Friday, April 19, 2019

Poem from Jerry Walls

TO BORROW A TOMB
A tomb is not the sort
Of thing you borrow
Unless you have power
To banish its sorrow.
No, a tomb is never
Merely to borrow
Unless you descend
Into hell to harrow.
So take, Lord, this tomb
You need only borrow
And return it empty
Day after tomorrow.
--JLW

Monday, February 11, 2019

Sam Walter Foss

My favorite 3 poems by Sam Walter Foss

The Calf Path
The Prayer of Cyrus Brown
Odium Theologicum

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Podcasts

Here are some podcasts I've been interested in

Ask NT Wright Anything
The Bible for Normal People
Top Episodes so far...
Episode 2 (Richard Rohr)
Episode 10 (Peter Enns)
Episode 11 (Benjamin Sommer)
The Sinnergists
Almost Heretical
OnScript
Top Episodes so far...
John Barclay (Paul and the Gift)
Thomas Jay Oord (The Uncontrolling Love of God)

Friday, December 28, 2018

God Can't

A Review of God Can't
by Thomas Jay Oord
God Can't: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils by [Oord, Thomas]
I remember singing these lyrics as a youngster at church: “God can do anything… anything… anything… God can do anything, but fail.” I don't know if, at the time, I picked up on the fact that the very song proclaiming "God can do anything" was also admitting that there was something God couldn't do (fail). Of course, that line was more humorous that theologically disturbing. I came away thinking the only thing God couldn't do was fail to be able to do anything.

The title of Thomas Jay Oord’s latest book is purposefully provocative: God Can’t. God can’t? It sounds wrong. But once the book has been read, the reader realizes that “God can” is just as (if not more) theologically disturbing given the reality that God often doesn’t.

What are we talking about here? This book is a bold attempt to solve the problem of pain. Why doesn’t God prevent suffering? Oord’s answer, in a nutshell, is captured in his title. This is clearly a different answer than is usually given in typical Christian theodicy. But Oord claims the usual clich├ęs have failed. It’s time for a new proposal. He believes the proposed inability of God to prevent suffering flows from the most beautiful truth about God. God is love. And for Oord, Love is uncontrolling (see his book The Uncontrolling Love of God). It is simply not in God’s nature to control the world. This central truth provokes five aspects (and five chapters) of Oord’s theodicy.

Rather than summarize the work (just read it yourself, it’s not a long or difficult book to read even though it is challenging in its content), let me offer a few of my own thoughts/reactions.

First, I want to say that I thoroughly appreciated the bold approach. The book offers a theodicy that truly does feel fresh. Oord writes with short/direct statements that don’t leave the reader guessing as to Oords well-reasoned opinions.

Second, I’d like to say that I’m in complete agreement with Oord’s clearly communicated decision to make ‘God is love’ central to his overall theological project. Having become familiar with his work over the years, this is not at all surprising… but it is refreshing to see an author attempting to take his views to their logical conclusions.

Finally, while I confess that I’m not (yet?) in total agreement with Oord’s conclusions (I’m still struggling with how his view fits with some of the biblical miracle accounts and I’m still enamored by a more self-limiting view of God), I will also confess that I hope his view becomes somewhat mainstream. I’d much prefer that the ‘debate’ in theology be between variations of kenotic theology rather than the classic debates between Calvinism and Arminianism.

The ultimate position of the book is that we don’t need to choose between an all controlling God and a weak God. We can, instead, believe in an all-loving God and believe that love is powerful. This love is uncontrolling, but beautifully active to bring about good in and through the world.

Friday, March 23, 2018

On the Problem of Pain

A Journey through Time with the Problem of Pain

A journey through time with the problem of pain...
Is pain part of God's plan? I hesitate to answer with absolute boldness. Most of us would agree that some pain is beneficial. "No pain, no gain". Few Olympic athletes would regret the pain of their training once they're holding their gold. In fact, their sweat makes their victory that much sweeter. What I can say with confidence is that the "problem" of pain isn't part of God's plan. It was never God's plan for creation to become subject to sin, sickness, disaster, disease, and death.
So how comes evil into the world? It is important to understand that while God is absolutely in charge, God is not in absolute control. What do I mean by this? God had a reason for creating the heavens and the earth. God wanted to invite creation into the experience of trinitarian love. Before anything else, love existed between the Father, Son, and Spirit. Since Love is other-oriented, God decided to create. The purpose for creation was loving-partnership.
Both of those words (‘loving’ and ‘partnership’) are important here. Love involves freedom. It must be freely chosen. So God decided to create creatures with freedom (the ability to choose between options). Partnership involves the granting of authority. Partners are given authority (some level of control). They are invited to use their genuine freedom to make a genuine difference in creation.
Now think about what it means that God gave created beings freedom and authority. It means that God took a risk. Freedom creates options. Some of those options are good and some are bad. Free creatures get to choose. And authority means that those choices will have real results in the world. This freedom and authority was given in the heavens to angels and on the earth to man and woman. It means that, presently, angels and humans, while not in charge, have a large degree of control.
How have angels and humans used their freedom, authority, and control? The results are very mixed. There’s plenty of good caused by creatures and plenty of evil. Both of these realities actually point to God’s existence. There is no good without God and there is no evil without good. Evil exists only as a result of creatures using their God-given freedom and authority in ways that go against God’s purposes.
Our present reality, insofar as it is problematic, is the result of Powers that have departed from the Giver of those powers. God is not the cause of sin, sickness, disaster, disease, or death. These things are not part of God’s plan. They are, in fact, departures from God’s plan. They were, from the beginning, potentialities of creation. But they only came to fruition because of the abuse of power given by God to creatures.
Of course, one might object on numerous grounds to what I’ve said thus far. One might suggest that it was wrong or foolish for God to create a world with the potential for such evils as we presently see in the world. My main reply to this objection would simply be: What alternative world would you prefer? Would you rather God NOT create a world at all? Would you prefer a world in which there are no free creatures? Would you prefer a God who does not share power with creatures? I highly doubt most would prefer such alternatives.
Someone else might object that God should just stop the really bad things from happening. Well, there is a lot I’d want to say in response to such an argument, but I’ll stick to two things. First of all, we don’t know what God prevents from happening. For all we know, the world could be far worse off than it is (actually, it's not that hard to imagine it being worse). Second, intervention of this kind would be sort of like rescinding the gifts of freedom and authority that have been given. What kind of gift-giver takes back a gift because they don’t like the way it is being used?
All of what I’ve said so far would be, in my opinion, unbearable if present levels of pain and suffering were to be our unending reality. If reality, from here on out, was going to continue to be this struggle between good and evil, despair would be understandable. But that is not the message of Christianity. Christianity includes the belief that the triune God is working in the midst of this fallen world to bring about what was originally intended.
There will be a Day of Judgment in which all abuse (and continuing abusers) of God-given freedom and authority will be dealt with once and for all. Broken and disease-ridden bodies will be restored to health. The earth itself will be restored. Tears will be wiped away. Joy will be full. Eden won’t so much be restored as it will be expanded and improved. And, as Mother Theresa (not someone unfamiliar with suffering) once said, in the light of this reality, the darkness of this world’s suffering “will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.” I don’t quote her to dismiss the horrors of our present reality (they’re real), but to emphasize the goodness and beauty of what is to come.
Now the typical objection toward this appeal to the future is that Christians have no basis for such projections. But that’s exactly where the strength of Christian evidence does, in fact, exist. In Jesus Christ, God has brought a powerful glimpse of the future into the present order. Jesus Christ lived the sort of life God originally intended. It was a life of freedom and authority. It was a life in which the power of love was on display. And it was a life that did not end with death, but included resurrection and exaltation. Humans are invited into Christ’s life. This is not a blind wish. It is a substantial faith.
In a very real sense, Jesus’ earthly life was a microcosm of our journey through time with the problem of pain. He lived as Adam could and should have lived. He entered into the present pain, even to the point of death on the cross. He rose from the dead to guarantee our promised future.
The problem of pain is a problem. God agrees. God, far more than anyone, has reason to hate this problem… for it goes against the expressed purpose for which The Trinity extended its love into creation. And God, more than anyone, has entered into it… for the Son of God has become flesh, dwelt among us, and been crucified by us. And God, and God alone, is the answer to the problem of pain… for God raised Jesus from the dead by the Spirit.
If I’m being completely honest, I’ve always wondered why the ‘problem of pain’ is considered more of an argument against God than an argument for God. After all, if there is no God, then there is no good. And if there is no good, there is no evil. And if there is no evil, there is no problem. But the problem of pain is a problem few deny. The problem of pain is a problem because, deep down, we know that the world was created by God to be so much better. The problem of pain points to The Answer.
Our struggle, in the midst of pain, is not to avoid healthy expressions of anger and grief (which make sense—God is angry and grieving too), but to direct our anger to the proper places (Satan, Sin, Systems) and grieve with the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.