suffering: a hard lesson

Category : barbarian, faith, fear, hope


Israel spent a long time (500 years or so) suffering in Babylon.  Perhaps the one thing that they learned, perhaps even the main reason for the suffering in the first place, was to learn that there was only one God. 

In other words, they became monotheistic.

Now this may not seem like a big deal, but Israel really struggled with this idea that Yahweh (God) was the “one true God”.  They kept getting distracted by all the other religions around them.  They couldn’t learn that lesson while Moses was leading them.  They didn’t learn it during the period of Judges.  They couldn’t really even grasp it under David and Solomon.

It took 500 years of captivity, punishment, and slavery before they finally learned that there was only one God.  We live in a safety first world.  We can’t even imagine the need for suffering.  We can’t even conceive that suffering might be useful.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think God causes suffering.  I don’t think he wanted Israel to go through 500 years of exile.  I don’t think he wants us to have to suffer.  But because we have free will, I believe God has to let these things happen.

G.K. Chesterton once said that it wasn’t suffering that caused meaninglessness, it was too much pleasure.

We live in a world where all of your pleasures, no matter what they are, can be met.  And yet, we also seem to live in a world that is overrun in hopelessness.  Could part of the reason be that we focus completely on pleasure, and never take time to seize the opportunities suffering presents?

The Bible is filled with people who suffered, yet found meaning.  And I think if we look at our own lives, we’d find that same pattern.  Sometimes, just like it was for Israel, suffering is not only informative, it’s necessary.

what i’m reading: Orthodoxy


Category : barbarian, book review, different, feeding my brain



What a strange title for a book.

I mean, it doesn’t sound very revolutionary.  It doesn’t sound very radical.  I’ll admit, it does sound different.  But probably not in a good way.  So what made GK Chesterton call his “autobiography” of faith “Orthodoxy“?

The answer is the same as why R3 focuses on God’s revolutionary, radical, and different nature.  In short, orthodoxy is the most radical thing we can experience – if it’s from God.  Or as Chesterton says, “the orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable.” (Orthodoxy, p. 93)

I bet you didn’t expect that when you saw the word “orthodoxy”!  That’s okay.  Neither did I.

But that’s how God works.  He does the unexpected.  Sometimes he works in ways that at first don’t seem oblivious.  And yet when we look back we realize everything made perfect sense.  That’s where I found myself when reading Orthodoxy.  There were just certain things that didn’t make sense about Christianity.

On the one hand the Bible says that we should love our neighbors and be willing to give up our lives for them.  But at the same time we’re told that the world is broken and defective.  That it’s not how it should be.  So why, as Christians, should we work so hard to fix something which can never be fixed?  Wouldn’t it be better to just pick one philosophy and hold to it?

Life would be so much easier if we could just love people without working to fix problems.  And it would be easier still if we could just give up on the world and say, “I don’t care.”  But that’s not where God asks us to be.

So how do you find a balance?

The world’s answer is that we need to find a balance between the two.  That the solution is somewhere in the middle.  That we should love some people, but not everyone.  And that while the world isn’t perfect, it’s not really that bad.

Let’s face it, that doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea.  Isn’t compromise a good thing?

But compromise is not the answer Christianity offers.  It says the tension itself is what’s important.  That when you try to create balance what you’re really doing is losing something important.     

That’s why Christianity can say radical things like “hate the sin, but love the sinner.”  On the surface it sounds crazy.  How can you separate the two?  Shouldn’t we have some sins that are “bad, but acceptable” (e.g., stealing food because you’re starving), and other sins that are “beyond redemption” (e.g., murder, rape)?

“Christianity came in here as before.  It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another.  It divided the crime from the criminal.” (Orthodoxy, p. 87)

Orthodoxy, when it’s about God, is startlingly revolutionary. 

“The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven.  The crime we must not forgive at all…We must be more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before.”  (Orthodoxy, p. 87)  It’s out of this answer that we find how we’re supposed to live our lives.  And it’s out of this answer I began to understand how Christians can say things that seem so obviously contradictory.

Now when I look back at my questions, I see they aren’t contradictory at all.  I see that we really can hate the sin, but love the sinner because I don’t need to somehow balance them.  Instead they are two things that are fundamentally separate.  And it’s in that “separateness” that we find our answers. 

This is an idea that applies across Christianity and applies to courage, sacrifice, life.  It’s no wonder that an orthodox church doesn’t take a tame course. 

Sometimes we need to know “not only that the earth is round, but [know] exactly where it is flat.” (Orthodoxy, p. 90)