My Story Part (whatever, I can’t keep track anymore)
Well, this little project is becoming a little more involved than I had orginially planned. Everyone has asked some great questions and I have been trying to answer all of them as best I can. I’m going to get into what I believe about science and history in later posts in this series. But, in this one, I hope to talk about two things that seem to keep coming back up, that is, the notion of suffering and Christian Morality.
Also, I want to clear up some things people have said in the posts, such as I come off too confident. This is the peril of Internet communication. I think that Christianity is true and explains the world. But, I can’t prove it 100 percent, nor do I think I will ever be able to do so. Doubt is always my constant companion and it drives my faith. As any of the Ohio State atheists can tell you, I’m open and honest about my doubt.
As I write this, I’m listening to Green Day, something I would have never done in high school. As I said before, I was too much of a legalist. A legalist is a person who points their finger at everyone condeming people for their sins and being smug in their own self righteoussness. That was me and that’s certainly the going attitude in most of American Christianity. I must admit, I still struggle with it.
Christians has always had a problem with smugness, especially those who haven’t been humbled, broken, and gone through some serious crap in their lives. They become in love with rules and making everyone follow the rules. It’s almost pathological, and indeed, I would put forth the idea this is why we have Christian attrocities from the Crusades, the Witchhunts and the hatred of gays in modern America. An obsessive focus on morality brings smugness, which turns to fear, which turns to hatred. As a result, all kinds of ugliness happens. This is why I keep asserting that the above horrors happened out of a warped sense of morality, not what Christianity confesses. This is a key point that atheists often miss because Christians miss it.
Christianity is not about being good and I have spent my whole life figuring that out. The Core idea of Christianity is that we can’t be good. Period. And any Christian who insists we can is deluding themselves. The story of Christianity is that we are saved by Grace and because we are saved by Grace, we should be full of love, not hate. Grateful, not seeking to force people to believe what we do, but to rather be an example of it. Do I think Christians are not “real Christians” if they don’t do this? No, I would never say that.
But, I would say, myself or anyone else who doesn’t accept the above fact of Christianity should realize we are being bad Christians. And when we forget Grace, we become monsters, more than anyone else. We become monsters of legalism that devour people, kill people and hate people. As Jesus once told the pharisees, when you make a convert, you make them twice a son of hell as yourself.
Which now brings me to suffering. It’s often the point I hear the most in my conversations. As a minister, I have experienced the suffering of others first hand. This is another point that gets missed when people talk about ministers. Most ministers, not the bloated TV evangelists pigs, make little money. For example, I have driven the same car for ten years. They endure long hours, impossible expectations, and some of the ugliest situations you can imagine. When people say that ministers live cushy lives, I just laugh. Bitterly, often. Because people have no idea.
For example, you remember your high school speech class? The horror of it? You prepared a speech, gave it in front of your peers and then, depending on the teacher, you had to endure the critique. Now, magnify that by ten times and you will understand what a pastor goes through every time he steps into the pulpit. He has to say something inspiring every week while making sure he gets all of his facts right. If he doesn’t you can better be sure that people will call him on it. I have actually spent hours the day after my sermon attempting to explain a point I had made the day before. Or why I had misquoted the Bible or used a particulat sermon illustration from a movie that some people didn’t like. Still think preachers live cushy lives?
But, back to the point. I have walked with people through death, called the police while protecting a woman from her abusive husband, and other such horrors. And to be honest, suffering is the hardest thing for me when it comes to my faith. All the science and history questions don’t really bother me, as I’ll explain later. It’s the how can God allow such suffering? Such horror? This is especially true when it comes to kids and my involvement with the Not For Sale group and its campaign to stop slavery.
I know, logically, that it’s not an inherent contradiction for God to allow suffering. I know all the intellectual and theological answers for this. But, frankly, they aren’t really good enough when you are holding a one year old who has been thrown to the floor by his father. It’s not good enough when you sit by the bed with a family whose father is dying. Or, when your own wife, after years of trying to have kids, has a miscarriage and can’t sit in church, broken by her grief. A naturalistic worldview is no comfort in this either. As PZ said in his blog yesterday, “The world is nasty and cruel”. Or as Dawkins says, “The really adult view, is to make our life as meaningful and wonderful as possible.” Really, Richard? And how does that work with people who have undergone such unthinkable horrors? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and get over it? There are some things that you just don’t get over or that you can make meaningful.
I don’t know that the problem of suffering (or evil if you prefer) has any solid answers as to why God does allow it. I’ll be honest, I question Him on this all the time. But, there is something that keeps drawing me. This idea that God doesn’t remove ourself from our suffering, rather, He entered into it fully through the person of Jesus Christ. He is not a god who keeps himself distant from the suffering of the world, but choose to bare the brunt of it through the Cross. This is what Christianity teaches and has always taught, the mystery of the Incarnation.
Most people say that there is nothing worse then suffering. They are wrong. What’s worse is meaningless suffering. God suffered with us to show us that suffering can be redeemed and that it holds the promise it will one day come to an end. Without that, the suffering everyone in the whole world has experienced has no meaning, just human being crushed on the wheel of an indifferent universe. Tell that to the people who suffer and see how far that gets you. People say that Christianity is cruel because it asks people to embrace suffering. Well, I can’t think of anything more cruel than to tell someone their suffering has no value or worth.
And it’s one of the things I find most compeling about Christianity, the suffering God, the one who doesn’t hold back from fully identifying with His Creation and then taking all the suffering of the world on himself. Why does He allow it? The better question is , What has he done or doing about it?
And this brings us full circle to Christian morality. We are to enter into other people’s suffering as Christ entered into ours. Love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control, against these things there are no law. This is Christian morality as motivated by God’s grace. Anything else is destructive moralism that will eat you away in the end.
And, if I’m not careful, it eats away at me.