I second the call for a theology of suffering

My buddy Eddie over at Kouya.net says the church needs a theology of suffering. He disagrees with a comment someone says in a newspaper article that
“Miracles and healings are evidence. They are signs of the Kingdom, and if we don’t have signs then all we have is a bunch of theology.”

He goes on to quote Hebrews 11:33-38, about the anonymous heroes of faith who were d and refused to be released, who were stoned, sawed in two, put to by the sword.

Eddie comments:
But how much faith does it take to be d and refuse to be released, to be stoned to , to be jeered, to be sawn in two. Sawn in two! Now that is real faith - truly the world wasn’t worthy of people who were willing to go through that for the sake of their God.

Good point.

I've thought about these anonymous heroes of faith before. In human terms, they would appear to be failures. They believed God would deliver them, would uphold them, and yet He didn't in this life. Hebrews goes on:
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

But He does uphold them and honor them in the next life. But in this life they appeared to be failures. Along with what Eddie says about not imagining having enough faith to be d, I doubt I'd have enough faith to be willing to appear as a failure.

The 'simple gospel' I don't believe in

The (overly) simplistic version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ says: Come to Jesus and your troubles will be over. Or the troubles you experience will be only dramatic and impressive ones that never really bother you because you'll be delivered quickly from the difficulty.

I don't believe it. At least I say I don't believe it. An exhaustive transcript of my prayer life probably would reveal times when I wanted to believe it.

The Simple Gospel

I don't know if this is original with me, but if it isn't I can't remember where I read or heard it.

Is the Gospel simple? It can be. So simple a child can understand it. But simplistic? Not really. I can whistle the first few notes of Beethoven's 5th symphony. (I can even type them -- da da da DAA). If you listen to the symphony you hear these notes repeated often, but there is a whole lot more going on.

So the Gospel of Jesus Christ is like a symphonic theme, so simple a child can understand and repeat it, but capable of an immense amount of variation and exposition. A large percentage of the uncountable sum of God's thoughts have to do with it.

We need to pray for Iraqi Christians

Christians in Iraq have suffered a lot in recent years, as this article points out.

It appears that having to pay money to not be killed is rather common. I've seen other articles that Christians in Iraq have often been targets of violence.


Someone is reading this

A friend told me that she likes my new blog. She said it looks interesting because she knows I'm a deep thinker. I made the obvious retort, that I am a deep thinker-- sometimes it takes me hours to get back to the surface.

Thanks, Jeanne!

Interesting quote

[the] Bible--the most influential indictment of pharisees, courtiers, and tyrants ever printed.
Kevin Phillips The Cousin's Wars 1999. Basic Books p 48.

The book is about the ideological and cultural continuities between the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the US Civil War. The immediate context of the quote is how the high literacy rate in largely Puritan eastern England was a major contributor to the struggle by Parliament against Charles I.

Diversity and loneliness

It is becoming a commonplace observation that God loves diversity. Many institutions (including the mission I work for) wants to promote diversity, to have more different kinds of people involved and working together. One of our favorite passages is Revelations 7:9-10 "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
"Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb."

It dawned on me this morning that few people (even introverts like myself) really like loneliness. We don't like being the only one of our kind, the only one who has ever thought X or Y or Z or whatever our idiosyncracies are. We dislike it so much we are tempted to hide what we think or feel when it is very different from what others think or feel. But if God loves diversity, and has never created two people identically the same, doesn't it follow that we are each going to feel alone in some way?

Faith and reality

We Christians are often far short of what Scripture says we should be. New Creations in Christ, People who have died to sin -- oh really?

I think there are three things we can do about this discrepancy.
1) Conclude that what Scripture says is wrong. I've started down this road many times, but by God's grace I haven't persisted.
2) Pretend that the discrepancy doesn't exist. Put on an act that we're good and OK and all is fine, and make our faith about something external rather than the state of our hearts.
3) Believe that Scripture is true, but that the promises are things to be claimed by faith and through God's grace in our lives. This is what Caleb and Joshua did about the discrepancy between the promises of God that Israel would be given the land of Canaan, and the reality they saw, that the land was inhabited by powerful enemies. And this is what Paul tells us to do in Romans 6. He says we have died to sin in Christ and have been raised with Him in a new life, but he then says we have to reckon or calculate ourselves to sin. It doesn't just happen automatically.

The true British idealism of our founding fathers

Another July 4 thought

Now and then I've wondered if becoming independent from the British Empire was really the right thing to do. I've thought if I'd lived at the time, I would have supported petitioning the British Parliament to broaden representation to the colonies, but I might have hesitated at armed rebellion. Scripture does say: "Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime!" (Habakkuk 2:12). Isn't this what the Revolution did, found a new nation by bloodshed?

But a few years ago I read a book called "The Cousin's Wars" by Kevin Phillips. He examined the continuity of heritage and cultural background with the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the American Civil War, and states that in each case the better version of political organization won out. It dawned on me that our founding father's rallying cry "No taxation without representation" could have been repeated exactly by Parliament against Charles I. And in general, democracy has proved to be the best system for government that humanity has come up with.

Celebrating the 4th of July

We just finished celebrating the Independence of the USA.

I'm not sure July 4 is the correct day to celebrate the beginning of the United States of America. It should be July 2.

On July 2, the Continental Congress approved a resolution to become independent. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Resolution. What they approved on July 4 was the text of the Declaration of Independence. So it seems the decision to become independent was adopted July 2nd, while July 4th was approving how we were going to communicate that decision.

John Adams had this to say in a letter to his wife on July 3rd:

"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."


The next letter he wrote to his wife was July 7 and he didn't have anything to say about the vote to adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 4.

But now maybe you have to be a real history trivia nut to really worry if Independence Day is celebrated on the right day or not.

Maybe things aren't supposed to be simple

Since God has many thoughts, and we are supposed to delight in how many there are, why then should it so often surprise us when reality turns out to be more complicated than we thought?

How many are your thoughts, O Lord

One of my favorite verses from the Psalms is 139:17 "How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!" (NIV). I've been fascinated by the vast number of details God put into creation for years now. In college I studied entomology (insects). I remember one afternoon studying some caterpillars preserved in formaldehyde. The guidebook said that caterpillars of this family could be recognized by the fact they had three hairs on body segment number 7 or 8 (I forget the exact number, maybe I'm misremembering the exact number of hairs too). So I looked at these little critters under the dissecting microscope, and sure enough when I counted to the right segment, there were the right number of hairs.

I was in awe. If I were in charge of designing and creating a universe on the scale of the one we live in, I'm sure I wouldn't have ever gotten around to planning the specs of whether certain caterpillars would have three hairs on segment number 7. I might have made an executive decision about the number of galactic clusters, but the rest I would have left to the many subcommittees of angels helping me in the task. But God created a universe in amazing detail, even down to how many hairs a caterpillar has on each segment.