Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Problem of Pain

The most doubt I have in my faith comes from the Problem of Pain. How can a loving God let people suffer so greatly? This is a common question and has always been explained away to me, by my people wiser than me, in saying “Sometimes God wants to test us.” I have even heard some people say that perhaps it is Satan that is causing the pain and God simply allowing him to inflict such suffering, as in the story of Job. These explanations seem to be inadequate. I do not believe God is some cruel scientist injecting us with serums of pain to “test” us. I do not believe that He is a parent allowing Satan the child to poke us with a stick. God is much bigger than that; he must have a reason for this suffering.
We as humans are compared quite often to sheep in the bible. Every day, as I mature this comparison seems to be more and more evident. Sheep are dull, stupid, and slow creatures. They’ll follow each other over a cliff to their deaths without a second thought if they see a green patch of grass at the bottom. In the same way, we are spiritually stupid, dull, and slow. We are too mesmerized with the illusive patch of green grass at the bottom of the cliff that we do not turn around to see the luscious field behind us. Pain is God’s indicator to turn around. Just as a shepherd might pull a sheep forcefully away from the edge of a cliff and guide that animal to the fields so can God allow pain in our life to point us in the right direction.
Pain is also God’s indicator that all is not well with the world. God is an artist and uses the different intricacies of his creation to teach us. Just as a musician’s style is evident in everything he plays so can we recognize God’s style in his creation. Pain is not just God’s indicator to turn around, it is also his indicator that all is not well in the world. It hints at our total depravity and the sin that is present in every aspect of our lives.
More than often the main cause of our pain is our disobedience. A sheep may disobey his shepherd and stray away from the herd. In cases like these that sheep could hurt itself by getting caught in a thorny bush or even killed by a wild animal. Sometimes we are like this sheep, we stray away from Christ’s guidance and choose our own path. Christ presents his law for our own benefit. It may seem as if his law constricts our freedom but in reality it is there to protect us. When we disobey we are hurt and a consequence is pain.
Pain is a powerful indicator of imperfection in the world. It is a way to point us toward the truth. Some may say that a loving God would not cause his children to suffer but that is simply not true. A kind God would not let his children suffer. God is much more then kind, he is loving. Consequently, he allows us to choose our own way. Sometimes we cause more pain to ourselves when we disobey his Word. Other times pain is present in our life to remind us of our imperfection and need for Him. It is by God’s grace that we feel pain because it is evidence of our sinfulness.

The Inner Ring

Every human has a desire for intimacy.   Even though it seems as if some people can be closed or abrasive, intimacy remains a holy grail we strive to find.   There are a myriad of paths that people follow in order to fulfill their longing for intimacy, but there are only two destinations.  Some may find there needs fulfilled through relationship with people, others might find it through their identity, even others could choose intimacy with Christ.   The destination of a person’s journey on their search for intimacy depends on whom they are looking toward.

            The Inner Ring is the essence of what we look for and by definition it means that people are excluded.  We feel special when we are part of an inner ring that others cannot join.  It is much like a clique in high school where different groups would sit at different trees.  We would have the Christian kids sitting under one tree across from the Mormon’s who would gather by the drinking fountain every day.  The jocks would control the center of the school and there always existed the emo kids who would sulk far off in some corner out of the way.   From a superficial standpoint these different groups seemed to be polar opposites but in reality they all desired the same thing and fulfilled that desire in the same way.  “Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence” of the Inner Ring writes CS Lewis.   Everyone desired intimacy and a sense of belonging.  To fulfill these desires they created groups and would exclude others in the process to heighten the sense of uniqueness.

            Obviously similar people attract each other and thus decide to affiliate.  There is nothing wrong with that; it is natural for compatible people to desire fellowship with one another.  The problem is the Inner Ring mentality where exclusion is the essence of the group.  The Christians sitting under the tree at lunch did not feel as if they excluded others from their spot but from an outside point of view they were.  Others would feel repelled from them because of the group mentality.  The Christian kids would flock together; they would only really affiliate with each other.  This idea of groupism, is similar to the Inner Ring, in that there existed exclusion.  In this groupism exclusion was subconscious, because it was the big group that made them unapproachable.   They refused to affiliate with others at lunch to avoid the discomfort of feeling excluded by the other Inner Rings around them and so sinned by excluding others.

            In this way the Christian group became just like every other group at high school.  They succumbed to the danger of finding their identity in human relationship and identity.  Human relationship is very important but it is not the most important thing.  To truly fulfill our desire for intimacy we must strive for a relationship with Christ.  Our desires are too great for any worldly thing to fulfill and we need something supernatural on which to lean.  Thus, in our search for intimacy we must focus upon Christ and our earthly relationships will follow.  We must also avoid the dangers of exclusion for the sake of being in an Inner Ring.  Gods Inner Ring is the only group that does not exclude and instead welcomes all who are weary, weak, and broken.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


In today’s society, and even throughout history, love seems to be one of the most sought after things.  I say things deliberately because I don’t exactly know how to label it.  Sometimes it seems to be a feeling while other times it is more of an action.  Although I have experienced many different forms of love I do not believe I have yet experienced Eros.  Consequently, I will focus mostly on Eros because it most interests me.  I have experienced both storge from my family and agape from God.  I have felt the beauty of philia from my brothers and sisters in Christ but have not, however, experienced the mystery of Eros.  Granted, I have had my crushes and flings.  But when I consider Eros the way Lewis explains it, I come to the conclusion that it goes deeper than sexual attraction or companionship.  It is the purest form of love between a man and a woman.

I was most struck by Lewis’s description of Eros when he mentioned the mindset of a man in love.  He said, “The fact that she is a woman is almost irrelevant” her essence as a person is, instead, the most important thing.   Eros is more than the meaning we give it today.  In today’s time we see Eros as an erotic, passionate, and sensual love.  We tend to think of Eros in terms of the airbrushed models in magazines and the love-at-first-sight stories in Hollywood.   In reality Eros is much more like the Lewis quote.  It is the passionate love between a man and a woman.  Just as agape is the ultimate form of love between God and man, Eros is the pure love between a man and a woman.  In true Eros the man and woman are not exactly preoccupied with sex, although that sub-form­ – called Venus – is present, instead they are two human beings that are committed to each other.  They choose to love and look out for the best needs of the beloved. 

Although I am not particularly familiar with Eros, due to my inexperience in that field, I understand that it involves focusing upon the beloved.   Storge is the basis on which families are built.  In Philia we walk side by side with our brothers and sisters in Christ while in Eros the two lovers are intent upon each other.   Agape, the most important of all loves, permeates everything and is the unconditional love God has for us.  Without Agape Eros is nothing.  Thus, when the man and woman focus upon the Lord the foundation of Eros is laid which, in cooperation with philia, sets up the framework for storge.



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Plantinga: Vocation

Vocation is our life calling.  It determines how we conduct our lives each and every day.  It is Gods will being constantly fulfilled in our lives.  As Christians, each of us has one simple vocation: to honor and glorify our God.  This is demanded in the Old Testament and urged in the New Testament.  Our single most important commandment is to love the Lord our God.  Life is generally not this simple however, and there is another aspect to our vocation.  It consists of God’s personal calling in our individual lives and his plan.

Throughout Romans, Paul calls us to become “living sacrifices”.  This is very easy to say but much harder to understand.  How does one become a living sacrifice? Upon a closer look at Roans 12 we see that to be living sacrifices we must not “conform to the world around us but instead be transformed by the renewing of our minds.”  In other words, we must be set apart as Christians.  We are the salt of the earth and must preserve Christ’s passion in our own lives.  As an ongoing process Christ will transform our lives as we immerse ourselves in prayer and the Bible.  In this way we perform our “spiritual act of worship” to God and fulfill our first and most general vocation.

The second part of our vocation is very difficult for me to explain because I honestly don’t really know how it works.  I have only heard the Lord speak to me on a handful of occasions.  The more I mature as a Christian I become increasingly familiar with the Lords voice but it still seems to me less than a “still small voice” (1 kings 19:12).  This is probably because I do not consistently fulfill my first vocation, as I should.  I do not immerse myself in him and therefore I do not “have ears to hear” (Ezekiel 12:2).  In any case, the second vocation requires us to know God.  When we know God we become more in tune with his voice and consequently hear his more specific calling for our lives.

As Christians, our vocation is one of the most important things in our lives.  It functions on two levels, one general, and the specific.  The first vocation applies to all Christians and calls us to glorify our God with all our hearts minds and souls.  The specific vocation comes as a product of the general vocation.  After we immerse ourselves in the Lord we become more sensitive to his will and we will hear him more clearly.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Learning in Wartime

Not all are called to a life of education and learning.  Just an assortment of jobs are vital for an army to achieve victory in a war so are different vocations important for Christians in a spiritual battle.  Lewis explains that “The intellectual life is not the only road to God, nor the safest, but we find it to be a road, and it may be the appointed road for us.”  I may not be called to be an intellectual life but God has put me in a community with the purpose of learning.  Consequently, my present vocation is to learn all I can about God and his creation. 

            In the chaos and desperation of war some might say an education is pointless.  They might say that saving more souls, in the case of a spiritual war, is more important than learning certain things such as poetry, history, or science.  Although it is very important to witness to unbelievers it is almost just as important to educate oneself.  Learning the Laws of God’s universe teach us more about him and his glory.  We can observe the genius of God through his creation.  In this way education strengthens our faith.  Education also allows us to compete or fight on the same as those who do not share the same vision of the Kingdom of heaven.   By learning we become thinkers and can respond to the clever arguments of those around us. 

            Learning thus makes us soldiers in a war, just as the evangelist.  Although the evangelist works primarily on the frontlines of the battle, the scholar is a versatile soldier.  He can help to defend the faith, educate other Christians, and even witness to other people.  The scholar is also in much danger.  He can have his faith strengthened through discourses with other intellectuals, but those same discourses could shatter his faith.  His pride can take advantage of him and he can fall prey to his own genius.

            Since education can be a vocation it must be taken seriously.  We must offer ourselves as living sacrifices and put our full effort into our studies.  We do this to glorify and worship the God who created us.  Learning is a means by which we can know God better and thus love him more passionately.

Plantinga: The Fall

I have often been torn over the essence of man.  Is he basically evil or good?  In this question I often lean towards the side of man being basically evil.  So much evil occurs in the world that it seems man cannot possibly be good at heart.  Brothers kill brothers, men commit heinous crimes and it seems the hurt never ends.   Even in my own heart I detect an evil, which seems infect every part of my being.  I have also heard the argument, however, that man was created good in God’s eyes.   All men became sinners but the fall did not change human essence.  I tend to disagree with this argument but that is beside the point.  Whether or not man is basically evil or good is not the point.  It is a simple fact that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  We have all broken the natural moral Laws that were put in place from the beginning of time.  Thus, we need Jesus Christ to redeem us and restore the possibility of a relationship with God.  This theme has been presented many times in the blog but I believe it is very important to Christianity.  It is a vital part of our relationship with Christ to humble ourselves and remember that we are horribly flawed.  We cannot achieve salvation on our own.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I appreciate greatly the way in which Lewis functions.  It is extremely helpful to me because I am an awful logistician.  Although I believe myself to have a mathematical mind and therefore a mind which leans toward the logical, I am very bad at constructing a logical set of points in a discourse.  I enjoy reading lewis’s works because I believe it improves my own skills in the area of discussion.  When I read his works I must follow his argument very closely to even understand what he is saying.  Although it is often hard to comprehend, Lewis’s writing teaches me how to conduct a logical discourse.

            Lately, I have found myself in a very confusing time.  I cannot make up my mind as easily as I used to and I seem to be attacked by other’s beliefs on all sides.  This past election is a good example of my plight.  One person would tell me that Obama is the best candidate and then give me all the reasons why he is the best.  Right after that, a person passionately explaining why McCain was the best candidate for the job would approach me.  I try to keep an open mind about these things until I am truly able to understand the subject but unfortunately it seems that as much as I researched, there was more to learn. 

I try making decisions by first observing them objectively and then making a decision but it seems so hard in a time like this.  Perhaps my base is wrong.  I have grown up in the modern era where we have become subjective to the bone.  Perhaps I cannot possibly be objective.  Regardless, I must find a practical solution to making a fair decision based on the facts.  According to Lewis, this starts with “elementary moral platitudes.”  By basing my decisions on Moral Law, and the Bible I will be able to live my life according to God’s will, which is the best way to live a life.