Tuesday, March 19, 2013


My friend and colleague lost his wife last week.  A broken ankle killed her at the youthful age of forty, leaving behind my friend and their young daughter.  How horrible it must be for him to wake up in the middle of the night thinking it had all been a nightmare, only to find himself alone.  Unless one has experienced such loss, one cannot possibly know the devastation my friend is suffering.  I've been told by others who have lost relatives, the grief doesn't really set in until after about six weeks  because the griever believes his or her loved one will come back.  When he or she doesn't return, the real terror and anguish hits like a freight train.  I shudder at the thought of what lies ahead for my friend.

What does one say to all of this? If God is good--in fact, the definition of goodness--why does He allow such misery to go on?

When Martha and Mary's brother, Lazarus, had been dead and buried four days, Jesus arrived too late to save Lazarus.  Each of the sisters in their despair asked Jesus why He had let them down, why He had so uncharacteristically allowed Lazarus to die.  They in effect asked God directly the same question we are now asking Him from afar: Why if you are Good do you allow this suffering to go on?

How did He answer this deep, emotion charged, and to many, pivotal query?  How did Jesus respond to the $64000 question whose answer holds the questioner's very soul in the balance?  Don't kid yourself; many have abandoned their creator--at least so they claim--because they cannot get past God's apparent callousness towards the suffering in the world.  I admit my faith is shaken every time I turn on the news and learn of the latest senseless slaughter the news service seems so anxious to report.

Reading the account of Lazarus the frustration in the voices of both Martha and Mary are thinly veiled.  Martha appears to temper her own audacity by quickly defaulting to Jesus' faithfulness--despite appearances--and Jesus rewards her faith with insight into the answer He has for all of us.  Mary is less careful, and lets her emotions rule her.

Did Jesus honor Martha for her stronger faith more than Mary, who gave into her despair? No.  Did Jesus rebuke the women for the audacity of questioning Him about why He does or doesn't do anything? No.  Think about that for a minute.  God is not threatened by our humanness.  God doesn't want us to only say to Him what we suppose He wants to hear. God doesn't want us to become Spocks.  There is no virtue in Stoicism.  Real healing and satisfying answers can only come through honest emotions, honestly expressed.  The worst thing we can do to ourselves and to each other is to demand we pull up our boots straps and suck it up because if you don't you aren't trusting God.

God is seeking a genuine relationship with us; such a relationship must be based on truth instead of pretense and smoke and mirrors.  He wants us to ask Him the big questions of life, such as why He lets the suffering go on.  Do we really want to hear the answer?

When Jesus surveyed the wailing, crying, mourning, and despair--not only in Martha and Mary--but in all those gathered with the sisters, Jesus wept.  Why?  Was He regretting He had decided to come late, after all?  No.  Was He upset because He didn't know the answer? No.  Jesus cried because the death and misery are not the way the world is supposed to be; it isn't the right order God intended.  Jesus lamented at the horrific consequence of human rebellion, which is Death.  Even though He would have been perfectly right to do so, Jesus didn't get up on a box and scream at everyone, "Why are you crying over spilled milk!?  You're getting just what you deserve!"  No, Jesus wept.

You see, God isn't like us; God loves with a holy love, which means a love that seeks to restore, not a self-seeking love--which is really hate--that wants to get even, or to win an argument, or to posture.

So how did Jesus answer Martha's question, Mary's question, our question?  Why if God is good does He allow misery to go on?  Read God's answer:

Jesus, intensely moved again, came to the tomb. (Now it was a cave, and a stone was placed across it.) Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, “Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell, because he has been buried four days.” Jesus responded,“Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you that you have listened to me. I knew that you always listen to me, but I said this for the sake of the crowd standing around here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The one who had died came out, his feet and hands tied up with strips of cloth, and a cloth wrapped around his face. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.” [NET]

So lament for my friend, dear reader; wail at the bloodshed rampant in the world; grieve at the horrors wrought by hate.  But hold in your heart the hope of eternal life.  For God, because of His unfathomable love for all of us, has overcome death for us.  Good News! Jesus died into Death on our behalf, and God raised Him to eternal life.  Death no longer has power over us--despite appearances--because of the faithfulness of Jesus.  Because Jesus lives, we also can live through Him--even though we may die.

God's answer to our hard and honest question is "I am life!  Come to me, seek me, and love me by obeying me, and I will make sure you will succeed and live.  Because Jesus lives, you can live, and live life to the fullest, forever and ever."

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Bible Goes Hollywood

This last weekend my family and I enjoyed a wonderful visit with my son and his wife in the big city.  As often seems to happen with me on such anticipated and happy occasions, a pall sat over my conscience.  Like the Rabbi of antiquity who broke the glass at the wedding to temper everyone's enthusiasm, I once again dampened my own celebration.

What happened was I had posted what I thought a pleasant comment on one of my favorite blog sites. The comment was apparently not liked.  Why, I will probably never know.  I felt like Yuri Zhivago after his brother, Evgrav, whom he greatly respected, told Yuri that his poetry was "not liked."

Now, the last thing I want to do is alienate myself from anyone.  Even though hard feelings are bound to crop up between people, I really try hard not to be the cause of such altercations. Consequently, my otherwise enjoyable weekend was tainted by the guilt I had created enmity with someone who doesn't know me, but whom I greatly admire.  There was nothing I could do about it until I returned home, so I simply had to carry it around like a bad penny.  Sure, I would forget about it, but it only took reaching into my pocket and feeling the nasty coin for it to come all back, again.

I thought I would take this opportunity to explain my ill-fated comment.  Perhaps the offended blogger will read this and better understand where I was coming from--but I doubt it.

The blogger was reviewing the new History Channel mini-series, The Bible.  He was basically making the point that even though the production is cheesy and sensationalizes the various Biblical accounts into distortions of the truth, he nevertheless favored the series.  He did so because it introduces the Bible to a large audience who are--sadly--ignorant of the Bible, and promotes fruitful discussions.  I haven't seen the series beyond the trailers, but his review rings true with the opinion of others I have spoken with who have seen it.

I agreed with the blogger, and went on to say this is why i appreciate Ben Hur so much, because it so effectively captures the power of faith and the mercy, love, and forgiveness of God.  Furthermore, Ben Hur accomplishes this while vividly portraying the complexities of the human condition.

My point, which I failed to make, is whenever Hollywood tries to bring the Bible to the screen in a direct fashion (e.g., The Ten Commandments, The Greatest Story Ever Told, or the new mini-series), it ends up being cheesy.  The problem is the Bible describes reality that is so real it cannot be faked without losing a lot in the translation.  For example, how does one ever hope to accurately portray Jesus?   The Bible tells us His appearance was unremarkable--nothing physically attractive about Him to attract anyone.  Yet, the movies inevitably portray Jesus with a beautiful actor having blue eyes and long black hair.  Apparently the contrast of eye and hair color is supposed to invoke in us a sense of Jesus' goodness and power.  Unfortunately, we usually walk away from such films thinking it all a bit cheesy.  The goodness of Jesus is something too real, too foreign to our experience, to be faked effectively.

Lew Wallace understood this.  It is why he insisted whenever his story of Ben Hur is dramatized, the face of Jesus not be shown.  Indeed, if I remember correctly,  Jesus was originally portrayed in the stage productions of Ben Hur as a light.  In the 1959 film adaptation, the viewer never sees Jesus' face, nor does he or she hear Jesus' voice.  Yet, probably more than any other production, the goodness of Jesus--His authority, forgiveness, and love--effectively comes across without being cheesy.  In addition to this, from what I understand, the screen play writers worked to downplay the Gospel message.  And I'm convinced this is why Ben Hur comes off without being cheesy and, ironically, communicates the Gospel more effectively than most other productions determined to preach it explicitly.  Good grief, the resurrection of Jesus and its meaning the kingdom of God has come and Jesus is King is subtly but powerfully rendered at the end of Ben Hur by a shepherd leading his flock with the empty crosses in the background--brilliant!

I apologized to my favorite blogger for my irrelevant--or whatever complaint--comment.  Hopefully, things have been rectified between us, as Jesus calls us to do.  In any event, I encourage you to see the new mini-series, but also to take three hours out of your busy schedule to sit down and watch Ben Hur.  You won't be disappointed because it is Hollywood's best effort in bringing the Bible to the screen.  Not only that, but the exquisite cinematography, acting, writing, music, special effects, and direction all add together to make Ben Hur arguably the best movie Hollywood has ever made.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Down by the Sea: Part 2

God created us to engage in a relationship with Him.  The only way we can enjoy this relationship, which is to live forever with God, is to walk with God in the tension of God's Sovereignty/Human responsibility (GS/HR).  As with all tensions, it can be uncomfortable for us to remain in it.  But also as with all tensions, if one chooses to relieve the discomfort by eliminating, or reducing one side or both of the tension, both sides are completely lost.  When one undermines the GS/HR tension in some way, both the proper relationship with God is destroyed, and consequently any proper relationships we have with each other.

If I choose to believe God will impute His love into me as I passively sit by, then I have effectively eliminated the HR side of the GS/HR tension, and all relationships crumble.  Love cannot be coerced--either kindly or not.  Thus, if we attempt to remain totally passive, there will be no pure relationship between us and God--the relationship He created us to have--and the relationships we will have between each will necessarily grow more destructive.

If we swing the pendulum the other way to avoid the tension, and believe God expects us to find our own way, and will some day decide if we did our best or not and reward us with a relationship with Him, we should see the only basis ultimately for relationships we involve ourselves would be standards set by ourselves.  Perhaps this is comfortable, but doomed to failure because only God can set the standard for us to relate with Him and others because He created us, and only God is love.  Consequently, once again, if we remove ourselves from the tension of GS/HR, all relationships come crashing down.

Perhaps an analogy is in order.  I propose we take a little trip down by the sea and find out what we might learn there about all this.  In simplistic terms (please don't get all technical on me) the seashore is comprised of 1) a tidal pool, 2) breakers, and 3) the tide.

For our purposes, the tide is the force symbolizing  the relationship God has created us for.  God wants us to enter "the swim," so to speak.

One way we never enter the swim is when we sit in a tidal pool.  Even though the pool is quiet, restful, and comfortable, as long as we remain in it, we won't go anywhere.  We might feel the effects of the tide, as the pool fills and drains with the flow and ebb of the tide; and we might believe that by experiencing these effects we are actually a part of the tide.  But we would be mistaken; the tide is much much more than its effects; we delude ourselves if we believe otherwise, and keep ourselves out of the swim.

Now, we could take on the breakers, and make great sport of taming them through our prowess and athleticism.  We might feel very alive as we courageously struggle against the tumult.  We likely feel the draw of the tide as part of all the powerful sensations surging around us.  Tragically though, we become so caught up in our own efforts, we not only lose sight of the beauty and power of the tide, we actually fight against it, and even boast in our overcoming it.  In the end, we feel exhausted, frustrated, and disillusioned from the monotony of our efforts; we languish in the pounding surf.  It all becomes no more for us than as the old Bard penned, "Much ado about nothing."

When we feel the pull of the tide and allow ourselves to be taken into it,we actually enter the swim.  We become a part of something much bigger than ourselves.  We don't know where it will take us, but the endless discovery becomes for us a pure delight.  We must keep ourselves from being drawn away from the tide by fear or the many other distractions we chance upon along the journey.  We involve ourselves in this way with the tide, but it is the tide that carries us; it is the inexorable current that pulls us ever onward--not ourselves.

In the same way, we only engage in the pure relationships God created for us to enjoy with Him and consequently with each other when we willingly give into the the pull of God's love, and love Him back by obeying Him.  By so remaining within the tension of GS/HR we are caught up in the very love binding the Trinity.  The beauty, meaning, and life we find within the swim of God's love is beyond all dimensions because the living, Good, and creator God is eternal.

Come on! Join me down by the sea.  Then let's jump in, and let it carry us away into all its vastness.