In addressing a difficult and often ignored topic, Parkview’s own Amy Simpson openly shares personal and profound insights on mental illness and provides suggestions on how the church should respond to those in our community who suffer. Most importantly, Amy offers hope to all of us who are affected in some way or another. Thank you Amy. I hope many will not only join me in reading “Troubled Minds” but take the steps necessary to understand, reach out to, embrace and help those who have them.
The tragedy in Boston reminds me of the downside to true freedom — as a human being it cannot fully guarantee my safety. With freedom comes risk and at times sad consequences. As author C.S.Lewis aptly pointed out, “God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.
A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings – then we may take it it is worth paying.” Today I’m praying for those victims who have suffered the tragedy of freedom.
With the Supreme Court sharing arguments on gay marriage, social media has blown up with people from both sides of the political isle expressing their opinions. Many in the Christian community have jumped into the cultural fray with commentaries that range from empathetic, thoughtful and seasoned with grace to those that are — well, not so much.
It’s no secret. Traditional marriage is an issue most conservative minded Christians embrace. Yet given the current track record of those within the church community, the long held opinion on the matter holds less weight than it once did. For Christians who favor and champion the sanctity of marriage, it doesn’t help that so many in the camp are poor examples of what biblical marriage is purported to be – a lifetime union between a man and women through good times and bad “until death parts us.” Recent surveys indicate that Christians are found to be divorced at a percentage rate “statistically identical” to the rest of the culture. One might then argue, on what moral grounds do we stand as advocates to the sanctity of something we ourselves seem to violate and disregard? In many respects, we’ve lost credibility to speak into the topic. Perhaps before Christians begin lecturing others on the value God places on the union of a man and woman and casting a vision for what is right, we should take a hard honest look at our own practices and remove the plank of rebellion from our eyes and lives.
Whatever the Supreme Court decides will no doubt influence what becomes the law of the land. But just because something becomes a law doesn’t make it right. Herein lies the problem. In the ever-evolving ethical climate of 21st century America, the clash between moral relativism and moral absolutism continues. Personal experience and proclivity, however, cannot be the basis of morality. Not if a society is to survive. Pursued to its logical end, relativism means anyone can argue the legitimacy of his or her behavior. Our society then becomes the sum total of individual preferences and since no preference is believed morally superior; anything that can be dared will be allowed. Tolerance displaces truth, indifference replaces religious conviction. The end result is confusion, chaos and cultural disintegration.
In a society sinking deeper into relativism, if Christians don’t accept the opinions and practices of those who favor same-sex marriage, why should the gay community accept theirs? The fight now centers on who can sway the masses, influence the politicians and muster the most judicial votes, not on whether something is objectively right and true, and more importantly, who gets to make the rules. Who makes the final decision? Who is the ultimate judge?
During a period of rebellion in ancient Israel when there was no wide acceptance of the laws and precepts God laid out for the health and protection of his people, we’re told that “everyone did as they saw fit.” [Judges 21:25]. More and more this is becoming the description of America. How do you impose a biblical and traditional worldview about marriage when so many have now become their own “god”?
Last Sunday I shared this amazing and moving news story. As a former high school coach and extremely competitive person, the out of the box thinking of one Texas football coach along with his players and fans — was humbling to me. It’s a beautiful illustration of how the Christian church should be – always seeking to love, encourage, help and serve people in outrageous upside down ways – especially the discouraged, lonely, imprisoned, poor, marginalized and forgotten. If you missed it – here it is….
After a few weeks of grieving the tragic slaughter of innocent children, teachers and administrators in a Newton Connecticut school, I find myself finally moving on to deeper questions of morality. From the committed Christian to the nominally religious to the staunchest atheist, people readily agree on the evil nature of Adam Lanza’s violent rampage and condemn it. The event has prompted universal moral outrage. But were his actions truly evil? When asked, my answer is “yes.” Whether driven by mental illness, some unknown motivation or a combination of the two, I assert that Lanza’s killing of 27 people was an immoral and evil act. It was a violation of the biblical prohibition, “You shall not kill.”
In the wake of such violence and suffering, many in our culture turn to pastors, priests and moral philosophers for answers. Understandably, we all want to know “why?” As a pastor I long to offer a brilliant and comprehensive response that might make sense of all the insanity … but ultimately my attempts at explanation fall short. I just do not have sufficient answers. For some, the lack of clarity as to why such evil exists leads to frustration and a condemnation of God and religion. One gentleman confronted me demanding an explanation. My best attempt was cut short by an abrupt, “Given the evil in this world, God can’t exist.” For him, if Christianity can’t adequately answer his questions about evil then religion is false and God is a sham.
In fairness, I understand the frustration of having to live with unanswered questions. But I wonder if the same man who approached me questioned an atheist and similarly dissed them for their inability to answer the question? Interestingly, few people turn to atheism in the wake of such senseless violence and pain. And except to share their genuine sympathy and outrage, atheists are mostly silent on such matters of evil.
Unlike Christianity, atheism can offer little to ease our pain in the face of suffering. For them there is no explanation except to say it’s just the brutal reality of a meaningless existence. In the words of well known atheist Richard Dawkins, “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe has exactly those properties we should expect if there is at the bottom no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is and we dance to its music.”
As a Christian, like the atheist, when seemingly senseless acts of violence occur I cannot offer a comprehensive explanation of “why?” But for me, it’s not that there’s no answer to “why” but that in my limited human capacity I simply cannot grasp the reason. I rest in the hope that some day goodness and justice will prevail. But even here atheism fails to offer any hope for justice. According to Dawkins, there is “no evil and no good…nor any justice.”
Yet when tragic killing takes place, the outrage of everyone, including atheists, cries for justice. The same person who says, “I can’t believe in a good God who judges people” in turn protests violence and moral evil saying, “Why doesn’t God do something?” Apparently, a good God of justice and judgment is acceptable as long as his divine justice is meted out on others and not applied to their own life. However, if there is a God who is good and just then his justice must be applied equally to all in order for it to be truly good and just.
C.S. Lewis offers this observation…
“It is no use either saying that if there is a God of that sort—an impersonal absolute goodness—then you do not like Him and are not going to bother about Him. For the trouble is that one part of you is on His side and really agrees with his disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You may want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time; but you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behaviour, then He cannot be good. On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. This is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger—according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.”
“This story begins and ends in joy” by J.R.R. Tolkien
“The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality.’
There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be ‘primarily’ true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed.
It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the ‘turn’ in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth…
This story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused. But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man.
Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the ‘happy ending.’”
–J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” ed. C.S. Lewis, Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947), 83-84.
If you’re reading this entry then obviously the Mayans were wrong. It’s December 21, 2012 and we’re all still here. But in honor of our ancient calendar making central american friends, here’s a tune that’s stuck in my head today! According to my calendar, Life is good!