Tag Archives: questions

In a World Full of Questions, a Few Answers Matter Most

 

It is no proof of superior intelligence, but even as a young man I was theoretically sure that I would not always be a young man.

As I (rarely) contemplated middle or old age, though they seemed light years away, I figured that a major consolation of being old and crotchety, say, 45, would be that by then I would probably have found answers to a great many of life’s most vexing questions.

I’m an incredibly vibrant 60 years old now. Since I can’t imagine much worse than living to be 120, I’ll admit that 60 may, at the very least, bump the outer range of middle age.

The bad news (which is not really bad since it means I’m still seeking and inquisitive) is that I have more questions than ever. The good news is that the older I get, the more I realize how few of those questions really matter much. In fact, I’d say that life’s biggest questions could be numbered without getting much past the fingers of one hand. (I can probably do with five, if you would later let me add a related question or two beneath a couple of these.)

Does God exist?

What kind of God is he?

Has he revealed himself to mankind and how?

Is he absolutely good, absolutely powerful, and absolutely loving?

And, if the answer to that last one is yes, then why does God allow pain and suffering?

These are questions of belief. That does not at all mean they can’t be approached rationally; it does mean we will always, even when we’ve seriously and diligently sought their answers, still have to say, “I believe that . . .”

And, it seems to me, even after we’ve come to confident peace about the first four, and even the fifth, we will repeatedly face situations in our own lives and the lives of others that bring us back pretty regularly, and sometimes poignantly, to that last one.

Two words are “the answer.” Free will. Of this, I am sure.

And two more points here, one of which I know, and one of which I believe. 1) “Knowing” the philosophical answer to the “problem of pain,” does not take away pain. Agonizing pain is still agonizing. 2) With all of my heart, I believe that our deepest pain hurts our Father even more than it hurts us.

In The Cross of Christ, John R. W. Stott asks, “In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”

He writes, “I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, . . . detached from the agonies of the world.”

But he continues, “Each time after a while I have had to turn away . . . to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, . . . plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.”

God suffers to one day end all suffering.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Hard-to-Spell Prophet Points to Hard-to-Beat Faith

 

So, tell me, have you read Habakkuk lately?

You know, in the Bible. The Old Testament. One of the prophets.

The English major part of me has paid attention to this prophet only rarely and then only to try to remember if his name, which sounds vaguely like a variety of something legal in Colorado but federally frowned upon, includes two Bs and two Ks or one B and three Ks.

It’s the latter. Like the World War I vintage song I remember singing around the campfire with the Boy Scouts: “K-k-k Katy, beautiful Katy, / You’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore…”

That song was a run-up to my still-favorite-Boy-Scout-song we crooned about Dutchman Johnny Verbeck’s machine. Its best line: “All the neighbors’ cats and dogs / will never more be seen; / they’ll all be ground to sausages / in Johnny Verbeck’s machine.”

But I digress. (Ya think?)

When the Bible major part of me read that prophet’s “book” years ago, I was rather surprised—and then awed by Habbakuk’s—I mean, Habakkuk’s—incredible, and unfailingly honest, faith. I’d not really spent much time in the Psalms, or, for that matter, the other prophets, or grappled enough with the nature of real faith. I still thought genuine faith was mostly unquestioning, always serene, content, and nice. Habakkuk put the lie to that nonsense. (Read the prophet’s “book.” Three chapters short, it’ll take less time to read than a Reader’s Digest article. And by all means, read it in a modern translation.)

You’ll quickly notice that Habakkuk is not a happy camper. First, he’s intensely frustrated that God seems slow to see his nation’s situation, hear his prayers, and do something. Habakkuk is appalled at his nation’s (Judah’s) sinfulness and is pleading with God to come and bring justice. For a long time, no answer. But then…

Oh, but then God answers. And Habakkuk hates the answer. Yes, the Lord says, I’ve seen the rampant wickedness and injustice, and I intend to deal with it decisively with the kind of eye-popping punishment that will cause the whole world to take notice and be appalled. Here’s how: I’m sending the Babylonians, the fiercest pagan army in the world, to be my whip and wreak havoc. (The Babylonians are about to run Judah right through Johnny Verbeck’s machine. Only worse.)

“But, Lord,” Habakkuk complains, “how can you do this? Those idolatrous cutthroats, those bloodthirsty Babylonians, are far worse even than my terribly wicked nation! How is this fair?”

And God answers. Just wait, Habakkuk. Justice and mercy will both prevail. Just wait until the end of the story. This is not the end. Trust me. And wait.

Waiting is the hard part. Waiting in those many times when God seems silent… Waiting in those times when, well, if this is God’s answer, we might have preferred silence.

Habakkuk makes the choice of real faith, faith with its eyes open: God is God, and I am his. Come what may, I will trust him.

“Even if the sheep die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet will I rejoice in the Lord. The Lord is my strength” (Habakkuk 3).

 

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Why Does a Good and Powerful God Allow Suffering?

 

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It’s one of the oldest questions in the world. And maybe the hardest: How can a completely good and powerful God allow suffering?

The question ranks among the handful that truly matter. As the question asked most often, most poignantly, in the midst of the deepest shock, pain, and perplexity, it defies the easy answers we let leak from our lips when we’re short of answers and our highest wisdom would be silence. Pain is the solvent that melts away glib answers, plastic platitudes. The real answer, like all real answers, is not easy.

It is given through tears. It requires rephrasing the question: “How can a good, powerful, and loving God not allow suffering?”

When God created humanity in his own image, he gave us the gift we call “free will” which gives life and love meaning but necessarily carries the possibility of pain. Unlike puppets dangling from a divine string, puppets who could never make the wrong move or dance the wrong dance, we can choose for good or evil. If the terrible choice for hate and evil and despair were no option at all, would choosing for love and goodness and hope mean anything at all? Only in a free universe are our choices invested with real meaning and significance as they open our lives up to genuine joy.

Would the love of your spouse so warm your heart if they had no choice but to give it? Would the hugs of your four-year-old daughter so light up your life if there were no possibility she might choose to turn away? Would our love of the God of all joy and light mean anything if he had not given us the freedom to choose to spurn him and follow evil and the Prince of Darkness instead? Real choices must have real consequences.

It’s one thing to ask those questions when life seems good. It’s quite another to ask them when the whole fabric of your universe seems to have been ripped into shreds, and pain and evil and wickedness seem to have won the day. Most of us have seen such times. And all of us will. But thank God himself that we have also seen the awesome power of goodness, fierce love, and nobility even in the midst of the deepest pain.

It’s a truth that rips our hearts apart, but God himself could not create a universe where beauty and goodness could mean anything real if there were no possibility of evil and thus pain.

To seek an easy answer is to ask to be deluded. The answer of the Christian faith—not of the sideshow barkers who often claim to speak for our faith—is anything but easy. God is so good, so powerful, so loving that through his own unfathomable pain, he took our hurt into himself. Literally. Genuinely. Powerfully. Forever. Christ’s sacrifice means that one eternal day pain and suffering will be forever banished. Oh, Lord, come quickly, and may it be so!

“Weeping may tarry for the night,” writes the Psalmist, “but joy comes in the morning.”

Dear God, when we or those we love are walking through an exceedingly dark and difficult night, grant the faith, the strength, and the vision only you can give us to look up for the light of the morning and trust that it will come.

 

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Few Real Answers Trump a Boatload of Questions

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The Lord has blessed me with some sons I’m very proud of, and I can tell you some stories from their growing up years that still brings joy to a father’s heart. This is not one of those.

It was a line-up. No, the police were not involved, but I would used a lie detector machine if I’d had access to one.

All four sons had been summoned and were standing “front and center” at attention in what was then a bathroom. I was conducting the investigation and hoping for a confession. I don’t remember if I’d already grilled them one at a time to see if one would crack, but we were past that point by this time.

Exhibit A in my case was a long narrow bare strip on the wall that had once been covered with wallpaper. I hate working with wallpaper, and I hope never again to hang any, but I had painstakingly papered the walls in that bathroom.

Some miscreant—yea, verily, one of my own offspring, I was sure, contemplating life while perched on the porcelain, had found a loose corner of wallpaper and pulled the rip cord, leaving an inch-wide bare streak marring my once-pretty-nearly-perfect wall.

I made a speech to the suspects, threatened, cajoled, considered mild torture, and tried every parenting trick I knew. I even contemplated spanking each one of them, using the punish “them all, God will know his own” approach adopted by crusaders in the 1209 massacre at Béziers, France. After all, I was not even then so naive as to adopt the modern “progressive” and witless notion that humans left to themselves just get better and better. No, humans are inherently sinful and in need of redemption. And I was pretty sure that each of the guys in that line-up already had committed enough unpunished crimes that punishing them all for this one would hardly be as unjust as it would seem. But I’m soft. I didn’t do it.

I never got a confession, and I must admit, I still don’t know the truth; even the guilty party has probably long since forgotten his guilt. The crime is unsolved, and I long ago made peace with the fact that it will remain unsolved.

We do well to approach life with some perspective. We can live with some small unsolved “who-done-its.” Some minor mysteries don’t matter all that much. Some riddles aren’t worth spending much effort to answer. About 90% of the “religious issues” folks have fussed about are a waste of breath and, if the disunity involved wasn’t such a slap in the face of God and a matter for tears, would be more deserving of a belly laugh than an inquisition.

It seems to me that even a few real answers to real questions trump a boatload of lesser questions. And they all boil down to these: Does God exist? Is God completely good? Is God completely loving? I believe we have good reason to answer Yes to all three. With that verdict, those truths, those answers, and faith in the One in whom is focused all the Father’s goodness and love, I’m at peace.

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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