Monday, August 30, 2010

Questions & Answers on God & Christianity

Not too long ago I was required to write a paper in a Question and Answer format via an imaginary dialogue between two friends for an online class. It was to begin with the first question found below and then to be followed by questions and answers I believed could naturally occur.

The setting
Two friends are sitting in their favorite coffee shop early on Saturday morning. Roger is sipping a medium cup of Sumatra with two shots of espresso floating on top – his favorite ‘wake me up’ coffee. Dean, meanwhile, is enjoying his favorite, a mocha latte. They have come together this rainy morning to discuss Roger’s questions about God and religion.

First Question
“I am going to start with one of my most difficult questions concerning God and religion”, Roger said. “How can you and other believers say God is loving and all-powerful, yet there is such evil and suffering in the world he made?”

Dean hesitated to answer. He wanted to get it right. “Well let me start at the beginning and then go past that. I’m sure you are aware of the story of creation and the sin of Adam and Eve leading man to a fallen state. Before you ask, a fallen state means that we are all born with a nature that will lead us to sin without God in our lives,” Dean said. Holding up his hand Dean continued, “Now no one really talks about it, but we don’t know how long Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden before they violated the one command God had given Adam. I think we can assume it was a long time.”

Roger interrupted, “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Well,” Dean replied, “it shows they lived in harmony with their creator for some time with God as a normal part of their lives. Knowledge of that was part of their being and their memories. Are we okay so far?”

“Yes, but I really don’t know where this is going” Roger said.

“I know. It takes a bit. You see in the Garden, Adam and Eve directly experienced the love of their creator. It was not until after their fall, that people began to forget about God and went about doing more than eating forbidden fruit,” Roger explained. “You can see it when Cain killed Abel decades later. God was not involved. In fact God was excluded by Cain. Earlier, God had rejected Cain’s offering to Him, but accepted Abel’s. Cain became incredibly angry and when God saw Cain’s anger he lovingly intervened, explaining how Cain could make a proper offering and warning him about the great danger of letting his anger control him. It’s obvious Cain rejected God’s personal intervention and committed the first murder known to man,” Dean finished quietly.

Roger then asked, “Are you trying to tell me the evil and suffering in our world today result from us, humanity, rejecting God’s advice and love?”

Dean, looking directly into Roger’s eyes said, “That’s exactly what I am telling you.”

Second Question
After a long pause, Roger said, “Okay, I’m not fully convinced, but let me ask another question. Can you show one example in today’s world where the reverse is true? Where people accept God’s intervention and his love and He changes their lives?”

“Roger, that’s almost too easy. Almost, because it is so sad,” Dean replied and then turned quiet.

“What do you mean, “too easy” and “so sad”,” Roger asked?

“It’s because it is so common and because it happens even when folks don’t necessarily accept Christ, but accept God,” Dean began. “You see Alcoholics Anonymous has a twelve step program where their number one step is to accept they have no power to overcome their addiction, their alcoholism, their sin without help. The number two step, they accept a belief in God or some higher power other than themselves is necessary to restore them to a life without alcohol running their lives. In fact, I have often heard number two said this way, “There is a God and he ain’t me and I need him”,” Dean said quietly.

“Is that it,” Roger asked? “Or is there more to it?”

“Of course there is more to it. I only gave the first two steps of the twelve, but those two steps are the foundation for all that follow. I personally know individuals who have found God through AA and with His help have made a life of sobriety for themselves,” Dean said. He then added, “Some of them are relatives of mine. I would be glad to introduce you if you like.”

“Maybe later and I will give you credit for this answer, but it’s not what I expected,” Roger said.

Both Roger and Dean had finished their coffee. The rain had stopped some time ago and the sun was shining.

Roger asked if they could go outside and walk while they talked. When Dean said okay they headed outside and Roger asked, “Ready for the next question?”

“As ready as God permits me to be,” Dean smiled in reply.

Third Question
“This one is not going to be so easy,” Dean said and continued with, “Our fathers and uncles fought in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. How can God permit such suffering and war on a scale never seen before? And why does man need God to set the rules so to speak instead of determining the rules himself for the best of mankind?” And then he stopped.

Dean rubbed his chin as they walked and he thought for a minute before answering. “Okay, I will grant you, your double question, if I can use the answer to the second to help answer the first one. Agreed,” he asked?

“Answer them in any order you wish,” Roger replied.

“Okay, here goes. Man can determine his own rules to live by, but they will never be absolute simply because man made them. Look around you. We see it in politics all the time. Rules made for one purpose used for another or twisted to mean something else. Man will always find some way, some excuse to do something he thinks is more important than the rules he is living by, unless they are God’s rules and they are absolute,” Dean argued.

With raised eyebrows Roger said, “Is that it? Is that all you have?”

“Nope, just getting to the point,” Dean replied. He continued, “Even with God’s rules man will twist them from time to time to try to make them mean what he wants in his fallen nature instead of what God wants. This twisting happened a number of times in the Old Testament and continued in the New Testament. In the Old Testament it led to the fall of Jerusalem because God was so disgusted with how His people treated widows, orphans, and the poor. God, in effect, divorced His people as a nation for a time.”

They walked a little further before Dean said, “It was worse for our fathers and uncles and the rest of the world during and after World War II. Nazi Germany had no God except man. Communist Russia had no God other than the state and a leader after the war. It was the same for Communist China after the war. God was the state and Mao. Then after the Korean War, North Korea shut down entirely. After Vietnam, well we know what happened to the people of the South and the people of Cambodia.”

Waiting for a light before crossing the street, Dean went on as they crossed over, “There was no brake on the evil committed. God was not there. It was Cain writ large across the world, acting on a scale unknown to man before. Nazi Germany’s killing of those thought not perfect enough to contribute to the ‘master race’ along with the gypsies, homosexuals, and millions of Jews is well known. Russia and China killed tens of millions in their death camps after the war. The camps were known as re-education camps or labor camps. Vietnam’s re-education camps killed or tortured anyone with an education. Cambodia killed millions, over half of their own countrymen.” Dean added for emphasis, “Over half! Do you get that? That is evil without God, without His love!”

Spying a bench just a bit further up the sidewalk, Roger asked, “Hey can we slow down, sit down, and relax for a moment? You got pretty worked up back there.”

After sitting down and taking a few deep breaths, Dean said, “Sorry, but I get pretty intense about this. The twentieth century is an incredible testament of the evil man is capable of if he is not restrained or constrained by God. Now, did I answer your double question?”

“Yeah you did. But again not as I expected. Ready for the next question” Roger asked? Dean nodded his agreement.

Fourth Question
“Okay, then I will go for a double again. Homosexuality? Why does God make men and women that way and why is wrong for them to love one another,” Roger asked?

“I guess this is the question of the day, but my answers may surprise you even more than my earlier ones. You see, I don’t know why God makes men and women that way or if he actually does,” Dean replied.

Dean held up his hand again to stave off Roger’s objection. “I know, I know. Many say homosexuals are born that way. I don’t really know. I personally don’t accept that they are from the evidence I have looked at. However, for the sake of argument and your question, I will accept your premise that they are ‘born that way’,” Dean said. “With that as a given, they do not have to practice or perform the acts associated with homosexuality. Feelings and acts are two different things. I know the argument, if you are born that way why is it not okay to act out how you are born? That’s a fair question right,” he asked?

Roger nodded in affirmation. Dean continued, “Well, I know you and I know myself. Neither of us was born monogamous were we? I mean I KNOW the kind of life we lived before we got married. If we wanted, we could live a lie, a life without monogamy and practice our non-monogamous nature couldn’t we?”

After a long pause Dean went on, “Sorry about getting personal, but this is reality. I don’t know about you but I have been tempted many times. A few times I almost fell to the temptation. Only prayer and God kept me monogamous on those occasions. It can be the same for a homosexual as well. He or she does not have to do what we are told is only natural. I have had a homosexual man tell me that I just didn’t want to let them love each other. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I love lots of men, but I don’t have sex with any of them.” He turned and walked off. We never talked again.”

Looking off into the distance, Dean asked, “Can I add a bit more before I let you ask your last question for the day?”

“Sure,” Roger replied.

“Imagine a world where any behavior was approved if it could only be shown to be how one was born. Ever been so angry you wanted to kill someone? I have. But again, I am glad I did not act on what I thought were my natural feelings,” said Dean. “Are we okay with my answer?”

Roger nodded yes, and then said, “Here is my last one for the day.”

Fifth Question
Roger added, “Sorry, but it’s another double one. Why does God care? And how do we know he cares, that he loves us?”

Dean had been staring down at the sidewalk between his shoes, now slowly looked up and smiled, really smiled for the first time that morning. “I’m glad to answer your double again. Once again the answers are related. Remember my answers started back in creation, right,” he asked?

“Yeah, yeah, I remember,” Roger answered.

“Good because the answer begins there. You see the biblical account in Genesis tells us God made us in His image. We were not made as His image, but in His image. He made us different from everything else he created. He made us with love. He breathed His breathe into us to make us alive. He did that for no other creature. In fact Adam got a wife, because he did not want Adam to be alone, he loved Adam just as he loves us. Why he did this I am not so sure. But he did do it and it’s true he loves us,” Dean said.

“Now about today, how do we know He cares? That answer goes back about 2,000 years. God’s only son, Jesus Christ, died on a cross for our sins so that if we accepted His grace through His son, repented of all our sins, we could be reunited with God as our Father. Compare this to what AA does with their twelve steps. It is similar, but very different as it involves a specific knowledge of what God is offering – the sacrifice of his son for our sins so that we might join Jesus in heaven with His Father, our Father,” Dean said with a smile now covering his whole face.

Next Question
Roger was quiet and so was Dean. After the silence had continued on for some time, Dean said, “Let me ask you a question now. Would you like to accept Christ into your heart, confess your sins to God – not me – and begin to know your heavenly Father?”

End or New Beginning?

McGrath, A. (Ed.) (2007). The Christian Theology Reader. (3rd
ed.). Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK
Online Bible (n.d.),

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What To Do?

The year was 1983. I was working at PMEL, pronounced "'P' mel." The acronym stands for Precision Measurement Electronics Laboratory, a metrology laboratory and no, metrology is not misspelled.

At the lab I was the in house instructor for digital electronics and microprocessor controlled test equipment plus the basics of assembly language programming. We were leaving the era of tubes and discrete electronic components and moving headlong into test equipment loaded with solid state digital electronics and integrated circuits.

I was asked if I wanted the job because while serving in the Air Force I had been an instructor and a StanEval team member on ARIA aircraft for the antenna tracking system. But I really did not know digital electronics except for a correspondence course I had taken from the Cleveland Institute of Electronics (CIE). Thus, many a night was spent working on digital circuits until I fell asleep with my face in a maze of jumper wires connecting various integrated circuits. But it got me off the lab bench for a few hours three times a week and looked good for my annual review. Plus promotions were coming up.

About those promotions, there were three openings. I was the number one candidate with one other lab technician close by and then three or four right behind us. When the names came out, my name was not on the list. It was Friday. Boy oh boy, I am glad it was Friday. I was so angry, I was kicking doors all day Saturday, scaring my bride of 12 years and our two children.

Finally, I calmed down and then Sharon and I talked and talked. We may as well have been praying. The question came down to, "Will you quit the extra curricular work (teaching) and back off on how hard you work?" I had been asked the same question by a half dozen coworkers who wanted me to 'punish' management because I had not been promoted.

What to do? A decision from the recesses of my soul came out. I would not quit teaching and I would not quit performing on the job. That would be a lose/lose proposition with long range negative consequences. Instead I would work harder on the regular part of my job and also on the instruction portion. Part of me wanted to embarrass them by my positive performance after not being promoted. The decision had been made, I would not back off, I would perform.

Monday, I was back at work and instructing digital electronics. Many of my coworkers shook their heads in bewilderment. A few came by and shook my hand admiring the choice I had made.

Then nothing for about six weeks until my direct boss, the one who chose not to promote me offered me an opportunity to attend a ten week course on calibrating microwave test equipment. He had been instructed by his management to offer me the class. To his astonishment (I can still recall the surprise on his face) when I immediately accepted the offer. I was an honor graduate of the class.

Months later, I had decided to quit playing and studying so much chess. I was looking for a way to better invest my time for myself and my family ... there was no money in chess for a player like me who could (maybe, probably) become a National Master. In my casting about I found an Engineering Science University Program at our local community college. A college algebra class was available, but would require an extra 30 minutes for lunch to make it happen.

I asked my boss (yeah, that one) if I could have an extra 30 minutes three days a week for the quarter. His answer was not unexpected, "No." However, when he told me to go ask the front office (his management) to see what they would say, that was unexpected. He surely didn't think anything would come of it.

Thinking the worst that could happen is another "No" I went to the front office. What a surprise, they said yes. Plus they added, "You have done everything we asked you to do, even when you didn't get the promotion, we will be glad to help out with this." When I told my boss, he could not get to the front office fast enough. He did not believe it. He returned shaking his head and muttering to himself. Then he said, "Well, I guess you get to go."

Got the shock of my life when the first class was on imaginary numbers. I almost quit until I recalled the same thing in my CIE course with a different application. Stuck it out and made an "A" and then took another class and then another ... Before I knew it, I had an Associate's Degree in Engineering Science.

Two years later I had an Electrical Systems Engineering Bachelor of Science degree with a second major in applied mathematics. Then the job opportunities came. I maintained the same work habits, doing my job and then some. The job opportunities continued.

The only thing wrong with my diploma was that it had only one name on it - mine. But it was just as much my bride's ... I could not, would not, have completed the engineering program at Wright State University without her. The story behind that is whole other blog entry.

But back to what to do when you get passed over for a promotion and it is given to someone less deserving? My answer should be obvious by now - "Continue doing the best you can and then do some more." My sig line on my emails from work all end with "... and then some," meaning do what you are supposed to do and then some.

Leave the rest up to God. Honor Him with your work.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

DQ and Glass of Water

This week I had to answer a discussion question (DQ) for a systematic theology class. The question brought to mind a vignette my sister wrote about 5 years ago concerning our mother and father. That piece of writing is below.

The DQ of interest came in two parts, “Why is it so important to recognize that God did not create us originally as individuals but as part of the community (male and female)? What are the implications of this view?”

I didn’t like or agree with the question and answered as follows, The premise of the question is wrong because God DID create us originally as individuals and as part of the community - initially the community of marriage, of relationship with God, and of relationship with the world. What are the implications of this view? A marriage does not work with the two individuals involved - until/unless each is submitting something of themselves to the community of the marriage. The same is true of anyone's relationship with God - the individual must submit something of their self to make that relationship work (God has already submitted his Son). While God has relationships with marriages, families, and churches - it is always through the individuals involved. No one will ever stand for or with another in front of God on judement day - no one except Christ. Loving one's spouse, family, community, and church as God would have us love them requires first a submission to God. Through this an individual or a marriage or a church community can bring more people to see and have God in their lives. This can have enormous impact on others as indicated by the short story below.

Glass of Water (by Carolyn J. Abbey)

It was a Tuesday night and I stopped to see my aging parents. They were getting ready for supper and insisted that I stay. My husband had a meeting and my children were old enough to fend for themselves, so I agreed. I helped my momma to get the meal on the table and I smiled at how there was always enough for whoever stopped by.

As I set the table, I asked momma what she wanted to drink. “Ice water” she responded. Then I asked daddy what he wanted. He said, “I will share your mom’s glass of water.”

We sat down to eat and I looked at this couple who had been married almost 58 years. They always sat in the same seats next to each other. Their routines were well established and comfortable for them. Sometimes the table was silent, other times it was full of discussion. Always they seemed interested in what was going on in the lives of their children and grandchildren. They often had news from their siblings. World issues might be brought up in conversation. Political discussions could be heated, but they also gave room for differences of opinions, if only everyone would agree that daddy was right.

I watched as momma moved her glass of water between her and daddy so it was an easy reach for both of them. As we visited I found myself watching them and wondering “when did they start to share one glass?” I thought about all of the years they had built their lives together while they raised six children. I looked at my parents knowing they had survived many hardships as well as joys in their lives, and I marveled at the simplicity and comfort of their love.

Somehow that glass of water symbolized so much more than a drink divided between two people. It signified their love, their commitment, their oneness. I found myself in awe as I experienced the plan of God for a marriage in this simple glass of water shared between two. Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one, but separate beings, so a married couple should be one yet separate. I was humbled as I saw the purity of love as I sat in their presence. Once again, without knowing it, my parents taught me a valuable life lesson by simply sharing a glass of water. When I left that night I knew I had seen God in this world.

(Note by Riley - our father died, October 2010, about 4 years later. His only concern in his last weeks was to have us promise to take care of Mom. We are keeping our promise and doing that.)