Anger at God

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A cat on a grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetery

A cat on a grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cover of "A Grief Observed"

Cover of A Grief Observed

Sam was a wonderful cat–a yellow and white tabby whose fur matched that of Sienna, a sweet cat whom I really loved, who sat on my leg at night when I lay down on the couch and was by my side when I woke up in the morning. Sadly, she had multiple health problems and had terminal kidney failure for which she had to be put to sleep. From the start, Sam was every bit as sweet as Sienna. He’d virtually clamp to my side every morning and I’d reach over and rub the smooth white fur on his belly. Then he started having urinary problems. Two surgeries, which would have cured 98% of all cats with his condition (crystals blocking a narrow urethra, causing damage resulting in massive scar tissue growth) did not sure Sam. I was so upset when he was put to sleep (he was only five and a half years old)I could barely function. I was also furious–at God. It wasn’t that long before Sam died that I had lost my best friend to breast cancer–a woman who ate well, exercised, took care of herself, and died at 46. The two deaths so close together infuriated me, and the object of my anger was God.

God took our first cat, Liebchen, a real ornery character who still loved us; within a month He took Sienna. Then He took my best friend, then Sam. I was so furious I called God about every name from the depths of hell. I imagined that God became incarnate in a human body so He could “enjoy” Himself when animals and people, especially children, suffered. I mocked the design argument, pointing to the windpipe and esophagus having one entrance with only a flap making the difference between life and death. No human designer would be stupid and incompetent enough to make such a system. Evolution seemed cruel and arbitrary, and if there was a God, He seemed a cold, uncaring b…rd.

Some people were horrified when they heard my thoughts, saying I would go to hell–that helped me a great deal–to increase my anger. Some people understood, including some Christians, thank God. I remembered the book of Job, which some Christians conveniently forget–or they do not read it carefully. Job is faithful to God, yet is clearly angry at God. He believes God is behaving in an arbitrary way toward him–“if it is not He, who is it” who is causing his suffering. Even after that, God says that what Job said regarding Him was “right.” This does not suggest, as some suggest, that there is an evil part of God, but it does suggest that God understands human anger–it often does seem as if the universe is unjust, uncaring–and that Stephen Crane‘s conception of nature as not giving a d..m about humanity is correct. The only plausible answer to the mystery of evil is eschatological. That seems inadequate for many atheists, agnostics, and even theists. Dostoevsky understood that unless somehow the pain and suffering of this life were rectified in an afterlife one could, with some justice, blaspheme God.

I was falling apart to the point that my work was suffering when I saw Sam lying on the other side of the bed one night. I was neither asleep nor obviously dreaming. I reached over, touched the soft fur, and watched him slowly fade away. I have seen him two times since then. I think it was a true visitation, though skeptics will have their own answers. It helped me get on my feet and mitigated my anger at God. God and I still have a love-hate relationship (on my part–God is love so He cannot hate). But without God, nothing is redeemed, and all the suffering and pain of humans and animals from the dawn of evolution until the present is ultimately worthless. I’d rather be angry at times at the only Source of meaning rather than be indifferent.

Christians should not condemn someone’s anger at God, but should bear with the person since most of the time the anger is temporary. Give positive advice at an emotional level–do not condemn the person who is angry to hell. It’s not your call in any case. Suggest books such as C. S. Lewis‘s, A Grief Observed and Nicholas Wolterstorff‘s Lament for a Son. Too many Christians have driven doubters and those angry with God permanently from the faith by their legalism. If you are angry with God, realize that such anger may not be permanent–it is best that it not be permanent, for that would lead to the bitterness of total lack of faith and a sense of meaninglessness in life. If a Christian is legalistic about your anger, confront him–let the person know that he is responding in an inappropriate way. Be patient with yourself and with others–only then can one day, perhaps you can be patient with God when bad things happen.

Methods of “Expanding Consciousness” and Christianity

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digital-drugs-binaural-beatThis past Saturday I spent a day at the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina. Paul Radamacher, Director of the Monroe Institute in Virginia, played some CDs designed to induce expanded consciousness. That expanded consciousness might be as dramatic as an out-of-body experience, or it could be a slight time distortion. My own experience was of near timelessness–in the last session, which lasted 45 minutes, I felt as if only a minute or two had passed. It was similar to waking up after anesthesia, but I did not fall asleep during that final session (I cannot say the same for the others!). The sense of relaxation was such as I have never felt before. My wish was to be able to talk with my friend Karen B., who died in May of 2010. So I prayed that “With Thy permission, God, could you allow me to see and talk to my friend Karen today?”

Although I did not have an experience of Kar during the sessions, I did have a dream that night. I was walking beside Kar, and I put my arm on her shoulder, which was strong, muscular, again (she had been an athletic woman). We sat down, I looked into her eyes, and she talked about her friends who still lived–I do not remember the content of the conversation, only her love and concern. I prayed, “God, why must she stay dust–could You keep her this way and bring her back to earth?” Kar looked at me with a look of such love and concern that it felt as if my grief was breaking her heart. It was a sense of unconditional love engulfing me.

I do not know whether my experience was just a dream or an actual visitation by Kar. All I know is that I felt comforted when I awoke, and I was thankful to God for allowing such an experience. Mass was especially meaningful as I contemplated the resurrection of the dead.

One question about methods of “expanding consciousness” is whether they are compatible with Christianity. I would say that they are as long as they do not lead a person away from orthodoxy and as long as a Christian is only using the experience as a means to an end rather than as the end itself. Some people worship the experience or the method of gaining the experience, and this is a form of idolatry.  No one should boast about a transcendent experience, but instead use it to build the faith of those with doubts, and in the case of my experience, to give comfort to those people bereaved of Kar and to those people in general who have doubts about an afterlife. Any transcendent experience is a gift of grace by the permission of God, and God should be praised and thanked for His precious gift. Experiences should also be tested by the light of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason to make sure that they are compatible with the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. With these precautions in mind, I would recommend the Monroe Institute’s programs or other programs for “expanding consciousness” for traditional Christians as long as they are used in the proper way, and with the realization that any transcendent experience remains the gift of God’s grace.

What is Vanderbilt University’s Problem with Traditional Christianity?

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Vanderbilt Commons.

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Vanderbilt University has recently been “investigating” Christian groups on campus after an openly homosexual member of a Christian organization was expelled, not for being homosexual, but for openly stating that practicing homosexuality is morally acceptable. That belief violated the organization’s constitution. Such an attitude by Vanderbilt’s administration reflects a bias in academia as a whole, with the exception of those Christian schools who still remain traditional (and which are becoming fewer in number) against traditional Christianity. Many people in academia hate (and that word is not too strong) the moral views of traditional Christians: their opposition to abortion, to practicing homosexuality, to premarital sex, to a hedonistic lifestyle. The academics claim to be open minded and tolerant, but their open mindedness and tolerance ends at the door of traditional morality and religion.

I attended Vanderbilt from 1986-87 as a student in the Graduate Department of Religion. Conservative Christian students lived in fear of saying something that offended theologically  and morally liberal faculty members. I found the atmosphere far more stifling and intolerant than the very traditional Churches of Christ religion in which I was reared. If I talked to a traditional student about the bodily resurrection of Christ or about traditional sexual morality, the student would often look around, put his finger to his mouth, and say “Shhh…. you want to remain a student here, don’t you?” Even Professor James Barr, certainly no Fundamentalist or Evangelical, said in his parting article in The Spire, Vanderbilt Divinity School‘s newsletter, that there was closed-mindedness from the theological left at Vanderbilt. Although the philosophy department was a bit more open-minded, it was still hostile to traditional Christian moral positions on sexual ethics. It is no surprise, then, that the Vanderbilt administration shares such hostility and is willing to enforce it by discrimination against Christian groups’ rights to determine which members meet their standards.

If a student wanted to join a chess club but openly argued that a knight should move like a bishop and vice-versa, and then tried to use that rule in the games he played, any self-respecting chess club would expel that member for violating the standards of chess. In religion, however, both secular agnostic and atheistic university administrators as well as liberal administrators of all faiths, refuse to allow traditional Christian groups the same privilege. Would the administration be consistent and investigate Muslim or Orthodox Jewish groups who also accept traditional moral values? Or is it only traditional Christianity that is the target of administrative ire?

Concerned alumni who disagree with these administrative moves at Vanderbilt (and at other colleges and universities) need to speak up–and if the administration ignores them, to talk with their closed wallets. Legal measures are also an option, as well as communicating what is happening to other traditionalist of all religious stripes as well as to sympathetic secular people who recognize the academic totalitarianism in the attack on Christian organizations. A strong, concerted, and consistent response is essential to keep administrators in line with their supposed commitment to freedom of speech and religion.

Bloodthirsty Evangelicals

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Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

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A sad fact of contemporary American Christianity is the open-ended support many Christians give to war. Among the most fervent supporters of George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan have been conservative, Evangelical Christians. This is not to say that all Evangelicals support the wars–as with any group, there are exceptions. However, Evangelicals, who are mostly politically “conservative” (though I fail to see what is “conservative” about waging war) have tended to support U. S. military intervention abroad. Many Evangelical churches will have special services to honor our “heroes,” the troops returning from Iraq or from Afghanistan. Evangelicals in general are the most zealous supporters of “American Civil Religion,” with a U. S. flag prominently displayed in church and with patriotic songs sung at services on or near the date of national holidays such as July 4. Christians who protest the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are labeled as “wimps,” “liberal peaceniks,” or worse. Sometimes the rhetoric comes across as saying that a person who opposes these war is less of a Christian than those who support the wars. And some Evangelicals I have heard are bloodthirsty–there is no other accurate description. They will talk about nuking all “enemies of America” with an expression of sadistic glee.

Even if a Christian supports the notion that war is sometimes necessary, that does not imply that the Christian should accept the justness of any war a nation wages just because he is a citizen of that nation. Some advocates of just war theory opposed the Iraq War in particular–Iraq had never invaded the United States and was not a threat to the United States. “Preemptive war” is nowhere a part of just war theory. Yet millions of traditional Christians naively supported Dubya, Cheney, and Rumsfeld in their execution of an unjust war that killed many thousands on  both sides.

Even if a war is necessary, no Christian should support it with glee, nor should the Christian rejoice at enemy deaths. Such a message is contrary to Christ‘s command to “love one another” and to “love your enemies.” A bloodthirsty attitude toward killing is incompatible with Christianity. Such an attitude is so contrary to the message of Jesus that, from a traditional Christian point of view, it is difficult to see how one who accepts that attitude could live in the eternal presence of God. Hatred of others and joy in killing and in war are products of Satan, not of God. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps Evangelical Christians, who are so literalistic on other parts of the Bible, should follow this advice literally.

Belmont University’s “Inclusiveness”

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Freeman Hall at Belmont University in Nashvill...

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Belmont University has decided to add “sexual orientation” to its nondiscrimination policy. I remember the days when Belmont was a fairly conservative Southern Baptist university–it is still a huge rival of my alma mater, David Lipscomb University. But Belmont has cut its ties with the Southern Baptist Convention and no longer considers itself bound by traditional Christian moral teachings.

Someone might argue that a nondiscrimination policy does not imply acceptance of practicing homosexuality. The difficulty with that argument is that a nondiscrimination policy places sexual orientation on the same par as race and sex–just another non-essential difference between human beings when it comes to admissions and hiring. In addition, if the policy is consistently applied to faculty as well as to students,  it would allow practicing homosexuals to teach at an ostensibly Christian university.

Traditional Christians have long desired to send their children to educational institutions that uphold the orthodox Christian faith. State universities, with their general hostility to Christianity, are not an option for these parents and their children. But the options are increasingly being taken away as “Christian” schools hire faculty who often hide their true positions until they receive tenure. The university does not want a lawsuit on its hands, so it keeps those faculty, who hire more faculty in their own image. Over time, the traditional Christian nature of the college or university evaporates and is replaced by a watered down liberal Christianity that puts tolerance above the teaching of the church. Sadly, that is what has happened at Belmont University. I pray that the same process does not take place at Lipscomb, my alma mater, but as it increases in size and influence, it, too may follow the ways of the secular world. It is one thing to be an at institution which from the start is mainline Protestant–one expects a general liberal bias at those schools (although they will hire the occasional traditional Christian!). But for a school traditionally loyal to the historic Christian faith to deny the basic sexual ethics held by the Christian Church from the beginning is a betrayal of its Christian mission. Belmont is a fine university academically, but potential students for whom it is important to attend a traditional Christian college or university should consider other schools.

Creative Writers and Anti-Christianity

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I attended two excellent writing workshops today and learned a great deal. However, one thing that disturbs me deeply about the vast majority of the creative writers I have met is their utter hatred and disdain for traditional Christianity and traditional morality. They do not even respect traditionalist positions (such as those defended in the “Manhattan Declaration“) positions and assume that anyone with intelligence and “compassion” would automatically agree with them (at this evening’s meeting the writers’ position was in favor of same-sex marriage but it could just as well be any other practice opposed by traditional Christians). They demonize those who disagree with them as being “haters.” Now I do not hate those with whom I disagree, nor do I hate a person who performs actions that are morally wrong–we are all sinners, after all, and I sin too often and too deeply in my own life. But most of the artistic community HATES any traditional moral position, especially if it concerns sexual ethics. Realizing that some writers and artists are exceptions, why do most writers and other artists hate traditional Christianity so much? Should a traditional Christian even try to do such creative work, even if it is not preachy and “shows” rather than “tells” given such hostility by almost all his or her cohorts in writing?

I Pray for a Better 2011

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New year - which direction?

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Another year has passed, and the older I get, the faster time seems to pass. I pray that the world will be a better place in 2011 than it was in 2010. As a Christian, I am thrilled by the rapid spread of Christianity in Africa–and African Christians, unlike American Christians, can pay a steep price for their faith. Their dedication in facing persecution, in walking twenty or more miles in the mud to get to church, is a model for all of us to follow.

I pray that there will be fewer wars and that the American people will wake up to the power of what President Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.”

I pray for the unborn, that God would protect them from the scourge of abortion. I pray for marriage–that it will continue as a permanent union between one man and one woman. I pray for parents to be good fathers and mothers, to be affectionate for their children, to praise them when they do well, and discipline them when they do wrong. I pray that the trend toward physician-assisted suicide and toward active euthanasia will be reversed. I pray that Americans realize that older people have just as much intrinsic value as young people–and they often have more wisdom.

I pray that colleges and universities will recover some of the sanity that they once have. I pray that young people will learn the great classics of literature, philosophy, and religion. I pray that more traditional Christians strive for teaching and research careers in higher education.

I pray that the American people will take more responsibility for their actions and not blame others for all their misfortunes. I pray for greater courtesy between people. I pray that mediating institutions that stand between the person and the state–churches, civic organizations, and clubs–will grow and prosper. I pray that Americans realize that there is a life beyond both big government and big business.

I pray that we all stop and enjoy the beauty of nature, that we realize that environmentalism is not contrary to Christianity, but recognizes the goodness of the earth and the plants and animals God created. I pray for less cruelty toward animals, that people realize that humans are not the only animals with intrinsic value, that even if humans have more value than other animals, that does not imply that animals be mistreated. I pray for more free range animals and fewer factory farms. I pray that people treasure their pets, and I pray that God in His mercy will raise them from the dead when He reconstitutes the world in a perfect form.

I pray for the salvation of all people, recognizing that there is a possibility of eternal damnation–I pray, though, that Hell will be empty. I pray that we will forgive without excusing, mete justice but balance it with mercy when mercy is warranted. I pray that Americans will realize that people are more important than material possessions, that the accumulation of riches alone will never make a person happy. I pray that all people will strive to have virtuous characters, and that God will reach down and touch the most damaged of souls, all those with intractable vices or mental illness, all those who suffer from the sin of narcissism, those who suffer from borderline personality disorder, even those who are psychopaths.

I pray that the New Atheism will show forth its shallowness and not convince people that God does not exist.

I pray for the success of Sam Parnia’s study of Near-Death Experiences, that his findings will suggest that a spiritual realm truly does exist.

I pray for my family, my friends, for every person that they will cooperate with God’s grace to become all they are meant to be. And to the readers of this blog, may God’s richest blessings descend on you in 2011.

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