Tag Archives: theodicy

Acts of God?

Recently, I’ve heard, read, and watched different supposed Christians who want to take all the hurricanes and fires and earthquakes and ascribe them to God as if GOD had evilly created a plan to punish people with Hell on earth in the nasty now-and-now…
And other people who try to use these events as reasons to “prove” that there is NO God anywhere, nor has there ever been.
In response, today, I want to share a great resource actually written and published by the denomination to which I belong: The United Methodist Church.

Ask the UMC: How do United Methodists understand human suffering from natural disaster?

A tire swing sways in the wind from Hurricane Rita over the remains of a beachfront home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss. Rita made landfall in East Texas Sept. 24, 2005, nearly four weeks after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

A tire swing sways in the wind from Hurricane Rita over the remains of a beachfront home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss. Rita made landfall in East Texas Sept. 24, 2005, nearly four weeks after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi.

Ask the UMC: How do United Methodists understand human suffering from natural disaster?

Sometimes the devastation is overwhelming. The waters rise and the rain won’t stop. The ground shakes beneath our feet, or the wind blows the roofs off homes. Sometimes, even the side of the mountain roars into town. The problems seem insurmountable, the destruction beyond our comprehension.When tragedy strikes, it is common for us to ask why. We turn to our faith for answers, but answers don’t come easily. We wrestle with making sense of the suffering we witness, in light of our Christian faith. Questions are left unanswered. The tragedy is not explained.In a sermon titled “The Promise of Understanding,” John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, says we may never know. He writes,

“[W]e cannot say why God suffered evil to have a place in his creation; why he, who is so infinitely good himself, who made all things ‘very good,’ and who rejoices in the good of all his creatures, permitted what is so entirely contrary to his own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works. ‘Why are sin and its attendant pain in the world?’ has been a question ever since the world began; and the world will probably end before human understandings have answered it with any certainty” (section 2.1).

The short answer is: We do not know why natural disasters and other suffering are part of our world.

Did God do this?

While Wesley admits we cannot know the complete answer, he clearly states that suffering does not come from God. God is “infinitely good,” Wesley writes, “made all things good,” and “rejoices in the good of all his creatures.”

Our good God does not send suffering. According to Wesley, it is “entirely contrary to [God’s] own nature, and so destructive of his noblest works.” Suffering is not punishment for sin or a judgment from God. We suffer, and the world suffers, because we are human and part of a system of processes and a physical environment where things go wrong.

God with us

In another sermon titled “On Divine Providence,” Wesley again writes of God’s love for humanity and that God desires good for us. He then adds how God is always with us, even in the midst of tragedy. Wesley shares,

“[God] hath expressly declared, that as his ‘eyes are over all the earth’ [see Psalm 34:15; 83:18], so he ‘is loving to every man, and his mercy is over all his works’ [Psalm 145:9]. Consequently, he is concerned every moment for what befalls every creature upon earth; and more especially for everything that befalls any of the children of men. It is hard, indeed, to comprehend this; nay, it is hard to believe it, considering the complicated wickedness, and the complicated misery, which we see on every side. But believe it we must” (paragraph 13).

This is good news. While we cannot fully comprehend the why, we know that God is with those who suffer. Note that Wesley says God cares for “every creature.” We are never alone in our suffering.

In our experience, we know that tragedies happen to Christians and non-Christians alike. As Jesus said, “[God] makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). The good news we proclaim is that God is with us through it all.

A different question

When Jesus and his disciples encounter a man born blind, the disciples ask Jesus the question we are asking. “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” (John 9:2). Jesus, why does seemingly arbitrary suffering occur?

Jesus’ answer, “Neither he nor his parents,” tells us that the disciples are asking the wrong question. “This happened,” Jesus continues, “so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Jesus asserts that it is in our response to suffering that God is found, in moments of everyday grace and in grand and sweeping gestures of care and solidarity with the suffering. God’s mighty works are found in hospitals and nursing homes and shelters.

Jesus is calling his disciples and us to a ministry. We are to join Jesus in displaying God’s mighty works. We are an extension of God’s presence in the midst of the tragedy as we come beside those who are suffering in ways we don’t comprehend. We are to be agents of healing, working to restore God’s order to people’s lives and communities. We are to be representatives of the day of resurrection to come, as we seek to rebuild and renew.

In our United Methodist congregations, we join together in these ministries. We assemble flood buckets and work alongside those who shovel the muck from floodwaters from the floors of their homes. We rebuild homes. We stand in the gap alongside the suffering. We support our local food banks, help build houses in our communities, take care of one another’s cars, visit those who are ill and imprisoned, and so much more. We are also active in our communities, working to change systems that inflict suffering on people in our communities.

In the aftermath of tragedy, we give witness to the love of God. In our outpouring of support, we proclaim the value of every human life. As we grieve with those in mourning, we share the love of God. When we send supplies through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, we witness to God’s provision. When medical professionals bind up wounds, Jesus is shown as a healer. When homes are rebuilt, we proclaim resurrection.

We may not know why things happen, but we embrace the ministries of healing, renewal and reconciliation to which Jesus calls us, and in doing so, God’s mighty works are revealed.

Related:

Turning to the Bible when sorrow strikes

‘Jesus wept’: Finding God’s comfort when times are bad

 

Have questions? Ask the UMC. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by InfoServ, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.

First published Aug. 31, 2017.

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While Joseph Waited

At Olmsted Manor earlier this month, our new superintendent walked a group of us pastors through Genesis 39 – 45 with Joseph. Before this passage starts, Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers while they told his father that some wild animal had killed him. Joseph meanwhile ends up as a slave in Egypt at the age of 17. And these next few chapters see him from age 17 to age 30 or so.

I found myself challenged several times. Over the next few days, I’ll share a few of my observations and challenges of that retreat.

First, at both the beginning and the end of Genesis 39, Scripture goes out of its way to highlight that God was WITH Joseph.

Joseph endured, time after time, unjust circumstances and unfair accusations. At one point, in chapter 39, he is invited to betray his master by the master’s wife, and he does the right thing. And yet ends up removed from his position and imprisoned unjustly. Later on, in chapter 40, he is promised that someone will plead his case and seek justice for him. Yet it doesn’t happen. Joseph is literally forgotten by the one whom he had thought would stand up for him. Yet we are reminded over and over again that God was still with him.

Not only was God with him, but whether it was in Poitiphar’s household, in the prison, or in Pharaoh’s service, God “gave him success” no matter what it was Joseph attempted next.

There have been times when I have felt unfairly treated or misunderstood. I can’t even say that I was as pristine and pure as Joseph, always choosing to avoid whatever temptations came my way nor choosing to sinless before God. And yet, in each situation, I have tried to allow whatever happened to draw me closer to my Lord and to my family. And God has gone out of His way to make sure we knew He was with us every step of the way, whether we knew exactly where we were going or not or what might possibly be our next step. As we allowed situations to draw us closer to Him and to each other, we have had a peace that God was in control, even when it looked like we were in a freefall.

Secondly, again, at both the beginning and the end of Genesis 39, Scripture goes out of its way to highlight that God gave Joseph success in whatever he did in the midst of those unfair and unjust times.

As I allow the down times, when I feel like I’m forgotten and seem to have been derailed from what I thought God was doing in my life, I can remember how Joseph, in those same circumstances, simply did the next right thing. He couldn’t see any way out of his situation (on his own), but he still chose to find the right thing to do in that moment, and to do that right thing. And rather than being forgotten, Joseph was being watched by the One who was with him, and that One was watching out for him.

I can trust the God who is with me, to continue to lead and guide me even in the down times of despair and discouragement. And I have but to “do the next right thing” to be considered successful. It may, or may not, lead to promotions. It may, or may not, lead to recognition or prestige or fame. But in the final tally, it is being considered successful in God’s eyes that matters most, isn’t it?

I don’t know if you have times when you feel unjustly and unfairly treated by friends, family, employers, or whomever, but the account of Joseph reminds us that if, in the midst of the “stuff” we face in life, God IS with us, and as we draw closer to him and choose to do the next right thing, we can still be considered “successful” by the One that matters most.

 

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Bumped Tea Cups

We rented a video recently called “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” The main character is, of course, Alexander who is about to turn 12. Every single day seems like a bad day for him. His family thinks he’s being silly or perhaps just dramatic with his claims of having bad days, because they’ve never had a bad day. At midnight of his 12th birthday he wishes that the rest of his family could just have a bad day too… just so they can understand.

The next morning everyone sleeps in, mom’s car breaks down so everyone has to ride together in the mini-van, his sister gets a cold and almost misses her debut as Peter Pan in the 8th grade musical, his older brother fails his driving test (after being suspended for breaking school property) and essentially ruins the minivan, Dad has a job interview and has to take the toddler with him and, before it’s all done, the toddler has a green face from a marker and Dad’s shirt has caught fire, Mom, a part of a publishing firm ends up with a misprint that no longer suggests that children jump in the pool but rather “dump” in the pool, and there’s an alligator in the house when they all get home. Even Dad, the eternal optimist, agrees that this has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. In the midst of everything, when everyone is complaining and arguing, and blaming each other, Alexander interrupts and says: “Some days are just bad. You just can’t fix them. I think you’ve got to have the bad days, so you can love the good days even more.”

It reminds me of a guy in the Bible named, not Alexander, but rather Job. He’s not 12, but rather grown with 10 grown children to boot. The Bible says he has 500 pair of oxen (I’m sure that’s like owning 500 pieces of farm equipment today, so you KNOW he was rich!), 500 donkeys and 3,000 camels (which is quite a fleet of transportation!), 7,000 sheep, and “a vast number of servants.” The Bible says that he was greater than all the people of the east where he lived in the land of Uz.

But after God and Satan have a conversation where Satan is convinced he could tempt Job to turn his back on God, Job has one of Alexander’s kind of days. In Job 1:14-19, Job learns that the Sabeans have raided and taken all the oxen and killed the servants with them, a raging fire from the sky has burned up the sheep and the shepherds, Chaldeans took the camels and killed the servants, and a strong wind from the desert (my son thinks this one was a tornado) has demolished the house where Job’s seven sons and three daughters were staying and they are all killed.

Job’s response, according to chapter one, verse 20, was to mourn and then worship God. (It actually says he tore his clothes and shaved his head… but that was how his society expressed grief, like we often wear black when we grieve). His exact words? “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” And despite the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day that he had, the Bible closes that chapter with this amazing summary: “In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.” —Job 1:22 (NLT)

Before I became a pastor, my pastor was Rev. David Bunnell, and he often spoke of how each of us has a tea-cup that is our heart. It can be beautiful and even ornate, but until our cup is bumped, other people really have no idea what’s in our cup… and quite often we don’t really know the contents of our own cup until our cup gets bumped.

We’re going to have those crazy bad days sometimes… how we respond reveals who we really are inside. Maybe we again need to give our hearts to Christ and ask him to create a “new heart” in us and fill us with His Holy Spirit… and “clean out our cups.”

–adapted from my Pastor’s article in the monthly newsletter of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church, April 2015.

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Why So Much Evil?

In the past few weeks, it’s felt a little bit like the world has gone sort of crazy! Runners in Boston were bombed, a plant in Texas blew up, a building in Bangladesh simply collapsed, entire communities in the mid-west were being flooded, a doctor in our own state is on trial for unbelievably heinous crimes against newborn babies. And on and on the list goes. Many have heard the news and asked questions like: “Where was God?” “Why would a good God allow things like this?”

Peter, in the latter half of the first century, was asked similar questions by those first Christians as they were being rounded up by soldiers and then being persecuted… and killed… just because they believed in Jesus. They couldn’t understand why Jesus hadn’t come back to conquer the evil and take the Christians home to heaven. In 2 Peter 3:9 we read: “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (NLT)  God holds off the Day of Judgment because He’s still holding out the offer to repent for those who are still enemies of God.

Now-a-days is just the same. Every time something horrible happens, people  still grapple with the questions of “Why?” and “What now?”  In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is told about a horrible, heinous crime where the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, killed some Galileans as they brought their offerings to the Temple. Jesus doesn’t answer “Why?” but he DOES answer the question of “What do we do now?”

About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.“  —Luke 13:1-5 (NLT)

Back in Eden, Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve knew only good and God protected them from knowing evil or experiencing its effects. They chose to believe Satan’s explanation of how deprived they were because God was protecting them from the knowledge of good AND evil… and so they took matters into their own hands and they ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And all of their kids through the thousands of years ever since are regularly made to know the good AND the evil. We can thank our great-something or other grandparents for the inheritance… we get to know and feel the effects of evil.

So in God’s perfection, He protected us from experiencing and knowing evil… and we complained. Now we know evil too intimately!

That choice has already been made and there’s nothing we can do about whether or not we know evil. The one choice that remains is: Will we let evil remind us of our need for God? Will we repent and follow Him?

This is my pastor’s letter for the Clarks Mills UMC newsletter: The Flame (May 2013).

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A Year To Be Thankful

“… So I will go about Your altar, O Lord, that I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all Your wondrous works.” —Psalm 26:7 (NKJV)

At this time last year, I was oblivious to the fact that a cancerous tumor had invaded my left kidney and had already begun the process of killing me. But a sudden kidney stone attack in the other kidney forced me to the ER where a visiting urologist just happened to be on duty… and he just happened to notice a shadow on the cat scan that prompted him to do further testing. And because of several of those “just happened” kinds of moments, the surgeons were able to remove that affected kidney and effectively killed what turned out to be a rare form of kidney cancer before it ever made it out of the collecting duct tubule where it had implanted itself. We caught it so early that I didn’t even have to do chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Most of you already know that story. In fact, many of those who read this letter were actually ones who were actively praying for me as I went through this process. You prayed, you called, you visited, you wrote. And again, I thank you. You can’t possibly know how much healing came into my life and my family just through your love and care. I truly thank God for this congregation.

Now for the challenge that you look for in a reflection like this… As I remembered this past year, and all of the seeming coincidences and “just happened” kinds of moments, I marvel at how God was quietly working behind the scenes. In the same way that God sort of egged on Satan in the book of Job, and Job then endured testing and trials, I see a similarity here. Yes, God allowed Job to be tested by Satan, but only because He knew that Job could “pass the test.” Satan wasn’t permitted to lay a finger on Job until God knew for certain that Job would be able to face the trial of his faith successfully.

In the same way, it seems that somehow Satan got permission to afflict my body with that tumor… I hope I dealt with it as successfully and graciously as Job did with his trials. But it hit me… God set me up to find out about it. I shouldn’t have known it was there until a week or two before I died. And there would have been nothing I could have done at that point. But here I am. God set me up with the right doctor visiting at the right hospital at the right time to treat the presenting problem of a kidney stone AND to spot the secret tumor. Coincidence? I think not! God set me up!

I’m not the only one to experience this phenomenon, am I? I’ve heard different ones share stories about how there seemed to be coincidence after coincidence in their life, and they recognized it was simply God, behind the scenes, setting them up for blessings!

In the scripture passage above, the psalmist goes to the altar. Old Testament worship suggests that when they would go to the altar they presented a gift to God. And then, with the “voice of thanksgiving” he goes out to proclaim all the wondrous works God has done in his life. This year, I’m following the example of this psalmist. I’m making a special Thanks Offering and then going out and sharing how awesome our God is… and how much we can trust Him and lean on Him… in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.

How about you? How has God been working in your life? How can you offer Him thanks? How can you share the good news of His wondrous works? How about joining with us and giving your thanks?

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Learning From Old Mistakes???

This was my pastor’s letter in our church’s monthly newsletter for this month…

My daughters and I visited the ruins of the Austin Dam earlier this summer. Located in Potter County, not far from where I grew up, the failure of the Austin Dam and the disastrous flood that resulted on September 30, 1911, was part of our local history. But what started as a quick stop to stretch our legs as we drove home from grandma’s house, became an emotionally moving experience… and a reminder of spiritual truths.


According to the “experts” of the time, when the dam was started in 1909, it was deliberately designed backwards from conventional wisdom. The flat side of the dam wall was built to face the water and the wall’s sloped section faced downstream. The idea, supposedly, was that this would provide an even greater strength to the structure. It was claimed that this would be a “dam that could not break.” In fact, when flood survivor Marie Kathern Nuschke wrote her eyewitness account of the event almost 50 years later she entitled it: The Dam That Could Not Break.

When people would question the logic and/or the safety of the dam, the engineers and owners (and even other residents) would simply laugh and say things like: “That dam will stand when you all are dead.” Nuschke wrote that there were two people who were adamant in their concerns about the dam, Sarah Willetts and William Nelson. Not only were they summarily dismissed, but most of the rest of the community laughed at them as well. And despite their misgivings, they stayed in Austin. Later, when the flood did in fact come, they were killed as well.

As I stood there in the midst of those remains, reading names of those who died in this tragedy, I was reminded of the many times we have seen such conceit and overconfidence… with equally disastrous effect.

I’m reminded of the arrogance and pride of the builders of the Titanic who claimed that “Even God couldn’t sink this ship.” And yet, sink it did. The lack of concern over the safety of the local residents reminds me of the stories of the owners of the South Fork Club that disregarded safety warnings and their dam eventually burst and wiped out much of Johnstown, Pa. in 1889.


What did the Lord speak to me in this visit? First, just because “experts” claim something is safe or “everyone else agrees” with an idea, neither makes it safe nor right. Second, Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” (NLT) Unbridled arrogance and pride, especially without compassion, is a disaster just waiting to happen. Third, I sensed a great deal of grief for those two people who had seen the danger and had tried to warn others, and yet did not escape. It reminded me that it’s not enough to know of the danger or even to tell others. We need to also take care of ourselves. Spiritually, it’s the same way. It’s not enough to know that there is a Hell or even to warn others, if we haven’t accepted Christ and established our own place in eternity then we won’t escape either.


Finally, as I left, I stopped at the little bridge that leads into the park and snapped this picture of Freeman Run, the water source the Austin Dam had tried to block to harness the power of the water. Yet without the proper respect and attention to its dangers, this tiny little brook caused the death of dozens. It was a reminder to me of the effect and importance of paying attention to the little things in our lives.

There was a lot for me to think about and pray about as I drove away from that memorial park that day. How about you? Can we learn from history? Or do we have to make our own mistakes every time?

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Strange Way To Save The World

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose… ” –Romans 8:28, NKJV

“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. ” –Romans 8:28, The Message

In the early 1990’s I worked part-time as a DJ at a Christian radio station near Erie, PA. I was finishing college, working as a part-time youth director at a local church, and even pumped gas as well for a time… and spent two to three nights a week DJ-ing. Oh, and got married during that time as well. (Let’s just say I wasn’t bored.)

In any case, while I was working at WCTL-FM, I encountered a music group called 4Him. Phenomenal music, great harmony, awesome writing. When the radio station brought them into the area a couple of different times, I actually got to meet them and be back stage some. I really appreciate their music… A LOT.

Well, over the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the strange way God seems to work in our lives… Even when everything seems to be falling apart, He’s there…

Well, this one particular 4Him Christmas song came on the radio the other day and the words (along with the GREAT tune) have just been resonating with me ever since. It’s off their 1993 Christmas album “Christmas: The Season Of Love” and is titled: “A Strange Way To Save the World.”

The lyrics go like this:

I’m sure he must have been surprised
At where this road had taken him
Cause never in a million lives
Would he have dreamed of Bethlehem

And standing at the manger
He saw with his own eyes
The message from the angel come to life
And Joseph said

CHORUS
Why me, I’m just a simple man of trade
Why Him with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside this stable filled with hay
Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl

Now I’m not one to second guess
What angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save theWorld

To think of how it could have been
If Jesus had come as He deserved
There would have been no Bethlehem
No lowly shepherds at His birth

But Joseph knew theReason
love had to reach so far
And as he held the Savior in his arms
He must have thought

REPEAT CHORUS
Why me, I’m just a simple man of trade
Why Him with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside this stable filled with hay
Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl

Now, I’m not one to second guess
What angels have to say
But this is such a strangeWay to save the world
Such a strange way, this is Such a strange way
A strange way to save the world
A strange way to save the world

Dave Clark, Mark Harris, & Don Koch / Copyright © 1993 John T. Benson Publishing Co./First Verse Music/Paragon Music Corp./Point Clear Music/A-Knack-For-This Music/ASCAP. All rights reserved.
Lyrics from: http://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/lyrics/new/track.asp?track_id=1813

Anyways, as I said, I’ve been thinking a lot about the strange way that God seems to work in our lives. What seems like a calamity (like my having a kidney stone acouple of weeks ago) was in fact, also a blessing… it exposed a hidden problem within my body. What seemed like an offense, a king being born in a stable, was in fact, a well-planned strategy of a very meticulous God who wanted to offer a gift to EVERYONE, not just for nobility and such.

God had a strange way in which He chose to save the world… and God has ways of working in our everyday lives today that seem to be strange as well.

But I wouldn’t change a thing… His ways are ALWAYS the BEST!

My prayer is that I begin to be flexible enough to allow God to do whatever He wants in my life, in whatever way He chooses, to accomplish HIS will in me and through me! AMEN!

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