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Archive for December, 2014

Can We Make Any Sense Out Of Suffering?

We understand deserved suffering. Drink and drive and you may end up in the hospital. Betraying others leads to lose of relationships. One may only stop drinking, drugging, or cheating after they hit bottom so suffering can be a good thing. Underserved suffering is more complicated. Some don’t need answers to “Why, God” as knowing God didn’t avoid suffering through Jesus is enough to trust God. I am hoping to be better prepared by understanding God’s role in suffering so to feel comfort than alienation from God.

We can attempt to understand suffering on a logical, intellectual level. Most find it easier to worship a God who doesn’t control everything as opposed to a God who accepts no resistance. The truth is not even an all-powerful God can create and guarantee life without death, violence, suffering, and struggle and yet there be free will necessary for genuine relationships. Authentic relationships are only possible if freely chosen. Since a great deal of suffering results from immoral choices to inflict pain on others, God would have to make a total mockery out of freedom to stop undeserved suffering. We may never be totally satisfied until God stopped all of our suffering, whether self-inflicted or inflicted by others.

Freedom can explain major atrocities at the hands of ruthless dictators. Evil can begin with one person and others doing nothing in the beginning. I can understand, because of my own lack of courage, self-preservation by not challenging a ruthless dictator as they grow in power. Evil is evil though, regardless of the magnitude. One person murdered or abused is tragic. The numbers of children sexually abused outnumber the millions of lives lost at the hands of dictators. Natural atrocities such as tsunamis cannot be fully explained because of freedom, but human evil is often a factor. In Haiti when tectonic plates under the earth collided, atop them was a densely populated, poorly constructed city partly because of social injustices. Is God to blame for that?

Many believe God has the power to intervene. He is the Creator! We may possible begin to understand logically why God doesn’t intervene during wrongdoing according to God’s standards much less human standards. There would be no freedom to speak of. Are there though possibly humane and godly reasons for not intervening more? God could either not create at all or accept the risk involved in creating as do human parents, knowing their child may not return their love and do harm to others. God decided to value mercy and forgiveness more than instant justice despite the cost to God and others who face undeserved suffering. Most though give their own wayward children chances to change no matter the harmed caused to themselves or others.

Freedom is necessary relationally to obtain the highest good here on earth and beyond. Sufferings, though not hoped for, became a part of God’s story to lead as many as possible of their own volition to a future paradise intended from the beginning. Miracles may prevent a superior world from developing as a result of the moral improvement of free creatures. Loving parents desire patience over instant justice to persuade their children to reciprocate their love for their good and others. Our suffering, a possibility when freedom is allowed, can serve others in similar situations. One abused is better able to help others heal from such injustices inevitable in a free world. Also, the truth is that suffering, more than prosperity, helps me become more aware of my character flaws. God didn’t avoid the potential consequences of freedom either. God sent Jesus to win over as many as possible to love others as they wish to be loved.

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Are Only Christians Loved By God And Go To Heaven?

Jesus said to the disciples, when present with them, that He was the only way to God (John 14:6). Some interpret this to suggest God only loves and accepts into Heaven those who know Jesus. Specific knowledge of Christ or saying the right words is suspect as being necessary. It may have been the same John who penned later: “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (I John 4:7). Some love evil; some love good. Some are headed toward God while others away from God. The Apostle Paul speaks out against those who suggest God shows favoritism as God “accepts those from every nation who…do what is right” (Acts 10:35).

When asked how to have eternal life Jesus said simply to love God and love others as yourself (Lk.10:25-27). Jesus didn’t advise one get on their knees, say a certain prayer, confess their sins, and never sin again. Jesus implied that the hope of life forever begins in the present when one looks toward God, whatever knowledge they may have, and battle against unselfishness. Jesus’ only agenda was to convince people to listen to their heart.

Jesus didn’t reject the millions of people who died without any knowledge of Jesus or Scriptures to teach them about God. Some parents badly misrepresent Jesus, so will God only accept those who had more rational parents. Will the thief who was only sorry when hanging on a Cross with Jesus go to paradise while others, who lived conscientiously, be out of luck? God doesn’t just love those who have heard or speak God’s name.

There often is very little moral difference between those who say they are believers and those who aren’t overly God-focused. I will say that my spending time with God has helped me be a better husband, father, and friend. That was what Jesus was offering. I am not sure why some pursue God more passionately than others. Some may pursue God more when in a crisis because they don’t know where else to turn. If deep down you wish you had more of a connection with your Creator, certain beliefs about God may keep you from pursuing a deeper connection.

Some may rightly resist God because of certain characterizations of God they have heard other teach. Is God a sadistic torturer? HELL NO! Hell is not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words, created over the centuries to scare people into obedience. Jesus’ focus was to simply let others know God loves us unconditionally and desires a relationship for the good of all. Loving parents always seek the admiration and respect of their children so they might consider their guidance.

There may be other beliefs that hold you back from pursing God more passionately. God doesn’t have any expectations before wanting a relationship with us. Unconditional lovers just don’t. God desperately desires to help us with struggles that exist in our world. Freedom has led to much suffering in this world but there was no other way for authentic relationships. Not even God can force true love. I am convinced God is always tugging on peoples’ hearts. Go with it and see where God takes you.

A Muslim or Christian may not think they worship the same God, but they strive to love others how they wish to be loved. God encourages all to listen to their heart about what is right and wrong for life here on earth. You didn’t even have to believe in Jesus full-hearted if you lived in His presence. The disciples weren’t convinced until Jesus came back from the dead. That might convince you as well. Some Christians don’t believe in the virgin birth. Some Muslims do. Some people speak freely of Jesus. Others don’t. Some Buddhists have more the heart of Jesus than those who call themselves Christians. The Israelites got it wrong when claiming to be the only nation or religion under God.

All religions have some truth, though true contradictions among religious must be weighed.  Jesus did claim to be the Son of God and Reconciler with God. Would Jesus have been more compassionate by denying He was the Son of God? Would God have been more open-minded by saying we could worship many Gods, if God knew such gods didn’t exist? Jesus claimed to be sinless. All leaders such as Gandhi, who admits having evil desires in his autobiography, do not make such a claim. Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. Jesus’ miracles were against the laws of nature. There is sufficient, historical evidence that Jesus’ tomb was empty. No other religious leader claims to have resurrected.

There are a thousand ways to pursue what one knows is right in their heart. God surely accepts one according to the direction they are headed. We all have faith, believing either there is or isn’t a Creator. Since I am convinced there is a Creator, I believe we all already have a relationship with God. God loves everyone as parents love their children regardless of whether their child pays them attention or not. God’s only agenda is to convince all that God loves and desires a mutual relationship for the pleasure of both.

Afterthought: 

There can always be very real reasons that people are turned off spiritually by how God is characterized by others. I care more about getting inquirers to reconsider than offending followers. Followers may accuse my above views as a form of legalism. Legalism is a set up for discouragement and was hated by Jesus. No one can live up to even their own standards. If God simply cares only that we are headed from evil and toward good, it is human nature to worry whether one is good enough. One may wish there was a certain prayer you can say and get to Heaven, but one would still worry about measuring-up. God cares deeply that we understand that S/he loves us unconditionally. Fear or religious adherence to a set of rules doesn’t transform lives in the long-run. Gloomy uncertainty as to one’s favor doesn’t conquer our battle against self-centeredness in both human and spiritual relationships. God’s love and mercy is our necessary nourishment.

Should We Be In Awe Of God?

We may hear a healthy relationship with our Creator begins with a sense of awe. A human analogy suggested is feeling awestruck when meeting initially someone who we have respected all our life. But, we aren’t necessarily thinking our hero desires a relationship as our Creator does. When I know someone loves me, I am more inclined to run into their arms. There is no need for fear when each loves one another. Does God expect us to be in awe now or when meeting? Do such thoughts help build a relationship with our God that S/he so desires?

I think of God as my Heavenly as opposed to earthly Parent. I have always desired to have a close relationship with my parents as I aged. I may deeply respect my parents for their character but this should not cause hesitancy in the relationship. I may be ashamed of all the times I have hurt them and others, but overwhelmness is not conducive for a relationship. Besides, an unconditional lover such as God is dying to forgive those who seek it. My concern is telling others they must be in awe of God may not be at all what God feels is best for a relationship that S/he desires with all.

Many may look at what the Bible says when trying to discern what God expects. We don’t have to look at the Bible to know what our Creator thinks about murder but this topic may be one of those times. In the beginning in the Garden it seems God enjoyed regular visits with Eve and Adam. If these visits were not physical appearances I am not sure what they were hiding from (Gen. 3:8). God didn’t refuse to talk after being rejected. God didn’t begin to desire a standoffish reputation because Abraham, the initial father of God’s people, was referred to as God’s friend.

One might suggest though by the time of Moses and the Ten Commandments, God was beginning to build an aura around Himself by refusing to show Himself (See Exodus 19 and 20). Rebellious times may call for different actions. Evil people, who need to be told to stop killing, lying, and cheating on one another, should have a healthy fear of God and the unknown. In less rebellious times all the leaders of Israel were allowed to see God (Ex. 24:9-11). God did not shy away from calling us friends such as with Moses (Ex. 33:11). God, like human parents, desire to have a close, influential relationship with their children because they have their best interest in mind.

I am often asked to pray before groups of friends though I am not a minister. I hope people sense I have a friendship with God. My prayers don’t begin: “Dear God, the Holy One, the Feared Creator of the Universe…” Such talk doesn’t invite other to get to know their Creator. My prayers are as if I am talking to a close Friend. One might need to be in awe of God if plotting evil, but what Parent who wants a relationship desires you to fear them or hesitant to come in their presence. Now, when you get to know God as I do you may begin to have feelings of awe after appreciating just how amazing God is.

Afterthought:

I use human parent analogies when discussing God as our Parent, as we are made in God’s likeness. Obviously, humans aren’t perfect as I believe our Creator is. Analogies break down because I can always find something wrong with humans, even my heroes. I believe God is deserving of awe but that is because of my relationship with God. Others may only be getting to know God or be open to the possibility of a Creator. Awe may not be natural because of certain beliefs about God suggested by others. My prayers may begin with awe. But, we should not expect others to be in awe of God if they are not yet convinced or deeply in love with God. The Psalms suggested we can keep it real with God.

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