Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bad Things are Bad, BUT ...

For quite a while I have been tussling with God over His goodness in light of some very bad circumstances. He did not seem to be very kind or loving toward someone who is very dear to me and I have held that against Him. It has had a markedly chilling effect on my spiritual journey. But this weekend--a breakthrough. Driving to and from Ft. Hood for a bike race, I took time to listen to a series of messages from Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and it feels like an epiphany.

The most impactful was Keller's message, "A Christian's Happiness." In this message Keller examines Romans 8:28-30 and draws out three principles: 1) Our bad things turn out for good (v.28); 2) Our good things cannot be lost (v.29); and 3) Our best things are yet to come (v.30). Key for me was principle number one. With respect to Romans 8:28, Keller first noted that "all things" are a part of the Christian's life experience. In other words, Christian life circumstances are no better than anyone else's. On this point I think that I had drifted into thinking (wrongly) that because God is a good and loving God, then the life circumstances of His people should have fewer bad things and that the bad things that occur should be lower magnitude bad things--more like inconveniences. I feel like I had lost sight of that which is true and had instead superimposed my sense of what God "should" do and be like over what He has promised. I was trying to rewrite God's promises to suit my preferences. Ouch! That realization hurts.

Second, Keller observed that when things do work together for good, it is because of God. From Romans 8:18-20 we see that apart from God, all things fall apart--and that is normal. In a fallen world, which has been humanity's life circumstance at least since Genesis 3, things devolve and the natural order of things is toward chaos, disunity, dysfunction, and disorder.

Finally, Keller declared that although bad things happen, they are worked for good. Bad things are bad. Bad things are not good. Bad things are not "blessings in disguise." Yet, God will take the bad things and weave them into good in His totality. As an example, Joseph's betrayal and abandonment by his brothers was not good--it was bad. Joseph being falsely accused was not good--it was bad. Joseph being imprisoned was not good--it was bad. But God took those truly bad things and used them to rescue and preserve Israel--and to elevate Joseph. And even if He had not elevated Joseph, the bad would still have been turned to good in God's totality.

Keller closed the entire message on the principle of "Our best is yet to come" by focusing on the greatness of God's glory. He said, Only God's extraordinary glory can deal with the hurts of our hearts, our grief, our losses, and our suffering. Somehow that gives me comfort, hope, and the start of a renewed, and hopefully revitalized, spiritual journey.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Religious Liberty AND the Law

I initially thought about entitling this post "Religious Liberty vs. the Law", but that just didn't say it quite right. There are many who seem to be setting up the religious liberty arguments as unduly adversarial and overarching--that my expression of religious liberty should trump all other considerations. But that is no way to live in a pluralistic and civil society. In fact, the only way to guarantee everyone's full and complete expression of religious liberty is for each individual to live in geographic and geopolitical isolation. Within the context of a society built on the rule of law, I believe that we must strive to protect each individuals' right to religious freedom. But religious liberty must fit within the context of a civil society.

Does the elected county clerk in Kentucky have the right to refuse to issue marriage licences to gay couples? At a personal level, yes, BUT NOT if she wants to keep her public job. As an elected official, she must choose whether or not she will do her job--plain and simple. If not, then she should be honorable and resign--not be obstinate and go to jail for contempt. By the way, it is VERY important to note that to the extent that she is prosecuted or jailed it is NOT about marriage licences; it is about failing to abide by a lawful Court Order.

If this involved a different underlying issue, we would not be having these discussions. If a state-employed cafeteria worker refused to serve an overweight patron his double cheeseburger, fries, and a shake because gluttony is a sin, there would not be any discussion of religious liberty. We would simply shake our heads and the worker would be unemployed. But in the bigger picture, the Kentucky situation is not about anyone's views on gay marriage; it is about how people will live together in a multi-faceted and non-theocratic society built on the rule of law.

And what a great society we live with. If there is a law that I do not agree with and that I believe is wrong, then I have free access to the legislative process to change the law. If I prevail in changing the offensive law, then good for me. But as a member of this society, I have a duty to abide by the laws that are in force; or to remove myself from their jurisdiction--or face the consequences.

The law is not antagonistic to religious liberty. In fact, without the rule of law, we would have no hope of continued religious liberty. What I believe is missing in this cultural dialogue--and would love to see and hear--is guidance and discussion from our religious leaders about how to live and love well in a multicultural, multi-faceted, and non-theocratic society where others' views and beliefs often differ from my own. The way the discourse seems to be going, I am not going to hold my breath. (Of course, I would also like to see a reasonable and electable presidential candidate--and world peace.)