Thursday, July 26, 2012

Where was God in Aurora? ...and other Questions.

Nicholas L. Laning
Where was God in Aurora?  So big has this question been that the other day had an article with that question as it's main story.  So many people wonder, "what happened?"  And I understand the question.  Everyone has wrestled with this question, and we don't come up with the same answers.

Where do we get the idea that God is good, loving?

I am going to lay one truth down.  God's being loving and evil's existence is not incompatible at all.  Think about the fact that you got the idea that God is loving from the Bible.  You may think it is universal.  It isn't.  It is Judeo-Christian.  Most eastern religions don't have a god at all.  There is either illusion, or nothingness, or something else, but no god.  Hinduism has millions of gods, but they are all a part of the illusion of life.  They aren't a loving supreme being.  So, you are getting your idea of God being loving from Judaism and Christianity.  It is not an innate belief.  If it were, it would have played itself out in other cultures.  God being loving is very unique, not common.

Must a supreme being be loving?

No.  A supreme being doesn't have to be loving.  I am not talking about the Bible.  I am simply saying that something could have created everything and not be loving.  They do not have to go hand in hand at all.  That is illogical.  That is like saying that everyman that walks through the door will be able to whistle Dixie.  What does whistling have to do with walking through a door?  Nothing.  A man CAN walk through a door and whistle Dixie, but it isn't necessary.  Neither is necessary for a being be able to create our universe and have to love.  It is simply that Judeo-Christian influence you have if you feel that way.  You may not like it, but it is true.

So, we get our idea of God being loving from the Bible.  Does it then say suffering isn't real?

Umm, no.  Not even close.  You could pretty much take a Bible in your hand, close you eyes, open the Bible to a random page, and you will find suffering, probably a lot of it.  Read Job.  Job didn't even do anything wrong, and God allowed him to suffer.  Moses, David, Noah, Adam, every prophet, everybody in the Bible suffered.  Matter of fact, most of the Bible is about how to deal with suffering.  Think about that now.  This is the same book that gave you the idea of God being loving.  So, the same book says that God is loving also says that suffering is very, very real.  So then, God's idea of love includes allowing suffering.  Is that illogical?  Nope, and we know it.  Suffering can exist with love. 

Is it possible for suffering to exist with a loving God?

It isn't illogical for God to be loving and allow pain.  It is simply unpleasant.  We just don't like it, and as much as we like to think of ourselves as rational, we are prone to believe with our feelings.  If we don't like it, we don't WANT to believe it.  This is why when a MAN goes into a room and shoots people we get mad at God.  We don't want it to be about man.  If it is about man, it could then be about us, and we want to believe we are awesome.  We ain't.  All of history speaks volumes about how not awesome we are.  We think that because we haven't killed someone that we are good.  Never mind that we are selfish, greedy, prideful, arrogant, etc. etc.

Even if it is logically coherent for suffering to exist in world created by a God who is loving, why did that God choose to do things this way?

I don't know.  I have about eight different theories as to what the answer could be, but they are just that... guesses.  In the end, what we take heart in is that the God of the Bible, unlike any other deity ever put forward, took part in our suffering.  Think about that.  God allows evil, allows suffering to exist, but He did not stay up in the heavens and laugh from a distance.  He became man, and took on more suffering than you or I have.  He was tortured on our behalf.  That is loving.  He delved into the pain, and thus proved that pain can exist, and that He is still loving.

 If not God, then what?

This is where most people I have seen fall short.  We don't like what God has chosen to do, so we choose to reject Him.  However, it is very rare to ask the question, then what?  Judaism and Islam both have suffering and a loving God.  You can't get away form that there.  Eastern religions don't have a loving god, usually not a god at all.  There is justice.  Most run to atheism.  Question... if matter is all that is, then what is evil?  The answer is nothing.  Evil is just another chemical reaction.  Your "life" is nothing but matter trying to stay in a certain form.  There is nothing transcendent, nothing eternal about evil.  The shootings in Aurora, Colorado are nothing more than a chemical and physical reaction.  Does that sound better?  Does that comfort you?  Is that freeing?  It is truly awful.  It is the death of anything transcendent, the death of justice.  The death of love.  All is simply chemical.

How do you come to peace with God and evil?

Read the Bible.  If you read the Bible, you will cease to be surprised by evil's existence, as it is everywhere.  You will see that judging God on being hypocritical can only be done by rejecting His own description of Himself.  If you do that then you have to realize that you are getting your ideas of God from somewhere else, and you cannot judge the God of the Bible with the Bible.

Here are two pieces of scripture to leave you with...

Job 7:1-21

1 "Has not man a hard service on earth, and are not his days like the days of a hired hand? 2 Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like a hired hand who looks for his wages, 3 so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. 4 When I lie down I say, 'When shall I arise?' But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn. 5 My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh. 6 My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle and come to their end without hope. 7 "Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. 8 The eye of him who sees me will behold me no more; while your eyes are on me, I shall be gone. 9 As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up; 10 he returns no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore. 11 "Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. 12 Am I the sea, or a sea monster, that you set a guard over me? 13 When I say, 'My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,' 14 then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, 15 so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones. 16 I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath. 17 What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, 18 visit him every morning and test him every moment? 19 How long will you not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit? 20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? 21 Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be." 

Romans 5:12-18

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-- 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 

Hopefully this has found you well.  I am not perfect.  I am fallen.  My heart's desire is to share the love of Christ with you.  If I have not done that, then please write me and admonish me. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Greatness is Hard

Greatness is intrinsically linked to difficulty. Nothing great has ever been wrought from ease and comfort. All stories of lasting greatness, the stories that move our hearts toward love, that transcend, are all stories of overcoming hardship.

Thus, when hardship, evil, oppression rain down upon you, recognize that all hardship is an opportunity for greatness. It may go unrecognized by other people, but God knows. Greatness does not need to be seen to be great. The person who pushes through hardship and still loves, still fights for good, continues in love, has surely achieved something great.

Take heart, and aspire to greatness. Fight. By the grace of God, who is indeed faithful, your life, though hard, can be great.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Key West, Fun, Purpose, and the Matrix...

Nicholas L. Laning
Just a couple of hours ago I did something incredibly uncool.  One day back from family vacation snorkeling the reefs just off the Keys in Florida, I couldn't help myself.  After doing some recon to make sure the pool was empty, or at least close to it, I broke into action.  My contraband was hidden underneath the towel hung gently over my arm.  There, in the middle of my Uptown Dallas apartment pool, I broke out my Darkfins (rubber gloves with webs between the fingers to help you swim faster, and my dive mask, and I swam.  

The differences between snorkeling in my glitzy apartment pool and the ocean were stark.  The water being sans salt meant I couldn't float anymore, and the water that bubbled into the nose part of my mask did not burn.  There was no swaying of the tides.  And, most obviously, there is nothing interesting to look at.  No ethereally painted fish or eels that remind one of some far away planet in a sci-fi movie.  

And yet, despite all of that, I found myself very, very pleased.  My pleasure has nothing to do with my pool or anything outside really.  The truth is, as great as vacations are, there is something incredibly unnatural about them after a while.  It hit me that, while on vacation, you are prone to think of yourself even more than you already do, which is quite a feat for such a self centered lot as we humans.  The name of the game is pleasing yourself.  At first this sounds great, but inside, the more we indulge, something dies.  What dies is purpose and love.  We are not meant to think of only ourselves.  God calls us to love others.  

All day I have been meditating on Corinthians 13.

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  

2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  

3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  

5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  

6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  

7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  

9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  

10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 

11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  

12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 

Don't skip a single line.  Read that and be amazed.  We are nothing without love.  Nothing!  We are to be kind, not arrogant or rude, to have hope, to endure!  What wonderful, incredible words!!!  Amen!!!  So much fun was had on our trip.  I saw things that I will never forget.  It was wonderful.  Yet, I am excited to stop thinking about myself all the time, and get back to the truly great things, and start loving God, and loving people.  I love to travel, and when I have thought about my travelling in the past, I have imagined it as a means of self indulgence most often.  Now, I still long to travel, but as a means to love others, to share things, to connect with those whom are spreading the gospel around the globe.  Hopefully, God will see it fit to allow me to love in this way.  If not, then so be it.  

Something that my brother shared with me really helped me in my seeing this world for what it is.  As we flew back home, he told me this analogy... believing in the Bible, or at least saying you do, and then getting so caught up in the minutia and tedium of this life, is foolish.  Imagine that you have been brought out of the Matrix.  You have been shown that your life in the Matrix is a lie.  You are a slave to this trick.  You decide you are going to fight the machines and bring about truth and freedom.  Then, when you get put back into the Matrix for your mission, instead of remembering your charge, you get caught with the minutia of the life you once had in the Matrix.  None of it ultimately matters in comparison to the truth, yet you are completely absorbed in rearranging your CD collection while the battle rages on.  Now, I am not saying this life is an illusion.  This is an analogy, and all analogies are limited.  This life is incredibly important, but it is not important in and of itself.  It is only truly important in light of eternity.  And yet, we live as if this is it.  That is not Biblical at all.  According to God's word we are to live for that which is eternally good.  That may mean not having everything go your way here and now.  It may mean next to nothing going how you want it to here and now.  It changes our view on money.  Having a ton of it, while comfortable, may be your downfall eternally, a distraction from duty (though not necessarily).  You may end up marrying someone who is not the person who makes you the most happy here and now, but in light of eternity, is the person God chose for you to glorify Him.  You may not be healthy.  You will only get to not experience everyone in your life dying if you die first.  If you believe what the Bible says, if I believe what the Bible says, then our eyes will see world completely differently.  We will be less likely to get caught enjoying what is temporary to the point where we stop fighting for the eternal.  

My hope and prayer is that God would give us fresh eyes to the truth, that we would fight for what is eternal and good.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Is Freedom Why We Should Celebrate the 4th?




1.  the state of being free  or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint: He won his freedom after a retrial.
2.  exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.
3.  the power to determine action without restraint.
4.  political or national independence.
5.  personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery: a slave who bought his freedom.

Americans are obsessed with freedom, independence, and liberty.  I can't help but wonder... are we really free?  If so, from what?  We are not a part of the United Kingdom.  While I am grateful that we are our own country, that isn't really what everybody is celebrating, because Britian is a pretty awesome country.  If we'd lost, and we were still part of the UK, life wouldn't exactly be horrible.  Our teeth might not be as awesome, but we'd sound cooler when we talk.

So, what are we really celebrating?  We've already checked off definition four.  We're certainly not celebrating number one.  If you are reading this you are probably not incarcerated.  And, if you commit a felony, you very well could in up so.  So that's not it.  

Number five is surely a part of it.  We certainly are celebrating the end of our hypocrisy on touting political freedom for one set of people and yet denying it for another.  Still, this is only a piece of the puzzle.

We are left with two and three.  Let's try two.  Are we exempt from external control, interference, or regulation?  I know, I chuckled too.  The answer is a huge no.  Our lives are incredibly molded by outside forces.  Let's start with the government we'll be celebrating.  It restricts us all the time.  You can only drive so fast.  You cannot yell "fire" in a movie theater or "bomb" on an airplane unless there actually is a fire or bomb.  Haven't you seen meet the parents?  You are not free to wear whatever you want.  If you walk around naked in ninety-nine percent of public places you are going to get arrested.  Your money is not completely your own.  The government will take your money and do what it wants with it.  You can vote, but that isn't the same thing as actually controlling the situation is it?  You will pay your taxes or pay the consequences.  That's just government.  We start our lives under the rule of parents.  Then we add teachers.  Then we swap teachers for bosses. 

There are the restraints of relationships.  Any time you add a relationship to you life you add regulation.  It may be done willingly, but because you desire to not be lonely.  You are taking on the freedom of not feeling alone, of being loved, of having someone to something with. There are sets of things we cannot do because of each relationship we have.  Just one little example, you are not free to kiss your friend's girlfriend.  You may be physically free to do so, but you are not free to do so and expect to keep that relationship.

We craft our actions around those in our lives.  If you don't think this is true, that you really do actually do whatever you want, I am going to just call you a liar.  No one does whatever they want.  We are all, to various extents, pushed and pulled by others, by peer pressure.  No one acts alone.  You cannot.  Why?  Because you are not free to do whatever you want and have friends!  By definition, having a loved one means sacrificing for them.  That means giving up one thing for another.  I could keep going for a long time on this one, but the point is made.  We are not free at all from external control, interference, or regulation.

So, our last hope is number three... the power to determine action without restraint.  This isn't all that different from number two.  We surely are not able to determine action without restraint.  We are restrained by the lack of time, money, ability, health, and on and on it goes.  We are lied to all through life that we can do whatever we want, to dream it and it will come true.  HA!  I almost broke some bones as a kid because I actually believed this and tried jumping off high stuff with the hopes of flying.  (I was five, so go easy on me here)  I may be free legally to make it to the NBA, but I am not physically free to do so.  My body will not what it takes.  I am limited with what my brain can do.  (stop nodding so vigorously!)  Every human is retrained by faith in something.  Christians, atheists, Buddhists, whatever.  None of has the freedom to know the answers to the universe.  We all must rely on faith, and whatever we choose to believe will change how we live.  As a Christian I am free to do many things, but there is much restraint with following Christ.  Atheists may be free from the laws of the Bible, but lose the freedom to feel eternal purpose.  They are not free to be moral without being hypocrites, as all we are is matter.  Every worldview has its freedoms and restraints.

Lastly, we are not even free with ourselves.  So many of struggle with God because we long for freedom from being told what to do.  We long to "be free".  Yet, the truth is that we are not even free in our desires.  I was never asked to have the desires that I have.  Not ever.  Like the Apostle Paul, I am constantly doing things I don't want to do, and am unable to do things I want to be able to do.  No one came to me asked me if I wanted to be selfish, greedy, lustful.  I was just born that way, and so were you.  If I were asked what I want to be my desires, my answer would not be anything near to what I was born with, and neither would yours.  We all long to be better, to be stronger, to love others more.  It is often when we reject those desires that, ironically, we find the most joy and pleasure.  Is that not true?  Is it not in actually in restraining ourselves that we feel the most free?

We are not free.  Not wholly.  All of us are captive to a great many things, both inside and out.  It is with this understanding that I celebrate July 4th not because of freedom, as freedom isn't really there.  No, I am thankful for God's provision.  I am thankful that God has given me so much.  I am thankful that God has given me the only true freedom to live forever with Him.  He has set me free from sin, not that my desires are completely whole in this life, but they are better, and growing stronger each day.  I am free from having to spend an eternity in hell,  because God restrained Himself in human form, gave up so much.  Jesus put himself under the restraint of government, a human mother, teachers, friends, the restraints of an earthly body.  He allowed himself to be flogged and crucified unjustly so that I could be free from both hell, and my own sinful nature.  So, tomorrow I will be celebrating my freedom, but not the freedom form Britain, or from government, or from others, or even the freedom to what I want.  I will be celebrating the victory of Christ over death. and the freedom I now I have to come to him as I am and be delighted in when I don't deserve it.  I will be celebrating an eternity in heaven where I will be free to love as I have not been in this life.  To God be all glory.

Romans 5: 12-21

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned--  
13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  
14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.  
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 
16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  
 17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  
19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. 
20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  
21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.