Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Far Beyond Me

There is something unnervingly raw about the guttural destruction a tornado can bring. The aftermath of the tornadoes in Oklahoma has had me in tears this afternoon. It is poignantly significant to the second chapter of The Reason for God. I think it's impossible to understand this tragedy. There are no humans on which to cast the blame of sin, no accidental mechanical malfunction. The tornadoes are simply the Earth, the planet that is home to all of us, gathering its forces and destroying all the structures humans have made to thwart nature. This time, we lost; nature beat us.

We can not help but ask: where was God?

Even the most ardent believer will ask that. We all doubt. We all wonder. We all cry out why amid the tears of pain.

My head knows the answer to that question: God was there, with every single person. He was the teachers sheltering their students, the parents hurrying to their children's sides, the rescuers pulling the injured out of the rubble. I know that God was there, and God is good, and that God loves every person in Oklahoma.

But my heart still wonders why God didn't stop it. Because He could have. I have no doubt. But the reason is far beyond me.

I think part of my answer lies in that sentence. The answer is far beyond me. If God is the God we believe in, why do we assume that we can understand His ways? Are we so arrogant to think that our small selves, who so often cannot see beyond our own noses, could fathom the cosmic workings of the universe?

There is terrible, brutal devastation. But there are also passionate embraces ripe with far more meaning than a quiet ending to the day ever could given. Hearts around the nation, and around the world, are realizing that the material possessions we have, the clothes, the books, the cars, actually have so little meaning. A deeply divided nation is slowly being brought closer as tragedy after tragedy rips through our cities.

This good may not lessen the depth of hurt felt by everyone affected. But surely it makes it more bearable. And this is only what my feeble mind can conjure up. Who can imagine what God's eyes see? Surely it is a masterpiece far greater than anything Da Vinci ever dreamed of or more beautiful than Michelangelo ever painted.

As Timothy Keller says, we "need hope that our sufferings 'are not in vain.'" Because of Christ, they are not. And more than that, Keller reveals something striking. Just because God has some far off cosmic plan, that does not mean that God is "off the hook" for the pain of the world. Instead, "God came to Earth deliberately to put himself on the hook of human suffering." That is certainly a new thought. But how incredible does that idea seem? And really, doesn't that make so much sense?

Think about it. Christ died to take the blame for all the sin and suffering in the world. He was innocent and blameless, but took on the punishments for every single person, enduring the loss of God's presence, so that someday, we will have more than this world filled with suffering. He offered a gift, so that despite the tragedy and really, unfathomably terrible times, we will be renewed into a life that is twice as unfathomably glorious and wonderful as Earth is painful.

In the words of Sam Gamgee that Keller relays - and I am never impartial to a Lord of the Rings reference - "is everything sad going to come untrue?" Yes. Someday, yes, it really and truly will.

Ni Hao Yall

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why Christians Aren't the Best

This week (two weeks really) has been long. Filled with AP testing and studying and all sorts of other things. Five tests and four formal events in two weeks. Yikes. I have gotten to finishing the first chapter of The Reason for God, but not writing my thoughts. Now, I am finally sitting down to write.

Hello, all!

At first I wasn't sure what to write about, but since I have finished the chapter, one part has stood out to me and I keep thinking about it over and over. Honestly, it's a pretty different perspective on Christianity as a whole. Keller talks about how Christianity can save the world. Anyone can say that's a pretty bold statement, especially from the perspective of earthly saving and peace, rather than the divine peace of God. But then he throws out some even bolder statements and they totally make sense.

First off, he states that "Christianity provides a firm basis of respecting people of other faiths." I agree. I try my best to accept people of all different beliefs and I know a good many Christians out there do, too. But oh, do I fail. Lately especially God has shown me some pretty specific cases of me judging others, whether for different beliefs or different lifestyles. Typically, these are people that I don't really know. Because, sadly, these people, the people who we know the least about and should be making the least presumptions are the people we assume the most (and often the worst about). Ugh. God is challenging me hard on this.

And then Keller goes on to say the line that keeps striking me: "Christianity not only leads its members to believe people of other faiths have goodness and wisdom to offer, but it also leads them to expect that many will live lives morally superior to their own."

Come again?

Maybe I'm unique in this, but this is certainly pretty different than what I've been lead to believe my entire life. Aren't Christians the most upright? Aren't they supposed to be "the best" by some celestial standard? Isn't that what we should try to be?

Keller reminds me, pretty abruptly, that the answer to all of those is no. We are not all the best. I am sure as heck not the best or most morally upright. I know that. I know I can be a pretty massive fail sometimes.

TRFG (The Reason for God) reminds me why. It's because "God's grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a savior." And that is just it. We Christians are just as messed up as everyone else. We can get caught up in really big problems, and sometimes we cause those really big problems. Just like every other person.

What's the difference? We realize that we need something bigger. I do. I need God and the gift of Christ's death. I am hopeless without it. That can be hard to admit. Some people think that it's weak to rely on an outside source. I disagree. I can tell you for sure that it's hard to let go of the notion that I can do everything by myself, especially in such a self-driven society (and I mean that in the sense that modern society world-wide promotes the idea that we can drive ourselves to be successful). It would be easier to think that if I look out for myself and try my hardest to be nice and do well, all by myself, I will get there. But I won't.

Because when I do mess up, then where is my hope? Because I will, and I have, and I know that if I don't have God, I have nothing. As Keller states, "at the very heart of [Christians'] view of reality [is] a man for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness." In that scene, as Jesus is dying, He gives life and forgiveness to us all. He did not just pray for the criminal on the cross beside Him, or the people executing Him, but for all of us. For me. Because I am just like that criminal and I am just like those who spit on Him. And that is a humbling thought.

But Christ gives us hope and a chance at redemption, through the very act of acknowledging and accepting Him. And we also know that "all human beings are made in the image of God, capable of goodness and wisdom." Yes, we are. We each have amazing potential, potential that we will not always reach every single day. But God is in us, and God loves us. Every single silly one of us.

Have a great day, friends!
Ni Hao Yall

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Hard Questions

My time in high school is almost over. After four years, graduation is just three short weeks away. It seems insanely close. On one hand, I can't wait. But on the other, grade school is everything I know. I've been in school of some sort, including day care, for about as long as I can remember - all the way back to two years old. Now, once this year lets out, there won't be a next year.

Really, I'm ready. I'm at the right place and maturity to be moving out into the larger world of college. I'm both prepared and excited (albeit a bit nervously) for this next chapter of my life. On the same hand, my studies regarding my faith are ready to change. As I talked about in my previous post, I've just (about) finished reading through the Bible. I started looking for something new to start on, to dig deeper into my faith. I came across an online group study started by Stefanie over at Ni Hao Y'all over the book The Reason for God by Timothy Keller and decided it was right for me. Both perfect timing, and very relevant subject matter.

Ni Hao Yall

I have some beliefs that differ from the typical realm of what Christians believe. I love science, and come from a very science oriented family. I also love God, and come from a very God oriented family. But to most of society, those two don't compute. Some say that the science disproves the existence of God - after all, no more explanation is needed. Others insist that if I believe in all that science offers, I'm not really a Christian and I don't really know what I'm talking about. But I do. I've studied both sides, heard plenty from people on both ends of the spectrum, and in the middle, and know what I believe. And if you don't agree, I am so okay with that. You don't have to, and we can still be friends.

This is a large part of why Timothy Keller's book attracts me so much. He talks about the middle ground, how he finds himself there, and finds others like him. I feel like jumping up and saying, "Yes! Me too! I'm there, too!"

And I don't just mean regarding science. It applies just as much to the political nature of religion and the religious nature of politics. As much as it would be great, religion and politics cannot be separated. Maybe you realized that long ago, but I'm kind of just coming to acknowledge the falseness of my idealistic notions that people's beliefs and political views could be separate. Personally speaking, I try to keep my faith at the core of my life as much as I can. It doesn't always work, I mess up, but I try. Politics are a part of my life. I have yet to vote due to age, but I certainly have political views. Just watching the news for twenty minutes shows that the rest of America does, too - and often they aren't too kind about it. As Keller says, "the world is polarizing over religion." Politics and religion are the most heated topics. Why? Because they are interconnected. People (myself included) can get pretty riled up, pretty quickly, when people disagree with what they think or believe.

All of this comes down to doubt vs faith. Some people see these two things as mutually exclusive. The Reason for God says that they're actually not. And I agree. When someone finds what is in their head, the principals they run their life on, questioned, it sends up warning flags.s

My junior year was rough. Problems with family members and friends alike cropped up in my life all at once. It was tough and I had a lot of questions for God. What had I done wrong? Why now after so long of things being normal? Was I doing the right thing? If nothing I did helped, what was the point of trying at all? And the biggest of all...why was God letting this happen when I kept praying for things to get "fixed?"

I had doubts. Anyone would. There were a lot of things going on that I didn't understand. But I worked through them, and I grew in my faith and as a person because of them.

This is something that Keller talks about. Some people hold the truth of their beliefs so tight that they won't even allow the idea of doubts and questions. Others have so many doubts that they decide that surely there can't be a God. Honestly? I totally get both sides. Sometimes I wrestle with the bad things going on and wonder how these things can happen. Other times, I am just not in a place where I can bring myself to question God right then. The thing is...neither side is wrong - in moderation. The problems come when the faithful never ask the questions and the skeptics never realize the faith it takes to give in so fully to doubts.

If I had never took a good, hard look at what I believed when problems came up, I would probably have ended up hoping for something unrealistic. Rather than figure out what I needed to fix about myself and my life to work through things, I could have easily done nothing but plead to God to fix everything for me - when a large part of the fixing were steps that, with God's direction, I had to take myself.

On the other hand, I could just have easily have focused to much on the doubting side. I could have been so consumed by wondering why a good God let bad stuff happen, that I failed to see the good things happening, too.

But sometimes, or most times, one stance or the other is just easier. It's hard to question something you cling to for your life, that you are betting your existence and purpose on, whether that is God or a lack of Him. It's no wonder why debates over religion can get so heated and tense. The difficult part, I'm realizing, is that's what we need to do. Discussion with different people with different beliefs is really important because it helps both sides form stronger convictions and understand other people. And guys, understanding people makes it so much easier to accept them, and when we accept them, we can show them Christ's love how we are truly meant to show it.

I have so much more I could say. This is just over the introduction to the book, and I feel like I could keep typing for hours. But this is probably enough of my thoughts for this post.

I hope you (if you're part of the study, too) are enjoying the book as much as I am. Have a wonderful week!