When Nature Groans

You can’t help but feel a sense of helplessness when natural disasters occur. Because their origin comes from this planet we call home, we all feel the sting when the earth convulses or the seas spawn fierce storms. And we wonder: Can we trust this life-giving sphere that is usually so good to us? It all seems rather capricious, especially when those who are least able to handle the terrestrial smack of earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods are often hit the hardest.

How do we deal with this kind of suffering? What are our options? We can believe that nature has run amok and out of God’s control. Or we can believe that nature is all there is, with no God to care or wield any authoritative restraint. Those are the options of people who have given up on God. They aren’t very comforting, are they?

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Made for Another World

Another mass shooting has occurred, unleashing unspeakable grief on the victims’ families, profound sadness for the rest of us, confusion and anger for our nation. Frustration, too. Why does this keep happening? There’s a quick answer, at least for Christians, though it’s not very emotionally satisfying: broken humanity, immersed in wickedness, does bad stuff. C.S. Lewis, in his classic book The Problem of Pain, makes this point when he writes,

When souls become wicked they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another; and this, perhaps, accounts for four-fifths of the sufferings of men. It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs; it is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork.
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Why did God allow the tornadoes?

This blog originally appeared as an op-ed piece in WashingtonPost.com.

In moments of severe disasters like the tornado in Oklahoma, people of faith will often speak of “praying for the city” or “praying for the victims.” As the massive tornado outside of Oklahoma City annihilated buildings including a school with students and teachers, some people of faith used social media to speak messages of prayer and hope in God. However, some atheists also posted in social media, referred to this natural disaster as a “gratuitous evil” or evidence against God’s existence. One atheist tweeted:

“NEWSFLASH—If god cared about Oklahoma he wouldn’t have allowed the tornado in the first place. #PrayForOklahoma #Atheism

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The Pain of it All from a Hip Hop Context

Theory Hazit is a profound rapper discussing some serious issues of pain. Hazit has been known to engage with controversial subjects, and the video below is nothing less than stellar.

What Hazit does is contextualize pain within a Hip Hop context. He grapples with the current issue of bullying and being GLBTQ through music. If you’re not familiar with Hip Hop’s deep connection with pain, check out this excerpt:

Hip Hop defines suffering in one of five ways. 1) Suffering because of circumstances that you cannot control (e.g. financial hardships, family drama, physical ailments, mental disabilities), 2) suffering for a cause in which you believe deeply in (e.g. socio-political issues, social justice concerns, racial matters), 3) suffering because of the individual personhood (e.g. people hate you because you have money, fame, prestige, or simply doing well in life), 4) suffering as a result of something you as a person have done in life and or something someone has done to you (e.g. past mistakes, current mistakes, life errors or for something good that you did but are now being persecuted for it, and or the good and bad within intimate relationships), and 5) suffering as a result of social, political, and or spiritual oppression (e.g. beginning a new mantra of belief or creating new paradigms for people to see the world differently and society not dealing well with that).

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What Death Taught Me Once Again

A friend I knew as Papa, Bob Moore, left a legacy today: God is big and suffering like Christ is how we show Him to others.

Both of my grandfathers passed away before I was born, so Bob Moore was the closest thing to a local grandfather I ever knew. I don’t think he intended to become my grandfather, but he became it anyways. By the time he joined Christ in heaven, his body was badly beaten from disease and a few falls along the way. I mention this because it’s in his suffering that I learned the most from him.

People teach us in different ways: Bob Moore taught me what it meant to suffer like Christ. I never heard him complain as a disease moved like a freight train through his body. Instead, he embraced Jesus in it all. For all the study I did of God’s suffering servant (Isaiah 52:13–53:12), Papa Moore showed me what it meant to really embrace what that servant, being Jesus, requires of us.

How to Beat the January Blues? Don't.

Sadness comes in all sizes. Sometimes it’s huge and powerful, a villain worthy of a heroic, medical take-down, and other times it’s just a quiet lump in the throat. Sadness can come on gradually or flash like winter lightning. It sets us up for failure, affecting both the body and spirit. It can surely be contagious. 

And sometimes sadness is exactly the right thing. 

Americans might believe that sadness is the negative detour that keeps us from the unrelenting prosperity and happiness we deserve. We are ashamed of it as though it reveals some weakness, and we attempt to cure it as quickly as it comes. Yet what if the role of sadness firmly belongs in the natural order of things? 

So as a tribute to the month that is colder and darker than the rest, I offer some considerations:

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Teenagers and the Persecution Narrative: The Fastest Way to Sell a Product

When I grew up, persecution was a dark and powerful force--the frightening oppression of a group of people whose origins, race, class system, or religion were systematically abused by those in power.

But today if you’re an American teenager, you can easily own a share of such suffering.

We know that the narrative of suffering is one of literature’s most enduring archetypes. Nearly every fairy tale or legend has at its core an element of persecution. Whether it’s Cinderella herself, rapper Eminem, or the narrator in Dave Pelzer’s bestseller A Child Called It, the suffering narrative speaks to teenagers in particular because, by comparison, they probably feel relieved to know that their own lives are not as lousy they thought.  

Lately, however, the suffering narrative has become a slick marketing campaign for everything from LGBT power to a cheaply made T-shirt. Apparently, whatever you want to sell to teenagers, especially an ideology, is best sold when it’s shrink wrapped in persecution. 

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Addicted to Comfort

The Japan tsunami inevitably raises profound questions about God and evil.  But in this discussion, it is important to realize every worldview, not just Christianity, must explain evil.  Christians are often on the defense with regards to this objection, yet the tables can be turned on the atheist, with his naturalistic worldview in tow.  Given naturalism, what is evil and how does the atheist make sense of it?

Famous British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell once commented, "No one can believe in a good God if they've sat at the bedside of a dying child."  Now, I agree that sitting at the bedside of a dying child is a heart-wrenching situation not to be treated simplistically or in a cavalier manner.  Providing pat answers and quoting Romans 8:28 over and over will not suffice.  But what of Russell'sresponse?  What can the atheist say to the dying child?  Or to the Japanese parents whose child disappeared in the flood waters?

  •  "In the grand scheme of the universe your suffering is utterly meaningless--life and all that comes with it has no transcendent meaning or value."
  •  "Your suffering is completely pointless since there is no purpose to any of this anyway."
  •  "Fortunately, you will soon die and return to dust."
  • "Take heart, you will soon pop out of existence forever and your suffering will be over."
  • "Stuff like tsunamis just happen."
  • "Bummer."
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