Tag Archive: Theology

The other day, a friend asked the time-old question “Why does God allow suffering?” to which multiple people responded with their various opinions on the subject. One individual responded with an argument of contrast. That is, suffering exists to show beauty through contrast. So, if suffering shows beauty, why do we speak of its eternal end with regards to heaven?by majaFOTO (sxc.hu)

My (roughly edited) response was as follows:

The things we cannot, by their definition, conceive of are the very things we are being asked to put words to. If we acknowledge the existence of and attempt to describe such persons and places, it is and must be the loosest of metaphors. For all we know is our experience. All we know is ourselves. The impossible illustration without imperfection or brushstroke is the task at hand.

Is their suffering in heaven? Although it is, by definition, a place where “no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, and no mind can imagine what God has prepared,” then truthfully logic fails to some degree to argue. We are told by scientists that physical laws and constants may theoretically vary from universe to universe, yet we cannot conceive of an existence outside of our context. Any attempt to imagine a world in which these forces are different becomes automatically contextualized by our own for understanding. It is similar with ideas of heaven. We create a world in the looking glass. A world that is the same, yet different and idealized; like a work of fiction gives flesh, tension, and movement to a philosophy.

Please note, I am not suggesting heaven is some alternate universe or post-universe, because the timescale one would have to operate on to suggest such a thing does not account for the probability of extinction for the human race or the billions of years it would take for even our own sun to expand into a red giant and consume the earth (and still the universe would continue). But I am speaking of the incapability of man to conceive of what he has not experienced without shaping it as something he knows. We must anthropomorphize personality and we must shape metaphors to understand a world outside our own.

It does not prove its existence in anyway. A “restoration” or “rebirthing” of existence with the elimination of things like disease ignores the fundamental nature of such things. Disease is not demonic or malevolent. Disease is essentially packets of data doing, like a microscopic, simplified, and unconscious form of “us”, their best to procreate efficiently. What you call disease, is them hijacking you to help them. So is this part of refinement? The elimination of any creation deemed unfit to be of aid to the human being? Or is this rebirthing in essence the capstone of creation in its elimination of continued creation (and procreation)? Is it the sustained final chord in grand culmination of the symphony?

For myself, with my doubts and questions, it has often been a question reduced to what I know in the here and now. It is a question of suffering reduced in the here and now. I can seriously hope for such a final note, but may my uncertainty drive me to take hold of the here and now, both in light of that hope and in respect of the possibility that this will cease and be the only life and experience any man gets, and thus, to responsibly strive that each man’s suffering is lessened.

Bio: Josiah is a graduate of North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. His thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by his thirst for coffee. Thus, much free time is spent in the quest for the next fix.

[S]instinct: Part I, Introduction.

How do we define sin? It is a question not addressed often by theologians. Grace is more their territory. The question is more commonly addressed to the ethicist. The question(s) being: “How does an individual determine right and wrong?” and “Is it universal or subjective?”

We know right action from wrong action. We make these determinations every day. But how? How did these become wired into us? For average Christians, the response draws back to the Garden of Eden where the consumption of a special, forbidden fruit imbued the naive progenitors of the human species with this moral wiring. My personal belief is that this is an explanatory myth regarding the fact that there is something wrong in this universe. The fundamental Christian religious belief is that the destructive elements of all existent reality is an aberration from what is perfect.

My personal belief goes the route of evolutionary development of life. Within this route, one must question the development of morality. One often hears the argument that you cannot fully believe in evolution and have morality.

Where do you get your morality? If there is no God, if I am simply complicated ooze, then the truth is, your life doesn’t matter, my life doesn’t matter…If life is just random chance, then nothing really does matter and there is no morality—it’s survival of the fittest. If survival of the fittest means me killing you to survive, so be it. – Rick Warren

This argument is flawed.

First, how does one reconcile the fact that the sense of morality extends beyond the human species? Chimps, dolphins, elephants, etc. These creatures have a primitive and basic sense of morality. Where does it stem from? Surely they didn’t accidentally munch on the forbidden fruit while grazing in the Garden?! Essentially, the only “special” nature of the morality we understand is a result of our advanced culture and our ability to verbalize and meta-analyze what it is we are even discussing.

Second, it ignores social development as an evolutionary trait for survival. What is a key factor shared between the human species and other “moral” species? Community. We are communal creatures. One man can walk alone and survive alone; but in a group he is far more likely to conserve energy and survive longer. He is able to combine his ingenuity and strength with that of others and accomplish more. It is because of community and intelligence that Man has become the dominant species on this planet. Our collaborative inventiveness allows us to change our survival tactics quickly when our context changes.

What does this have to do with morality? In my (and many biologist’s) opinion, morality is a development out of socio-communal evolution. Morality (and sin) can be defined by looking at what it addresses, namely, our relationship to one another as human beings. If we do not relate well with one another, we will not be as capable of survival. Man lives best in community with others.

However, this social evolution stands apart from standard evolution. Survival instinct is more primitive than social instinct. Our drive to relate well with others comes in conflict at times with our drive to survive. This is where sin enters the picture. I want to discuss in the following series how sin is defined by this conflict. How sin EMBODIES this conflict.

Rather than look at a list of commands like the famous 10, I figured I would address the list known as the “7 deadly sins” which has been used by the Catholic church as a list of the “mortal vices” that endanger the soul of man, as compared to the “venial sins” or minor sins which, according to the church, result in a less critical separation from God and threat of damnation.

– Laziness

– Pride

– Lust

– Gluttony

– Greed

– Envy

– Rage

In the next series of blogs, I want to look at these sins and their relationship to survival instinct. Why are they considered sinful? Is there a time they can be defined as not sinful or when their occurrence might be deemed impossible?

Remember, sin can be centrally understood in affecting our relationship with one another. The command to love our neighbor is intimately related to the command to love God. Ideally, in the final post of this series, I will address this other side of the coin; the relation of religion and theological/spiritual belief to socio-communal evolution and morality.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

Luke 10:25-28

Stay tuned for the next part of this series!

Bio: Josiah is a graduate of North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. His thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by his thirst for coffee. Thus, much free time is spent in the quest for the next fix.

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The last post inspired an idea in me. I know not many people read this, but perhaps if anyone does and feels so inspired, share this idea with a friend.

I would like to do a theology and art gallery post not created entirely by me or drawn from my internet browsing. Thus, I turn to you, the masses.

I would like to see/read what you might create on the subject of faith, questioning, and doubt. These can be photographs, graphic design, typography, sketch, painting, poetry, etc. Once these are created, email them to me at phoenixrenovatio@gmail.com

I’ll give about a month timeline for submission. Once these are submitted, depending on response, I’ll post them (or the best of them) here for [my small audience of] people to see/read.

Obviously, if no one responds, this is a fruitless post and nothing will be posted in one month. If this is the case, in one month, I request you forget this was ever written. But here’s hoping!

[Image submissions should be in .jpg or .png format. Text submissions should preferably be in .doc or .docx format.]

I would be interested in hearing opinions and interpretations on this piece of graffiti done by the infamous and unknown British graffiti artist/social commentator “Banksy”.

This image carries so many levels of message; both positive and negative. Although I can guess at Banksy’s original intention in creating this image, I understand that with art, much is subject to the interpreter/viewer.

Please feel free to share any thoughts, interpretations, or reactions this image inspires in you by leaving a comment.

methumbBio: Josiah is a graduate of North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. His thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by his thirst for coffee. Thus, much free time is spent in the quest for the next fix.

We Used to Speak in Silence

Although not technically a blatant Theocommunications post, I hope that if you read this blog for such content, you might perceive the inherent theological implications of the following.

In a world where technology and information dominate, where social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress) is a prime form of interaction, where it seems a new communicational trend is beginning each year; it is easy to see why many sociologists and philosophers are pointing to an idea that we are becoming more communal and “tribal” in our interaction. We are the non-primitive tribe. We exist in a world filled with relationships which transcend spatial proximity and redefine what it is to be a “friend.” These relationships not only transcend standard spatial proximity, but time-related communication. However, within this dizzying fray of social opportunity, it is my hypothesis that we are actually redefining the very nature of what it is to be “social” and “communal.”

This is not some Luddite rant against technology or a call for an Amish revolution. It simply arises from a desire to provoke awareness of the way in which our technology influences us. There is no denying we are far more connected and social than mankind has been in all previous historical epochs measured by sheer number of relationships and connections. In a world filled with nearly 7 billion people (alas, I remember when Bill Nye told me it was 6 billion), is it possible that our small 6 degrees of separation might be shrinking due to our mass connections? However, in light of all these connections, are we truly building better relationships?

All of our technology seems to aim at one thing, individuality. We travel in individual, enclosed bubbles of glass and steel every day to get to work. We have our own personal communication devices. We can buy individual servings of meals. We don’t even have to leave an office to meet with anyone face to face. Our music tastes are our own, pumped into our ears on personal playing devices for no one else to hear. Our movie selections are personal and private without requiring us to actually leave our homes and select a movie off the shelf at a rental store. We can purchase music, movies, books, etc. all from our computers to have them directly downloaded or shipped to our doorstep. Amazon.com now sells groceries, for crying out loud! A person could go a full week without leaving their house or ever seeing another’s face, yet still communicating and interacting with all of their contacts. I’m guilty of the same thing; I send 2000 to 3000 text messages a month! (Although I admit, many people are quite astonished by such a number.)

In all of this, we are redefining what it is to be in a relationship. In the past, friends were defined by

– Proximity

– Emotional Vulnerability

– and Conversational capability.
In the modern era, we erase or modify these first three. First off, we strike out the proximity factor entirely. Second, we redefine emotional vulnerability by being completely public with our interests, our goals, and facts about ourselves. We don’t strike out the emotional factor entirely, but it becomes a shallower, less private factor. It does not require interaction to find out the things close to you and the things you are passionate about. Many argue that these facts are not what make up friendship, but it is the vulnerability and humility it used to take to have an ask-share interaction that possibly created stronger friendships. Third, we converse with everyone as a result of the internet (although Chris Hansen would discourage it). In the modern era that list looks more like this:


– Interest/Fact-based “vulnerability”

– and non-time oriented, conversational interaction.

In fact, I perceive it as evidence of this redefinition when we see an introvert or a shy person reach out online rather than in person. There is something about not looking another human in the eyes and simply reading their text and looking at a picture that calms us. It removes our instinctual inhibition and fear. This takes shape in other ways as well. If one looks at blog culture, the commenter is far bolder in sharing his opinion and even trashing the author and his post. People one never would expect to speak so harshly will go into a full-on, caps-lock rant and (maybe, just maybe) use some expletives. It is because we do not have to stare at the hurt on someone’s face. We do not need to react to their reaction. We are not even giving a thought to the humanity behind these thoughts, we are simply responding to the words on a screen.

This is where my hypothesis leads: a world where people are liberated in their opinion, yet are blindly ignorant toward the humanity of others. There is a connection that can only be made through physical presence. There are things that can only be communicated through personal interaction, messages that can be sent without words or voice; a silence that is capable of screaming powerful messages of empathy, distrust, sadness, or anger.
We live in a world where relationships and conversations are no longer bound by time. Speaking with someone does not require my full attention. It is a conversation on each of our individual terms. If you desire to respond now, you can. But if you don’t have the time or don’t want to, you can wait until later. This only creates further individualization. My relationship with you is no longer bound to our mutual sacrifice of schedule. Yes, this allows us to be more connected to more people in more places, but are we gaining this at a cost? Are we paying for it without recognizing the true nature, value, and depth of physical proximity and contact?

Could one make the case that technological literacy is removing our care for every person? Marshall McLuhan writes in his book “Understanding Media” about primitive cultures in Africa watching films who become concerned about even a minor character once they leave frame (McGraw-Hill, 1964; page 285). They want to know what happens with everyone, not simply the protagonist; not simply the character the director truly wants us to relate and connect with. Is this a result of their lack of exposure and education to technological culture and art form? Does this reveal neurological training toward our understanding of community and relationship? When we are surrounded by so many people and yet saturated by so much individual freedom, are we more likely to ignore the value of the other?

If you still don’t believe, I leave with this question: Why are long distance relationships more difficult to maintain? Love is a difficult thing to maintain, requiring great commitment with proximity and even greater without. Hearing of a voice, reading of thoughts is at times helpful, but there is still a great amount which could be said for the value of physical contact and proximity.

methumbBio: Josiah is a graduate of North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. His thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by his thirst for coffee. Thus, much free time is spent in the quest for the next fix.

Preface: I will be starting a new topic on here about an idea of Theocommunications, or the way in which we communicate about God and how to renovate it for the ever-changing culture stream. This will be the first. Others may be done by guest contributors. We’ll just see what comes of it… Enjoy!

You may be staring curiously at your screen wondering why that did not have anything to do with theology. You may have even stopped watching it because you thought I got the link wrong. In fact, I didn’t. This TED Talk centers on the idea of meaning generated from imagery. This is a subject that is not new, it is underlying and its capabilities are only just being understood. The proper term for these images, and one the computer-savvy know all to well, is an icon.

Wikipedia defines it as

“an image, picture, or representation; it is a sign or likeness that stands for an object by signifying or representing it either concretely or by analogy…a name, face, picture, edifice or even a person readily recognized as having some well-known significance or embodying certain qualities: one thing, an image or depiction, that represents something else of greater significance through literal or figurative meaning, usually associated with religious, cultural, political, or economic standing.”

Icons are frequently used to communicate an idea. As the video explains, they make use of multiple areas of the brain to determine what they are, their layout, and how they make us feel. The speaker advocates using visual methods for greater productivity and stronger communication.

I will not be that person who says “Oh, the Church has known this for centuries.” Because, technically, they didn’t. They used it without wielding it. Perhaps they even used it correctly, but in understanding the mechanics of how it works, one is capable of wielding it correctly and efficiently.

The Church for centuries has created icons. These icons are images of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Cross, etc. A notable fact is that God the Father is never depicted in iconography. This is something that has been lost in the Western Church, because we have images like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel where God is depicted as a man with a flowing white beard. Strangely enough, when asked to describe their image of God, this is what is conjured up (along with any baggage they might have towards the details of this image, such as the fact He is depicted as a man.) The Eastern and Early Church icons were intended to bring honour to their essence (or “that which they are an image of”) through veneration. Their other use was that of theological education. Details of the images depicted elements of theology regarding the essence of their image. In both areas, the Church must reclaim this lost art.

Increasingly, messages are sent not only through plain text and voice, but these flat messages are combined with vibrant or compelling imagery. From a guilt-inducing commercial for pledging money to victims to the glowing sweat of a Gatorade™ drinking athlete. These communicate messages of need and suffering or energy, and power. Without even saying “Gatorade gives you power and energy to be good at sports,” the images of athletes sweating a pulsing and electric coloured sweat due to a straining athletic feat says just that. These images are everywhere. They tie into things not even related to the subject matter at hand. Nike™, for instance, sponsors Lebron James. They erected this billboard:

We Are All Witnesses

We Are All Witnesses

This says nothing about how great Nike is. It simply implicitly claims attachment to Lebron’s success. Yet, when we see this, it is meant to be understood as “I am witness to something great. Something epic. He is successful. Nike aknowledges this. Nike is my agreeing companion and a member of my basketball-fanatic tribe. I agree with Nike.”

“…therefore, I will buy Nike products.”

However, this entire mental process is subconcious and unbeknownst to the viewer who feels instinctually compelled to choose Nike next time they need a new pair of shoes. Even more interesting is the fact that nowhere does it actually say “Nike” or “Lebron James” on the billboard. It is becoming engrained in our culture because it has been picked up on. We are visual creatures. We learn visually. If we communicate visually, people remember the message.

I am not advocating the use of images to sell our message to people. We are not in the business of peddling Jesus. (Or in the Jehovah’s Witnesses case “pedaling” Jesus haha.) However, I am advocating the use of images to communicate messages about Jesus. (I specify “about” because communicating the message of Jesus is only done in the flesh through the flesh.)

A friend of mine recently purchased an icon. When I looked at it, I was immediately aware of its surface beauty.

Extreme Humility

But the description of this icon reveals far more about its meaning. Its message.

Here Christ is depicted descending into Hades bearing the instruments of the Passion: the Cross, lance, and sponge.  His hands are as if bound but no rope is tying them together, demonstrating that He voluntarily chose to be fettered and willingly suffered for the salvation of all.  We see the bleeding wounds on His side and hands, for He has kept His wounds even in His Resurrection as a sign that His agony and suffering were real and remain as a pledge of His undying Love for each person, even to His Death on the Cross.  With His eyes closed He is truly dead to the world and all of its passionate needs during His descent in to Hades, yet inwardly beholding all things as the all-seeing God.

When we think of God and the attributes that are His by nature–unconditional Love, complete omnipresence and omnipotence, Existence Itself without the boundaries of time and space, all-holiness, absolute compassion and empathy, Truth that is never swayed by partiality yet tempered by Divine Mercy, total understanding–each is astounding and hard to comprehend, but this icon’s “Extreme Humility” is perhaps the most close and dear to us. (Source: Skete.com)

This image communicates far more in examination than in quick glance. Part of this, I believe, is due to unfamiliarity with the symbols. What the modern Western Church needs are images with symbols understood to us in our context and culture.

The Church is in need of a New Iconic movement. We are in need of the creative; the artists, graphic designers, painters, sketchers, filmographers, and photographers. There is a message to be communicated, and a more efficient and memorable way to communicate it.

The Church I Would Lead

This post has been in the mental oven so long I pray it isn’t burnt.

For starters, I need to clarify some things. When I first mentioned writing this to people, I described the reason I didn’t want to be a traditional format pastor as “I’m just not a normal church lover.” This statement incurs a lot of assumptions on the part of the listener. First, the listener assumes I am your standard breed of cynical 20-something with no hope for the Christian church and holds Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, Donald Miller, etc. on a pedestal of “I-read-my-religious-grudges-into-their-works.” However, this is not true. I don’t even believe these men are absolutely dissatisfied with the church. (Ok, the jury might be out on Claiborne…) Anyways, Bell is a pastor, McLaren a theologian, Miller a church-goer, etc. These men are involved with the church as it is. I do not believe they are for tearing the system apart. Sure, they are visionaries and they might remodel it some, but not dismantle it. In the same way, I have hope that the church, as is, can accomplish good and reach people.

However, I am not the person to lead that church. I see too much pressure on the standard model’s pastor. I perceive too much focus on the homiletic event of Sunday morning (or Saturday night, Thursday night, etc.) than on the hermeneutically infused life of the believer the other days. This church can continue, and I have hope that it succeeds.

What is the standard model?

A church/group that meets for a specified service at a specified time. This “service” is a gathering filled with musical worship and a presentation of a message on a Biblical text. It is intended to be a communal gathering, but yet, whether consciously or unconsciously, becomes a individualized spiritual recharging to be carried over into the next week until the next service. It is a non-profit organization rather than a community of believers. It has a CEO who runs it like a business model, serving the wares that result in customers, rather than as an icon of the Son seeking to reconnect with His family.

What would this non-traditional model look like?

First, I understand the reason behind the single service model. Yet, I desire to break the event-oriented mold. The church has become a fixed destination where things happen, not a thing that happens at any destination. If I ever were to have a “normal” service, it would not be for a while. My first focus would be on getting people together to serve others. Whether that be a neighbour who is moving, a house that needs remodeled, driveways that need shoveling, volunteers for a community event, serving the homeless, etc. There would be a focus on doing something for others first, rather than coming together for our individualized recharge. After this is finished, then I would convene for discussion. This might look like discussion about why we did what we did with a look at the words of Jesus or a discussion about what we learned/experienced in doing this. It is focused on “worship in action” with the idea that a friend of this community would be more incited to act outside the gathering if they were doing so and encouraged to inside. It is an experiential understanding of and instruction in the Love that is the center of our message.

Eucharist would be a vital part of this community. Understanding that it is this commonality of belief that makes it communal. We take it understanding the forgiveness of ourselves and to remind us to forgive others. No one is beyond forgiveness. It is understood this is a difficult process, and that it is just that, a process. We will not be blinded by the justification of our own action forgetting that every man is capable of great evil and great good.

Listening would be central to the actions of this community. Rather than shaping the world into our own idyllic image (different for every man), we will seek to shape it into our common understanding of Christ’s kingdom image. Yet, this is a shaping that is not out of totalitarian unification, but subversion of culture. By showing a better way in action rather than teaching it in words.

This community’s leadership would arise from the commonality. It would not simply be me in an appointed position through privilege of initiation. Obviously, someone must initiate, organize, and take point on some things, but the group would be listened to for their contribution to leadership. Therefore, my leadership becomes more “leadership” with a guiding hand understanding the mission and goal of the community.

This church focuses on communicating spiritual truth even to those with an enlightened knowledge of it in more ways than simply verbal instruction and exhortation. Rather, it focuses on creating gaps to be filled by understanding through creative exercises and experiences.

This church seeks to entertain questions and the skeptics who ask them. It is through a hope that action reveals more truth than agreement.

We hope to instill hope in those whom we serve. We believe in faith that is questionable and not fully comprehensible, but challenges us to live better and to believe in something greater than ourselves; in Ultimate Good. We desire to Love others by continually challenging our capacity to Love the “undeserving” and those tread upon when the quest for Morality becomes a march without care or forgiveness for the mistaken and failed.

This community would have accountability and friendship at its core above merely having people in attendance. It seeks to engage multiple areas of culture and expression. This community would be a place for those who enjoy the standard model as well as a place for those who are disenchanted and disenfranchised.

It is a community that is difficult. It is a community that is challenging. It is a community without traditional frontman leadership. It is the community I would “lead”.

Why I Won’t Take You At Your Word

Simply put, because you’re wrong. Well, you might be…

This thought was inspired by thinking on why I started questioning. All the questioning was started by my research on atheist perspectives. Why did I research atheist perspectives? Because I won’t take you at your word. So many Christians believe they understand why it is people are cynical, jaded, anti-religious, and atheistic. Ray Comfort, the “good news” bearing evangelist I struggle with most, has a whole shtick about how it is simply so they can live whatever way they like through the absence of absolute authority and judgment for their actions. I’m sorry. That’s not what I discovered. (But, more on that later.)

To me, taking you at your word on an experience or another’s feelings/views does not accomplish what it could. When we take something in, we form a perspective, digest it, and process it. If we tell that to someone else, it’s like the mother bird re-feeding her chicks the worm she was early enough to get; good, old, tasty, processed opinion. Compare drinking city water to drinking spring water. City water is run through systems to purify it from impurities and dirt, fluoride is added, it’s given a good mixing, pumped through pipes where it picks up trace amounts of metal, and comes out your chrome faucet into your glass for consumption. Spring water flows straight from the ground. It’s not as “pure” as the city water in one sense, yet if we’re comparing the two, one is far closer to the source of what natural water tastes like. Why was it I won’t take you at your word? That’s right, because you might be wrong…

Do I want processed opinion, Mama Bird? No. I form a perspective when I hear something. We all do. So, if I take you at your word, I form a perspective on your perspective on someone’s perspective. That’s not a perspective at all. That’s like trying to see around a corner without peeking. Sure, the source of the perspective is tainted too, but if what I am trying to achieve is understand that perspective, it’s far better for me to go to the source.

Back to the atheists.

So, they just want to live their amoral life without judgment? Then why are they so hard on the injustices of the world? If they believe there is no morality, why do they advocate the secular humanist perspective of understanding social morality? They believe right and wrong exist as evolved elements of society for the benefit of our survival. Imagine if we were murderin’, fornicatin’, and thievin’ all the time! Society wouldn’t stick together because our selfish need for survival would be infringed upon. So, there are ideas of social morality that hold us together and we must act within these. In this way, a culture can be wrong in their way of morality. The idea of this morality is to benefit the group in its entirety. If we stone a girl because she was raped in an Islamic country (one of the social injustices many times commented upon), we do not benefit her survival, nor the survival of the group. It is viewed as injustice. Immoral.

The idea that I can live my life how I want if there is no God is illegitimate to the atheist. You can live your life how you want as long as you don’t infringe upon the survivability of the social group or other individuals.

They don’t believe in God because they are unwilling to see the evidence of Him all around them? Well, unwilling might be an alright word. I might actually understand it as the evidence can be explained to go either way. I see no reason that nature MUST show a gaping hole where God’s finger fits so that He can miraculously fiddle with His clockwork. Does He? As a Christian, I say yes. Must He? Debatable. However, when you get back to questions like origins, the big complaint of atheists is against creationism and intelligent design. The agenda, to them (and me), is not science but an attempt to force a gap open where God fits. If we can eliminate the possibility something can naturally come from “nothing” (a relative term because energy is everywhere), then obviously it came from nothing with the spurning of an intelligence. However, trace this line back far enough, even if we were designed intelligently by aliens, they were intelligently designed by something else, aka God. Yet, having studied evolutionary theory and genetics for 2 years as a result of this quest, I think I have begun to understand how it works. Are there questions and holes in things? Sure, not large ones. (You want a transitional fossil? There are plenty. You want a species in transition, you misunderstand transition. All species are in transition. There is no end goal of evolution. Humans are not the final product of primate evolution. Even we are still evolving.) Does that make the whole thing untrue or possibly wrong? Only if the study of theology makes God not fully true and possibly wrong. Try that paradox on for size. Intelligent design has its own holes…they just choose to fill it with “Goddidit”. The question for the believer becomes, can God do it without leaving loose ends that prove He did?

Basically, it’s a quest for honest understanding. I love the logical questions atheists bring up. Most of them are very intelligent and respectable men in their fields. And if researching their work causes me to question, I feel it is possible that it is helping me achieve understanding and see holes in arguments used for so long. If questioning your faith causes it to fail, perhaps it wasn’t strong in the first place? To test arguments and test ways of thinking about God has served to deconstruct and rebuild my faith. Are there things I don’t understand? Yes. Do I use those as “Goddidit” and walk away? That really depends. If God is the gap in explanation, our God gets tinier by the day. When everything is explained, discovered, etc., and when all the gaps close, does God still exist? How do you know? If you’re holding out for the unexplainable miracle to prove God exists scientifically, what if it never comes?

Atheism isn’t unfounded in my mind. It’s simply the opposite spectrum from me. Where they choose to doubt when there is only an unknown possibility God exists, I choose to believe. Where they see the ramblings of deluded ancients, I see an aura of truth. Does this mean we are both right? No. One of us has to be wrong. I’m not a relativist for absolute truth.

So, I will not take you at your word. I will question. I will research both sides. And then if our words line up, we can agree.

The Origins of Evil

Here’s a thought experiment. Not a declaration of doctrine or belief. Just a plain, ordinary thought.

“Where does evil come from?”

This is not a question about “where God is when evil strikes”, but it is a question of origins. Where did evil come from? If God is an all-Good God who created all that is Not-God, did He create Evil?

For many, this question is met with a direct answer of “no, God does no Evil and made everything Good.” Now, there is the argument that everything Evil is simply the absence of Good. However, where does this absence originate?

One could propose the idea that God created this absence, this Evil. Now, you might say this is impossible because this makes God malevolent if He is the originator of Evil. If He is the source of all the pain and destruction in this world, then, yes, He is. But we know He is not malevolent and is diametrically opposed to Evil, so how might He be the originator of Evil?

In order to understand further logic, let us consider the purpose of Evil. There are many verses on this, but one I will highlight is in John 9. This is the story of one of the blind men Christ heals. The disciples are debating why the man was blind. They say, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” To which Christ responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

God is in the work of changing the perception of Evil into Good or infusing Good into Evil. If Evil is the absence of Good, then God is in the work of entering the void and manifesting Himself. If there were no Evil, we might never know the true fullness of God’s manifestation. Like salt on a grapefruit, the addition of a little Evil brings about a fuller contrast and fuller understanding of the beauty and goodness of Good.

So, in a sense, the creation of Evil as a nihility of Himself is not necessarily Evil in itself. If God did the act of creation in order to more fully express Himself (as God is not needy for our worship, but in a constant expression of adoration toward that most worthy of adoration; Himself), then it is a better, fuller, and more beautiful creative expression if it is given something to express. If Love is not full without Choice, then without this void of Good, Good is not truly known in its truest nature.

How does this make God un-malevolent? He is still the source of all pain, destruction, chaos, and contempt in the world. However, God did not make anyone Evil, He simply allowed Evil to exist. He risked removing Himself with hope that His creations might fully express Him as the Full Goodness. However, there also exists the choice of the Less Than; less than full, less than Good.

If God did not make anyone Evil, but simply allowed the existence of Evil, He is not the direct source and simply the originator. The direct source of Evil is the one who chooses it; the one who seeks out the Less Than over the Full Goodness. God’s act of creation was to more fully express Himself. If this full expression demands a choice, He charges His creation with that choice. Eradicate the darkness. “Fully express me in the void of me you see around you, this is what I delight in.”

“…learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

Isaiah 1:17

“…but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,  justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,”

Jeremiah 9:24

It is a perfect and Good risk to take for the fuller expression. He does not control the choice, but with every poor choice, a greater expression of Good is made possible.

**Please note: This is not perfectly thought out. It is simply what I have been dying to write for a while now. It is an imperfect summary of where I stand spiritually as of late.

For the past year or so, I will admit, my faith has struggled. It has faced challenges and logical puzzles and the constant process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. I have grown to understand more about the world in which I live through constant research. This study of reason brings me to these constant intersections where I must question whether my faith really contains the answers. I question whether I’m believing in vain in a God with no physical evidence of existence and no absolute psychological need for belief other than a quest for purpose; a purpose which, if all else fails, is a meaningless illusion based on a primitive pursuit of understanding. Most arguments for the existence of God are not hard to refute with a given understanding of psychology, sociology, and biology. Yet, I still believe.

I admit, the idea of faith became difficult when I began to study and reason. It was easier before I started college. Before I understood there were multiple perspectives on things. Before I understood the world was less black and white than I had believed it to be. Had I experienced this outside a Christian context, I am unsure if I would be where I am today. I do not believe I was or am strong enough to make it without any support to return to. The temptation to abandon faith exists quite often in my life.

Yes, I am not sure about the existence of God. I don’t believe I will ever be sure. Yet there is one thing I hope in, and it is this that continues my belief. I place my trust in Christ because I cannot refute his teachings. His teachings call out to everything inside me and challenge me to what I know is a better and greater good than I can know on my own instinct. His teachings are commended by those around the world and of any faith. They are the greatest good. Yet, paired with these teachings come claims of being God himself and commands about right relationship with the Father. If I can believe his teachings, might I have to believe these too? Technically one could argue for the mythological development of these claims being written in by the Gospel writers rather than actually spoken by Jesus himself. The Gospels were not written as histories, but narrative communications of the good news of Christ with specific intention and message. However, those same writers died for what they wrote, and died professing what they wrote. These men were changed by what they experienced. And so it is in these that I can trust and through this trust in Christ. He is the tangible evidence on which my faith is founded.

However, even if Christ fails me, and if there is no God, I will die following him. Because his way of living is so right, I will strive to live like it. And if I reach the end of my life, and there is no ultimate meaning, I will not mind because I will have lived. I will have sacrificed. I will have served and brough worth to my existence. I do not know if there is a God. I do not believe there will ever be discovered concrete evidence. There is plenty of logic that contradicts the idea of believing in a Being which cannot be seen or measured, yet if this makes me a better person by believing it, I will. I will seek to love. I will seek to care. I will seek to serve. And I will seek to bring this satisfaction to others.

I do not follow simply for hope to escape punishment from God if I don’t. I do not follow simply because I was taught this. I do not follow simply because it makes me feel good. I follow because it matches the cries of my soul to do what is right. I follow because it is the ultimate good.

I strive to find answers with my insatiable thirst for knowledge while renouncing ignorance. I strive to work out how this world can mesh with this idea of ultimate good and purpose. I strive to overcome this battle of reason and faith while giving up on neither. I strive to emulate Christ with my life knowing I am imperfect. I strive to live, to dream, and to pursue the best for the community I live in, the dignity of others, and the satisfaction found in this.

One might ask if there is any hope in this way of living? If by “hope” one means “a given understanding that it will all be over and perfection awaits” then my answer would be no. If by “hope” one means “a desire to believe that something exists beyond this life” then yes. My hope is placed in the idea that Christ was right. My hope is that lives can be changed for the better.

Christ is the door for my faith. Through him I accept the multitude of teachings about the God he claimed to be. But I strive to integrate those into my life. I understand right and wrong. However, I approach others from underneath. It is through relationship that lives are changed, not simple interaction. I desire to become a servant to those I meet.

I am Jekyll and Hyde. I am Skeptic and Believer.