Tuesday, February 17, 2009

a phrase that popped into my head...

blue skies brighten a cloudy day
changing thick haze to a lighter shade of grey...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

House of Cards

Sometimes, life is like building a house of cards. It is a slow and meticulous process. It requires patience. It requires persistence. The problem is that no matter what, things are going to fall. The cards will not stay in the right place. In life, sometimes things happen. They go wrong. Not only do they go wrong, but they seem to all go wrong at the same time. Layers of uncertainties flutter down like those thin cards. But the thing is, we have to keep building. Our lives do not end because of one disappointment or another. We must be persistent and patient, always looking to our end result, eternal glory. This does not come from our own work, but instead by the grace of God.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Inner Ring

In "The Inner Ring," Lewis describes the age old idea of cliques and popularity. It is a struggle to fit into whatever society a person may be a part of.

He begins by using a quote from Tolstoi's War and Peace. In this passage, a general is silenced by a lower ranking official. Why? Because the general is not a part of the elusive "inner ring". This idea of an inner ring is not surprising to us because we have all experienced it in our lives. We all know who the most "important" people are in high school. We all know what groups or social circles are alive and well here at Calvin. We have even seen, or at least I have, the inner ring of our churches. 

Is there something wrong with the inner ring? I think that it depends greatly upon what these people do with their power. I say power because they certainly have much power over others. The manipulations that can be caused by an intense desire to be within the group are many. People may speak of peer pressure. The only reason peer pressure works is because one person does not feel the same amount of power as the group. But if this power is not used to harm or manipulate, is there actually something wrong with having a close group of friends?

I would say no. The problem is that it is so tempting to exclude, even on accident. In most cases, it is not outright denial of entry into some clubhouse. Instead, it can happen in subtle conversations about group events of the past which others had no part in. Or perhaps it can be the absense of an invitation to a group function (though this is slightly more direct exclusion). Or maybe it is merely in the looks and glances that pass between group members when someone else is attempting to enter their circle of power. 

But what about the outsider? What is his or her responsibilty? C.S. Lewis explains that we must conquer our desire to be in the inner ring. "The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it." This is a profound statement. It means that once we stop trying to fit in, we will find our actual place in the community at large. This doesn't promise popularity to all. But there is a hope that we can all find a few good friends if we allow the friendships that are already starting to flourish.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Problem of Pain- Chapter 6

Why is there pain and suffering in our world? How can our loving, just God allow awful things to happen to his people? It is a tough question. Not just tough, but also one of the leading arguments that atheists or others may use against Christianity. In fact, as mentioned by Peter Kreeft, Thomas Aquinas cites this problem of pain as the best argument against Christianity. 

First, we must define our terms. Suffering is, in my mind at least, the absence or loss of good. This may sound familiar. Isn't this the same definition as that I used for evil? Yes it is. It is of the same exact character. Someone mentioned in class that the distortion of the greatest good will cause the greatest pain. Pain is the offspring of suffering. Pain is the feeling, whether physical or emotional, that develops during suffering. 

But back to the problem. How does our God allow us to experience pain? Surely, he is powerful enough to stop it. Why doesn't he? Sometimes, God uses pain to help us "surrender" to him. Our lives must be changed so He allows pain and suffering into our lives. 

This issue also brings up a side argument about the nature of God. We know that we cannot fully grasp all of the wonders of God. We don't know exactly why He does certain things. But can He feel pain? Does He know what it means to suffer? When we pray for deliverance from suffering and pain, does He know what we are even talking about? I would argue that he does. Maybe this is not an important argument to some. If any such people are reading this, you might as well stop now. But for those interested people, I will continue.

Let's begin with saying that God can't feel any suffering. With this kind of God, He is "above" suffering. He doesn't feel it because He is too good, too perfect to feel pain. Let us return also to the point made earlier that we suffer because we must be changed. Does our all powerful God really need changing? Absolutely not! The next point involves Jesus' suffering. He obviously suffered greatly while on the cross. Has God felt this pain too? If God was feeling the same pain, the what do the words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" mean? It is a difficult discussion.

Now let's examine the other side of the issue. If God is "above" suffering, then how does He know what we are talking about when we say something hurts? In my mind, Jesus and God are in some way- though it's incomprehensible- one being. Therefore, when Jesus suffered on the cross, God also knew that pain. He probably didn't feel it in the same way as we do. I doubt God feels any emotion or state of being in the same way we do. But He was still part of Christ while He suffered. 

But if we say that God doesn't suffer in the same way as us, then how and why does He suffer? It surely isn't over trivial things. Is it? The beauty of this idea is that God can take on our suffering. He chooses to suffer with us. He sees our pain and makes it his. Therefore, if I am crying over the death of my dog, then maybe God is, in some way, sad with me. This is comforting, to me at least. 

Maybe I am wrong. That would be okay with me. I am not even sure that I made a great case for what I think. But I am sure that whatever God feels or doesn't feel, the point is that He loves us. He sent His Son to take upon Him the ultimate suffering, the punishment for all of our sins. Thank God that we do not need to feel that pain!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Engaging God's World- Chapter 4

Our world has fallen. Everything must be changed, redeemed, and restored. We are a part of this. We need salvation, as we discovered in the third chapter of this book.

How are we saved from the sin that has been eating away at us? We must have some sort of grace from an outside source. God has graciously given his Son to take our place. This is the first side of a concept called "double grace." In this process, we are first justified, then we slowly become sanctified. In sanctification we become more Christlike. This doesn't happen in a day or one moment; instead it is a lifelong process. It is a constant struggle between how our sinful nature and the new creation of Christ within us.

Since we are redeemed, we are grateful to God. How could we not be? We owe Him everything. He atoned for our sins on the cross. Beyond that, He promises us not only salvation on earth but also eternal salvation. This gratitude leads us to desire to serve Him in any way we can. By serving Him, we must be putting on a Christlike attitude. This attitude may not be quite right yet, but we still must at least try to use it.

This all may sound like review. In fact, it should. But, as someone mentioned in class, this is the foundation of faith. We may know the facts, but it is how we actually apply them to our lives that matters. We must remember that when we approach an "old" topic, we shouldn't think that there is nothing new to be learned. Instead, we must try to keep it fresh. Instead of using old catchphrases, we should use new ways to say the same ideas. This way, we won't scare people off with big words or confusing phrases that only have meaning if you are in the "inside loop" of the church.

Man or Rabbit?

"Can't you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?" This is the central question of "Man or Rabbit?" C.S. Lewis makes two conclusions: first, that a good life in godly terms is impossible for anyone, and second, that living a good, moral life is not the goal of our existence.

One problem that I had with Lewis in this essay is that he is once again dealing only in extremes. He talks about only Materialists and Christians and no one in between. What happened to all of the other religions? Where do they fall? Can't a Hindu or a Buddhist live what anyone would consider a good life? We must not see only the two extreme cases because our lives do not involve only extremes. We spend most of our time in the middle ground, dealing with people who might be trying to be "good."

This brings me to my second issue with this essay. What definition are we using for the word good? According to Lewis, we must be using a biblical definition of good works, as in good coming from God. I agree that this is the true definition of good. I also agree that as sinners, we can't live a good life in a biblical sense. However, if a person actually is asking this question, I'm sure that they are not thinking of good in a biblical sense. Instead, they are thinking of basic moral practice. In this way, I would argue that in a way, people can live a good life in worldly terms outside of Christianity.

Notice that I don't think that this morality can earn them salvation. Salvation comes from the cross. If God has mercy on others who have never heard, that is wonderful. We can hope for the salvation of the unbeliever without access to the Gospel, but I don't think that we can assume that it will happen.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Abolition of Man

In this book, C.S. Lewis is proposing the idea that our educators are slowly decreasing the moral value of students by placing less and less emphasis on the Moral Law, which he refers to as Tao. The main focus of my small group's discussion revolved around whether this Moral Law actually does exist. This will be the focus of my blog today as well.

I began to question this theory of the Moral Law when I realized what Lewis was arguing against in this piece. He argues against teaching a separate and different set of values to children. However, this in and of itself implies that these values must be taught or else they become lost. Isn't the Moral Law "written on our hearts"? How can we lose something such as this? If we must be taught to disobey, are we not also then taught to obey? 

When searching for an answer, I turned to my own life for help. I was taught right and wrong by my parents (or at least that is what I think). They presumably also learned from their parents, teachers, and experiences. Where did this idea of right and wrong come from? In my case, my parents believed the Bible and taught its words as a "moral law." Where did the laws of the Bible come from? They came from God. But what about other cultures? Does this same reasoning apply? Children being taught by parents is certainly the case worldwide. However, the source of those values may take a different form, such as a Muslim using the Koran. Yet in most core beliefs, such as the right of a person to live, all cultures agree. This leaves us with two options. Either God has given us his Law, a Moral Law, in our hearts and therefore also in the hearts of the people writing other "holy" books, or God inspired the "holy" books of other religions as well. Since Christianity calls for One Way, One Truth, and One Life, the second option cannot be correct. 

This leads me to believe in the Moral Law, but there are other unanswered questions that I still must deal with as well. At least for now, I can agree with Lewis when he says that this Moral Law must still be kept in a place of honor.