Thinking Out Loud

May 16, 2020

How Exactly Do You Wish the Death of Your Enemies?

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:19 pm

The last eight weeks have brought many to the point of discouragement, frustration, anger and bitterness. It’s so easy to see why. I can’t imagine too many people not wishing that this plague had never happened; wishing we could reset the clock and have things exactly as they were before.

During this time there has been an increased increase in the Psalms. David wrote at least half; though we have contributions from the Sons of Korah, from Asaph, from Solomon and from unknown sources. And David poured out his heart to God. We have to marvel at the transparency of his emotions.

But David also wished his enemies dead. He asked God to bring about their swift destruction. More than once.

Is that a model for prayer in the 21st Century?

Pouring out my own heart, I wrote a piece here a few days ago about unanswered prayer. At least that what it was intended to be about. I think we need to be especially carefully dangling that carrot in front of prospective believers or new believers. Offering answered prayer as a sure thing, when it’s really something that God isn’t necessarily going to deliver.

Some of that article was personal, describing a handful of situations, one of which would fall into that general category of enemy or enemies.

However…

Despite my frustration and anger, I can’t see myself wishing the death of someone else. I just can’t bring myself to pray that prayer, ‘Lord, kill him.’

Perhaps it’s the difference of a New Testament; New Covenant perspective; a post-incarnation era unknown to the Psalmist. Perhaps it’s living at time in history when the grace of God is the only thing we have to offer the world. Perhaps I have a hint of “God is not willing that any should perish” coursing through my bones.

Please recognize that I’m thinking of this in terms of a domestic situation; this isn’t about the larger just war versus pacifism issue. This isn’t about an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I just think that the God of the impossible is able to exceedingly beyond anything we could request or imagine. He’s capable of writing the scene so that it plays out with a creative twist we couldn’t have conceived.

I really believe that. It’s a testimony to the faith I still have.

In the middle of the doubt I increasingly wrestle with.

May 14, 2020

Root Causes of Cynicism and Doubt

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am

Any commitment to follow to Christ is going have its basis in the truth of the resurrection. We know anecdotally that other foundations, valid as they might be, can crumble when tested. Some objections to faith recur more frequently to others and can be (a) barriers to entry, in terms of making a first time decision to be a Christ follower, or (b) the roots of doubt or cynicism which can cause even a long time faith to collapse.

A quick online search reveals some of these:

  • The Genesis / Creation / Evolution question
  • The problem of evil and suffering in the world
  • Things done, both presently and historically by Christians, often in Christ’s name
  • Things done to them personally by Christians, aka the Church at large
  • The authority and reliability of the Bible
  • Philosophical issues concerning the very existence of God

But there’s one thing I never see listed, and I can name that song in two notes:

  • Unanswered prayer

I would say this is more the case with situation (b) above, but it could also apply to the person who in coming to Christ brings with them specific petitions or to use the theological term, supplications.

It’s also something I find myself struggling with more and more.

There. I said it.

I’m not alone in this. I think of people with whom I’ve interacted over the last few years, and the long-time, ongoing prayers of their hearts have been for a son, or daughter or spouse to come (or come back) to faith, and those prayers have not been answered.

I think of two people I know who have dealt for years with intense chronic pain who in one case can’t sleep at night because of it, and in the other case can’t think clearly when it strikes with intensity.

I think of people who ache to be chosen for some type of higher activity in their workplace, or in their church, but are always ignored or passed over in favor of someone else.

I think of two couples who have special needs adult sons, who believe in a God of the impossible when it comes to healing (or even improvement) but are also resigned to the unanswered nature of their requests.

Finally, I think of people for whom outsiders would say, ‘Their lives seem okay;’ who aren’t facing world-shattering challenges but just wish some of their circumstances could be different. They ask God to simply give them something to put in the ‘win’ column…

…Apologists can spend energy coming up with answers to the first six objections, but also need to have an answer to the seventh one, ‘Why aren’t my prayers answered?’

I think of one such apologist, now reaching the end of his ministry, who never neglected to see the pastoral question when facing doubters and skeptics; to see the question behind the question.

Those are often at the roots of a faith-shaking that the theoretical, intellectual, or philosophical questions can mask.

A mature faith will recognize that not every request is granted in the affirmative. But when prayer has been offered as a means of touching the heart of God concerning our life situations, we do sometimes long for a response.


For those of you reading this on a tablet or desktop or laptop, here’s a challenge. I usually try to illustrate blog posts with an image, but when I did an image search using the phrase “unanswered prayer” it turned up an interesting collection of quotations. I decided against using any of them, but they bear checking out if you have the time. Feel free to share one in the comments if it strikes you as significant.

July 12, 2012

To My Skeptic Friend

Filed under: Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:38 am

Dear __________,

Here’s an idea.

There’s nothing I can say or do today that will convince you that God exists, that the Bible can be trusted, or that Jesus has a legitimate claim to be God. But humor me for a moment.

All I’m asking today is that you begin with a God-exists hypothesis. Not the Bible. Not Jesus. Just that there is a God, in the more or less traditional way that’s understood.

Now then, ask all your questions, and frame your answers along the lines of the hypothesis. In other words, “Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?” becomes, “If there is a God, why does he permit so much evil and suffering in the world?”

And so on.

What possible answers might you come up with to your various questions? Maybe some fairly crazy ones!

I’m not saying assume anything or commit to anything. I’m just saying take your toughest questions, your philosophical questions, your metaphysical questions, your ethical questions; and instead of framing them within a vacuum, frame them within the hypothesis.

Oh yeah, one more thing: For 48 hours. Do this for a couple of days, not a couple of minutes.

You might even want to say this — don’t think of it as a prayer, but more as a role play to get you in the right head space — “God, I don’t believe you exist, but for the next couple of days, I want to see how the world adds up if I were to believe you’re really out there.”

Think of this ‘let’s pretend’ game as meeting me halfway.

~Paul

December 27, 2011

So How Would You Respond?

First, someone who subscribes to some faith-focused view of things decided that this was an appropriate response to atheism:

But then, as often happens in these situations, someone subscribing to atheism decided to fire back across the bow with this:

At this, the majority of Christ-following blog readers here are expected to be offended.  However, for some reason, I’m not.  I rather like the rather quaint way of putting the story because it highlights that this is indeed a story of “foolish things that confound the wise.”

Cosmic?  Yes, in the sense of ‘out of this world.’  In fact, I would think it very important to begin the story with the premise that the intersection of God and mankind is very much the intersection of different dimensions.

Jewish?  Yes.  Christianity is birthed out of and is very much the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham, even the promise given to Adam.

Zombie?  Well, that’s a little extreme, but it fits.  Personally, I always viewed Zombie-ism as a kinda a lifestyle thing, so for me it could describe both Jesus and John the Baptist in their respective wilderness days.

Live forever?  Indeed!  Eternal life starts now.

Eat his flesh?  No self-respecting Christian I know has ever denied that this is a “Top 5” entry in the category, “Hard Sayings of the Gospel.”   But non-Catholics would say the language is figurative inasmuch as we partake of his sufferings on the cross; Catholics would claim a more literal experience of actually eating his flesh.

Telepathically tell him you accept him?  I’d say the person who wrote this has a better understanding of the gospel than the average church-attender, because at least he/she grasps that the centrality of crossing the line of faith has more to do with an act of believing faith than it does with trying to earn acceptance on the basis of helping little old ladies across the street.  Apologies to elderly females reading this.

…As your master?  Again, bullseye!  There are references in the New Testament to Jesus as Savior, but they outnumbered by references to Jesus as Lord by a ratio of 215:1.  Besides, if you’ve bought in to this point — if you’ve gotten past flesh-eating and zombies and telepathy — you probably feel you’re on to something that you’re going to dedicate yourself to, right?  In for a penny, in for a pound.

So he can remove an evil force?  Sorta.  The Apostle Paul acknowledged the ongoing presence of sin and temptation in the life of the Christ-follower.  I’d refine that one to read, “So he can give you the power to conquer an evil force” on the basis of the conviction that he already conquered it.

A rib woman was convinced by a talking snake…?  God created beings with totally free will including the ability to both reject his authority and to reject his love and desire for community with mankind.  But that had to both be tested out, and also be demonstrated for the man and woman to see for themselves.  There might be dozens of ways to do this, but if you’re looking for a good story, you really can’t make this stuff up. In the first chapter of The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey quotes Walter Wink as saying, “If Jesus had never lived, we never would have been able to invent him.”  That’s how I feel about this.

Makes perfect sense?  Depends to whom you’re speaking.  “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” II Cor. 4:4 (NIV) On the other hand, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. ”  John 1:12 (NLT)

Thanks for reading today.  If you’ll excuse me now, I’ve got to spend some time in telepathic communication, and then me and the rib-woman are gonna have some breakfast.

May 21, 2010

Church Without Belief

Filed under: cults — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:27 am

Erin has been blogging at Decompressing Faith since 2005.   This past week she went to a Unitarian Universalist church to hear her brother perform a musical number.

It’s an experience I had myself in my last year of high school, and it also involved a musical performance.   I would echo her observation:

I have never understood why people will go to all the trouble to have church, with all the semblances of a mainline service, but wipe it clean of any core belief system. I don’t mean that as a disparaging remark against UU’s. I understand the sense of community and the value of the power of that community when they come together. I also value and respect the concept of acceptance and non-conformity. I get it all; as much as any outsider can.

My point is this: the service was decidedly like a mainline service. I don’t mean in content, but in presentation. The invocation, the homily, the benediction…they were all there. They have a hymnal, very much like any traditional hymnal. They have responsive reading and a doxology. You get my drift. Yet, it’s all been purged of almost anything that identifies with any particular religion or belief system. And what I wonder is why, if you’re going to do something subversive and liberal, why do it exactly the same as something traditional and conservative? Is it a tribute to what we might have known as children? Is it for comfort? Or is it tradition simply for the sake of tradition?

Why indeed?   Erin goes overboard to say her intention is not to cause offense, she’s just got questions:

Why work so hard to make it seem like “church”, when it’s not “church”?  And why call it “church”, giving it a distinctly traditional tone and flavor, but having it actually be something else entirely, with a vastly different mission, content, and core? …Why wear a label that doesn’t fit, or follow a pattern that doesn’t do us justice?

In the end, she challenges the UU Church to come up with something original.   Not the conclusion I would make.

Are we, as a religious humanity, really that incapable of doing something truly new? Must we always keep one foot anchored in the old thing in some manner, while timidly stretching beyond the borders of it? What are we afraid of out there in the wild blue yonder? Why pretend to be something that is still within the confines of “acceptable”, even as we venture out beyond convention?

Rather, I would conclude that there is something deeper taking place in those services; a longing for something that was, and is, so very much anchored, so absolute, so very secure.   There is some comfort in dogmatism, but if you can’t abide the belief, the heart longs to fill the void by keeping the forms.

But maybe, at that point, like the children on summer break, you’re simply playing church.

Let us pray.

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