The Shopping Dead or, Christmas and the Cult of Consumerism

IMG_0896The vast hordes pile against the defensive barriers the survivors have put in place. Yet, even the survivors know it’s only a matter of time before those barriers come down and the horde rushes in. The mass of lifeless, yet moving human bodies is intent on one thing and one thing alone; consumption. When the barriers come down they will burst forth, devouring everything in the path, giving no care to their surroundings and leaving nothing but devastation and destruction to all they touch.

To those worried, I am not giving a spoiler for The Walking Dead, rather I’m describing the upcoming Black Friday. To my non-American readers, “Black Friday” is the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, which marks the beginning of the Christmas season. During this day, millions of people line up at 4am to get into stores that open at 5am all to save some money on Christmas shopping. Imagine a mass stampede of animals, only a bit worse in that animals at least care about the rest of the herd. For those still unfamiliar, here is a video of what a Black Friday opening at a store can look like (and often does look like):

At the risk of sounding like Dale from The Walking Dead, we really are no better than zombies and, in many ways, are worse than zombies. Zombies (in their fictitious way) roam around and consume the living because that’s just their biological composition. They have no free will, they have no reasoning, they have no ability to rationalize what they are doing. They simply feed off whatever they can. The living, however, can rationalize. We know what we’re doing is wrong – or at least hold the capacity to know it is wrong – but we choose to do it anyway. In other words, the murderous hunger of a zombie is simply part of the zombie’s nature, but the gluttonous masses ought to know better.

Over consumption is a violation of Christian principles to begin with, but to do so during the Christmas season is simply blasphemous. Let the world do what the world wants, but Christians ought not participate. There’s nothing wrong in shopping for loved ones or even taking advantage of deals. There’s really nothing even wrong in shopping on Black Friday. But when the focus becomes the bargain, the sale, the material product, and not the Christ who came into the world, the Christian has destroyed all meaning to the Holy Day and his own faith. We demand that we put “Christ” back in “Christmas,” but where will He fit amongst all our toys and stampeding?

Perhaps we should focus on putting the mass back in Christmas before we attempt to insert anything else into the word. Any major mass within the historical Church (comprising of Orthodox and Roman Catholics who have a shared heritage and practice) typically comes with a feast. Pascha, or Easter, is possibly the greatest mass within the Church as it celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead and it too comes with a feast. Yet, most feasts are often preceded by a fast; in fact, the greater and more significant the feast, the greater and more significant the fast. For Christians who are to celebrate the coming of God into this world how much sense does it make to consume more than we typically would? What about rushing over your fellow humans to buy the next big thing (that you’ll stop using within a year) screams “God with us?” How can we appreciate the feast if we’ve yet to fast?

How can we claim to be for family values when we support consumer habits that devalue the family? While it might be nice to go and save 50% at 10pm on Thanksgiving Day, how nice is it for those who work there to provide this convenience for you? How can we claim to be pro-family, but then take advantage of business practices that keep families apart? I know of workers at Target, Walmart, and elsewhere who had to work from 9am to midnight on Thanksgiving and then turn around and be back at work from 2am to 6pm on Black Friday. Likewise, it is not as though they’re being well compensated for these endeavors; at one big-box store a gentleman lacked in his hygiene because he had to choose between paying the water or paying the electric bill.

In engaging and supporting these business practices, by shopping on Thanksgiving or stampeding on Friday morning, we become mindless consumers who roam around, destroy all life around us, and are dead (spiritually at least).

Now I know, we’ll see the various memes roaming around about soldiers who don’t get a day off, so how dare these workers complain about having to work on Thanksgiving. This, however, is sickening propaganda. Are we really going to argue that shopping is as valuable and as necessary as protecting one’s nation? Is the cashier’s job just as essential as the infantryman’s job? Yes, there are those that must work throughout all holidays because their jobs are essential for our society to keep running. Retail, however, is not one of those essential services.

What, then, should Christians and churches do today and throughout the holiday season? How can Christians rise above the Cult of Consumerism and begin to display Christ again? Here are just a few practical examples that I think we should start following:

  1. Stop participating in the mayhem. Absolutely refuse to shop on Thanksgiving. If companies didn’t make money from people being out on Thanksgiving then they would stop opening on those days. Realize that a cheaper product comes at the cost of your character, and character is something no amount of money can buy.
  2. Shop locally whenever possible. Local businesses are easier to influence than big box stores. They also tend to be more ethical and fair to their employees as well.
  3. Churches ought to help retail employees connect with their families during this time. Have dinners for these employees or offer them free daycare if possible. Do what you can to help them.
  4. Do some Christmas shopping for these employees. Many retail workers end up working 6-7 days a week during the Christmas season. They don’t get a Sabbath. Christians ought to help do the Christmas shopping for these employees so they can devote more time to being with their family when they’re not working.
  5. Be nice. Christmas time is incredibly rough for retail workers and other “non-skilled labor” workers. Many haven’t been home for Christmas or Thanksgiving in years because they’re not allowed to take time off. Add to it that they’re overworked during this season and deal with people who are stressed, meaning the employees get yelled at quite a bit. Just by being nice you will help quite a bit. Maybe offer to bring them back a coffee (if they’re allowed to even have a drink out) or something. The smallest gestures will have eternal ramifications.

Never forget that this is a season where we celebrate God coming to live among us sinful humans. Christ dwelt among us and we too are to allow Christ live within us. We are not to partake in the mindless horde consuming everything in their path, but rather we are to partake in the Giver of Life who became a servant to all mankind. If God can humble Himself to our form, if the immortal Word can take on mortal flesh, certainly we too can live incarnational lives during this season.


The Most Beautiful Song You’ll Ever Hear

Regardless of your religious persuasion, I would hope you find this as a thing of beauty. For those that are Christians, I do believe that this is but a shadow of the music we shall hear in eternity, but this shadow is the closest we will get within this mortal realm.

The Russian language (and composition) is significantly underrated as a thing of power and beauty. This is the Trisagion, though under the composition of G. Sviridov.

A Hope Beyond Cynicism or, the Resurrection and Evisceration of Nihilism

Icon of the Resurrection

Icon of the Resurrection

It is in the fashion of the times for popular television scientists, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, to explain how science is leaving little room for God’s existence while in the same breath stating that we humans are insignificant, and that it is good we realize this. Such scientists do not seemingly see the irony in their thinking: Materialism, which believes in a large, yet finite universe, teaches that humans are insignificant, while Christianity, which believes in an infinite, incomprehensible God, teaches that humans are significant.

Such pondering tends towards materialistic pantheism, that we are great because we are made of dead stars. We are all physically connected to each other and to the universe we see. While true, what real moral impact is there in this statement? The CEO is connected to his poor worker because both are composed of atoms, but what of it? Stating such a scientific truth may seem deep and profound, but it is no more profound than saying the earth rotates around the sun or that one apple plus another apple equals two apples; all are mere statements of fact, nothing more.

These modern anti-philosophers – men who decry philosophy, yet act as philosophers – act as though they are speaking deeply by saying there is no purpose to life, but we are to act as if purpose exists. These English-speaking scientists think they have broken new ground, while blindly waving away the cigarette smoke from the French who have been here for quite some time. As in true historical fashion the English follow the trends of the French, claim it as their own, and the French are left cursing the ignoble English all the while denouncing the English rendition of French fashion. The philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus already struggled with a materialistic worldview leading to no purpose. Of course, in following true European fashion, the French must surrender the origins of their fashion to Germany (with Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Hegel, and others). The Germans, in turn, would bashfully admit that their existential and materialistic heritage was stolen from the Rome they sacked, mostly from Lucretius. Yet, the Romans would have to admit that their philosophy came from the conquered Greeks, from the Epicurean teachings. Our modern scientists who think they are quite progressive in their atheistic existentialism would be dismayed to discover that they are not moving forward, but backward to a theory that is older than the Christianity they so detest.

Facing the dark emptiness of the universe is nothing new; it is not something modern science has forced us to undertake. Facing the darkness of this world, facing a life without God, is something that humanity has seemingly always faced. Atheism is not the result of Darwin’s theory of evolution and advances in science; rather, atheism is the result of man’s rebellion culminating in wanting not only to be like God, but also to erase Him from our very existence. Even the Psalms speaks of the foolishness of those who deny God’s existence, but it acknowledges that such people exist. The idea that the world we live in is all that exists is as ancient as religion itself. Neil deGrasse Tyson has discovered nothing new, but has stumbled upon an ancient conundrum.

Even St. Paul recognized the issue of nihilism, that is, on the purposelessness of life. What makes Christianity so distinct is that we acknowledge that this life actually is without a purpose. We recognize that this world is truly empty and pointless. The difference, however, is we can explain why this is the case and why it need not be the case. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is quite adamant about the importance of the Resurrection, stating that without the resurrection of Christ and of our own bodies, there is no point to this life. He goes so far as to say that if there is no physical resurrection then there is no point to living like a Christian, that we should “eat and drink” for tomorrow we may die.

Within Christianity, we do not disagree that if God does not exist, this life is pointless. We go even further – much to the dismay of our Theistic co-belligerents – to say that even if God does exist, without the resurrection there is still no point to this life. We can claim to drink in the fullness of this life, to milk the enjoyable sap from every second we exist, but in the end we are simply fooling ourselves. If there is no resurrection, then we are hapless souls wandering a desert who happen upon an oasis only to discover it is a mirage. The soothing shade and cold water were quite convincing, but in the end it was nothing more than sand. All the while, the vultures fly overhead, awaiting our inevitable end.

Without a resurrection, there is no meaning to this life and we fool ourselves if we think otherwise. We may pretend that our meanderings have meaning, that it somehow matters that we are physically connected to ancient stars, but in the end, we still cease to be. Those who remembered us will cease to be. 4.5 billion years from now the sun will swallow up the earth as entropy takes its full effect and all that we have ever known will burn up. Everything we work toward, all our struggles, our happiness, and history will wash away like a sandcastle at high tide.

Yet, there is hope that reaches beyond the cynicism of nihilism. That hope is found in Christ, who has given meaning and purpose to all things that exist. That hope stems from His resurrection. In a poetic paradox that only God could accomplish, the emptiness of the tomb besieges the nothingness of nihilism, and this emptiness is full of so much that it simply wipes away the nothingness. When Christ hung on a cross and was placed in a tomb, nihilism reigned supreme. The shrouded Jesus faced the pointlessness of this life as He lay dead in the tomb. Yet, the death could not hold Him, for death is the absence of hope and Christ is Hope. As the darkness consumed Jesus, it choked on Light Himself, and unable to contain this Light surrendered to Him. The hopelessness of this world could not contain the Hope for the world.

The resurrection provides real hope and real meaning to this world rather than the empty platitudes of scientific existentialism. The resurrection acknowledges that in our physical body we are certainly linked to dead stars, but in the entirety of our being we are linked to the living God. When we die, what we have done will have meaning because it will reverberate and ripple into eternity. When one dies we sing “Memory Eternal” not just because it is a beautiful sentiment, but also because it is the truth; one is remembered eternally by the Eternal One. Only in the resurrection, where life continues for eternity, can there be any meaning to this present life. The more we learn about the universe and its vast expanse, the more we ought to turn to its Creator in order to find the meaning for all things


The Hope of Things to Come or, The Beginning of the Real Adventure

IMG_0028This is a chapter out of my manuscript What Sinners Dare Not Dream. I have yet to publish this manuscript (though I am looking if anyone is interested), but wanted to post this chapter mostly to get some feedback and/or encourage those out there. Please enjoy and let me know what you think. 

There is little doubt that C.S. Lewis was a talented writer and a great thinker. One piece of his writing, however, stands out as my favorite because it summarizes the purpose in life. The last few lines to his book The Last Battle, the final book in The Chronicles of Narnia series, Lewis has Aslan addressing the children, saying,

“Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

Lewis goes on to narrate:

“All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Lewis did a masterful job of expressing the true reality of the mystery of heaven. We know that heaven will be a great adventure that will go on forever, that it will be eternal bliss; but we cannot describe it. We can try to guess, but what good does it do?

The reality in all of our talk of Heaven, however, is that Heaven is simply a backdrop to a greater truth; we enter into a perfect, glorious, uninhibited relationship with God. A perfect relationship, a perfect connection, a relationship that is so close that we cannot even begin to imagine what it is like. It is this hope of a deeper relationship free from the evil around us that gives meaning to our actions today. In fact, it is that hope that compels us to act in our world.

For Christians, “death” is a misnomer. Death is actually our first step into life. We’re dead for the time we’re here on this earth and become alive when we are finally able to leave. That isn’t to devalue life, but merely to offer commentary on the impact that evil has on us while we walk this earth. True life comes in death, and life abundantly comes in the resurrection.

What is it to die? Continue reading

On the Paradox of Creation or, Between Light and Dark

DSC01983If one reads the Bible carefully, it is easy to see that the coming of Christ into the world was a type of second creation. In the first part of Genesis, God speaks into a dark void, into an abyss of nothingness, and draws forth everything. In the beginning of the Gospels, eloquently stated by St. John the Apostle, God sends the Light into the World, a Light not overcome by the darkness. In the first creation the world springs forth from nothing. In the second creation, the world exists, but is spiritually dead and physically dying from the sin thrust upon it. The Light comes into contact with the world, not to condemn the world, but to save it.

In the first creation, human destruction begins in a garden. Adam and Eve rebel against God and choose their own path, they choose autonomy. The first man and the first woman speak for all humanity at that point and direct the human will away from God. In the second creation, human glorification begins in a garden. It is here that Christ says, “Not my will, but yours” to God, deifying human nature. In the second creation, human glorification culminates in yet another garden, the garden of the tomb. In this final garden, Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener (though not inaccurate). In the first creation, in the first garden, man hid from God and blamed woman; in the second garden, God finds those who have been hiding for so long and instructs the woman to give this news to man.

All of creation has found itself somewhere between these two gardens. We have teetered towards the Garden of Eden or the Garden of the Tomb. When we war with each other, send countless bodies to an early grave over land disputes or selfish ambition, we move closer and closer to the pride and arrogance that forced us out of paradise. While disease and the elements serve as a natural consequence of our rebellion, we remain in the Garden of Eden when we fail to help out the victims of these acts. We push ourselves closer and closer to the Garden of Eden when our own flaws, our own evilness, or worse, our apathy aides in the suffering of these victims.

There is a reason God would not allow us to return to the Garden of Eden, not as some punishment, but as an act of grace. If we were capable of even glimpsing at what we lost we would despair and lose hope. We would go mad and find nothing but regret. There is a reason that only the greatest of saints have ever been allowed a glimpse into what was lost, and it is only because of their humility. Yet, even those who saw the paradise we lost still felt burdened.

We attempt to return to the Garden of Eden, but as some hapless subject in a Greek mythology, the harder we try to move back to Utopia, the further we move away. We have created a myriad of utopias, all attempts to get back to some perfect state. The 18th and 19th centuries gave us political ideologies that implanted these utopias into the minds of revolutionaries. These revolutionaries acted as midwives and in the 20th century we saw the early births of these utopias. In the end, the 20th century became the bloodiest century in human history. We lost 4% of the human population (over 109 million deaths, though many government sanctioned murders are simply not included). In our attempt at various utopias, various Towers of Babels back to the Garden of Eden, we only intensified our hellish experience.

Yet, in other parts of creation we have tended more towards the Garden of the Tomb. While we can never return to the site of our greatest tragedy, we can move forward to the site of our greatest triumph. We have, at times, made strides towards this new paradise. We love and cherish the arts, beauty, poetry, redemption, and the like because they all point to love. Within love there is only beauty, no ugliness, because love is the ruling virtue in the Kingdom that has come and shall come.

Yes, evil happens, but those who move towards the Garden of the Tomb will bring goodness to these evil acts. They will feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and help the helpless. As we move further away from the Garden of Eden and more towards the Garden of the Tomb, we begin to sense the redemption of creation, we begin to see it in our own acts and in the acts of others.

Paul succinctly wrapped up the two gardens in Romans 8. He contrasts the past/present with the future, of a present groaning caused by a past offense that will be removed in future glory. Creation in its current state, then, is quite the paradox; it is beautiful, yet fallen, groaning while knowing it will be made new.

What is good and beautiful is logical and rational, even supra-rational (that is, beyond our ability to reason, but not irrational). Beauty comes from God and God is incomprehensible and supra-rational. God is not irrational in that He doesn’t make any sense, but God is supra-rational in that He is beyond our reasoning. The beauty that flows forth from Him, an uncreated energy of God, is supra-rational.

Evil, on the other hand, is always irrational, yet masked in logic. A dictator commits genocide, which is irrational, but provides an incredible calculus to justify his actions. On a smaller scale, a man will cheat on his wife and provide some logical matrix that justifies his actions. A child steals from his parents and justifies his actions. Evil is always irrational, always illogical, but always defensible via some twisted use of logic. Therein lies the problem of evil and why Christians struggle to respond to it; we are always attempting to provide a logical explanation for something that is by nature illogical. There is no reason in evil, no logic to be found, and therefore it cannot be explained as, “Well A, therefore B.”

One cannot explain darkness by appealing to the properties of light, except to say that darkness results from the lack of those properties. Likewise, one cannot explain evil by appealing to logic and reasoning when evil lacks the properties of logic and reasoning. We can certainly explain things about evil in a logical manner (as to why it is here, what caused it, why it’s bad, and so on), but none of this addresses the ding an sich (thing in itself) of evil, mostly because there is not ding an sich of evil. Evil, in an ontological sense, doesn’t exist and therefore cannot be deduced to a series of equations and argued away via propositions.

Rather, for those of us who live amongst this groaning creation, awaiting the day of reconciliation, the answer to evil is to overwhelm it with good. The answer to the problem of evil is not a logical one, but an existential one. The answer to the problem of evil is not to explain what went wrong in the Garden of Eden, but to point to the Garden of the Tomb and move toward it. The solution to the problem of evil is not to hide behind the bushes of logic to hide our naked ignorance (as Adam and Eve did), but to embrace the mystery of the risen Lord and go and tell others what He has done (as Mary did). There is a paradox behind our beautiful yet fallen creation, and the more we embrace that paradox and recognize it for what it is, the better equipped we are to move our world towards light, towards the Garden of the Tomb.

Why Are Young People Leaving the Church? or, the Plight of Spiritual Refugees

IMG_0248If you pay attention to Christian news in America, you’ll notice that there has been a very popular trend ongoing within the Evangelical church. It’s popular and in right now to ask, “Why are young people leaving the church?” It’s been featured on CNN, Christianity Today gave us 6 reasons they’re leaving, not to be outdone the Reformed element posted 10 reasons young people leave church, and Relevant magazine (if you have to title yourself relevant, then are you really relevant?) just tells us what young people are saying. All these links are just the first few off any Google search; there are tons of articles out there trying to figure out why young people are leaving the church – specifically the evangelical church – in droves.

I should also mention that no one actually agrees on why young people are leaving the church. Some say it’s because of the church’s anti-homosexual, anti-abortion, anti-science stance. Others say because the church has been too soft on homosexuals, abortion, and evolution. Some argue that a lack of intellectual satisfaction is the cause, while others argue it’s an over-saturation of apologetics. Some think it’s a matter of no serving enough, while others argue that it’s serving without sharing the Gospel. And the list goes on. The fact that no one can agree and point to contradictory reasons actually shows us why young people are leaving the church.

If you really want to know why young people are leaving the church then look to Syria. I know, the two don’t seem related, but they are in a way. The conflict in Syria has created approximately two million refugees; imagine the entire population of Houston being relocated over the course of a year. War creates refugees, it creates people who leave a nation and if that war is never settled, these refugees begin to lose their culture in their new land. Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity, has been engaged in warfare (mostly political) since the 1980s. Young people are still battle fatigued and see no reason to belong.

Why have we lost Generation X, Y, Z or whatever? Why have we been losing more and more young people since the 1970s? Because Christianity, in particular evangelical Christianity, has created spiritual refugees. In attempting to legislate the actions of every American, the church has lost the hearts of most of its young people. This is not to say that the church shouldn’t be active in the public square, just that it works better in dealing with people, not politicians.

Throughout Church history, Christians typically wrote to and served the average person. Only on rare occasions did they write to government officials (typically to say, “Hey, we’re not that bad, please stop killing us”). When Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410AD, the Romans received a beautiful treatise from St. Augustine (City of God) that explained what occurred and how to get through it. When 9/11 happened for America, we got Pat Robertson. During the earliest centuries of Church growth, Christians would write to the average person and attempt to win his heart. The Christians would serve people and communities in an attempt to display the Gospel. Somewhere along the way, we lost that drive.

The Church always thrived, even during its own internal wars, because those who adhered to the true doctrine continued to teach and live that doctrine with conviction. These Christians were able to teach the young people the faith. They were able to teach and then demonstrate this faith. Most importantly, however, is that young people had to make this faith their own.

In the American church, we have been so busy becoming “culture warriors” that we’ve abandoned our duty as Christians. The belief that if we just pass the right laws, if we just enact the right moral codes, that our society will somehow improve puts our faith in the Constitution and Congress, not in Christ. Such an attitude exists for both the “Religious Right” and “Progressive Christians.” Both are waging a war for the American legislature, somehow believing it is the same thing as a war for the American heart. All the while, the Church’s young people grow weary from the endless, fruitless, and stupid battles and flee.

Attend any conservative Christian function and you may confuse it for an AARP convention, with a few sightings of young white men who you know were raised on a strict diet of David Barton, Bob Jones, and A Beka Books. Alternatively, if you just go to an Emergent church (which has really fizzled out) you’ll find it’s just the Christian wing of the Democratic Party. A lot of my friends who went that route have abandoned the church all together, because they realized that the Emergent Church was the Religious Right, only for liberals.

These young people are spiritual refugees, fleeing from a war that is not their own. They flee to the supposedly neutral ideas of secularism, where they don’t have to be religious, but can be spiritual. The cost to enter such a society is that they must abandon certain beliefs, or at least act a certain way, but they are willing to pay this price just so they can be free from this cultural war.

Imagine a young refugee from Syria arriving in the United States. At first, he wants to abide by his cultural upbringing as much as he can, but he realizes that staying in his culture means he must be reminded of the war he just left. As time goes on, he adopts aspects of the culture he’s just come into. And one day, while at a Fourth of July barbecue with his new friends, wearing a shirt with the American flag, drinking a PBR, eating pork ribs, and talking about the upcoming football season, he proudly declares he is still Syrian. Yet, there is nothing Syrian about him except he can speak Arabic. He has abandoned his culture and fully assimilated; what was once a place of refuge has now become home. His children will be fully American. Sure, once they’re born he may try to go back to his culture, but one cannot return home in a foreign land. His kids will come to resent the culture, thinking of it as backwards and weird. They might engage in it for nostalgia’s sake, but they won’t really consider themselves Syrian; by the time we get to his grandchildren, they won’t even speak Arabic anymore and Syria will be nothing more than a place on a map.

The same remains true for spiritual refugees. They leave the church to escape the culture wars. They arrive in the secular land wanting to still hold onto the vestiges of their faith. They think they’ll create a new kind of Christianity, but soon discover that even this alienates them from their new culture. As time goes on, they adopt certain aspects of the culture they come into. And one day, while denying miracles, that Jesus was God, while stating that Jesus was probably just a good person, while casting serious doubts about God’s existence, they will proudly say they still consider themselves Christians. Yet, there is nothing Christian about them except they still know the lingo (e.g. “saved,” “redeemed,” “inspired,” etc.). They have abandoned their faith and become secular; it may be a mystical secularism, a more spiritual secularism, but it is still secular. They might even abandon faith all together and become atheists, but they can never abandon their upbringing and culture entirely (which explains the evangelical nature of the New Atheists), just as a refugee can never eradicate his accent.

Within a few generations, their children will be completely apathetic, hostile or, worst of all, ignorant of their Christian roots. The children of these disaffected spiritual refugees will grow up ambivalent to Christianity. The grandchildren of these spiritual refugees will be completely unchurched, knowing none of the lingo (words like “unchurched”), and Christianity will be nothing more than a set of superstitious beliefs or philosophical arguments.

The solution isn’t to create better aid workers to these spiritual refugees. The solution isn’t to try to appeal to these young, disaffected youths. Refugees lose touch with their homeland because they don’t go home. Likewise, spiritual refugees will continue to move further and further away from the faith until they realize that it’s okay to go back home. They won’t return until they see that the pointless wars are over.

Calling for an end to the warrior culture, the idea that it’s us against the legislature, is not the same as a call for Christians to further retreat from the public discourse. In fact, abandoning public discourse is part of the problem of why people leave the church. For too long, Christians have focused on legislating morality – whether it be banning abortions and homosexual marriages, or promoting homosexual marriages and social reform issues – and not on creating a culture wherein people choose to do the right thing. Some things are still worthy of challenging in the legislature – such as banning abortion and some social reform issues – but what good does it do us if we never appeal to the hearts and minds of the general population?

We live in a time where our war against the culture has abandoned our youth. They are good at spouting off our pre-programmed information, but they are not good at thinking. It’s a sad day when young Christians (and older Christians) actually struggle to refute the arguments from Dawkins, Hitchens, Krauss, and others, when they struggle to refute the easiest of arguments in the world. It’s a sad day when young Christians are given party after party and only asked to do a mission trip here and there, when they’re asked to take and take from the Church rather than to give. It’s a sad day because our culture war has made our faith a political mechanism, but not something that is really owned by our children.

If you want to know why there is a mass exodus from the Church by young people, it’s because the churches have abandoned the heart of the Gospel. They failed to offer up something that is intellectually and existentially satisfying. We are offering something that youth cannot make their own because we tell them to believe, but never to understand. We tell them to act, but not to live. They then face the realities of this world, whether it be a Richard Dawkins or a 9/11, and they have no answer. I think of my own experience, entering high school to Columbine and leaving high school to 9/11 and a war, and there were no real answers from my church at the time. As long as Christians pursue the culture wars and then turn around and give youth “the next big thing” in Christianity, they will continue to lose their young people, they will continue to create refugees.

Through the Fires of This World or, Evil Persists, but Shall not Prevail

IMG_0966For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by Romans 8. I would go so far as to say that it is possibly one of my most favorite passages in the Bible. Yet, as much as I have read it, it wasn’t until recently that I began to realize that Romans 8 serves as Paul’s theodicy (and really the only explicit passage in the New Testament that tackles the problem of evil; though I could argue that the entire Bible actually serves as a theodicy). The entire passage is about how though we must suffer through this world and how creation itself groans in anticipation for its own redemption, there is a better future. Paul does what many Christian thinkers have been unwilling to do, namely admit that evil exists, it is a problem, and there is no greater good to it.

We exist in a world that is filled with the absurdity of evil. A married couple can be split apart by their own selfishness in just a few years, or ripped apart by life itself after decades together. A man can go to work, spend his time there, work hard to save up money, come home an empty shell to his family, and repeat this process every single day, becoming nothing more than a husk with a title. We live in a world where the more we progress in technology and wealth, the more we regress into isolation from each other. A child in a distant land can starve to death, die of a disease, or be brutally murdered by a group of young boys who have been deluded and drugged into committing war crimes for a maniacal warlord. The evil listed here hardly touches the surface of what the world faces on a daily basis.

Romans 8 is beautiful because Paul doesn’t attempt to deny the ugliness of this world. This is part of what is so beautiful about the Bible, is that as a Holy Book it is also very earthy and acknowledges this world for what it is. Every major Biblical character – with exception to Christ – has his or her flaws on display. Ironically enough, many critics of the Bible point to these flaws and say, “See? Even your great heroes of the faith sinned and the Bible celebrates it!” The point of their sin is missed, showing that everyone commits evil, even the greatest in the faith. Of course, Christians do themselves no favors when we attempt to downplay the evil of this world or say that for every act of evil there is an equal or greater good to counteract it. The simple, brutal, and depressing truth is that sometimes evil happens and nothing counteracts it, sometimes the light goes out and darkness rules.

The Bible presents a different approach of evil, one that simply treats the world as evil and every act of good as Divine intervention. That is, every instance of healing in this world, every instance of good, every moment of happiness is a miracle. These positive aspects are droplets of water to the parched souls who wander through this mortal desert in search of the imperishable and boundless oasis of life. These rays of light penetrate the darkness of our cells and give hope to life beyond this dungeon.

In the closing passage of Romans 8, Paul offers the following benediction:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is such a beautiful answer to the problem of evil. We shall suffer evil, but it shall not overcome us, for even when we die, even when evil has seemingly held the last laugh, we are lifted into the arms of a loving Christ who has already descended to Hades and robbed it of it keys and power. Not even death, with its illusion of finality, can overcome the love of Christ.

If Romans 8 is my favorite passage or chapter in the Bible, then Matthew 11:28-30 are possibly my favorite verses. Christ famously states:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Life is labor, life is burdensome. The biological reality of this world is that from the moment we are conceived we begin the process of dying. From the very moment we come into existence a clock begins to tick that counts down to the days of our death. From a spiritual and psychological reality, we are all alone. No one can truly understand us, even in our most intimate moments. Ultimately, we all die alone, even if surrounded by others, for none of them can ever know what we are experiencing. Yet, here is Christ telling us that in the darkness of this life, He serves as the light toward whom we walk.

We all must travail the fires of this world, but there is hope of a soothing balm in the end. We will all walk upon the cold and dark path, only to come upon a warm and bright fire. We will all hunger and thirst, physically or spiritually, but we must seek the feast of eternity, where hunger and thirst do not exist. Nietzsche’s nihilism cannot grasp the depth of Christianity, for our answer to the argument of evil is found in nothingness and silence. The answer is found in the nothingness of the tomb, where the only sound heard is the weeping from devils over their defeat. Yes, we live in a world full of evil, we live in a world where evil persists; but this is a world that is not void of God’s love.

In Matthew 16 Jesus tells Peter that the Gates of Hell (evil) shall not prevail against the truth of Christ being the Messiah. A simple question can change how we view this passage. Typically, this passage means that no matter how much evil attacks us, we will prevail against it. Yet, this is not what Christ is saying. After all, how do gates prevail on the offense? Gates are purely defensive, they do not march, they do not increase territory, they do not prevail in conquest. Rather, gates prevail in defense, they prevail against invasion, and we are told that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Gospel. That the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Gospel means that the Gospel is not on the defense, but is on a march against evil. Love will always prevail, it will always conquer and vanquish death, it is only a matter of time.

Love is on the march whenever we display this love to those who are trapped behind the gates of evil. When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, when we allow Christ to fill us and we become Christ to a world in desperate need for a Divine Lover, we have loosened the gates every so slightly.

Some view the admission of evil as proof that God does not exist, but Christians ought not be ashamed of admitting that evil exists, evil of the most gratuitous sort; Christians can admit to gratuitous – albeit finite – evil because we can quickly point to the lavishly inexhaustible love of God.