A Response: God Does Not Call Us to Suffering

This summer I heard a sermon that upset me deeply. This message was spoken to Christians about Christians, and it declared that God calls some to suffering and some to victory.

This article responds to the teaching in that sermon, because I believe it was unbiblical and harmful. I am not questioning or discussing the speaker’s intentions with the sermon, only the message spoken and implied. For anyone who has heard this sermon or others like it, this article is for you.

The sermon itself was about Hebrews 11:32-40, and I have no objection to the majority of it, until we reached verses 35-40. The speaker said, supposedly based on these verses, that God calls us to suffering. He went on to say that God calls some of us to suffering, some of us to victory.

I do not agree.

First, the only victory we have is Christ. He triumphed over death, and by choosing him, his victory becomes ours, regardless of the suffering we endure in this life. (Hebrews 10:12-14) The entire book of Hebrews talks about enduring suffering in faith, not being called to it!

Christ’s victory means we have new life and freedom from our sin and shame. It does not always mean we see freedom from everything we struggle with in this life. 

Second, it’s often those of us in a position of “victory” who feel free to use the deterministic language that God calls some to victory and some to suffering.

I myself speak from a position of “victory,” to give it the implied definition: I have suffered no trauma, no abuse, and no immense loss. I have never experienced discrimination, never been assaulted or mocked, never worried about having food to eat or a warm place to sleep. My family is stable and intact; I live in the wealthiest country on earth; I have never battled mental or physical illness.

A person who survived the Rwandan genocide or the Holocaust, a person who was molested as a child, an African slave who lived and died never knowing freedom – were they called to suffer? They were certainly not experiencing the “victory” implied in the sermon.

Suffering versus victory is a false dichotomy. As I said above, Christians always have victory because we are in Christ, while we also experience hardship and pain in our lives. We suffer and we are victorious simultaneously. It is not an either/or proposition. 

Victory in Christ doesn’t always look like we think it ought to when we are dealing with pain and anguish in our lives, so we struggle to recognize it. This adds to the false dichotomy, because then we do see it as victory versus suffering, rather than the two existing alongside each other.

But even if we were to use the “victory” definition, one can have a loving family and also battle debilitating illness. New moms often face both the joy of a new life and the deep darkness of postpartum depression. Rachael Denhollander suffered sexual abuse, the effects of which are deeply scarring, and also fights for other survivors as a lawyer today while she raises her own children.

By separating suffering and victory, we do not allow either those “called to suffering” to have victory or those “called to victory” to suffer. This concept hurts everyone, regardless of the level of “victory” in their lives.

Third, when we speak of suffering, if we don’t acknowledge different types of suffering, we are not correctly addressing the subject. By no means am I a theologian or philosopher, but I have identified at least three different varieties of suffering.

  1. Suffering as a result of a broken world. (Romans 8:20-22). Natural disasters, cancer, disease, aging, depression. Our world is deeply wounded and broken; God did not intend for humans to starve to death or take their own lives because their brain chemistry is unregulated.
  2. Suffering as a result of human evil and sin. (Romans 1:28-32) Slavery, abuse, child molestation, genocide, war, PTSD. Humanity is capable of great evil. What humans do to each other is far outside what God created us to be. We must be mindful, however, that the sin of humans exists on a spectrum: a child hitting his brother does not in any way compare to a grown man abusing his family. To say that it does is sin leveling. While we are all sinners, some people have embraced wickedness, some sinful acts are far more destructive to other people, and true acts of evil are often committed by people who profess Christianity and yet are wolves in sheepskins, who do not know Christ at all.
  3. Suffering as a result of choosing Christ. (John 15:18-21) Persecution, martyrdom, imprisonment, torture. Jesus warned us not only that we would suffer, but that we would suffer in his name, for him. Christians around the world have died, are dying, and will die because they love Jesus. People have lost their entire families when they were disowned for following Christ.

Obviously these three categories overlap: the Haitian people suffer from diseases and starvation, both elements of a broken earth, imposed on them by the terrible legacy of colonialism, the evil of humans.

Free will and demonic evil also play significant roles in our pain.

Free will means that you can choose to live in a state regularly affected by tornadoes or hurricanes, that you can lie to your boss and be fired, or marry someone who chooses to abuse you. You can also choose to follow Jesus even when the path leads to a prison cell or death, yet you can always turn away.

I don’t think we can truly know the role of demonic evil in our suffering. What illnesses or accidents or disasters are the devil’s handiwork? What human evil does he prompt or spread? When is he persecuting followers of Christ through unwitting human puppets or willing abusers?

Finding him in every heartbreaking circumstance denies the fact that humans are capable of great evil all on their own, but to dismiss him as inconsequential is to be spiritually blind. (1 Peter 5:8)

To say that God calls us to suffering without also describing some of the nuance and variety of suffering and its causes is inadequate. It traps people in abusive situations and tells them that suffering is God’s will for them and plan for their life, and that is spiritually abusive. It tells people that God arranged earthquakes and hurricanes specifically for them; that God chose their baby for SIDS. It places concentration camps in the same category as forest fires without accounting for the differing causes of each.

Suffering is not straightforward. There’s no easy answer or clear reason. Saying that God calls us to suffering jumps past all the complexity and tells us that God has a plan that requires our pain. 

If we take this concept to its logical extreme, people who seek treatment for physical and mental illness and people who flee from abuse, war, genocide and slavery are thwarting God’s will and disobeying his call on their lives. This logical extreme leads people to say, “Sometimes children dying is godly.” Ideas like this wreak heartbreaking devastation upon people’s faith in Jesus.

These are the problems with saying that God calls us to suffering. I do not believe God ever calls us to suffering.

The only possible type of suffering we might say God calls us to is suffering for Christ, but that elevates suffering to a level it was never meant to attain. God calls us to him, to follow him, to be loved by him. That path may lead to suffering and through suffering, but the suffering is not the point and it is not the destination

Jesus warned us over and over that persecution comes when we choose him. But that’s all he said. He did not tell us that he calls us to suffer for him, only that it will happen because of his name. (Matthew 10:22-23) 

When we imply that suffering is holy, do we then extend that to mean Christians fleeing persecution in Iraq or China should stay and endure? Do we mean that escaping persecution is wrong? 

The believers in Jerusalem fled persecution at the very beginning of the church – are we suggesting they should have stayed? From our vantage point 2,000 years later, we can see that God used the Christians escaping from persecution to spread the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, just as he brings light from the darkness of our own lives. If they had all stayed in Jerusalem and Israel, the world would look very different today.

There is no one answer; each Christian must follow Jesus’ leading for their own life. Sometimes that will mean enduring persecution for Christ’s sake, sometimes that will mean fleeing.

But we must not confuse suffering because of Christ with suffering of any other kind. 

They cannot be addressed as if they are the same, because enduring persecution for sharing the Gospel is not the same as battling chronic illness or grieving the sudden death of a son or daughter, although they are equally devastating and difficult. 

Natalie Hoffman spent twenty years in an abusive marriage. Jesus did not want that for her. He led her to freedom through divorce. Did good come from that marriage? Yes – she has nine children and a powerful abuse ministry that has helped hundreds of women break free from their own abusive marriages. God brings beauty from ashes in a million different ways, but he does not require or plan your suffering in order to do so.

If you have heard this sermon or others like it and…

…you see God as abusive for orchestrating your suffering…

…you feel that God wants you to stay in your abusive marriage, relationship, or spiritual community…

…you believe God caused your abuse or sexual assault or trauma…

…you think that God chose you for suffering above and beyond what other people suffer…

…your soul is bleeding and your heart breaking because you have been told that God took your child or gave you an illness or tore apart your relationship…

I am so sorry.

These ideas are not of God.

Jesus loves you and he wants you to be safe and free and to know that you are precious and beautiful to Him. God weeps and rages on behalf of the wounded, the abused, the grieving, the poor, the bullied, the oppressed. (Psalm 34:18) He is a God of justice and love and one day he will judge the wicked for what they have done. (Psalm 37:28)

If anyone who claims spiritual authority over you has told you that God’s will is for you to stay in your suffering, run from that spiritual community. It is not safe for you or anyone else who has been abused or broken.

Search for books and resources and communities that will help you find freedom and truth in Jesus and please, reach out to people who understand abuse and trauma who can support you.

If this is the God, the Jesus, that you believe in as a Christian, a God who calls people to suffer Alzheimer’s, child molestation, emotional abuse, or miscarriage, my heart breaks for you.

This is not the Jesus I know. The God who breathed life into us and created salvation just for us does not call people to suffer. He calls us to him.

My fellow Christians, we ask why people are leaving the church. Before we blame secular culture, we need to assess the church with brutal honesty. (Luke 6:41-42) This goes beyond hypocrisy. Why would anyone want to follow a God who wants them to suffer?

If someone came to church because they are trying to be faithful, trying to love their abusive spouse as he destroys their soul, and heard a message like this, why should they stay in church? Why would they want to?

The church should be full of more abused, wounded, and broken people than anywhere else in the world. We carry the love of Christ and should be loving the lost and hurting, who need it desperately. Jesus came for them! Sermons that tell people that God selected suffering as their life path, their calling from him, leave room only for the “victorious” within the church.

While I am happy to agree to disagree with Christians of all theological backgrounds, if your theology traps people in their pain and suffering, if it leads you to say and do anything to another person that does not reflect the way Jesus loves and cares for people, you need to take a good hard look at what you really believe.

We must always consider the painful stories of others before we express our theology. If we don’t speak to others with compassion and love because of what we believe, we are not loving people as Christ calls us to.

Humans do not have an answer to suffering. Oh, we have ideas and philosophies and millions of words about suffering and why and how and who. Many of those ideas and philosophies and words are healing and clarifying and of the Lord; many are abusive and wounding and false. But we just don’t know the full truth.

I heard this sermon months ago and am still deeply affected by it. Can you imagine looking in the eyes of your neighbor who is dying of cancer and telling her that God called her to suffer? Or a child who has been molested and abandoned in the foster care system? 

I don’t want anyone to ascribe this false doctrine of suffering to the God who loves us so deeply that he died for us. Jesus suffered for us; he doesn’t need our pain for his work. When no one else wants us, God does. When this life tries to destroy us, he is with us.

If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this:

Jesus loves you.

On Being an Introverted Christian

I’m an introvert.

I’m a fairly classic introvert, who is not outgoing or comfortable in large groups of people I don’t know, who requires lots of alone time to function, who could easily become a actual hermit if I lived alone and didn’t need to work for a living. Parties where I only know one person are very stressful. Fictional people are so much easier to deal with than real people.

Small talk is so hard. What do I say? What questions do I ask? Oh no, did I just come off as a crazy person?

Walking up and starting a conversation with someone I don’t know is enough to give me heart palpitations. I did that at church recently, with people I don’t know personally but who know who my family is, and my hands were shaking through the whole conversation, my heart was pounding, and I was praying I could get the words out without tripping over them and stuttering and saying strange things. Corners are the best place to be at events, because then people come to you if they want to talk to you.

If you see me at an event and I don’t talk to you, please know that I probably think you’re really cool but have no idea what to say to someone that awesome. If I speak to you I’ll end up saying strange things or just laughing a lot. It’s not you, it’s me. Seriously.

Phone calls are the bane of my existence. I’m extremely blessed to be in a job where I rarely have to talk on the phone. If I call you, I have probably given myself a script to start off the call, because there are only a few people on this earth I don’t get anxious about being on the phone with, and most of them live in the same house as me.

Making friends is like climbing a hill with no guarantee of ever reaching the top, complete with awkward conversations and heart palpitating moments along the way. This chart, found on tumblr, sums up most of my friendships:

Sometimes I feel like you have to be an extrovert to be a good Christian. (A horrifying notion.) Jesus loves people. He came to earth and spent so much time loving on people and meeting new people and being surrounded by crowds. He tells us to feed His sheep and go into the world and make disciples. So many people!

Being real here–people stress me out. A lot. 

So it seems like I’m not qualified for this being like Christ business. Especially when you need to show His love to people you don’t know. Believe me, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone to do this and for someone who gets anxious about asking a worker at a store a question, it takes a lot of fear and trembling before God to do that.

Oh God, do I have to? Maybe someone else could do it? I’ll just show your love to the middle school girls I already know, and maybe another leader can talk to the new ones. I know, I know. I’ll go over and introduce myself in 3, 2, 1…

It has gotten easier, in some situations. Middle school kids don’t seem to care how awkward I feel when I talk to them. I actually hold short conversations with the moms who have babies in the church nursery where I volunteer.

But I am so much more comfortable in the background, with the people I already know. Church event coming up? Great! How can I help in the kitchen or with the kids? I’ll tell people what to do if there’s no one else to do it, but it makes me nervous. And please don’t make me a greeter…

So there are the two sides of the situation. On the one side, God made me who I am. I can’t force myself to be a people person, and I will never be someone who meets someone and bam! Instant friend. I have my strengths as an introvert–great with small groups, great listener, absolutely ready to pray or talk one-on-one, overwhelming love for my middle school girls–and I have learned (am learning) how to balance those with my weaknesses.

On the other side, God has called me to love people. Maybe not as a greeter at church events, or as the one who goes out into the lobby to find the moms new to the church and encourage them to bring their babies to the nursery. It’s so easy sometimes to avoid talking to people and tell myself it’s because I’m an introvert and it’s exhausting and anxiety inducing.

But when that middle school girl walks in to the student center and looks lost and uncertain, I can get over myself and my insecurities and go welcome her. When standing in a Jamaican nursing home with instructions to go into the residents’ rooms to pray with them, I can pray, Oh God, I don’t know how to do this and I’m really freaked out, and then do it anyway.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to be people we are not. He does ask us to trust Him to change us and grow us into Christians–little Christs. And to do that, we need to lift our eyes off our own insecurities and fears, turn to God, and say, Ok, God. What do I do next?

I will always be an introvert, and Jesus will use me just as I am. I don’t have to worry about being different. All I have to do is turn to Jesus.

Jesus and Minimalism

bluepaintRecently I watched Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things on Netflix. I’ve been a minimalist for a few years now, ever since discovering minimalism shortly after graduating college. Depending on the picture that comes to mind when you hear the word minimalism, you might not agree with my self-label if you saw all my belongings. (So many books. And notebooks. And–I confess–horse toys.)

Minimalism, however, is not about having as few things as possible and having a cold, bare home. Minimalism is about editing your life to contain only what brings you joy and adds value to your life. This is often most visible in your physical possessions, but it also plays out in how you spend your time, how you spend your money, the relationships you cultivate, the job you choose, and the activities you fill your schedule with.

As an introvert, I naturally tend toward minimalism in my schedule, but it was a revelation to me that I did not in fact need to own all the books to have my own little library. I only need the books that bring me joy, which are usually the books I read over and over, or the books I read dozens of times as a child and want to keep for nostalgia and any future children of my own.

The anti-thesis of minimalism is consumerism, which is more than just shopping a lot. Consumerism is a worldview, a mindset, that affects your finances, your career, your schedule, your hobbies, and your relationships, just as minimalism does.

This is essentially the thesis of the documentary, which I found to be a refreshing, calm film that inspired me to be more intentional about life: how I spend my time, my money, and my thoughts. I highly recommend it.

One aspect of the documentary that caught my attention was the interviews. Most of the major minimalism bloggers that I am familiar with were interviewed for the documentary, and as each described their journey to minimalism, I heard the same phrases over and over.

“I felt so empty.”

“There was a hole that I was trying to fill with buying things and doing things.”

“I climbed the ladder and did not find fulfillment at the top.”

These are general sentiments, not exact quotes, but nearly every single person experienced a variation of this. They then discovered minimalism and shed loads of excess baggage, weight, mental turmoil, and schedule craziness, and did a complete 180 in life.

Now they all described a slower pace of life with fewer possessions and commitments, with time to focus on what was truly important to them. Fulfillment and contentment, found in minimalism.

I am quite certain these bloggers have found fulfillment and contentment and joy having edited their lives and possessions. I am equally certain their original problem was emptiness, not consumerism.

As a Christian, I know there is emptiness without Jesus. Every Christian can tell their own story of life without Jesus, and life with Jesus with that emptiness filled. Emptiness is the condition of a life without Jesus, and consumerism is a treatment of the emptiness that soon becomes a symptom of that same emptiness.

Minimalism is another treatment of the original problem, and most people who give minimalism the side-eye do so because of minimalists who count their possessions and exult when they have only 100 things, or minimalists who are always skating through life by borrowing everyone else’s belongings and generosity in order to have as few things as possible. At that point the treatment has once again become a symptom.

But although minimalism is not Jesus, I think it comes much closer to filling that void than consumerism, and that’s why minimalists do feel so much happier and content with life.

Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV) says “19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I will not label Jesus a minimalist. Trying to pin modern labels on the Son of God is a silly exercise, in my opinion. But I do think minimalists are on to something that Jesus was telling people about 2,000 years ago.

Jesus valued people, not possessions. He spent His time building relationships and focusing His energy on God’s purpose for Him. Those of us who have been in church for a long time are familiar with the idea that Jesus did not come to be the warrior king the Jewish people expected, but instead a savior of souls. But if we look at this from a slightly different angle, what do we find?

Jesus did not come to earth to accumulate material possessions or see how much activity He could fit in one day, no matter how worthwhile that activity might be. Luke 12:15 (ESV) says, “15 And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”

The young man who wanted to know how to have eternal life was not interested in giving up his possessions and wealth in order to have that eternal life. Jesus’ response speaks volumes about what happens when we value the wrong things.

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24 ESV)

The point is not the wealth or possessions, but what matters to us. In minimalist terms, what we spend our time, money, and physical space on.

Do we prioritize buying the newest gadget over giving to an organization that feeds the hungry and brings the gospel to the far corners of the world? Do we spend time organizing our lives and our belongings or spending hours on our devices and put off spending time with our families? Are we too busy running from one activity to the next to notice the gorgeous sky God created or the joy of splashing in puddles? I’m certainly guilty of all this.

If Christians are on this earth to be a reflection of Christ, then living with a consumeristic mindset simply will not work. Our lives ought to be lived intentionally, with our priorities on people and God’s purpose for each of us. This includes doing things that feed our souls instead of sucking us dry and making the days flash by in a haze. This might be as simple as spending less time scrolling the internet and more time reading a book by C.S. Lewis, or as big as putting an stop to endless planning or dreaming and taking the first practical step toward your dreams and calling.

Courtney Carver, of bemorewithless, often says minimalism is love.

Jesus is love, and minimalism only works when it reflects Jesus’ values, whether the minimalist in question realizes it or not.

Emptiness, a life without God, is the problem. Consumerism is a treatment turned symptom. Minimalism is a treatment that mimics the cure.

Jesus is the cure.


winterweather1Soft flakes fall from the sky, blanketing the sleeping earth in white. Icicles stand in jagged relief against the sides of houses, and the world is quiet. Waiting for spring to come again, resting after the mad dash of the holiday season, giving nature a chance to rejuvenate.

It’s the time of year for hot cocoa, for snowball fights and sledding, for snow forts and cheeks bright red with the cold. Now is when we pause and hibernate, watching the snow falling outside the window while a fire crackles in the fireplace. Sipping hot tea, a rabbit bounding across the fresh white expanse leaving clear tracks to mark its passing.

Dark nights meant for contemplation, long walks in the crisp air, looking up at the stars. Night comes early in the winter. Everything slows down and becomes still and quiet.

I wish.

Winter is my least favorite season. Maybe it’s partly because I live in the city, but winter for me means gray slush everywhere, drivers clogging the roads when so much as a single flake falls from the sky, and sliding around turns in my neighborhood, hoping the slide stops before the neighbor’s car stops it for me.

People don’t slow down; winter is when school and loads of other activities occur. Sitting beside a quiet fire watching the snow fall is all well and good, but when there’s homework to be done or an activity to rush to, quiet moments are shoved aside in the mad dash to accomplish.

Most of the icicles I see live on the bottom of my car, and they definitely are not crystal clear – more of a muddy color. After a few temperature swings, the snow blanketing the ground looks quite soggy, patches of brown earth peeking through. Salt makes its insidious creep into the fibers of my car, laying the groundwork for dark rust spots.

The sun goes away so much earlier in the winter, and it’s so easy to feel down in the dumps with no sun. During the day, the sun often hides behind a gray sky, shading the world in gray. Far from a pristine white blanket, the backyard is covered in uneven lumps of show, sprinkled with other gifts, courtesy of the dog.

I find myself grumbling about winter almost daily. I will never understand why some people proclaim it their favorite season.

But this winter, I am choosing to make it a season of reflection, planning, and dreaming.

Rather than sulking in my bedroom every night after work because the sun has already gone down, I am choosing to take the dog for walks in the cold darkness or make goals complete with action plans for 2015. (Okay, I do still sulk in my bedroom some nights. I can only handle so much cold and darkness at once.)

Rather than allowing myself to be caught up in hustle and bustle, my calendar full of activities, I am choosing to be quiet and still in the events and with the people I value most.

Rather than complaining endlessly while with my horse in the unheated barn that my toes are numb and my nose is dripping, I am choosing to be thankful for the indoor arena and riding my horse bareback (she’s like my own personal heater).

Rather than lamenting that I have no idea what I am doing with my life and feel directionless, I am choosing to remember that right now, it is winter. After four crazy years in college, I am in a season of reflection and reassessment. Maybe big things aren’t happening in my life right now, but that’s okay.

Spring will come.

(Fellow recent graduates, I hold scheduled lamentation sessions every Friday from 6 to 8 pm. Please bring tissues to share. Lamentation may occur only within scheduled hours.)

Title: Bible; Author: Jesus

I read an article on Huffington Post the other day. That doesn’t happen very often, because Huffington Post makes my laptop freeze and do strange things. But this time I was on another computer, and the article title caught my attention.

3 Ways Jesus Read the Bible that Evangelicals are Told Not to Do

Well, this article infuriated me so much I had to write a response to it. The lack of depth and logic behind the thought and writing bothered me immensely, especially since the author says, in the article, that he is an evangelical.* (Presumably he means he is a Christian.)

The author, Pete Enns, had three main points.

1. Jesus didn’t stick to what “the Bible says,” but read it with a creative flair that had little if any connection to what the Biblical writer actually meant to say.

Wow. Let me unpack this a bit.

First, Jesus is God. Jesus inspired the Biblical writers. (All Scripture is breathed out by God. 2 Timothy 3:16a)

If anyone can read the Bible creatively, Jesus is the one.

Besides, we can read the Bible over and over and learn what the Scriptures say by heart, but we will never know what the Biblical authors were thinking as they wrote with divine inspiration. To presume that one knows specifically what that writer meant is an arrogant assumption no one should make. The same is true for any piece of written literature without the writer explicitly telling us, “I meant to say XYZ with this written work.” If anyone knew what the Biblical writers were saying, it would be Jesus.

Second, to make such a broad statement as “Jesus didn’t stick to ‘what the Bible’ says … but read it with a creative flair that had little if any connection…” is to grossly oversimplifiy and completely misread Jesus’ statements.

I don’t pretend to be a Biblical scholar or a theologian, but I’m fairly certain that one can never look only at the surface of what Jesus says. He uses so many layers of meaning that his own disciples, the people listening to him explain, were confused!

Enns gave the specific example of Exodus 3:6: “And [God] said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'” God is introducing himself to Moses through the burning bush, which Enns explains.

He then brings up Luke 20, where Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and Sadducees about God raising the dead. The Sadducees do not believe this, but the Pharisees do. (Enns says that Jesus was of the Pharisee party. I hope this is just Enns’s poor wording indicating that Jesus shared their belief about the raising of the dead. Considering how much time Jesus spends rebuking the Pharisees, he was definitely not one of them.)

Jesus directly references the Exodus passage in Luke 20:37: “‘But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.'”

Enns says, well, God was just introducing himself to Moses, which Jesus then used as a way to prove the Sadducees wrong, so he is interpreting the Bible creatively.

But Enns fails to mention Luke 20:38: “‘Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.'”

I think there is a deeper meaning here than Jesus taking an introduction and using it creatively. He has a bigger point. God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. When he calls himself the God of those who are dead, this indicates that he is still their God, and therefore will be resurrecting them.

Maybe Enns meant this when he said Jesus reused the Exodus passage creatively. I don’t know. But he certainly didn’t explain himself, if he did mean it.

2. Jesus felt he could “pick and choose” what parts of the Old Testament were valid and which weren’t.

I reiterate my first point: Jesus is the author of the Old Testament. If he says we no longer have to follow certain parts of Old Testament law, that’s his prerogative.

Enns uses the Sermon on the Mount as an example. Jesus invalidated a lot of Old Testament law in that one teaching. Enns says, “Several times he quotes something from the Law of Moses and then contrasts what the Law says (“you have heard it said) with a teaching of his own (“but I say to you”).”

And I say to Enns, so? Matthew 5:17 says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

God’s entire plan for creation centers around the fact that Jesus came to change everything. The Old Testament laws are placeholders for the incredible truth and salvation Jesus gave us with his death and resurrection. That does not at all mean the Old Testament laws are unimportant or not valuable; it means that if Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39), what he says becomes the law for us to follow.

The Old Testament is filled with God’s love for humanity. But it also tells us about a whole lot of justice befalling those who do evil. The New Testament, on the other hand, focuses completely on love and forgiveness. Why else did Jesus come to earth?

As far as Enns’s point goes, I think that if Jesus felt free to pick and choose from the Old Testament, he only gave us different views on some parts because he knew which parts would change with his sacrifice and which parts stayed the same. I will say that I don’t know how much or which sections fall into which category, though.

3. Jesus read his Bible as a Jew, not an evangelical (or even a Christian).*

This point confuses me the most. I’m still not sure what exactly Enns is trying to convey. He says, “Jesus did not agree with things about the Bible that evangelicals take for granted and consider non-negotiable–like ‘stick to the text’ and, ‘God’s word is eternal and never changes.'”

I may have mentioned it already, but Jesus is God. Humans don’t get to pick and choose from the Bible, but Jesus is the author. He doesn’t have to “stick to the text” because he is the living embodiment of the text.

Herein also lies a very large and sticky debate about which parts of the Bible are cultural and can be ignored or modified in today’s society and which parts are unchangeable. I won’t delve into that, but I will say that sin is sin is sin, no matter which millenium you live in. No excuses can change that.

Enns also says, “[Jesus] revered [the Bible] in Jewish ways, not evangelical ways,” but he doesn’t really define “Jewish ways” of revering the Bible other than saying that they debated with it and had a creative flare when interpreting it. That is probably a massive oversimplification of all the different sects and groups reading the Scriptures within ancient Jewish society, but I don’t know enough about it to go any deeper.

Anyway, Enns’s final paragraph says, “If evangelicals (and I am among them) pay attention to Jesus, they will learn a vital lesson: Our own Bible shows us that getting the Bible right isn’t the center of the Christian faith. Getting Jesus right is.”

I would think the best way to “get Jesus right” would be to read the Bible and find out what he said and did. I understand that Enns seems to be trying to refocus people on following Jesus and not obsessing over things like infant baptism and literal interpretations of Genesis and the like, but the way he wrote this entire article feels like he threw the baby out with the bathwater. Pardon the expression, if you will.

There is a lot of pressure in this society to reinterpret the Bible to permit a lot of different things, and this is where that cultural debate comes in that I mentioned above. Where do we draw the line between guidelines for our own modern lives and ancient culturally specific practices? How do we know what is still applicable and what is not? (By the way, I have my beliefs about this, but I’m not foolish enough to believe I have all the answers.)

I feel that Enns’s article does a lot of evangelical and literal Biblical interpretation bashing with sentences like this: “What Jesus is doing here [in point one] wouldn’t sit well with most Christians if, say, their pastor got up and preached like this. They’d ask him or her to try and stick to the text better and if not to start looking for another line of work.” Enns essentially gives permission to interpret the Bible in new and creative ways that can disregard pieces of the Old Testament and possibly the New Testament if it doesn’t fit quite right into how we want life to be.

I’ve explained all my feelings and logic issues with this article, but I am still disturbed by the fact that it ran on a major website with hundreds, if not thousands, of people reading it and possibly buying into it.

Living by the Word of God is not supposed to be easy. If we start reinterpreting the Bible, we should examine our motivations very carefully. Are we doing it to make our lives and beliefs easier? That is very, very dangerous.


Note: All Bible verses quoted from the English Standard Version.

*I need to gain a better understanding of what “evangelical” really means. I have never described or thought of myself as an “evangelical”. I’m a Christian, and I attend a Protestant church, so I’m probably in the group called “evangelicals”. But I see that word a lot in secular media, and I’m not sure that I really understand who means what when they say it, especially when writers like Enns seem to make a distinction between Christian and evangelical. (Although they might not understand either…)



Remember Those Who Died


Today we remember those men and women who have fought and died for our country. We remember those who have died in the service of the Armed Forces of the United States, and we honor their sacrifice and courage.

Most people don’t think about what Memorial Day truly means. Most people don’t even know what it means. Lots of Americans know or are related to someone who previously or presently was a member of the Armed Forces, and that is enough to inspire vaguely patriotic and respectful feelings. Sometimes a tweet or Facebook status expresses those feelings, sometimes not.

But Memorial Day is not the day to honor all who are past and present members of the American military. That is Veterans Day, celebrated on November 11. Formerly known as Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I, Veterans Day remembers all who have served, in both war and peacetime. It is a holiday intended especially to thank living veterans for their service.

Memorial Day remembers those who have given their lives for America, particularly those who died in combat or as a result of wounds sustained in combat. We honor their sacrifice and bloodshed in the service of this nation, and we will not forget what they have done for us.

Today, we remember the courage of the colonists who dared defy the British Empire and led our nation to freedom.

Today, we remember those who believed the young nation could stand against the British in the War of 1812 and fought to preserve America’s sovereignty.

Today, we remember the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the bloody war between the states. We remember both Union and Confederates soldiers, for although the Confederates were ultimately defending slavery, many believed strongly in the importance of states’ rights, and they fought to defend those convictions in the tradition of American spirit. (By no means am I excusing their defense of slavery.)

Today, we remember the lives given in the United States’ pursuit of an empire in the Mexican-American, Spanish-American, and Philippine-American Wars. The cause was wrong but the sacrifice real.

Today, we remember the cost of the many Indian Wars, and I choose to honor both the United States soldiers and the American Indians who died.

Today, we remember the soldiers lost in the horrific trenches and battlefields of World War I.

Today, we remember the incredible courage of the soldiers of World War II and the lives given to defeat Hitler and the Japanese.

Today, we remember the soldiers of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, who did not always know why they were fighting and did not always choose their role in the conflict, but who gave their lives anyway.

Today, we remember those who died in the Gulf War.

Today, we remember those who went to war with Afghanistan and Iraq after the horror of 9/11 and did not return.

Today, we remember the servicemen and women who were killed in action last month or last week.

Today, we honor the terrified draftees and the grizzled veterans.

Today, we honor America’s fallen.

I See My World In Books

http-::www.360solutions.com:blog:wp-content:uploads:2012:07:booksI’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. I’ve read more books than I can count, but some stand out because I love them so much.

When I finally got my own library card, my parents gave me a big rolling backpack for Christmas, so that I could fit all my library books in one bag. The librarians smiled when they saw me coming with my 30+ books to check out. I’m a very fast reader, so I always had to check out lots of books to survive from one library trip to another. In the summer reading programs the library put on, I challenged myself to read a hundred books one year, one hundred twenty-five the next. Of course, this was before I had a job, so I had lots of time for reading.

When I was little, my mom read me the entire Little House on the Prairie series, as well as a series of missionary books. I still remember reading ahead in one of the missionary books and then feeling guilty when my mom realized what I’d done. She wasn’t disappointed that I’d disobeyed or lied to her; she was disappointed that I had read ahead without her, that I had created a dissonance in our reading time together.

My memories of books are often tied to what I was eating, or doing, or feeling when I read them for the first time. I remember reading the entire Jedi Apprentice series, consisting of about twenty 100-page books, on one long car ride down to Tennessee. I read a huge amount of Lurlene McDaniel books on Tennessee car rides, and later, dozens of Star Trek books on other Tennessee journeys.

The first time I read Eye of the World, the first Wheel of Time book, I was sitting in my car on my lunch break at work, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I later read the rest of the series in my dorm room at school that fall, except for book four, which I read mostly during several days of a camping trip that August, and finished it at breakfast one day.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was on my list of classics to read, and I started it at a horse show one summer, but I was so tired that the words were swimming on the page in front of me, so I finished it in my car during a lunch break, over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches once again. I read a lot of books during lunch breaks. One book I did read at a horse show and stayed wide awake for was Matthew Stover’s novelization of The Revenge of the Sith, the third Star Wars movie.

I read Ender’s Game one summer day over lunch, and I meant to put it down and save the rest for that evening, as I was planning to go to the barn, but I could not stop until I had finished it. It was that intense. I remember reading Inheritance in bed one Saturday. I’d been waiting several years for that book, as it was the last in a series. I did not put it down until I had finished it, and that book is at least 700 pages long. (And utterly underwhelming.)

I love the books by Jim Kjelgaard: old style tales of dogs and men and other animals in the wild, fighting for their lives and relationships with each other. Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang were also staples of my childhood, which I still adore. The book by Joanna Campbell, Battlecry Forever, still makes me cry at the end. To this day, The Black Stallion is one of my favorite books of all time, and I credit that book with fueling my childhood desire for a black stallion of my own.

National VelvetBlack Beauty, and the Phantom Stallion series fed my horse obsession. The Han Solo Trilogy fed my Star Wars obsession. The Warriors and Redwall series convinced me that animals are just like people, only with a different perspective. Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain made me fall in love with wolves and falcons, and now I have the (probably unhealthy) desire to be lost in the wilderness for a few months. Nancy Drew, however, did not interest me in being a detective.

My speed-reading abilities enable me to avoid putting a book down until I have finished it. I will confess that I have very carefully read books in the shower when I was so enamored that I could not bear to part from them for even a few minutes. So many of my nights have lasted far beyond my bedtime, and I’ve perfected the art of tucking a flashlight between my neck and the pillow as I stay awake for just one more chapter, only to discover that the book is finished and it’s three in the morning. I have avoided countless assignments by reading. When I was little, my mom had to search the bathroom every night to find the books I thought I had hidden, in order to prevent me from disappearing into the bathroom for hours on end.

My bookshelves are crammed, and I have become very creative in shelving them. If you stack the smaller ones this way and adjust this shelf to this height, you can fit three more in this space! It’s not easy to pull books off the shelves because they are jammed so tightly. I can never have too many books.

I have lived dozens of lives through books, explored this world and many others, and had my heart ripped out by fictional characters both animal and human.

I am a bibliophile and book addict. I’d never want to be anything else.

Notes on Revelation

satan Passion of the Chrust

This semester, I am taking a class on the book of Revelation. It’s been a fascinating and illuminating journey as I learn the cultural context and the cultural meanings of all the visions and symbols in the book, and what John, the author, is trying to convey as his message (Inspired by God, of course).

We haven’t touched much on the futuristic aspect of Revelation and how much of it might be literal when it comes to the end times and all that. I’m not going to talk about that in this post, either.

But two particular discussions we had in the last few classes made me thoughtful.

We were talking about Revelation 12, the chapter in which John tells the story of the woman and the dragon and the story of Michael and the angels defeating the dragon, who is Satan. My professor took this opportunity to comment on Satan’s origins. Many people believe that Satan’s previous name was Lucifer, an angel, and God cast him out of heaven because a) he loved God too much and refused to bow down to humans as God’s ultimate creation, or b) that he became proud and wanted to be God’s equal.

Neither version is in the Bible, my professor said. The name Lucifer is not in the Bible. The story actually originates in a Jewish apocalypse, a book named 1 Enoch, which was written in the intertestamental period.

I confess: I had always thought that Satan used to be Lucifer and God cast him out of heaven, taking one-third of the angels with him. I don’t remember learning that at church or hearing it from anyone in particular, but now I’m rather embarassed about my ignorance.

My professor cited several Scripture references that lead people to believe this story, such as Revelation 12:9 (“And the great dragon was thrown down … to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”), Isaiah 14:12-15, in which the title “Day Star” can be translated as Lucifer, and Luke 10:17-18, in which Jesus says he saw Satan fall from heaven.

Contextually, my professor said, Revelation is talking about ultimate spiritual defeat, not some event at the beginning of history. Isaiah is actually talking about the king of Babylon, not Satan, and Jesus is also talking about spiritual defeat, not a literal event.

Now, I’m no Biblical scholar. I don’t know ancient Hebrew or Greek, and I cannot claim to understand Revelation or any of the prophetic books very well at all, let alone everything Jesus said.

But my professor’s explanation of the Scripture references made sense to me, and I started wondering why the Jewish people would give Satan an origin story at all.

After all, he is evil incarnate, isn’t he? Why would anyone want to dwell on him more than necessary?

Well, this is what occurred to me.

1 Enoch was written in the intertestamental period, approximately (like I said, I’m not a Biblical scholar). This was a period in which God was silent. He was still present, still working in the lives of his people and the events of history, but he did not speak through prophets or judges or leaders.

This would have been a period of spiritual uncertainty for a people who were so accustomed to hearing the words of God spoken through his prophets, even if they didn’t like what they heard. History rolled onward in these four hundred years, often trampling God’s people. I’m sure they wanted an explanation for their suffering, just as Christians today ask “Why?”.

If Satan is evil incarnate, he was certainly present and working against God’s people during this period. The Bible does not tell us where the serpent in the Garden of Eden came from, just that he was there. Well, God created all things, so does that mean he created the serpent, Satan, too? That’s a disturbing thought.

The Jews must have thought so. Giving Satan an origin story in which evil was his choice, defying God was his choice, removes the blame of the creation of evil from God and puts it in the hands of free will, the same thing that humans have.

So if Satan never started off on God’s side, and has always been evil, does that mean he came from God?

That’s a terrible thought. The Jews didn’t like it either, I’m sure, thus the origin story.

I believe that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and that he created everything. Better minds than mine have philosophized about the origin of evil and God’s role in that. I don’t have an answer; I just came up with a reason as to why anyone would give Satan an origin story.

The other discussion that sparked some thought for me was related to God’s incredible wrath and judgment described in Revelation. My professor has noted throughout the class that many scholars do not like Revelation and tend to try to explain it away or disregard it as part of Scripture because of the wrath. If God is love, than how can he also be so wrathful?

We are discussing the final chapters of Revelation, in which God brings justice and judgment to the wicked, those who belong to the “kingdom of the earth,” as John described them. My professor said that he sees wrath as necessary for justice. God’s people have been persecuted by the wicked, and now he is bringing justice to them by passing judgment on the wicked.

I think one reason people are so uncomfortable with the idea of God as a wrathful God, not only a God of love, is that that wrath has a target: the wicked. “But God loves everyone! He shouldn’t have wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah or the Canaanites!” people say. Well, he does love everyone. Often, his judgment is designed to bring people to repentance. But he cannot allow those who do not repent to avoid justice.

I think of it like this: Love is the beginning. Wrath is the ending.

God offers chance after chance for humanity to turn its back on evil and follow the Christ. He loves us more than we could ever imagine. But those chances are not unlimited. If humanity keeps its heart hard and refuses to accept Christ and persecutes God’s people, that does not go without consequences.

The inhabitants of the kingdom of the earth. In the context of the Bible, they are the ones who have not accepted Christ as Redeemer and Savior.

I think that those who are uncomfortable with the idea of God judging people and bringing his wrath down upon them feel that way because they don’t want to acknowledge that humans are sinful creatures; that they are sinful. God’s love is so much more attractive than his wrath because his love takes us as we are while his wrath demands repentance.

God brings judgment on those who deserve it, who have rejected him. People don’t like to think that anyone deserves judgment because that would mean admitting the sin and darkness that all humans are capable of.

God is just, however, and whether we like it or not, he will bring justice in the end times.

Remember, I’m no theologian or Bible scholar or philosopher. I’m sure people can find holes in my thought process here and pick apart my conclusions. But these two ideas needed to be written out, so that I could think them through.

Sacrifice Your Beloved


Sacrifice makes us uncomfortable. We accept Jesus’s sacrifice because it has a purpose we understand. But the idea of sacrifice in our own lives bothers us, because sacrifice involves pain.

Genesis 22 relates the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. God told Abraham to take Isaac to the mountain of Moriah and sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering to God. Abraham obeyed, saying “Here am I” (Genesis 22:1), and he went to the mountain, built an altar, and was moments away from sacrificing his son before God intervened.

Many people struggle with the paradox of God asking for the death of a person merely to prove a point. Why would God ask Abraham to kill his only son, the son God had promised? God had passed judgment on places like Sodom and Gomorrah, which were cities filled with evildoers, but the Bible doesn’t label Isaac as evil. Many people have a problem with God’s request because of this.

One theme in this story is the theme of trust. God had a plan and was asking Abraham to trust His word. Abraham had to set aside his own doubts and fears and give up his plans and submit to God’s will. He had to decide if he trusted God to still fulfill His promises, even without Isaac.

Another aspect to this story focuses on the idea of sacrifice. Isaac was Abraham’s beloved son and was the most important person in Abraham’s life, not just because Isaac was his son, but because he represented God’s promises and answers to Abraham’s prayers. God asked Abraham, “What are you willing to sacrifice for me? Will you give me everything?” Did Abraham put God above everything else in his life, even above his beloved son?

Sometimes we find it hard to uncover a message in certain Bible stories that relates to our modern lives, especially in stories from the Old Testament. A story about human sacrifice? What in the world does that have to do with us?

Genesis 22 translates to modern life because it asks one basic question: “If God asked me to sacrifice something or someone I love for Him, would I do it?” In Abraham’s case, the sacrifice was literal. But while that seems horrific to our modern point of view, it would not have been terribly odd to Abraham. His world was filled with violence done in the name of religion, such as babies being sacrificed to the Canaanite god Moloch. Abraham knew that his God was not afraid to ask him to make hard choices.

Because literal sacrifice is not part of modern culture, it is far less likely that God would ask us to burn something (or someone) on an altar for Him. He’ll ask us to sacrifice in other ways.

God may ask for the sacrifice of a relationship or a dream. He may ask for sacrifice on a career path or the sacrifice of a passion. We might need to sacrifice an obsession that is drawing us away from Him, like social media or a movie franchise. Or it could be a dream that God has given us, but if He asks us to give it up for Him, to know that He is the most important one in your life, would we do it? Ultimately, it comes down to a choice: God or our earthly blessings.

“For now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:12b)

God was already planning to sacrifice His son for us. He wanted to know if Abraham would do the same for Him. Will we answer, “Here am I?”

The Ultimate Superhero

Superheroes have taken over the box office in the past few years and show no signs of slowing down. Most of us have seen at least one superhero movie, and captain americasome of us have seen all of them. From Captain America to Batman, Wolverine to Superman and every hero in between, superheroes capture our attention.

Anyone can enjoy the movies, not just comic book fans. From Christopher Nolan’s dark and gritty Batman trilogy to the much lighter Fantastic Four, there is a superhero movie for everyone. For the kids, there is the family friendly The Incredibles. Marvel’s The Avengers and the future Justice League film offer teams of superheroes fighting evil together.

Why are we so drawn to superheroes? What makes masses of people who have never picked up a comic book flock to the movie theater to see the latest superhero blockbuster?

Superheroes save people. They save New York City and Metropolis. They save the world from the forces of evil. Every superhero has superhuman abilities we can never match. None of us will ever experience a genetic mutation that enables us to fly or control fire. Although technology has made great advances, it has not yet given us the Iron Man suit or the Batmobile. With these powers and strong superman-batmanconvictions, superheroes make the world a better place.

Superheroes fight on our behalf and do what we cannot, yet they struggle with their own problems at the same time. Each hero still has flaws and imperfections and they are not all powerful. But Batman and Iron Man and all the others represent the best of humanity. They are hope.

In recent years, the real world has seen a lot of difficult events. There is no Superman or Professor X fighting evil in the real world. So we look to fiction to provide those heroes, often never noticing the superheroes walking among us everyday. They have no superpowers or spandex. The real superheroes are those who do what is right every day and think of others before themselves. If you want to see a real superhero, look around. I think that Katie Davis, a young missionary to Uganda, is a real superhero. Check out her incredible story in her book, Kisses from Katie.

But the most incredible superhero does not come from a movie or a comic book. His costume is not colorful and he has no genetic mutations. His name is Jesus, and He wants to save each and every person on earth. He has the power to do so. Jesus has already suffered on our behalf, as superheroes do in every movie. No evil exists that He cannot defeat.

Superheroes are fascinating and entertaining. Why are we drawn to them? Because we are searching for a savior, but they will never measure up to the Savior.