Questions and Answers

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

About 10 miles from my house, a well educated, intelligent young man went to a crowded movie theater, set off some tear gas, and shot 70 people, killing 12. While no one in my personal circle was hurt, I know people who know people who were hurt. The shocking thing is that it could have been any theater; the people shot could have been my friends, my family, even me. How do we respond to a situation like this?

How can a loving God allow evil in the world?

Perhaps you know someone who has asked this question. Perhaps you’ve asked it yourself. In my arrogance, I have an answer, but I know it won’t be satisfying. This is largely because the question is malformed.

Couldn’t God have stopped this man from killing those people? Of course he could. So if he could, and did not, then is he really loving? I mean, look at all the suffering and tragedy. To have in your hands the power to prevent the senseless bloodshed and suffering and fail to act is monstrous. So clearly, God (if he exists), cannot be loving. Or else, he can’t be all-powerful. In any event, I’m better off on my own. Who needs that God anyway?

The simple answer to the question is that a loving God allows people to make their own decisions, including the decision to reject him, or to accept his mercy and forgiveness through grace. In his love, he allows each one of us to set the course of our lives and to walk in the responsibility of our decisions. This means allowing James Holmes to shoot and kill unsuspecting moviegoers. It also means allowing you and me to walk in our sins as well.

If God were to prevent evil people from doing evil, then who among us could exercise free will? It’s always easy to compare yourself to some heinous criminal and pronounce yourself “good”. But who decides which sins must be prevented and which should be permitted? Don’t let Mr. Holmes kill people, but let me wallow in my hatred. Don’t let Bernie Madoff steal billions of other people’s money, but let me cheat (just a little) on my taxes.

As a parent of adult children, I have just a little empathy with this situation. My kids don’t always do what I think is best for them. In fact, they do things that I’m pretty sure are downright harmful to them (and/or others). But I can’t stop them. I don’t have the power, but even if I did, I wouldn’t. I love and respect my children too much to undermine their autonomy.

How can a loving God allow evil in the world?

Underneath this question lies the real question. As hinted at above, the real question being asked is, since there is evil in the world, is God really loving? This is the point of faith that we either accept or reject.

Is God loving? I accept as axiomatic God’s love and goodness. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

So then, the issue to wrestle with is, “can I accept that God is big enough to use even (fill in the blank with whatever evil is troubling you) for his purposes?”

According to his word, the answer is yes. Whether your believe it or not is up to you.

Personal Trainer Redux

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…
Hebrews 12:1

For the past several months I have been working with a personal trainer. Over this time, I have come to appreciate the three primary benefits of working with a trainer (if you are in the Denver metro area and looking for a trainer, I can recommend mine).

First, my trainer has special knowledge of human physiology and kinesiology that I don’t posses. He uses this knowledge to direct me in specific exercises that will precisely target the areas I need to work on. He also has a lot of creativity, which he uses to devise alternative ways to work muscle groups when I’m unable to perform more traditional exercises.

Second, he pushes me to go beyond my perceived limits. Left to my own, I would often stop far short of what I accomplish when he asks me to do more. More generally, I would call this encouragement. He always presents a positive attitude, and genuinely seems interested in my progress. He challenges me to do more, and motivates me along the way.

But most importantly, he holds me accountable. There are any number of things in my day that can conspire to keep me out of the gym. But when I have an appointment with my trainer, I never miss it. It is suggested that exercise be an appointment on your calendar like any other meeting, but that doesn’t work for me. I can let myself down an infinite number of times, but I have a compelling need to fulfill my obligations to others. Even just knowing that I will be asked about my exercise sessions in-between visits with the trainer pushes me to be more reliable than I would be for myself.

I think this issue of accountability is fundamental to any change. We are all well skilled at deceiving, deluding, and disappointing ourselves. These failures just go on the dung heap of the things we aren’t proud of. No matter how high the pile, as long as no one else sees it, we can pretend that everything is OK.

So when we allow another to see our secret shame, and to point out the shovelful of failure we are preparing to toss upon it once again, we are forced to admit that there is a real problem. A true friend offers encouragement and not condemnation. But regardless, just knowing that someone is watching is a powerful motivator to actually accomplish change.

Of course, in spiritual terms, the Holy Spirit is our perfect trainer. He has special knowledge of our brokenness, as well as a full understanding of God’s perfect plan for our life. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is our best encourager. He bears witness to our spirit of the truth of God, when all the world bombards us with lies. And he holds us accountable, since there is nothing that we can hide from him.

Still, I find that human accountability motivates me more than even God’s spirit. Because not matter how strong my faith, how deep my belief, the truth is that people who I can touch and physically interact with are more real to me than my God who is spiritual.

Also, I think that because I can’t hide from God, I choose to deceive myself further by pretending that he isn’t pointing out my sin (not in a judgmental way, but like the friend who tells you there is mustard on your face). Because I have to voluntarily invite you to hold me accountable, your feedback is a more real motivator to me.

So, where are you? Who is holding you accountable? And for what? Or are you still living with the delusion that your dung heap doesn’t stink?

For me, one of the areas where God is pushing me is to be more diligent in writing these blogs. There are several things in my head that I need to commit to writing and share with you. You can help hold me accountable by letting me know that you read these posts. And, if you find any value in my thoughts, please share them with others.