reasons to believe

On Evidence and Faith

old fashioned scale

Dear Russell & Friends,

I hope this Saturday morning finds you well.  Yes uncleE and other friends in Australia, I realize it is almost Sunday.  This has been a week like all others.  One fiftieth of another year elapsed.  I do not know what proportion that year represents of my supposed middle aged life.  A treasured work colleague one year younger than me died suddenly yesterday.  His partner, our community, and I grieve.

Because I don’t know if I’m in the middle or a day from the end, the conversation here means more to me.  You mean more to me.  I’m sorry for doubting it.  No — that’s not true.  Doubt is part of who I am and a reason I feel drawn to you.  Reason.  That’s what I’d like to address this morning.  I’m grateful to Mike for his guest post and the respect that he showed in our home here.  He is a thoughtful atheist who is willing to talk.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

Mike quoted this scripture in a dialogue with Eric (uncleE) about evidence and faith.  It started with a comment that Mike offered in his guest post.  I’d like to provide the paragraph before as well for needed context.

I’m all about secularity and think people should be free to choose religion or non-religion. If anyone tried to take religious folks rights away to choose a religion, I would be in the front lines with them.

However, I will not pretend that I agree with religion – Christian or otherwise, and I’m certainly not adverse to sharing my views and doing my best to convince others to embrace evidence based thinking instead of faith.

The first paragraph is important to me because I need to emulate it.  I need to stand for people whose convictions I do not share.  I live in America, an imperfect place.  But one blessing that I should not take for granted is the ability to speak without being stifled.  How can I realize that blessing without defending it for another?  That was the core of Mike’s first paragraph and I appreciate it.

The second paragraph is important to me because Russell and I have often reached a point of impasse here.  Is the word instead correct?  I feel that it is the pivot of the sentence at least, likely the paragraph, perhaps the thesis.

Back to Mike’s scripture reference.  It is one of my favorites and I chose to use the King James Version because I remember it from childhood and it has the words evidence and faith in close juxtaposition.  As a Christ follower in a scientific vocation, this verse has meant the world to me.

Is faith blind?  Is it always required?  The text in Hebrews says that faith is the substance of things hoped for.  Is faith needed for things already realized?  Probably not.  I do not have faith for a table.  I’m sitting at it.  Is faith the substance of my hope for my children to follow Christ?  It is.  Is faith separated from hard work?  By no means.  My favorite epistle is James.  Martin Luther called it the epistle of straw.  I don’t particularly like Martin Luther.  James said that faith without works is dead.  So, if my faith that my sons will follow Christ is to have life, should I lead an authentic life worthy of imitation?  I argue yes.  I have faith – – belief – – in what I hope for but have not yet realized.  That faith is coupled with effort.  I can not have faith that Mike and I can continue respectful dialogue.  I have to be willing to write letters and to carefully read his.

Faith is the evidence of things not seen.  Allow me to be clear.  I am an old earth creationist.  I believe that God created the universe by authoring natural laws and allowed us to evolve to sentience.  I don’t think he directed every mutation.  He could have, but the scientific evidence does not point that way.  I don’t believe that Genesis is literal.  I do believe it is completely true.  As a student and lover of language, allegory has never bothered me.  In biological science, I have some degree of expertise.  In physical science, I have enough knowledge to plumb the depths of my own ignorance.  In social science, I have compassion, but not Mike’s degree of professional knowledge, expertise and practice.  As an aside, social workers are some of my favorite people on earth.  How is faith evidence?  Did I take on faith the existence of Pluto?  It could have been another light source that we didn’t understand.  In a thin way I did before the photos came back, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I take on faith that my life will continue if it ends tomorrow.  That is a bold claim that I can’t prove.  My personal version of Pascal’s wager is this:  if I’m wrong I won’t know it  — the can’t lose position for an egotist like me.  That is a statement of faith.

Faith is my belief in the things that I have not witnessed, accounting for the fact that even what I witness, experience and remember are constructed in a brain so complicated we barely comprehend it.  Is faith required for history?  To some extent.  Only modern history is recorded verbatim and one first run movie or internet meme will convince you that future generations may believe nothing that we so confidently record.  But I don’t really consider it faith to believe that Jesus Christ existed.  That is a consensus amongst historians just as the existence of the third Roman emperor Caligula is.

Do I need faith to believe that Jesus was God incarnate?  I do.  Scripture claims that he was.  I can question the veracity of that Scripture.  I can rightly question the legitimacy of eye witness accounts.  I can rightly question even the existence of a supernatural.  I can rightly ask why some claims of deity survived and others did not.  There are few active temples of Zeus remaining.  At every point in my chain of logic for belief, there are legitimate questions that skeptics ask.  I don’t have answers for them all.

I’m open to the possibility that I live a dichotomous life – – evidence in my professional pursuits, faith in personal.  But that doesn’t feel quite right.  I see the effects of faith as evidence.  There was a call to comfort when our professional friend was taken so quickly.  There was an impromptu memorial at our place of work.  We remembered his life.  There was an urge to pray – – a hope that there was someone greater who cared about our grief.  Is that urge evidence?  It could be.  All human societies have displayed the behavior of worship.  Is that behavior evidence?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps it is an accident of our genes that made the paranoid and delusional more likely to survive.  But it could be.

Time to close this James Joyce style post.  I’m not even sure that I’ve asked or answered any good questions and for that I apologize.  I suppose I just needed to write, and in a time of sudden loss this post took a different flavor than it would have otherwise.  I do have one question that may be useful.

 embrace evidence based thinking instead of faith.

How would the meaning change if “in addition to” replaced “instead of”?

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credit:  “Bascula 9” by L.Miguel Bugallo Sánchez  – self made, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Bascula_9.jpg.

the Trail

Trail

 

Dear Russell and Friends,

I hiked the trail above about 10 days ago.  It is the Kalalau Trail in Kauai.  Our family has been planning and saving for this trip to celebrate the graduation of our oldest son for years now.  We went with two other families whom we’ve known for almost 20 years.  Our kids call them Aunt and Uncle and their kids are more like the first cousins mine don’t know.

kauai-kalalau_trail

As you might predict, the five boys ranging from 12-18 moved a little faster than the adults ranging from 40-44.  A lot faster.  Along the way we saw this.

Kalalau Coast

It is certainly the type of picture I’ve seen before either in print or film, but seeing it in person was different.  The whole trip was different.  I’m a planner, but I’ve learned from my more spontaneous friends over the years.  This trip was a medley of planned events and open space to fill as we decided with little notice.  I actually caught up on sleep and recharged my batteries to the point that this week’s work was well supplied.

Our halfway point was here.

Waterfall

The water was so cold after the 4 mile hike in.  It was bracing, clean and pure.  My sons and I swam in the waterfall.  I’ll rank the experience, like the hike in general, as one of the most memorable.  Then 4 miles out.  We heated pizza for the kids and went out with the adults – – memories and margaritas.  This was the least expensive, most fun part of our trip.  Hiking.

Why do I like hiking so much?  I’ve been giving that more thought as the boys and I prepare for Pike’s Peak in two weeks.  I’ve been giving it even more thought as I consider this place to read and write with you.  I was decidedly and purposefully off the grid when Russell prompted a flurry of activity with his rainbow removal service post.  And since I’ve been back the question rises – – do I go back on the grid?  Why am I here in the first place?  Why keep writing?  A friend reminded me with my own words.

He needs to talk.  I need to listen.  Why have this conversation?  Why have it in public?  Why adopt pseudonyms?  We don’t think that we are alone.  Many in our generation need a safe place to come and reason together.  My orientation to the skeptic, agnostic, and even atheist has changed.  It has changed like a compass needle with the orientation of my heart.  As I follow Christ I realize . . . he loved me, I will love them.

about Pascal

Then she used her words.

I think it has been useful, although painful at times. A recent example I can point to is the softening in your heart toward gay people—I know you’ve always loved them, but I’ve seen a change in how you write about them. Your response to the documentary my friend recommended was a blessing to me and to my friend. Your words have softened my heart, too.

Why was I doubting this trail at all?  Because I’m tired.  Yes the Hawaii trip added much back, but sometimes that kind of refreshment tempts you to fundamentally change and not let yourself get so tired again.  Because I wonder if the impact of words with strangers can change me to the same extent that unread words in a paper journal can.  Can those words open doors to others or only seal them tighter shut?  Because I’m not as noble as I think I am and I quit sometimes.  No one likes a quitter.  That’s one of the reasons I sometimes can’t like myself.  And yet.

The most beautiful trails I’ve ever walked involved effort, sometimes mud and bruises.  But they were beautiful.  I am not a person who enjoys or seeks arguments.  Perhaps more honestly, I do enjoy arguments but find that they are usually destructive and try to avoid them.  Some of the arguments here have changed me, just as my friend asserted.  Do I still follow Christ?  More closely than before I began.  Do I still care about skeptics?  The same answer applies.  After thinking more about the trails and trailheads in this blog and in my life, for now I need to keep hiking.

Am I the only one who runs away sometimes, even in his own mind?

Have you been tempted to disengage the friends or internet strangers you know you need to know?

Do you get tired and find that re-charging can have a paradoxical effect?

Did any of this make sense?   Sometimes I’m too metaphorical for my own darn good.

Pascal

–1:16

 

Prayer for an Atheist

Dear Russell and Friends,

Recently, J’s brother became suddenly and severely ill.  Russell texted me that she was going to say goodbye as he was in a coma and not expected to live.  Some of J’s family believe.  Some don’t.  As she stands in the middle it can hurt.  Whether you believe or not, whether they believe or not – – when someone you love is hurting, you hurt.  That is part of love’s definition.  I said that I would pray.  I wrote it down so that my promise would not be hollow.  Then I ran.  That is where I do much of my thinking directed to God – – prayer if you will. Then I wrote.  That is where I write letters to God and leave a record of his answers and how they have changed my life.  I write several times a week in a large journal.  The entry is below.  I’ve addressed it Dear Father as I usually do – – my title for God.  As a father myself, I’m haunted and pricked each time I write those words.  So many incomplete fathers.  I am one of them.  One father who balances discipline and love.

I’ll end with the letter’s actual sign off.  Before I begin:

1)  Believers – – do you pray for skeptics?  How?

2)  Skeptics – – would this prayer offend you?  Would any?

Pascal – – 1:16

Dear Father,

I told a friend that I would pray this week for her brother who is severely ill.  He is an atheist.  She doubts.  His sudden fall has sent waves through a family and community.  A middle aged man scaling a noble cliff fell suddenly.  His back is broken and he writhes in blinding pain.  Will he walk again or even live?  I don’t know him, but I love him.  We’re the same age.  I too have fallen before.  I too have been rebuilt.  But what if I hadn’t.  What if I never recovered the sentience to hear your whisper of presence and reassurance?  What if I never thanked those who loved me despite my far flung successes and foundational failures?

I believe that you made and gifted this man.  I believe that you used his gifts to enrich men whether he knew you or not.  I think his metal is like mine – – an alloy of base and precious.  I think his heart is like mine – – a dividing line between good and evil.  I think his family is like mine – – loving him, hurting deeply, hoping for a chance to reconnect perhaps reconcile.

What if he doesn’t wake up?  If he was right about you then he’ll live in the memories he constructed.  His family and his work will stand as a testament to what he built and how he built it.  If I am right about you let me beg you this – – when the veil is lifted, when the choice is clear – – then let him choose.  You know that my heart has grown for those who deny you and even for those who hate me for following Christ.  We know it is illogical to hate the non-existent.  But it does make sense to hate Christ followers – – especially if they have hurt others by twisting your words or following a broad rather than narrow path.  I’ve done that.

I haven’t met this man, but I love him.  Please bring him back to the family that needs him.  I suspect that he has much to say and that they are needful of hearing it.  Please especially strengthen his sister – – my friend.  She thought, perhaps thinks, that she shares his atheism.  Comfort without you is thin.  Please comfort her.  I’m not sure what my good friend her husband thinks.  He is so hopeful that science will soothe the sting of death.  In my work with the dying I knew he was wrong.  I sit with families facing death from different perspectives – – four this week alone.  It is different.

I’m not asking for a deathbed conversion for a mind that may grasp nothing.  I do not understand completely how you will save all men through the work of Christ, but I know that you will.  And if this man lives to die another day please let me meet him and offer my admiration and compassion in person.

Love,

Pascal

Wealth and Power

640px-Biltmore_Estate_14-2

Dear Friend,

I begin most of my letters here with a derivative of that salutation.  Dear Russell and Friends . . .  But the letter on my table is not from Russell.  It is from Steve Forbes, or rather it appears, from his desk.  I don’t know Steve Forbes but he asks me to join him by buying a magazine.  It is three and a half pages long, but a quick read due to capacious spacing and outsized font.  The first words that receive the inflation denote the thesis of the letter.  Mr. Forbes offers me something that he thinks I want:  wealth and power.

Is he right?  Before I discount advertising, I must assess its success.  It often works.  Very often.  And those who can afford Forbes magazine and even its peddled luxury wares are not less vulnerable. Perhaps they are even more so.

Mr. Forbes thinks that I want to read about the lives of billionaires.  In his words the magazine that bears his name is not all about business.

It’s also about enjoying the rewards of success.  Exotic supercars. Yachts to die for.  Hideaways that you can’t get to from here.  The private plane circuit, where wealthy flyers never see the inside of a terminal.  Plus, you’ll get ForbesLife, our guide to living the good life.

Is he right?  Is wealth and power a worthy goal?  Mr. Forbes is no fool, but I’ve been one.  I’ve been sorely tempted to mistake my gifts for entitlement.  I’ve been sorely tempted to direct my capacity toward temporary things that will not survive even my brief life.  I’ve been sorely tempted to seek approval, influence, and regard.  In truth – – I find power more tempting than wealth and view the latter as only the currency of the former.  I have been tempted and I have fallen.

One reason I follow Christ is so that I can answer Mr. Forbes with honesty.  Yes – – you’re right sir.  I do want wealth and power.  But, deep within me I know it is not enough.  Deep within me I know that it will not survive me.  Vanderbilt barely lived in America’s largest home.  So what can replace wealth and power as my desire? Following Christ has given me that answer.

Mr. Forbes and his team are no fools.  I’m not in the top 0.1% of income, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that I am in the top 1%.  I’m not in the top 0.01% of intellect, but honesty compels me to acknowledge that I am in the top 0.1%.  Honesty is not what I need.  I need humility.  By following Christ I see someone so much greater than me that I have no metric of comparison.  Yet he came to serve and to suffer with us (compassion defined).  Mr. Forbes may not be a fool, but I want to be.  I want to foolishly reject the call to wealth and power although I know that I could realistically attain a measure of it.  I want to foolishly love those who are poor and powerless.

Oh Mr. Forbes, you knew I would be tempted.  I am constantly tempted by goals that honor myself and not my savior.  Oh God – – please let me be wise and pursue your compassion.  Let me live differently as a steward of the capabilities that are only a gift from you.

Dear readers – –

1)  Does Mr. Forbes’ offer tempt you?

2)  Atheist friends:  how have you mitigated this siren call?

3)  Christ followers and those of other faiths:  same question.

4)  Any:  am I wrong to recoil from this letter?  I welcome your criticism.

 

Pascal  1:16

photo credit:  “Biltmore Estate 14-2” by Biltmore_Estate_14.jpg: Doug Coldwellderivative work: Entheta (talk) – Biltmore_Estate_14.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Letter to our Firstborn

Morning Study

Mrs. Pascal and I celebrated our first born son last night with his two brothers and our church family.  His real name is Caleb and here is the letter we read to him.  Blessings – – Pascal  1:16

Dear Caleb,

As we gather with our church family to celebrate your coming graduation, your Mom and Dad are pleased to write a brief letter with our thoughts. Just nineteen years ago we were talking about and praying about your name. The family joke has always gone that we chose Caleb because it had only two letters more than the abc’s and we wanted to start life out simple for you. But, being joke – – that wasn’t the real reason. Here’s the real reason for your name, found in God’s word in the book of Numbers.

But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. Num 14:24

That was our prayer for you and prophesy over you when we gave you a name. And that is what we thank God for today – – that we have seen him say yes to that prayer and to fulfill that prophecy in your life. Yes Caleb, you have a different spirit. Yes Caleb, we have dedicated you, evangelized you, brought you to God’s house, baptized you, and discipled you. Now we see that you do follow Christ fully. There is no greater joy. Are we proud of you for working hard and for graduating from High School? Yes. Are we proud of your diligence and ambition going forward to college and the beginning of your adult life? Of course. But here is where our pride most lies:

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord. Jer 9: 23-24

We don’t know if time and age will bring you wisdom, might, or riches. Those are good things, but not the first thing. Our desire as you move forward is for you to boast in the Lord and in knowing him. Then our pride is well placed. Our arrow well launched.

With Much Love,

Your Mom & Dad

Romans 3:21-26

Romans 3:21-26 (ESV)

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Humility requires confidence.  As Romans 1 strikes me as the root cause of my problem, so Romans 3 begins to build the fulcrum of the solution.  I’ve been waiting for this verse, trying hard to wait – – like a kid who must sleep the night before a trip to an amusement park.  Romans 3:23 – – all.  I don’t want to include you in all.  I’m selfish.  Its not about you – – its about me.  I’m there in the center of all.  Perhaps you are the center of your own all too.  Why be selfish here?  Because the first person under judgment, the only person I am dimly qualified to judge – – is me.  Sin is a difficult word.  Ultimately I believe it is an archer’s term – – not hitting the mark.  Not shooting first, then painting the bull’s eye and concentric circles later.  I don’t hit the mark – – I can’t even reach my own center.  I’m not kind enough, patient enough, generous enough, smart enough, thin enough or rich enough – – the latter two aren’t even laudable goals – – how laughable am I!

Humility requires confidence.  How can I reach for humility from self effacement, worse debasement?  What confidence serves as a foundation?  The confidence that comes from being loved.  The confidence that comes from being valued by another whom I admire.  I live and breathe in America.  It seems so counter-cultural and Philistine that I would derive my worth from another.  Isn’t that what we have risen from?  Isn’t slavery one of the greatest stains on our national conscience?  It is.  So why build humility on vicarious confidence?  I’m getting to know myself as the trail of life winds forward, up and around.  I know that I miss the mark and I desperately want and need someone to walk with me.  Wish fulfillment?  Oh yes – – I wish for one to lead me.  Superman?  Oh no – – Nietzsche was wrong.  I understand this better – – or better, this understands me.

Humility requires confidence in one deserving of confidence.  As I place that confidence in following Christ, I’m able to say that I don’t understand it all.  I’m able to put myself firmly in Romans 1 and not hypocritically assign only others who struggle in different ways.  Am I completely humble, completely gentle?  Dear God – – no.  But I see what you did for me, see how I needed you and what you did in compassion, and I start to see a way forward.  There are two paths to humility – – a destination that I seek.  I’ve known one path – – humiliation.  This is another, and I propose the better.

Pascal

–1:16

(Is God) Good Friday?

512px-TWELFTH_STATION_Jesus_dies_on_the_Cross

Dear Russell & Friends,

Is God good? Of all the skeptical questions to consider as life unfolds, this one rings truest to me. If you answer the way I used to, please stop here. I thought that the objectors protested too much. Why care about the qualities of the non-existent? Then I considered – – does the skeptic care more about God’s character than I do? Couldn’t God exist and be bad? Why conflate goodness and existence? Probably because the faithful say and mean – – God is good, and that’s how I can handle the bad. So this is no straw man. Is God good?

I’ll start with a syllogism that logical people of faith could accept on this Passover & Good Friday: God created everything. Evil is part of everything. Therefore, God created evil. Maybe God only created the capacity for evil with natural laws and crooked hearts that could do wrong. Would do wrong. Nature and the heart of man are violent albeit beautiful places. They are broken. How can a good God willingly create evil?

Passover and the Hebrew Scriptures

Perhaps you’ve seen the new Exodus movie about Gods and Kings. I have not yet. I’m fairly sure that this retelling of the Moses story will at least include the last plague that occurred on the night we now celebrate with the Passover meal – – every first born son of Egypt from heir of Pharaoh to slave — murdered by God’s agent. Every first born of the Jews spared by the substitute blood of a sacrificed animal. Follow Moses and the Israelites into the 40 years of desert wandering and find a record in Deuteronomy 2 of Sihon the King of Heshbon when he refused Moses safe passage to the promised land:

And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. (v. 34)

Why did Moses do this?

And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to take possession, that you may occupy his land. (v. 31)

Why didn’t Sihon just let Moses pass?

But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand as he is this day. (v. 30)

Don’t stop yourself from asking – – is God good? Can’t I find passage after passage of what could honestly be called genocide without sensationalism? I am glad that the skeptic asks this and says: one reason I can’t believe is that I can’t reconcile this God with what my heart wants to be.

Several posts ago I was asked, “Does the Bible read like I think it does in Deuteronomy? Did God instruct Moses to kill men, women, and children?” I had just finished Karen Armstrong’s book. She spoke of the Deuteronomist editors in Babylonian exile who constructed the book and others from the 7th to 5th century BCE. She thought, as do many Biblical scholars, that God’s wrath was written into the text as an explanation of Israel’s failure to maintain sovereignty.

Armstrong vindicated God and ascribed the violent depictions to human invention. I was tempted to join her, just as I’m always tempted to blame humanity instead of God for the evil that is all too evident in my own heart and all around me. Another syllogism for believers: God created humans, humans are violent beings, God created violent beings. Did God instruct the death of men, women, and children? Did Moses and his soldiers obey the order with dread or glee? The line between good and evil runs down the middle of every human heart.

Does this bother you? It has always bothered me. It bothers me because I don’t have a clear answer. It bothers me because I desperately want to worship someone good – – clearly better than my instincts and selfishness.

Good Friday

See a man on the cross dying. It is a common sight in imperial Rome and others before and since have certainly had equal and greater physical pain and humiliation. But this man claimed to be from God, even to be God. Is it cosmic child abuse? Is it God completing what he asked Abraham to be willing to do to Isaac? What could be good about the God who requires his son to suffer for others?

Heaven & Hell

If heaven is a restoration of our intended humanity – – complete, not selfish, and a restoration of a groaning earth – – green, not black topped, then what is hell? Isn’t it the place where suffering lasts forever? Isn’t it the place where 100 years of evil purchases 1 trillion years of pain? Isn’t it exhibit A-Z writ large that God cannot be good? And so, says the skeptic, it causes me less dissonance to say – – God does not exist. Who lives in Heaven and who can’t die in Hell? God decides, even chooses – – just as he did with the hearts of Pharaoh and King Sihon.

If separation and suffering like this does not cause you grief, then how do you call yourself compassionate?

Answers

I’ve just tried to be honest with the questions – – to show you that a follower of Christ agrees with a skeptic’s stumbling block: If God is like this then I cannot worship him. How have I answered the questions?

Passover and the Hebrew Scriptures

I see more than wrath and genocide in the pages of the Old Testament. I see new instructions on how to treat the poor, dispossessed, and sojourner. I finished Deuteronomy yesterday. With this reading I opened my eyes to both – – wrath that I cannot understand, mercy that I cannot live authentically. Did we put words in God’s mouth to define our behavior? Did God command us to the evil that our genes enjoyed? I don’t know.

I do see that the Exodus began something different in my heart. I was a slave to my nature and my nurture. I fear that I would have enjoyed the command to battle. I was invited into a new covenant and way of life. Justice and mercy came to oppose fearsome wrath. I found both in Deuteronomy.  That resonated with reality.

Good Friday

Why does a triune view of God matter to the Christ follower? Consider two scenarios:

You are distracted while crossing the street, bending down to pick up an important dropped slip of paper. A woman behind you in the crosswalk sees your danger and responds:

a) She pushes her stroller and the child in it ahead of her to divert the vehicle that will hit you. It works. You are saved. Her baby dies.

b) She leaves her stroller on the curb and jumps herself to push you out of the way. It works. You are saved. She dies.

We can easily accuse God of being the woman in scenario A, doing a wonderful thing in a truly awful way – – the ends just can’t justify the means.   But — if Jesus was the body and God the mind, joining the Holy Spirit in divinity – – it makes more sense. I understand and admire someone dying for me in sacrifice and hope that I would have the courage and love to die for my family or even for you.

I am so thankful for the God who came himself to join our suffering then conquer it.

Heaven and Hell

I’ve meditated on hell before and it still causes me grief. I think that hell avoidance is a poor theology and is the main reason I reject Pascal’s wager. I don’t know if the flames of hell are a metaphor or actual. I do, however, believe in God’s ultimate justice. I actually believe, with C.S. Lewis, that the door to hell will be locked from the inside. It is less about flames and more about continuing to get your own way and be your own center. I fear a perpetual self-centeredness. It is taking all my life to be less self-centered and Jesus has been the way that allows it. So no – – I don’t understand hell. I’m not sure that I was ever supposed to.

Heaven? I don’t think it is escape – – rather restoration. I’ll be kind without constant struggle. I’ll love you for who God created you to be. We’ll enjoy a new earth that looks and feels and smells like it was supposed to be. Fantasy? When religious faith wanes through history, utopian hopes rise. I’m glad that we have hope. It is a good way to live and a better way to not fear the death that comes to us all.

Is God good? Yes. Is he complicated? More than I every imagined. I feel loved by this good God and feel called to love you, whether you believe with me or only want a safe place to rest and talk. I won’t promise you answers that I don’t have. But I’ll tell the truth to the best of my ability.

Pascal,

–1:16

photo credit: Church of Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Avranches, Manche, Normandie, France. Fourteen enamel paintings, technique from Limoges, representing the Stations of the Cross by Tango7174 (Tango7174) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Breakfast Table

rustic table

Dear Russell and Friends,

I’m sitting at the same table we leaned on last night.  The table above is just a depiction, but evokes the memory and stirs my hope just the same.  At the table we were seven with a little Pascal darting in and out on spare occasions.  It was a better table than the taco booth.  It was hard dark wood and smithed cold metal with warm lines of approach.  It was not plastic, cramped, or formica.  Our nucleus was complete with our brides J and Mrs. Pascal there.  The valences of friends were three and strong.  Yes – – I just spent 15 minutes with a fantastic high school chemistry powerpoint deck on the periodic table.  Thank you anonymous chemistry teacher and internet Alexandria.  By the way – – you’re a noble gas and I’m an alkali metal, best kept dry.

In person we gained what is so difficult in writing.  We had synchrony.  What writing wins in posterity it loses in the ability to speed, slow, watch, listen, and sub-cognitively interpret what is said and heard, implied and felt.  Smile, posture, tone of voice and stuttering silence were all apparent to me.  I felt at times like an extracorporeal observer.  I suppose for all except myself, I was.  This from a man who claims to love writing in fact to see the world through a writer’s lens.  In person was better.  But here I am at that table.  The sun rose quickly, the grass is greening and birds sing the elegy of night’s retreat.

I asked our readers, some of whom are becoming friends, where to go with this blog after I finished telling the first part of my story.  J was the strongest voice asking for a back and forth about your 42 reasons.  She wants to be convinced and I honestly think you do too.  I just can’t do it.  We will live and die with different ways of seeing the world, different criteria for being convinced, different emphases on the subjective and objective vicissitudes of life.  Madalyn expressed my views well.  Can we respect each other and try to understand each other?  Can we find room in the middle for a rustic table?  That is more where my heart, mind, and soul lie.  I invited a different couple to Détente last night.  They are the age of my older brother, mature, kind, generous, engaged, faithful to work and each other.  She is an agnostic who likes Karen Armstrong’s last book.  He an atheist who likes her first.  They are an amazing couple who love each other and care deeply about other people.  I wanted you and J to see a healthy couple who do not follow Christ but do model his care for humanity.  They care about the homosexual community, racially discounted, urban poor, and those without access to strong education.  I liked this couple when I met them – – just like I liked you and J.

This isn’t only your journey.  As I explained last night, I was raised with inherent biases against gay people, or worse – – Democrats.  These biases are hard to deconstruct.  I was also raised with an abiding love for Christ and the Bible.  The latter has inspired me to leave the former biases.  Just as you and I have come to very different conclusions about the usefulness of scripture, I feel as if my conclusions about people and politics are isolating in the evangelical strands of Christianity that I know best.

The only thing that really bothers me about the journey you and J are on?  You’re leading a double life, expending enormous energy by maintaining a lie.  You’re having to remember who knows what when.  Just tell the truth to real people in person.  “We want to believe, but we don’t right now.”  I can promise one thing and hold myself accountable to any who read here.  You can leave Christ and not leave me.  I will not isolate my circle to an echo chamber reinforcing my own views.  My circle includes you, at the rustic table, in person and here.

This post may feel like a pivot.  Probably because it is a pivot.  I am a strong believer in failure as a teacher and I felt as if I failed you and myself over the past two weeks.  Your posts were not the problem.  I’m glad that you’ve outlined a cogent reason for your non-belief that can allow others to be more authentic.  I will indeed reply to several points that you raised about the Bible.  How can I reconcile the concept that one error causes the whole house of cards to collapse?  Do I think God is bad?  And that’s about where I’ll stop.  Books have been written for and against, and that’s not the book I intend to write.  What about Victoria’s comment post on Miracles?  That deeply affected me and deserves a reply.  What would I like to see from you?  More positive assertions.  You are a positive and gentle person who loves his wife and daughters.  Could you please tell our friends about your curiosity alarm?

Pascal,

–1:16

 

photocredit:  ogstore.com