Tag Archives: God

an honest theological question

tweet Piper

Honest question.

When I read Piper’s quote, I think:
…. Doesn’t this just make God a vending machine? If we insert failure, helplessness, and other negative traits, God spits out rewards.

…  Does God only reward human activities that make Him look good? 

I realize that last comment is going to be super-controversial, so let me explain that I do NOT mean to suggest that God isn’t good, or that God doesn’t deserve our worship (I believe that He does), or that God is somehow an attention hound who otherwise wouldn’t get any love from the universe.

But Piper’s statement made me wonder both of those things, and I’d really like to see some discussion.

(PS. The “Comment” link is ABOVE the post, just below the featured image & title.  Sorry about that! I can’t tweak this theme to move it, and I agree it’s a lame feature, but I like the theme otherwise.)

Staying Power by Jeanne Murray Walker : Poetry Magazine

Staying Power


In appreciation of Maxim Gorky at the International Convention of Atheists, 1929

Like Gorky, I sometimes follow my doubts
outside to the yard and question the sky,
longing to have the fight settled, thinking
I can’t go on like this, and finally I say

all right, it is improbable, all right, there
is no God. And then as if I’m focusing
a magnifying glass on dry leaves, God blazes up.
It’s the attention, maybe, to what isn’t there

that makes the emptiness flare like a forest fire
until I have to spend the afternoon dragging
the hose to put the smoldering thing out.
Even on an ordinary day when a friend calls,

tells me they’ve found melanoma,
complains that the hospital is cold, I say God.
God, I say as my heart turns inside out.
Pick up any language by the scruff of its neck,

wipe its face, set it down on the lawn,
and I bet it will toddle right into the godfire
again, which—though they say it doesn’t
exist—can send you straight to the burn unit.

Oh, we have only so many words to think with.
Say God’s not fire, say anything, say God’s
a phone, maybe. You know you didn’t order a phone,
but there it is. It rings. You don’t know who it could be.

You don’t want to talk, so you pull out
the plug. It rings. You smash it with a hammer
till it bleeds springs and coils and clobbery
metal bits. It rings again. You pick it up

and a voice you love whispers hello.

Source: Poetry (May 2004).

via Staying Power by Jeanne Murray Walker : Poetry Magazine.

Review: The Shack

[Spoilers ahead!!]

I’m still scratching my head about the hullabaloo.

To hear people talk, you’d think The Shack was either the Holy Spirit incarnate or Satan Himself reduced to print form and corrupting the minds of American Christians one reader at a time.

I couldn’t escape the Shack discussions … dear friends recommended it highly; church elders dissed it.  I’ve heard it labeled “inspired”…”stupid”….”heretical”…”beautiful”… “insightful”…. “a load of crap.”   With appellations such as these, who could resist? Besides, it’s barely 200 pages.  Easy summer reading.

In a nutshell, I don’t think the book deserves either extreme of praise or disdain. It’s not well-written enough to provoke so much response.


I’m not being high-brow or elitist here; I’m just sayin’….  Young comments his book went through 4 drafts. Apparently none of them included stylistic revisions.  (If he did have an editor, I shudder to think what the firstdraft sounded like.)

Young’s style makes too much of what he doesn’t need to say (dumb details) and fails to pull off the sophistication one expects from great literature.  But I knew going in that this wasn’t a classic read.

Setting style aside, we must accept Young’s premise that he is writing fiction when he describes Mack’s encounter with the members of the Trinity at the location of his daughter’s murder…. the “shack” of the title. (Subtlety is not Young’s strong point.)  That said, Young proceeds to insert long passages of didactic explanations about all things deep and mysterious into the mouths of his Trinitarian characters.

It’s tough enough thinking about sovereignty, the problem of evil, or the hypostatic union of Christ’s human and divine natures without having the waters muddied by Young’s conjectures about such difficult problems of theology.  As Coart says, one ought never to put words in God’s mouth … especially if you have the chutzpah to make God a “character” in your story.  And anybody under the age of 80 who pretends to understand (much less explain) the interactions within the Trinity is smoking some pretty strong pot.

Side note: The book deals specifically with the problem of evil, an issue which all philosophers agree is the most pervasive thorn in the side of biblical Christianity. We are left with an uneasy mystery at best when we try to “explain” how God is entirely good and all-powerful, yet real evil exists in our world and it’s not His fault.  Young’s explanation (like every explanation I’ve ever heard) diminishes one of those three propositions, usually the idea that evil events really are that bad. 

On the positive side, Young provoked my thoughts on the evils of man’s isolationism and independence (that the Fall was a shattering of relationship and community).  He also offers neat insights into forgiveness and the self-centeredness which drives us humans to think we can judge God’s actions in the universe.  The book’s emphasis on a relationship with the God who is Truth offers a needed correction to today’s intellectually-heavy evangelicalism.  We rush into codified truth so fast that we miss the whole point.   His imaginings concerning the Trinity were interesting to consider …. I liked his “Holy Spirit” the best..

But having thought about it for a few days, my initial positive reaction has mellowed to a semi-apathy toward The Shack.

Perhaps if Young had handled his fictional metaphor more skillfully, infusing it with the depth of C S Lewis, the beauty of Tolkien, or the rich symbolism of Umberto Eco, I might be willing to set aside my theological uneasiness in favor of the book as a whole.

Fact is, he didn’t.

And while I was willing to set aside my propositional understandings of theology in order to appreciate his fictional “truth,” the theological sketchiness looms too large in such a badly written, badly-paced, badly-characterized story.

“Story truth” can be more ‘real’ than factual truth, as Tim O’Brien says, but not at the expense of craft and beauty.

Slightly related comments:
This is an amazing post from a Canadian farm wife about learning to respond to “failure” on God’s part.  Read it — you’ll be glad you did. [Edit, 5/20/2013 – this link seems to be dead; maybe this is the post I was referring to?]

If you’ve never read the book The Cry of the Soul, I highly recommend it.
Allender & Longman pick up Young’s theme of God’s desire for a relationship with His children and examine human emotions in that biblical light. Excellent reading.

For a much more beautiful, thought-provoking, and honest wrestle with the problem of evil, read Mary Doria Russell’s two books The Sparrow and Children of God.   Truth and beauty.

spending and spent

Interesting thought yesterday in Sunday School as Coart was teaching….

The theology of the covenants (Grace vs Law, in one common classification) intersects Planet Earth on a number of levels.  Just one:  Not only is God the ruler of all things because He is the biggest, most powerful Being in the entire universe.  The Story of redemption ensures that we will worship the sacrificial, risen Christ more for His undeniable goodness (as evidenced by His selfless sacrifice to save a sinful people).

Why does this matter?
Consider Milton’s sketch of Satan in Paradise Lost: The envious archangel allows pride and envy to gnaw into his soul, muttering to himself that God rules in heaven merely because He has the bigger army. In Satan’s mind (according to Milton), he simply got the short end of the deal.

Of course, Milton and the Bible are on wholly different planes, but I wonder if Milton might have been on to something.

I’m no fan of the hyper-Calvinism that states “a world of sinful humanity is the best of all possible worlds” because somehow God could not have been ultimately glorified if sin had not been introduced into the human race. Bad theology (as far as I can tell).  But no one, not even Satan himself, will be able to deny the irrefutable goodness of a God who chose to execute His just wrath on Himself so that He could give it away freely to people who do not deserve such love.

While on the topic of love….

As a teen listening to radio singles and top 40 hits, I scoffed that 99% of popular music centers on love as a theme. “Shallow!” I harrumphed, and wondered why people couldn’t come up with anything else to think about.

Twice the number of years later, I begin to glimpse the hard-as-nails reality of true love — it is divine, not human.

It is a paradox of uncomplaining sacrifice.
It slams my selfishness into the broad light, leaving me exposed for what I really am apart from Grace.
Love gives away its soul on the earnest that relationships aren’t a zero-sum game. My heart can get bigger. Love begets love.

Perhaps the bulk of human culture references love because, like a Jungian archetype, the shadow of selfless love has been burned into our very souls by the Creator who still loves His broken images… and buys us back.