Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Problem of Evil

The problem of evil and suffering has always been something of a difficulty for Christian theists. It just does not go away.

How can a God who is said to be all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and all-good (omnibenevolent) allow for the evil and suffering we see in human history and in the world today? If he were all-powerful, could he not prevent or intervene in these issues? If he were all-knowing, would he not have the foreknowledge and “know-how” to do so? And if he were all-good, would he not choose to do so?

In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis puts it this way: “‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’ This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form” (p. 14).

Yes, the creatures are not happy. And this is where we feel the tension, the pain.

Have you ever thought through this issue? It is an important question to address. I would like to use this blog post to provoke some thought and discussion.

This semester I took an “Intro to Philosophy” class at Metro State, and I wrote my final paper on the problem of evil and suffering. So here is my current thinking, in a somewhat polished form: Biblical Theism & the Problem of Evil.

What about you? What do you think?

Friday, May 22, 2009

2 Peter 1:12-21 - Connecting to Christ through Scripture

Although I have referred to this before, I once again presented some helpful questions to ask when reading the Bible. I don't go through these questions explicitly very often, but I find that it is a great exercise every once in a while to go back and study out a text using these questions for redemptive reading.

The discussion time at tables was fascinating this week as we discussed why we trust the Bible and what doubts we have. Everyone came at it from different directions and with different reasons, and it was encouraging to hear all these diverse ways that can lead us to trust the Bible and, by the witness of Scripture, in Christ.

Here is just a summary sampling of the responses that were shared at my table:
  • I trust the Bible because I have seen too many things in life that cannot be explained outside of God's supernatural intervention.
  • I trust the Bible because it makes sense of life and explains my experiences.
  • I trust the Bible because, out of all the religions and worldviews out there, it is the only one that is really coherent.
  • I trust the Bible because Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, proving his identity as God-in-flesh. If Jesus trusted the Bible, so can I.
  • I trust the Bible because of the many miracles of God that are visible in creation.

Whatever our reasons are for trusting Scripture, this passage from 2 Peter encourages us to pay attention to it since the Bible, both Old Testament and New, testifies to Christ and the blessings of gospel power that are available through knowing him by faith. We always have to remember that Scripture was given as "men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit". Whenever we read the Bible we are reading both what "men spoke" (the human origin) and what they spoke "from God" (the divine origin). Only by holding both of these together can we understand what God intends for us in Scripture.

Recommended Reading:
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible by Dr Gordon D Fee, Dr Douglas Stuart
A General Introduction to the Bible By Norman L. Geisler, William E. Nix
The Canon of Scripture by F. F. Bruce
God's Big Picture: Tracing the Story-line of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts

(Holly and I generally own the books that I recommend, so if you are interested in borrowing any of them, let us know.)

Sermon Audio

Monday, May 18, 2009

2 Peter 1:5-11

When you think about it, there are a lot of things that Christians are supposed to do. We are supposed to (1) pray, (2) read our Bibles, (3) gather with other Christians for worship, (4) be a true community, (5) help the poor and the needy, (6) preach the gospel, (7) share our faith, (8) live morally, i.e. don’t abuse substances, don’t have sex outside of marriage, etc., (9) be generous financially toward our local church, missionaries, etc., (10) study and obey God’s Word . . . the list goes on and on!

Have you ever felt like you are trying to do all of these things (or at least some of them) and it’s just not working?

Those of us who are in Christ experience at least three frustrations, seemingly on a regular basis: (1) Why can’t I repent of sin? (2) Why can’t I live a godly life? (3) Why can’t I be effective in ministry?

Paul took us through the first few verses of 2 Peter, showing us that our knowledge of Christ gives us two things: (1) grace and peace in abundance, 1:2, and (2) everything we need for life and godliness, 1:3. Later on, in 3:20, we will see that our knowledge of Christ also gives us escape from the corruption of the world.

So the question becomes, “How can I be effective and productive in my knowledge of Christ, if I really have everything that I need?” This is where we feel the tension. Why is “life and godliness” oftentimes so frustrating if we have everything we need?

In 2 Peter 1:5-11, we find a different kind of list from the one at the beginning of this post. It is a list of things we ought to add to our faith: (1) goodness, (2) knowledge, (3) self-control, (4) perseverance, (5) godliness, (6) brotherly kindness, and (7) love.

The first list was a list of “doing” (i.e. things we ought to do). This list is a list of “being” (i.e. the kind of people we ought to be).

In Peter’s text, these two lists produce two different kinds of people: (1) those who forget the gospel, v. 9, and (2) those who live out the gospel, v. 8.

Those who forget the gospel stumble through life blind to the truth and guidance and direction and power and glory of God. They are Christian without being Christ-like. In contrast, those who live out the gospel are effective and productive in their knowledge of Christ. By God’s grace, they (1) repent of sin, (2) live godly lives, and (3) are effective in ministry.

If we are ineffective and unproductive, it is only because we have forgotten the gospel.

What is the key, then, to being effective and productive in our knowledge of Christ? Cultivating the gospel in our lives. (To see what I mean, cf. the use of “godliness” in 1:3 and 1:6.) Simply put, “being” informs “doing.” Who we are informs what we do. The kinds of people we are inform the extent to which our outward actions will be Christ-like. And the extent to which our outward actions are, in fact, Christ-like is the extent to which we will be effective and productive in our lives and ministry.

Specifically, Peter is saying that the qualities listed in vv. 5-7 must inform our lives and ministry if we hope to be effective and productive.

Peter concludes in vv. 10-11 with an encouragement: if we make every effort to cultivate the gospel in our lives, then the result will be a warm welcome into the kingdom of God: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (to quote Matthew’s Gospel).

“Being” informs “doing.” Therefore, we must focus on cultivating the gospel in our lives, rather than focusing on conforming to some list of prescribed actions.

(Download mp3)

Reading Round-Up

Cassie posted some reflections after she, Chris, and Jason got back from their first preliminary trip to San Jose to lay some groundwork for Downtown Synergy. The best is yet to come!

Scot McKnight shares some thoughts on worship.

Pray for our brothers and sisters: “Christians in the Palestinian territories are a minority within a minority. Israeli Jews view them as enemies because they are Palestinians. Muslims view them as different because they are of another faith.”

This quote really hit me in the gut last week: “Most people who say they oppose abortion do just enough to salve the conscience but not enough to stop the killing.”

I recently was thinking that there is a blog I wish I linked to more often but I don’t have a particular post that I want to single out, so I am just going to go ahead and link the whole thing: Beauty and Depravity. This is the blog of Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Church in Seattle. Go read it. Now. It’s that good.

Here is an interesting study on the Top 25 multiplying churches in America. The criteria used includes but is not limited to (1) the total number of church plants over the life of the church, (2) the average number of churches planted each year, (3) dollars and percentage of budget dedicated to church planting, and (4) the number of daughter churches that have planted a new church.

And ending on a light note . . .

Dog yoga? Yes indeed: Stuff White People Like reflects on an article in the New York Times: “White people like to make the most of their free time, but many of them discovered that time doing yoga was time away from their dog and time with their dog was time away from yoga. It was becoming a fairly significant problem. Thankfully, Doga has been created to allow white people to combine two of their favorite things into one expensive, time consuming activity called Doga or dog yoga.”

While we’re at it, Stuff White People Like also has a funny post on Moleskine Notebooks. (I hear good things about these . . . has anybody used one?)

Friday, May 1, 2009

2 Peter 1:2-4

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
     His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
(2 Peter 1:2-4)

I don't know what everyone else got out of this first section of 2 Peter, but I found it to be a very encouraging passage. Often I feel like I need something more to have a "successful" Christian life. For me, the struggle is most often in feeling like I ought to be doing more, especially in being better at connecting with people and forming new friendships. As I shared with my table on Sunday night, I would take a "spiritual superpower" of being able to stretch time to get done all the things that I have ideas to do or else have a superpower of strong charisma that would enable me to connect quickly and easily with people. Somehow it can feel like I'm not doing what God wants me to—and can even feel like I'm not able to do it!

What Peter points to in this passage is encouraging because it reminds me that I don't need a spiritual superpower to be who God wants me to be or to do what God wants me to do. Who I need to be is in Christ and what God wants me to do, fundamentally, is to know Jesus. Through knowledge of Christ, I have been given everything I need for life and godliness! Through knowledge of Christ, I am given God's "very great and precious promises". (As 1 Cor 1:20 says, "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ.")

This frees me to live out my life for God because I am no longer focused on myself and my own inadequacies and the spiritual superpowers that I wish I had. Instead it points me to look continually toward Jesus and the divine power that he exercises to give me everything I need for life and godliness. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb 12:2-3)

Recommended Reading: The Cross-Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing