Sunday, June 30, 2013

Be Marginal

Orthodox priest in Jerusalem
Thomas Merton wrote: "I am glad to be marginal. The best thing I can do for the "world" is to stay out of it - in so far as one can." (A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals, K 5980-83)

Merton lived in a monastery, first in community, and then in a hermitage. He blended solitude and togetherness with people. Being with others can be challenging, so meaningful times in solitude are required to deepen our ability to love and be with others.

Note: being with our own selves is in ways more challenging than being with others. This is why so many people cover up their inner selves with unceasing busyness. This is why Henri Nouwen referred to solitude as "the furnace of spiritual transformation."

To be a solitary person today in Western culture is to live on the margins of society. No one talks about solitude or shows us how to be alone with ourselves and God, at least not in the media and popular culture. Because of this we are not taught how to do the hard thing of being together. Very little in American culture trains us for authentic community. We cannot avoid physical togetherness, and we're all on Facebook, but Bonhoefferian "life together" is rarely found in these places.

How shall we do life together? Merton and Nouwen believed that authentic community is a function of aloneness with God. True God-aloneness morphs our heart-abilities to be with others. Authentic being-with others shapes our solitary times, and so on and on, back and forth, being a dialectical movement that strengthens both self and community.

I find it encouraging that Merton never watched TV. This past week for me was TV-less and media-barren, as we were at our annual summer conference. So why not try life without it, if only for a day or a week? Merton did, yet people traveled from around the world to sit with him and be with him and hear from him. Wisdom is different than information. Few people today have it as Merton had it. Merton was met by God, in solitude and stillness and silence. This is the kind of Jesus-follower I need in my life. Merton found life in being marginal.

Beware of attracting the cultural spotlight. To be at the center of our culture is to be on the margins of God's Kingdom. To be at the center of God's Kingdom is to be culturally marginalized. It is to live a hidden life, an underground life. The Jesus Movement is an underground movement, a community of seeds growing secretly. The Jesus Movement is, as Eugene Peterson says, "subversive." It's yeast, influencing the lump of dough.

If the thought of living a culturally hidden life is threatening it's only because we are still trying to find our life and place in our culture. Our fear of being unrecognized, and our need to be recognized are signs of our attachment to our culture. These fears and needs reveal who we really belong to.

You and I belong to a God who loves us so much that any of this-world's acclaim is inglorious by comparison. It is a secure place. This week I will again spend much time in that secure, secret place, getting alone with God. I'll enter that non-public space and continue the deepening conversational relationship with God. I'll dwell in that culturally irrelevant place for the sake of being changed into the culture of his Kingdom.

Be marginal in order to get at the heart of things. It's the best thing we can do for this world.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Prayer and Being Examined by the Great Cardiologist (Prayer Summer)

Me in Little Italy, New York City

I have never forgotten how, over 30 years ago, I was sitting on a rusty tractor in a field in a forest preserve north of Lansing, Michigan. On that day I read - as if for the very first time - Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I remember saying, "OK God. Do it. Examine me."

In my heart I meant these words. I wanted to be searched-out by God.

God told me "John, I would like to do this. You're going to need to learn heart-stillness."

This began a several-month period of being searched-out by God. I underwent a spiritual heart examination by the Great Cardiologist. It was hard, and it was good. It was never condemning. It was, at times, exhilarating. I was a person with a diseased heart who was being healed and given new life.

In prayer, in the God-relationship, we will be searched-out by God if we allow him access to our heart. Richard Foster writes: "Without apology and without defense we ask to see what is truly in us. It is for our own sake that we ask these things. It is for our good, for our healing, for our happiness." (Foster, Prayer - 10th Anniversary Edition: Finding the Heart's True Home, p. 29).

Friday, June 28, 2013

Needed: "Garden Time"

Playing in the Lake Michigan surf
Linda and I just returned from a wonderful week at our annual conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We appreciated connecting with Leif Hetland, Joe McIntyre, and Robby Dawkins. We got a lot of spiritual and intellectual input. Now, it's slow-down-and-reflect time.

We're at my brother Mike's (And Sue's) home tonight and tomorrow.  Then, we get to spend six days in "the garden." We'll be sitting the Lake Michigan beach for hours each day reading, thinking, watching, sleeping, swimming, pondering, contemplating, writing, note-taking, and etcing. And creating. Creativity springs from the garden, from getting away.

In 1984 I was writing my doctoral dissertation. I was bogged down in the massiveness of the thing, unable to see the forest for the footnotes. I was walking across Northwestern University's campus and ran into a professor friend of mine. He asked me how things were going. I said, "My writing is stuck." He said, "You need to get away from your writing for a few weeks." So I did. Two weeks away from the dissertation. Could I afford it, I wondered? The truth was I could not afford not to get away from the writing. In not-focusing on my research, ideas about the dissertation began to grow out of the hard soil of my stuckness.

Needed: slow down and engage in meditative thought. The slow-cooker (rather than the microwave) is where the creative juices flow.

Leo Marx contrasted between ""the machine and the garden" - the industrial ideal and the pastoral ideal" ( Nicholas Carr, The Shallows, Kindle, 2860-72).  "The industrial ideal of efficiency poses a mortal threat to the pastoral ideal of meditative thought" (Ib., 2873-84). Carr writes:

"The development of a well-rounded mind requires both an ability to find and quickly parse a wide range of information and a capacity for open-ended reflection. There needs to be time for efficient data collection and time for inefficient contemplation, time to operate the machine and time to sit idly in the garden. We need to work in Google's "world of numbers," but we also need to be able to retreat to [Hawthorne's] Sleepy Hollow. The problem today is that we're losing our ability to strike a balance between those two very different states of mind. Mentally, we're in perpetual locomotion." (Ib.)

Information overload is worse than ever. ""Today, more information is available to us than ever before, but there is less time to make use of it - and specifically to make use of it with any depth of reflection." Tomorrow, the situation will be worse still." (Ib., Carr quotes David Levy)

I see this battle - between tending the machine and contemplating in the garden - in the pastors and Christian leaders I teach. The need for deeper leaders is greater than ever before. Deeper leaders are refreshed leaders, with more needed energy and creativity for advancing God's Kingdom in our shallow world.

Everyone needs "garden time." I'm thankful Linda and are getting a lot of it this coming week.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Prayer and Discernment (Prayer Summer)

Where Was God When the Tornado Came (Lecture Notes)

(These are my lecture notes for my conference workshop in Green Lake, Wisconsin.)

WHERE WAS GOD WHEN THE TORNADO CAME?
-      John Piippo
How do we respond when someone asks us a question like this?  In this workshop we will see how the reality of God as all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing is compatible with the existence of moral and natural evil, and why belief in such a God makes the best worldview-sense of moral and natural evil.

This workshop is not about the existential problem of suffering; i.e., it is not about how we cope with and minister to the reality of suffering in the aftermath of tragedies like the tornado that hit Oklahoma. That is so very important. But in this workshop we’re looking at answers to the question: Where was God when the tornado came?

My understanding to this is: God is working all things together for good. While on the surface this seems to be insensitive, I don’t think it is. In this workshop I’ll explain.

Worldviews

Everyone has a worldview. A worldview is that set of beliefs, expressed in statements, that are held to be true.

When something like a tornado or tsunami or hurricane or earthquake or murder or rape happens, a person's worldview kicks in.

Worldviews have explanatory functions and answer questions like "How?" and "Why?"

The value-ideas of "good" and "evil" get explained within a person's worldview.

So, the beliefs of your worldview will answer, or not answer, the question "Where was God when the tornado came?"


Define "God"

On Christian theism, and even on the philosophical-intellectual Western atheism that claims to defeat God's existence, "God" means:

- an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, necessarily existent personal agent who is creator and sustainer of all things.

In the Worldview of Christian Theism what does “Good” Mean?

On the worldview of Christian theism, the greatest good is loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength.

The GG is not: preservation of life, in this present darkness.

This is seen at the very center of our faith; viz., the suffering of Jesus on the cross.

God is working to achieve the greatest good. This greatest good infinitely outweighs all earthly suffering and evil.

Rom. 8:18 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

On Christian theism “good” is what God wills. “Good” is defined in terms of God.
a.   Note: This avoids the Euthyphro Dilemma. (That’s another issue – I won’t go into this today.

Definition of “evil.”

"Evil" is that which goes against the heart of God, the will of God, which is often expressed in the commands of God.

Note here the worldview of atheism. What kind of moral beliefs will an atheist have?

One common option is:  Utilitarianism.

On utilitarianism – "good" is “pleasure,” and “evil” is “pain.”
                                         i.    Bentham’s “hedonic calculus.
                                        ii.    Mill’s reinterpretation of Bentham’s individualistic idea.


A possible distinction between moral evil and natural evil

Moral evil: there is suffering caused by the choices of created agents - that’s “moral evil.”

 In cases of moral evil at least one free creature can be rightly blamed.

Natural evil: there is suffering that appears to be uncaused by created agents – that’s “natural evil”.
                                    In the case of natural evil no free creature can be rightly blamed for it.


The Free Will Defense in response to moral evil.

God allows moral evil to happen.
                                         i.    God does not cause moral evil.
                                        ii.    God hates moral evil.
                                       iii.    Moral evil happens because God gives persons libertarian free         will.

Why does God give created agents free will?
                                         i.    Because God is love.
                                        ii.    For God, love is the greatest.
                                       iii.    Love requires free will.
                                      iv.    This is risky for God.
e.   W/o free will love is impossible.


Michael Murray – much so-called “natural” evil is really moral evil. (Murray – Nature Red in Tooth and Claw)

 In many cases the evil that results from such natural disasters is in part attributable to the actions of free creatures. (132)

E.g. – If I am hiking in the mountains and see ahead that the trail passes by an unstable rock wall. If I proceed on the trail and am injured or killed by falling rocks, the injury or death would not count as natural evil, since the evil here results in part from my freely choosing to do something I know to be risky.

“As a result, the evil of being injured or killed by the rock is at least partially attributable, causally and morally, to me.” (133)

 E.g., if I choose to build a home on a known fault line, or in the likely path of hurricanes. If my home is destroyed by an earthquake or a hurricane the resultant evil is not, strictly speaking, a natural evil, since it is in part attributable to my (poor) choices.

A biblical example: Acts 27:


Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement.[a] So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship.12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.

13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 17 so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor[b] and let the ship be driven along.18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.

21 After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss.

But… why does God make these possible in the first place? “Why would God put us in a position where we are capable of being harmed by falling rocks, or capable of building homes which are subject to destruction by catastrophic natural forces?” Murray says there are two things to say in response to this.
                                         i.    1 – “The question is simply a variant of the question of why God allows us to choose between doing good and evil in the first place.

 Providing us with the ability to do good and evil just is providing us with the ability to cause good or harm (to ourselves or others).

And the cases we are discussing here are simply further instances of the general phenomenon.” (133)

"There are good reasons for the theist to think that God would put free creatures in a position where being able to cause goods and harms of this particular sort is on balance better than not being able to do so.” (133) How would we argue for this?

1.   It is a good thing that the world be governed by regularities which make these sort of harms possible, and that this regularity is good enough to outweigh those harms.
2.   If it is good to have a world with free creatures and good that such a world be governed by physical regularities, there will be occasions where those free creatures might willfully throw themselves in front of “lines of causation” that cause them harm.
c.   So… much of what is typically regarded as natural evil is in fact moral evil.
d.   This is not to deny that there are some genuinely natural evils. Indeed, some evils will still count as wholly natural evils even in cases where creaturely free acts have contributed to their occurrence in some central way.
e.   “If I build a house in the beach in Miami, I know that at some point it will be damaged by a hurricane. When that day arrives, the damage will count as one of those semi-natural moral evils. On the other hand, if an earthquake were to devastate Philadelphia tomorrow, home owners there could hardly be blamed. Philadelphia has never experienced such an earthquake, nor does anyone think it liable to.” (133)
f.     This does not mean there is no natural evil. But there’s much less of it than one might have initially believed.
                                         i.     
g.   A biblical example of natural evil - Luke 13:1-4 – the tower in Siloam that fell
                                         i.    13 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
                                        
Evil on Theism – 3 views:

a.   Calvinism - John Piper thinks all evil is caused (determined) by God.
                                         i.    E.g., the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis.
                                        ii.    Calvininism’s doctrine of meticulous providence.
                                       iii.    God causes such things to bring us to repentance. 
The Calvinist idea is that God causes all calamities and horrors "for his glory." (See Roger Olson, Against Calvinism, 22)


b.   Warfare Worldview - Greg Boyd thinks all evil is moral evil.
                                         i.    Calvinism has a “blueprint” view of the world. Greg rejects this for a “warfare worldview.”
                                        ii.    All evil is moral evil.
                                       iii.    A biblical example – Matthew 8:25…
1.   25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
                                      iv.    Quoting Greg: “To be sure, acc. To Scripture the creation was originally created good, and the glory of God is still evident in it…  But something else  - something frightfully wicked – is evident in it as well. Satan and other spiritual beings rebelled against God in the primordial past and now abuse their God-given authority over aspects of the creation. The one who ‘holds the power of death – that is, the devil’ (Heb. 2:14) exercises a pervasive structural, diabolical influence to the point that the entire creation is in ‘bondage to decay’ (Rom. 8:21). If this scenario is correct, then the pain-ridden, bloodthirsty, sinister hostile character of nature makes perfect sense. If not, then despite the valid contributions of a number of thinkers on ‘natural’ evil, the demonic character of nature must remain largely inexplicable.” (In Murray, 100-101)
                                       v.    Murray says Boyd’s view can explain pre-Adamic pain and suffering, because it was brought in by the Satanic Fall.
                                      vi.    Here, perhaps, see Dembski on retroactive causality, from the Adamic Fall.


#3 - Best Possible World Worldview - W.L. Craig – “Japan and Natural Evil”
a.   How is natural evil – tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes – consistent with the existence of all all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing being which we call God?
b.   A biblical example: Luke 13 1 ff.
                                         13 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

c.   Earthquakes are not random events. They are the result of plate tectonics.
                                         i.    About the way our world is, and has been made.
                                        ii.    There are these massive, huge “plates” that support the earth’s crust, and shift about.
                                       iii.    8 large plates, and dozens of small plates.
                                      iv.    It is the movement of these plates that cause earthquakes as they shift about, separate, and so on.
                                       v.    This process that seems so dangerous and devastating actually turns out to be essential for human life. Because of plate tectonics, this planet is habitable. W/o plate tectonics there would be no continents. They recirculate carbon dioxide and other elements; a continual recycling that takes place. To see what a planet would look like w/o plate tectonics you have to look no further than Venus. As a result, Venus has a barren, lifeless surface, that could not be habitable.
                                      vi.    Earthquakes are the symptoms of a natural process that is vital for life to exist on earth.
d.   OK – but what’s bad is that people get caught in the aftershocks of these things.
e.   Here we have to keep in mind God’s sovereignty over human history. Any catastrophe in life must be seen in the broader framework of God’s providential plan for human history; which is to draw people freely into the KG. Into eternal relationship with Himself. God is the One who responsible for this overall direction of human history. It may be the case that God has providential plans for the disasters in life that ultimately serve his good ends for the human race.
f.     It is plausible that only in a world where there are natural evils that the maximum amount of people would freely come to know God and experience eternal life.
                                         i.    Note on “plausibility”: It makes logical sense.
g.   OK – maybe God does have a providential purpose in mind with these natural evils. But still God could have created a universe operating acc. to different laws of nature, where there were no tornados.
                                         i.    The problem with this is that if we begin talking about a different universe with different laws of nature, then we are simply out of our depth.
                                        ii.    This would be pure metaphysical speculation.
h.   We walk here by faith, and not by sight.
                                         i.    We may not see God’s morally sufficient reasons for natural disasters.

9.   CORNEA
a.   Condition Of ReasoNable Epistemic Access

So… where was God when the tornado came?

4 Answers
1.   Atheism
a.   There’s no God.
b.   Things just happen.
c.   There are no objective moral values.

2.   Calvinist theism – God causes (determines) all things
a.   God is loving us by teaching us a lesson, to bring us to repentance.

3.   Best Possible World theism – our world is the best possible for bringing people into relationship with God
a.   This fallen world is not what God intended.
b.   God is working to bring people into relationship with Himself.

4.   Free will theism - Satan hypothesis
a.   God is battling Satan, and wooing people to Himself.

With #s 2-3-4… the answer remains the same:
God is looking at the Big Picture. God is going after the greatest good.
God is working all things together for His purposes and good.

God will intervene if needed to advance His Kingdom.


Argument from evil for God’s existence
1.   If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist.
2.   Evil exists.
3.   Therefore, objective moral values exist. (from 2 by definition of 'evil')

4.       Therefore, God exists. (MT, 13, 15)