I may have been reading the Gospels wrong my whole life

So tonight I was reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to my middle daughter. We were reading the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and something hit me I had never thought of (God speaks to us from the most interesting places sometimes doesn’t he)? Sally Lloyd-Jones, the writer of the Storybook Bible, makes the point that Jesus could have come down from the cross if he wanted, and that we know he had the power to because we’ve already seen him feed 5,000 people, walk on water, etc. And it dawned on me: what if all those stories – of miracles and impossible deeds – are all a kind of preamble to the real climax to which they have been pointing: the cross, the true and better miracle. And what if those very miracles are recorded for that exact reason: to make us appreciate the cross that much more. No one’s taking his life from him, he’s laying it down of his own accord. No one is keeping him on the cross but him, of his own will, and that’s part of what makes it great. And how do we know this? Because we’ve seen him appear and disappear. We’ve seen him stop storms, and raise the dead, and heal sick people.

People often say that they are surprised by how much space the Gospel writers give to Jesus’ suffering (his last couple of days) saying it seems like a lot. For instance the first half of Mark is about the first three years of Jesus’ ministry and the second half is about just the last few days of Jesus’ ministry (most of which is his last night, his trials and crucifixion).

But maybe the point is the opposite. Maybe they could have spent more time on his redemptive suffering and pain but they wanted to spend time setting up the depth and breadth of that sacrifice by showing us that it didn’t have to be this way. That he was not really a victim of history or just a martyr for a cause but one who could have stopped it all but didn’t, and that’s why the miracle stories exist at all. To tell us that.

All of this would mean that the story of Jesus’ life is not something different than the story of his death, but that the former makes the latter all the greater.

This is a theory of course, and needs more exegetical thought, but it does make me appreciate his sacrifice that much more and hence makes me want to sin less.

And that’s no small feat.

Debunking myths: the church is against science!

If you go back through history, the church and science were at times at odds with one another; those disagreements, however, have been gravely exaggerated. When atheists speak of the church’s persecution of scientists, we hear stories of people being burned at the stake for scientific theories; we hear about Galileo, Copernicus and Giordano Bruno being persecuted by the church for a ‘heliocentric’ view of the universe – the idea that the earth revolved around the sun rather than the other way around – and other such stories. Thrilling dramas, however, they are not true.

Historian David Lindberg speaking about the medieval era, writes, “There was no warfare between science and the church.”[1] Historians are virtually unanimous that there never has been a conflict, and that the science versus religion story is a nineteenth-century fabrication (by such writers as John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White).[2] The mythology of the church vs. science is more informed by famous plays – such as Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galilio, which present the man as a martyr for the cause of science, than actual history. The church did not persecute Copernicus or Bruno or Galileo for scientific theories. Don’t get me wrong, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake; but he “was not executed for Copernicanism but for a series of theological heresies centering on his view of the trinity.”[3] A gruesome reality indeed, but not one based on fear of scientific discovery.

Another modern example of this historical revisionism is the story of the medieval church believing that the Bible taught a flat earth, and then reacting in outrage when science came along and corrected it. Again, this is simply not true. From the time of the ancient Greeks, people knew the earth was round. They observed that the hull of a ship sailing from shore disappears before the top of the mast, and would see the reflection of the earth on the moon during an eclipse.[4] They knew the earth was round. The so-called flat-earth conflict is simply part of nineteenth century propaganda.

And so, Oxford professor Alister McGrath concludes, “The idea that science and religion are in perpetual conflict is no longer taken seriously by any major historian of science…. One of the last remaining bastions of atheism survives only at the popular level – namely, the myth that an atheistic, fact-based science is permanently at war with a faith-based religion.”[5]


 

[1] David Lindberg, “Medieval Science and Religion,” in Gary Ferngren, ed., Science and Religion (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). 70.

[2] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 85-86.

[3] Quoted in Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity? (Washington: Regnery, Inc., 2007), 104. Italics added.

[4] Ibid., 103.

[5] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism, 87.

How serving makes us like Jesus

People generally want resurrection without cross. People want to see a great movement of God without personal sacrifice. But that’s not the way it works. When you study revivals and renewal movements throughout history, they have great healings, miracles and social reform, but they are also coupled with great suffering. And one thing that often accompanies those movements is the church being the church in the world versus letting others be the church FOR them. That was the move in the Reformation for instance. The church woke up and realized that they, not just the professional clergy, had been given gifts and a calling by God in the world.

Wayne Cordeiro says:

“People wonder what common denominators there are in those churches that for decades enjoyed the hand of God on their ministries. One quality in particular showed up repeatedly: the ownership that the people of the church took in the ministry. They didn’t wait for a professional or for someone ‘more qualified’ than they. Everyone knew they had a part to play, and they participated gladly. This marks the transition from attendance to ownership, from being consumers to contributors.”

I love that since the beginning of Village Church it has been a movement of people who serve. A church that doesn’t just sit around and consume ‘religious goods and services’ but who give of their time, talent and treasure to serve God in a myriad of ways from Kids ministry, to Community Group leadership to making meals for struggling people. For instance, my wife Erin told me about a Community Group in Village she knows which makes meals in a special way for other families. Once a month they choose a family, and each couple makes a meal for each day of the week for that family to cover 7 meals. That is amazing!

Of course, the serving spirit (which Jesus showed us most potently on the cross, and in his washing of feet in John 13-19) is not true about 100% of our people, which is why we stop every once in a while and do whole Sundays dedicated to laying out the ministry needs and calling people to Step up and Serve, but all in all we are really blessed!

It has been this way since day one when a team of 50 people decided to leave the comfort of the church they knew to start Village Church, where there would be early mornings, tiring and complex work, and a need to disciple new and undomesticated Christians.

I am so thankful for a church that recognizes that they are on a battleship not a cruise liner. Time is short. Life is fragile. People don’t know Jesus, and serving cultivates a reality where people can hear and be transformed by Jesus whether that is formal Sunday stuff or in the fabric of life on any given day in any given space.

Serving is not some safe trade off for the real work of disciple-making as some have said. It is disciple-making in and of itself. For oneself. In it we become more like Jesus who said, “The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Of Porn and Prostitutes – an excerpt from Radical Sex

3,000 people have downloaded the Radical Sex book since its release at the end of December 2015. Here is in excerpt from Chapter 3 – Of Porn and Prostitutes.


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In their book Superfreakonomics, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, Steven D. Levitt, and journalist Stephen J. Dubner examine prostitution and point out the dramatic change sex has gone through in the last century alone. Prostitution has always existed based on a simple fact of economics, men have always wanted more sex than they could get for free. In more traditional cultures in order to have sex at all, unmarried men would have to pay for it. It is estimated that at least 20 percent of American men born between 1933 and 1942 had their first sexual intercourse with a prostitute.[1] As a result this was an economically booming time to be in the prostitution business. In fact, in the 1910’s, they estimate that 1 of every 50 American women in their twenties was a prostitute![2] Yes, I know. Crazy right? Go check the footnote. I didn’t believe it either. Now, what does this have to do with anything?

Well, how is business today? The prostitutes “wage premium” today pales in comparison to the one enjoyed by even the low-rent prostitutes from a hundred years ago because “demand has fallen dramatically.” Not the demand for sex. That is still robust. But prostitution, like any industry, is vulnerable to competition.” Who poses competition for a prostitute? Simple; “any women who is willing to have sex with a man for free.”[3] And of course, it is precisely this market that has taken off in the last century. “It is no secret,” Dubner and Levitt say, that sexual mores have “changed substantially in recent decades. [As] the phrase ‘casual sex’ didn’t exist a century ago (to say nothing of ‘friends with benefits’)….The shift in sexual mores has given [us] a much greater supply of unpaid sex.”[4]

This approach to life, wherein we offer our bodies and ourselves on the alter of impatient pleasure, casual sex, and sex-as-entertainment, has a staggering effect on our culture as a whole, but most prominently on male culture. In their book, The Demise of Guys, Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan, address the impact:

This is the first time in U.S. history that our sons are having less education than their fathers. When confronted with an abundance of women, men become promiscuous and unwilling to commit to a monogamous relationship. Today’s well-educated, empowered, successful women don’t want lame, slacker husbands, and most men don’t want to feel inferior to their wives. Will this push us into becoming more of an individual, rather than a family-based, society?  “Men are as good as their women require them to be,” said one 27-year-old guy we interviewed. This statement made us wonder about how easy access to sex affects men’s motivation to achieve other life goals. Given the choice between masturbating over online pornography and going out on a date with a real girl – that is to say, a girl who doesn’t look like a porn star and isn’t wearing lingerie – more and more young men [say] that they prefer online porn.[5]

All of this has created a culture in which sexual exchanges, whether real or virtual, are viewed more flippantly than any other point in Western history. How has all of this affected us? Zimardo and Duncan hint at a few important cultural trajectories (for example, causing us to become more of an individualized rather than a family-based society and the lack of motivation in men to have real relationships), and there is a long list of other negative impacts of which sociologists warn as well…

Get the Radical Sex ebook free HERE!


 

[1] Steven D. Levitt, and Stephen J. Dubner, Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance (Toronto: Harper Collins Publishers LTD, 2009), 23.

[2] Ibid. 30.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It (New York: Ted Conferences, 2012) <http://www.contentreserve.com/TitleInfo.asp?ID={E7E5D67C-E030-4902-AA9C-43122E53BB79}&Format=50>.

Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle.

I am reading a book right now by Brad Lomenick (a leadership consultant and founder of Catalyst) called H3 Leadership. The thesis is simple. Good leadership takes 3 ingredients: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle.

I shared these three concepts with our staff last week.

If you are a leader, pastor, church planter, business leader, blue collar worker, or stay at home mom – these three H’s are essential to success and effectiveness in life.

Be Humble – Humble people aren’t always the quiet people. Humble people ask lots of questions, ask for help, look to always learn, investigate, find better ways, pray a lot, try not to be the hero of every story they tell, and listen to others to get perspective on themselves. They admit they don’t have answers to every question. People generally like humility more than arrogance, and are drawn to humble leaders and humble people.

Stay Hungry. This is lacking a ton in the church world. In the business world people have hunger for financial gain, a promotion, etc., but in the church world these incentives do not exist in the same way, so what I find is a large amount of people who just kind of got into ministry – sometimes because they aren’t very good at anything else. They were floaters, liked warm spaces, drinking coffee, and not a lot of heavy lifting, so… ministry! But they aren’t necessarily hungry to move forward, expand, reach more people (or do what it takes to reach more people, which is change, adapt, live with complexity and stress and challenge), so they take it slow, and coast. They are happy with who is around, and their heart doesn’t break for the lost among them. At least not enough to cause them to go the extra mile, work a little harder, or make the sacrifices no one else can make. All because many are not hungry enough. They settle, and are satisfied.

Always Hustle. A guidance counselor at a local Bible College recently told a new student that of all the churches he could work at, to avoid Village Church because we would work him like a horse. He immediately left the office and came to Village looking for a job. Why? because he knew that’s the best thing for him. He is that high quality. An H3 leader never mails it in. They always go over and above. They don’t punch clocks. They don’t ask about vacation time in first job interviews. They put their head down, and work tirelessly for the cause. And 9 times out of 10 that work gets rewarded, and they get ahead. Not because hard work equals magic, but because hard work equals better work, which usually equals getting ahead.

Years ago I asked a person working for us to go and do something that I didn’t have time for that day. They responded that it wasn’t in their job description. It took me a minute to realize that they weren’t kidding. I spent the next few weeks helping them re-think how they view their work hoping to instill in them as much hustle as possible.

The reason I would want to take the time to do that is because we don’t really view people as employees but rather as leaders. And good leaders don’t approach things like that. They stay humble, while being driven by a hunger, and hustle in all they do.

Inspired by Walt Disney himself – kind of.

I was sitting in a submarine – the Nautilus – submerged under water. Pitch black. Pale blue light. 20 people crammed in and staring out a small round window at sea life, underwater mines and Nemo. Wait. What? Sorry – I forgot. It was a Disneyland ride.

The 526061captain of the submarine came over the speaker as we came back up to the surface: “Please wait until we have come to a complete stop”. And then: “We have a number of different submarines that take our guests around, but the one you are on right now, Nautilus, is the only one Walt Disney himself boarded.”

My daughter looked at me with wide eyes. “Really dad?” “Yes, I guess so honey”. For her it was magical.

Spending the day at Disneyland inspires me in a handful of ways. To be more present with my kids. To be more creative. To run an inspiring church. To shoot for excellence and create magic for people as I serve them. Sitting on the same boat Walt himself sat on, many years ago now, stopped me in my tracks. I felt the magic. For too long I have put off what the captain’s announcement sealed: reading the best two biographies on Walt Disney himself (see here and here) . I placed my order for both today. Why?

I am inspired by him. His grand vision. His business acumen. His creativity. For me, I am interested how these things can be leveraged and used for the glory of God, to reach more and more people with the message of Jesus!

Oh that we, God’s people, could live with the same passion as this man! So that people could meet Jesus and let him transform and change every aspect of their lives. Our experiences of joy, pain, hope, and everything else that orbits these things day in and day out.

Can you feel the magic in that?

2016: Cut or Perish!

One of the hardest things for any writer is having to cut. But it is one of the most important. (Read that again because I am going to say that it’s true about life in general).

I am presently preparing a manuscript to be turned into a publisher. In order to get it ready it has to go through the same journey that all books do: it goes to an editor. What do editors do? They correct (grammar and phrasing), re-write sentences, and suggest new ways of organizing material. One of the most important things they do though is cut.

One of the most painful things for a writer is getting the original manuscript back and seeing all of the suggested cuts. Large swaths of information a writer has spent hours and days and months researching, writing and re-writing at all hours of the day and night, and now they are just slashed. Discarded. Left behind.

But…it’s essential that they are because it makes the material readable and more accessible for a publisher and more importantly for the public.

In other words, in the writing world: cut or perish.

What is true about writing is true about life. (I told you).

And for some of us cutting from our lives may be the most important thing we do in 2016. Maybe you are involved in too many things. Maybe your children are in too many programs. Maybe you are working too much. Maybe you have a toxic friendship you need to get rid of. Or a sin/habit/tendency that is keeping you far from Jesus.

Whatever it is, 2016 may be the year you need to cut things from your life rather than doing what we often do which is add stuff. We add another toy, another lump of debt, another friendship, another promise we can’t deliver on, another expectation we can’t meet.

Twitter & Ernest Hemingway

When you are planning your year and making decisions about what to do and not to do: think about two things. First, think Twitter. Ideas forced into 140 characters. Every time I write on Twitter I write out what I want to say and then I have to…cut. It forces me to be short and to the point. Cut this word and that word and this word.

Or think Ernest Hemingway. The story goes, that in the 1920’s friends of Hemingway’s – a master of words – bet him that he couldn’t write a complete story in just six words. He did so, in what people say is some of his greatest work. Here it is:

‘For sale, baby shoes, never used.’

Powerful. To the point. Haunting. So few words. And he got there not by adding things but by cutting things from the story.

Your best year (spiritually, emotionally, relationally, maybe even financially) may be 2016. And it may not be because you add but because you cut – making your life more focused, efficient, and sharper than ever. Pray and ask the Lord if he is calling you to cut certain things from your life in order to simplify and make you better at the few things you are called to do versus the plethora of things you want to do.

And then: listen.

The Uniqueness of the Christian Answer – Pain & Suffering (Part 3)

2015 was a year of a number of tragedies both globally and personally (I lost people I love dearly, and people I know suffered tragedy). How do we understand the meaning of these events, if there is meaning to them? This is part 3 of a few reflections on the question of pain and suffering to end off 2015.

Not a Christian Problem

The challenge of suffering is not a uniquely Christian problem. Every worldview has to deal with it whether you are an atheist or a Hindu. We don’t have space to deal with each and every worldview and how it answers this challenge, except to say I think the Christian answer is the best. The western world struggles with interpreting suffering. There are a number of reasons for this: we see the point of life differently than a large portion of the world. Our lives focus primarily around the pursuit of happiness. In contrast to that, as social theorist Max Scheler writes, an “essential part of the teaching and directives of the great religious and philosophical thinkers the world over has been on the meaning of pain and suffering.”[1]

Every society and worldview seeks to give instructions to its people on how to deal with suffering. Sociologists have compared the various ways different cultures deal with suffering. They have noted that western culture is one of the weakest and ill prepared in history when it comes to dealing with pain. Whether it’s a terrorist attack, a hurricane, or a shooting in a movie theatre – whenever a tragedy hits the western world, we seem unprepared philosophically for it. The most fundamental reason is that our worldview does not offer us an explanation for suffering or show us how to deal with it. In a secular or atheistic worldview, the material world is all there is.

Pain, therefore, has little to no meaningful part to play in our lives. It is always an enemy to be avoided. So, when it hits us, we end up borrowing concepts from others faiths and religions. When the Boston Marathon bombing took place, my Facebook news feed filled up with people offering their ‘prayers’ and ‘thoughts’ to the victims and families. Atheists and agnostics had to borrow language and hope from religious categories because their own story offers little comfort in these times.

At that point, which faith to borrow from becomes important. Many of my friends use Karma language to explain life and events (“what goes around comes around”, etc). On the day of the Boston Marathon bombing and the shootings in Paris, that Karma theology didn’t work – as it would have to blame the victims for their fate – so people borrowed the Christian worldview for the day. “Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful.”[2]

The Suffering God

In Christian theology, the moment of greatest good and glory and love is also the moment of greatest suffering – the cross of Christ. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This is where God is seen loving the world most potently – dying for humanity. The Bible says this was the greatest moment of sacrifice, courage, and love ever to exist. The resource Christianity offers us to deal with suffering in our lives – one that is unique from other worldviews – is a God who Himself suffered. In every other religion, God remains aloof and distant, removed from suffering. Christianity, however, says that God entered in. He suffered. He was tortured. He died. Theologian John Stott tells of a time he was visiting a Buddhist temple. He was staring at a statue of Buddha sitting cross-legged with a philosopher’s grin on his face.

“I wanted to look away and look to see a cross – the bloody, mangled God in the flesh, who became a human being because that is not a removed esoteric philosophy of life, but a self-giving, selfless sacrifice that says ‘I’m with you. I entered into your evil. I took and absorbed the evil onto myself. I suffered for you, so that you wouldn’t have to. I’m not aloof. I’m not distant. I’m in the pain. I’m in the suffering. I took it all on myself so that one day I can redeem it.’”

Christianity says that, while there won’t always be detailed answers as to why evil and suffering befalls us, there is an actual answer to the reality of it: the life and work of Jesus. When we look at Him, we see that the answer can’t be that God doesn’t care. He came and he died an awful death for us. This shows care.

Why did He do this? The answer, Christianity says, is so much deeper than we think. Many say ‘to save us from our sins,’ and, of course, that is true. Christianity goes even further than that however. It says something else which is very unique in the marketplace of ideas. It says that the suffering of the cross was not only about God’s will or plan, but about His very nature. Have you ever wondered why Paul explains the cross of Christ so closely to his discussions about the nature of who God is – His identity (Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:5-11)? It’s because suffering is part and parcel of the very identity of who God is, not just what He does. “If the incarnation of the Son,” Jurgen Moltmann says, “is viewed merely as the functional presupposition of the atoning sacrifice made necessary by sin, then it is only an expression of the saving will of God. It only affects God’s relationship with the world,”[3] and has little to do with who He himself is in his nature.

However, the cross of Christ in the New Testament is more than an atoning sacrifice to save sinners or a response to humanity’s sinful choice. It is also about who God is. Paul is saying: our need was the occasion for the suffering but not it’s only reason.[4] We must grasp the powerful uniqueness of the Christian view: a God who sacrifices and suffers with, for, and because of humanity. He does this, not in spite of His identity, but because of it. He will therefore be “with us” through all our own pain and re-make it in eternity into something we could never imagine (Romans 8:18).

This is the precise point Samwise Gamgee makes to Frodo in the film version of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers when trying to convince him to keep pressing on to Mount Doom after all the pain and suffering they have seen:

Sam: It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.

 

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

 

Sam: That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

Indeed.

 


[1] Max Scheler, “The Meaning of Suffering,” in On Feeling, Knowing and Valuing: Selected Writings, ed. H.J. Bershady (University of Chicago Press, 1992), 98.

[2] Ibid., 31.

[3] Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1993), 115.

[4] Ibid.

What about Evolution? – Pain & Suffering (Part 2)

2015 was a year of a number of tragedies both personally (I lost people I love dearly, and people I know suffered tragedy) and globally. How do we understand the meaning of these events, if there is meaning to them? This is part 1 of a few reflections on the question of pain and suffering to end off 2015.

What about Evolution?

In Part 1, I argued the fact that we have categories called ‘evil’ and ‘suffering’. Each act as pointers to God: we wouldn’t have absolute and objective categories called ‘evil’ and ‘suffering’ without an absolute standard (God Himself). The atheist response to this argument is such that, as a species, we got our values and ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ from our evolutionary development. Our moral compass developed in our brain circuitry over hundreds of thousands of years based on what was best for our tribe and our family, and what helped us survive in a particular environment with the goal of passing on our genes, etc. There are detailed reasons why this explanation doesn’t work. For now, a few quick thoughts.

First, we have morals that are contrary to evolutionary development as human beings. Loving our enemies, for instance, makes little sense from a purely naturalistic point of view, as does secretly giving to charities, and a host of other selfless acts. Second, and more interesting, if evolutionary theory is true, then, as many philosopher’s have pointed out, we can’t actually trust any of our convictions around what is ‘evil’ and what is ‘suffering’. Why? Because we only hold these ideas as remnants from past generations and what they were forced to believe in order to survive and flourish at any given moment, not because they are necessarily ‘right’ or ‘true’. Charles Darwin admitted this himself, in a haunting confession, saying that he couldn’t trust his own conclusions about the world because he couldn’t trust the way he came to those conclusions. He says:

“Within me the horrid doubt always arises, whether the convictions of a man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”[1]

The answer, if naturalistic evolution were true, would be a resounding no. We couldn’t trust these convictions. So then, just because a person says something is ‘evil’ doesn’t make it true; it may just be a misfiring of their cognitive faculties. Were the actions of that child abuser, that political leader, or that murderer ‘wrong’? Who is to say really? My convictions may just be saying that for the sake of my own survival, being driven by my selfish gene.

Furthermore, and even more fascinating, is this (and we are about to go deeper down the rabbit hole, so hold on): if all reason is a product of natural selection, then how much confidence can we have in a rational argument for natural selection itself? To suggest that the only reason our belief-forming faculties help us form ideas about the world – for the purpose of survival and to give comfort – is to suggest that there is no actual truth to these beliefs at all. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga agrees, and concludes that “[it] is improbable, given naturalism and evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable. It is improbable that they provide us with…true beliefs over false.” [2] The problem, of course, is that the same distrust has to include all beliefs, including all conclusions of evolutionary theory and Darwinism itself.

The same cognitive faculties that we can’t trust in regard to our thoughts about ‘God’, ‘evil’ or ‘right and wrong’ are the same ones that cause us to conclude that evolution is true, so we can’t trust those convictions either. In other words, if evolutionary theory is right, we can’t actually trust evolutionary theory! “Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason [i.e. to prove evolution] even as it destroys it.”[3]


[1] Charles Darwin to W. Graham, July 3, 1881, in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. Francis Darwin (1897; repr., Boston: Elibron, 2005), 1:285.

[2] Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, xiv.

[3] Ibid.

Does Pain & Suffering Point to God?

2015 was a year of a number of tragedies both personally (I lost people I love dearly, and people I know suffered tragedy) and globally. How do we understand the meaning of these events, if there is meaning to them? This is part 1 of a few reflections on the question of pain and suffering to end off 2015.

Suffering as Proof of God?

Most people say that the existence of evil and suffering in the world and in our lives is evidence against the existence of God, but the reality is, that in many ways it is a powerful evidence for his existence. The skeptic’s position assumes that there’s such a thing as categorical ‘evil’ (that killing innocent people by flying planes into buildings is categorically wrong for instance). It assumes that abusing children, and destroying the environment for corporate gain is ‘evil.’ That having cancer, or being the victim of a tsunami, should be called ‘suffering.’ But the very fact that we have these convictions and these categories (‘evil’ and ‘suffering’) is part of the problem for the atheist, because where did we get them from?

Where did we all come to agree on these objective moral categories with which we then put God on trial? Where did we get the idea that human beings are important and they should be loved and not excluded? That the Holocaust was ‘evil’, that cancer is a ‘bad’ thing? It’s because we sense in ourselves that there’s a way the universe is supposed to be. Atheism has failed to realize that if we take God out of the picture, the problem becomes bigger than it was before. We can’t even talk of ‘evil’ and ‘suffering’ at all because we lose the categories themselves.

This is a problem for the atheist because if he agrees to objective moral laws than he has to have an objective moral-law Giver. In your heart you know what is evil. Not only that, but you know what is good. You know that sharing, loving your neighbor, and laying down your life for the weak are good and noble things. Why? Where does that come from? C.S. Lewis pondered the question this way:

When I was an atheist, my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? Of course I could have just given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too, for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not just simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.[1]

When I stood over my father’s casket when I was 15 years old, there was something in me that felt the reality I was experiencing was disjointed. Staring at my dead father felt out of whack, because in my mind, there was a way that the universe was supposed to be. But with what was I comparing the state of my universe? If we are all just a product of natural processes, as Evolutionary theory suggests, with only our own experiences, and those of our ancestors, to inform what we know and feel about the world, then why would I have ever come to deduce as a teenager that losing my father felt somehow wrong? Or for that matter why the Holocaust, or 9/11 were?

We feel there is a way things ought to be don’t we? And that daily notion, I think, is a clue to the reality of God in the universe, not his absence. As Timothy Keller points out, “The evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak – these things are perfectly natural. On what basis then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horrifyingly wrong, unfair, and unjust?”

The fact that you believe in evil and suffering is a pointer not away from the existence of God but toward it.


[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper San Francisco, Zondervan Publishing House, 2001), 38-39.

[2] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Dutton, 2008), 26.