just Facebook?

What if Hell is actually just Facebook?

Think about it. What if Hell isn’t a literal place buried deep in the center of Earth, but instead, it’s just a really good idea, a concept so grand that it compels us to log into and engage as soon as we wake up in the morning?

What if Hell isn’t an all-consuming reality, but rather an online interface made up of html code, a virtual platform where all of us happily share our realities?

What if, rather than being a place that burns the souls of humankind, Hell burns up the time, energy, and emotion of humankind?

What if Hell’s wailing and weeping isn’t actually wailing and weeping at all but instead, it’s the silent plea to be “Liked,” that eternal cry for somebody, anybody to “Like” what we do, where we’ve been, who we are, and with whom we are doing it all with?

What if Hell isn’t scary at all, but rather just an intangible community of relationships that we keep open on our laptops and scroll through on our smart phones?

What if the gnashing of teeth is actually that mostly inaudible noise we engage in our feeds, the complaining, the opinion-making, the sharing, the selfie taking, the oohing and ahhing, and the liking?

What if demons are trolls? Or what if they’re those online friends who seem to constantly challenge our ideas and opinions, leaving mean-spirited (sometimes hateful) comments in reaction to our status updates and pictures? Or what if they’re the friends who really like us, the ones who innocently “Like” our virtual stuff, join our virtual causes, and virtually tell us we’re awesome?

What if Hell is a seemingly innocent distraction, something that we engage when we are bored, lonely, insecure, proud, angry, broke, empty, aroused, or merely awake? What if Hell is a grand entertainment, a leisure activity that diverts our attentions away from the who(s) and what(s) and where(s) that are most important?

What if, instead of going to Hell, we’ve joined it? What if, amid many our best intentions to avoid Hell, most of us are already there, engaging it now?

What if Hell is actually just Facebook?

Would we be able to save ourselves?

Would we even want to?