31 May 2007

Ecclesiodicy, The Justification of Church

[Mood: contemplative and a little crusty]

I've been thinking about theodicy lately. If that term is new to you, don't worry: it's a fancy term meaning "the justification of God," but it's used in philosophical and theological writings to describe an entire discussion which boils down to this: If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, then why is there evil and suffering in the world? Is it because God cannot stop it, or is it because he will not stop it? A theodicy, therefore, argues how God can be what Christians say he is and yet allow evil and suffering. I will not go into all that now; if you are interested, I would refer you here.

Philip Yancey, in his excellent book Where is God When it Hurts?, was asked to boil down the meaning of that book to one sentence. His answer: "Where is the Church when it hurts?" This is a brilliant point; if the church is the body of Christ, the primary agency through which God interacts with the world, and evil exists, then perhaps the question could be altered a bit: If the church is empowered by God (as defined above - all powerful etc.), then why is there superfluous evil and suffering in the world? Is it because the church can not stop it or because it will not stop it? Maybe we should back the question up more: does the church even want to stop it?

You are probably crying out, "False choice!" And I would agree with you; the church does want to stop the evil and suffering in this world. The problem is that, unlike God, the church cannot be everywhere at once in the same way. And, unlike God, the church does not have unlimited physical and financial resources.

But still, why aren't churches always the first responders to disaster? Why doesn't the church do more to help in places like Darfur? Or is the church really helping and also going unnoticed by the media? How much does the church have to do before skeptics will say, "Ahh, now the church cares"? It seems that no matter what the church does, it will never be enough.

Let's bring it home: when someone in your church or surrounding community suffers or experiences evil, where is your church? Do they help? Take up offerings and donations? Turn the other way? Add them to the prayer list?

Where is the church when it hurts?

Overcome "Evel" With Good

Christianity Today reports that Robert "Evel" Knievel believes in Jesus and has accepted him as Lord and Savior. On Palm Sunday (April 1st), Knievel stood before the faithful at the Crystal Cathedral (think: The Hour of Power TV show on Sundays) and gave his testimony about how, at Bike Week in Daytona, "the power of God in Jesus just grabbed me" and he became a Christian. In the CT article, there is a photo of Knievel standing with Robert Schuller at the pulpit of the Cathedral.

Choir (that is, my fellow Christians), I would like to offer two divergent thoughts on stories like this. First, I am reminded of the apostle Paul's thoughts in 1 Timothy 1:13-16: "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life." Though a long quote, I'm sure Evel would heartily identify with Paul's words. There is hope for the worst of sinners. No one is too evil to come to Christ. Anyone who thinks they're not "good enough" to be saved has fallen for a lie of the devil. Jesus Christ died for every single person on earth for all of history, including you. He has unlimited patience and mercy for you, if you will just surrender to him.

Second thought: I'm not sure what to do with celebrity conversions. We've had many of them (Gary Busey, Anne Rice, Deion Sanders, Jane Fonda, Charlie Sheen et.al.), but as you can see from just the very small sampling here, most of them do not "take" to Christianity, or if they do, they are poor role models for other Christians. The problem is this: they are human beings, which means they still have struggles and temptations, even after conversion (see 1 Cor. 5:9-10, Gal. 5:16-17). That and they are in the spotlight nearly 24/7 (well, maybe not all of them). So when they crash, they crash hard, and everyone looks and says, "I knew it; some difference Christianity makes, huh?"

When a celebrity converts, perhaps there should be silence about it, even from the celebrity. Then they can simply live a changed life (which means they go to church, secure several Christian friends who can be trusted to hold them accountable, study the Bible, etc.) and wait for others to notice. There needs to be a maturing before we parade them in front of conventions and evangelistic crusades and men's retreats.

So World, please don't measure the truthfulness of Christianity or the Bible based on the behavior of celebrity Christians.

And Choir, please pray for all new believers in your church, as well as the celebrities who convert, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.