Sunday, February 26, 2006
Bob and Gretchen Passantino, ©Copyright 1997
Each of us has watched a loved one die, been the victim of a crime, lived among the poverty-stricken, or in some way been confronted with the reality of suffering. Human history sometimes seems like one long chronicle of suffering and despair. In the midst of suffering we cry out,
Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of the soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure. . . . For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil. [Job 3:20-21, 24-26]
Why is there suffering? Why are the innocent victimized? Is there purpose in pain? Is there any escape? For the Christian, who believes that God is all-good and all-powerful, answers to these questions are especially important.
Skeptics frequently challenge Christians with the problem of a good God allowing suffering. Usually their argument says, “If God is all-powerful, he could prevent or eliminate suffering. If God is all-good, he would not want his creation to suffer. Since you say God is both, suffering should not exist. In fact, however, we see suffering all around us and experience it ourselves. Therefore, God doesn’t exist, or he’s not all-powerful, or he’s not all-good.”
First, we need to distinguish between philosophical and personal engagement with suffering. When someone is in the midst of anguish, all the logic and truth in the world is incomplete without a demonstration of compassionate love. Answers are not merely conclusions of mental exercises, they should have consequences in our lives.
Second, we need to consider the consequences of accepting the skeptic’s alternatives: Suffering proves that God does not exist, or He is not all-powerful, or He is not all-good. If God does not exist, then all of existence, including our suffering, has no enduring value, purpose, or goal. If God is not all-powerful, then we have no hope that suffering will ever be eliminated. If God is not all-good, then to pain and despair we must add the threat of immanent divine sadism. Each of these alternatives is at least as problematic as the Christian alternative, so the skeptic has merely exchanged one answer he doesn’t like for others equally unpleasant. The skeptic has not solved the problem of suffering merely by refusing to solve it. We should judge answers by truth, not emotion.
Third, we need to understand that many problems with theology come from problems with personal world views and values. For example, the pleasure of helping someone who is needy has absolutely no value to the person to whom self-indulgence is the highest good. Many people struggle with the problem of God and suffering because they reject a Christian world view. Avoiding suffering has become preferable to learning patience; immediate gratification means more than self-discipline; self-gratification is more important than sharing; and physical pleasure is superior to spiritual joy.
Fourth, the skeptic assumes parts of the Christian world view in order to indict the Christian God, but he is unwilling to acknowledge the other parts of the Christian world view that answer his indictments. He assumes a standard of “good” that is absolute and eternal (and, therefore, cannot have its source in changing, finite humans), but denies the existence of the absolute and eternal.
In a non-theistic world where values are social conventions, survival mechanisms, majority opinions, or assertions of the most powerful, there can be no absolute, eternal values. “Good” as a social convention is merely what a society declares to be good; in one society it might be eating one’s enemies, in another it may be loving one’s enemies. “Good” as a survival mechanism could include killing off imperfect, non-productive members of the species, such those with less than average intelligence or poor eyesight, or restricting reproduction to the physical and mental elite; etc. If the skeptic wants to borrow the Christian definition of values as absolute and eternal, then he can’t reject the Christian explanation of suffering which is consistent with such values.
If the Christian world view is considered, there are a variety of approaches to the question of God and suffering. Biblical convictions include (1) suffering does not originate with God and will be eliminated at some point; (2) God works good in the midst of suffering; (3) not all pain is suffering in the moral sense; (4) and physical, transient suffering and death are relatively inconsequential compared to spiritual, eternal suffering and death.
God is all-powerful, meaning He can accomplish anything that can be accomplished with power. He cannot use power to do “non-power” kinds of things, such as the logically impossible. He cannot make two plus two equal five, violate His unchangeable nature, make Himself go out of existence and come back into existence, and He cannot make morally responsible persons without allowing for the possibility of those persons making wrong choices. The Bible says that suffering is the consequence of the wrong choice (sin) of morally responsible persons. If God always prevented people from sinning, or always prevented the consequences of sin, then human goodness would be mere programming, not true goodness. We do not pat a computer on its head when it executes its program -- it is a determined function, not an exercise of moral responsibility. Suffering, the consequence of human sin, is not caused by God, but by the sin of persons with moral responsibility. Also, God has not abandoned the world to eternally suffer the consequences of sin. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to provide ultimate freedom from the consequences of sin. It is wrong to indict God because suffering is not yet eliminated, just as it would be wrong to indict a doctor who treats a gunshot wound he didn’t cause, simply because the wound is not healed instantly.
Our assurance that God will eliminate suffering is not the only comfort God gives us. While God did not cause suffering, he has given it purpose. It became the vehicle for our salvation when “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). Complete avoidance of suffering is not an option for any of us. Our option is to waste our experience or realize God’s purposes in the midst of suffering. Through suffering we can learn patience, self-discipline, trust, and many other “virtues.” When we suffer we can experience the love, compassion, and self-denial of those who help us. When we help someone who is suffering, we find significance in our own lives as well.
Not all pain is “bad” in the moral sense. God created us with nerve endings that use pain to protect us. Pain keeps us from burning our hands in a campfire, bending our legs back until the joint breaks, neglecting nourishment until we starve, etc. Suffering can also be a direct, just consequence of our own actions. Our sense of justice says that it is “good” when an exploiter loses his friends, even though loneliness is “painful.” It is good when a mugger is locked up, even though he “suffers” the loss of his freedom.
All humans have a moral conscience, even corrupted by sin and often ignored. Our conscience should not rejoice in sin, suffering, and death. When we see innocents suffering, we should experience moral outrage and seek to rescue the sufferer. When we see someone suffer death, we should experience loss and sorrow. Sin, suffering, and death are not the destinies for which God created us. He created us to enjoy perfect, good, loving fellowship with Him for eternity. Despite our moral betrayal, he continues to offer eternal life.
The skeptic has it partly right -- suffering should offend our sense of goodness and justice. Sadly, he misses the rest of the argument: Because suffering violates goodness and justice, there must be an all-good, all-powerful God whose remedy restores the perfection he created. This is the hope that the Christian offers in the midst of suffering:
I consider the that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. [Romans 8:8]
Suffering and death in this sinful world are not without remedy. The only reasonable response to the existence of suffering is confidence in God’s promises for eternity:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. . . . Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [Matt. 5:3-10]
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Recently, I befriended a blogger who is a self-proclaimed atheist. In the course of our chat, the subject of the existence of God came up.
His main reason for no longer believing in the existence of God is the suffering found in the world. His reason is that if there is a God why doesn't He stop bad things from happening. God is supposed to know how much pain and suffering people will have to endure through famine, war, natural disasters, diseases etc but yet he does nothing about it. Therefore there is no God.
Also he said, he doesn't believe what he cannot see.
His challenge to me is to prove to him that there is a God. :-) How does one set about proving the existence of God to someone who only believes in material things? God is infinite, outside time and space.
There are many arguments for the existence of God, but to a hard-core atheist none of these is persuasive enough.
Anthony Flew, a well-known atheist philospher turned theist, in an interview conceded that there is a God because he “had to go where the evidence leads.” He could not ignore the possibility of Intelligent Design because natural evolution has never succeeded in producing “a plausible conjecture as to how any of these complex molecules might have evolved from simple entities.”
Not many atheists are as honest as Anthony Flew. As a philospher and an intellectual he was willing to go beyond the the rigid beliefs of atheism.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
That was how Tayolr Mason introduced himself. He was the comedian that we could afford! Haha. Last weekend our church held an evening with Taylor Mason. Over 600 tickets were sold. Each ticket was only $5, a pretty good deal, for such an enjoyable evening.
This guy is really funny. He told his jokes accompanied by his keyboard .. he could play that instrument really well. And then there were his puppets! He had Paco the pig, Romeo the boy, Bob the lamb, Kernel the corn, and Sumo the sumo wrestler. They were so funny! Taylor Mason was such an accomplished ventriloquist that we looked at the puppets instead of him. His act with the Japanese puppet, Sumo, was the funniest for the evening.
His show was over an hour long, and we were kept in stitches throughout the evening. I have not laughed so much in such a long, long time. His jokes are clean, and it seems that he gets invited to a lot of christian functions like conferences, retreats, and the like.
I hope the next comedian that we invite will be just as good.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Every year I take a picture of the blooming trees in my neighbour's orchard, well except for last year, when I was back in Malaysia during this time.
In the summer when these fruit trees bear their delicious fruit, we get to enjoy them too because my neighbour says we are welcome to the fruit any time. :-)
Monday, February 13, 2006
We take Valentine's Day for granted, those of us who give this day it's special meaning. In other places of the the world celebrating Valentine' s Day is imitating western culture, which is bad. Young people are discouraged from celebrating it.
In India celebrating Valentine's Day is getting popular with the young people. But it is not without it's controversy. Hindu hard liners have threatened to beat up young people who exchanged cards or gifts. Can you imagine getting this kind of response from people who don't want you to celebrate Valentine's Day?
Would you dare to ignore such a threat? Would you dare to face the wrath of such radicals, for the sake of exchanging a gift or card?
"We earnestly request young lovers not to exchange flowers and cards on Valentine's Day," said Harish Dubey of the Hindu Awakening Forum said in Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state.
"Those who do not listen to us will face our volunteers' wrath. Their faces will be blackened and they will be beaten up," he said.
Muslim groups are also not happy with their youth celebrating Valentine's Day. Last week in Kashmir, two dozen veiled muslim women (see pic below) stormed gift and stationery shops and began burning Valentine Day cards and posters! Talk about over-reacting!
In Uzbekistan, the "government has passed a resolution stating that celebration of St. Valentine’s day was unacceptable in Muslim countries".
In Malaysia Valentine's Day is becoming more and more acceptable. Sure, you do hear complaints and rumbles among the more conservative muslims. But if you are muslim, don't go dating in the parks on Valentine's Day! As in past years, this is when the religious police will go out in full force and nab courting couples in public parks! And don't forget hotel rooms .. some people might come knocking at the door and interupt your romantic evening! Heheh.
Happy Valentine's Day everyone!
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Hope you enjoy looking at the pictures of the hand crafted work! :-)
Thursday, February 09, 2006
First Grader Suspended for Harassment
Feb 08 1:23 PM US/Eastern
A first grader was suspended for three days after school officials said he sexually harassed a girl in his class by allegedly putting two fingers inside the girl's waistband while she sat on the floor in front of him.
The boy's mother, Berthena Dorinvil, said she "screamed" about last week's suspension from Downey Elementary School, and added her son doesn't know what sexual harassment is.
"He doesn't know those things," she told The Enterprise of Brockton. "He's only 6 years old."
School officials declined comment to The Enterprise, citing the child's age.
"They would have not suspended the child without doing an investigation," said spokeswoman Cynthia McNally.
Dorinvil said the school principal, Diane Gosselin, called her to pick up her son Jan. 30. She said her son asked the principal if the police were going to come get him.
The principal told Dorinvil the girl complained to the teacher after her son touched the girl's waistband, hitting her skin, in a room full of children.
Dorinvil said her son told her he touched the girl's shirt, not her skin, after the girl touched him."He was playing with her," Dorinvil said.
This is what I would call taking political correctness to the extreme!
Recently, a friend was wondering if it was time for her to send her son off to day care/preschool. Then we got to talking about some of the stuff our toddlers get themselves into, and my friend mentioned the fact that her young son liked to watch and touch "boobies".
Ahh, in that case, I told her, she should start telling her son not to touch other people's boobies in case the son gets charged with sexual harrassment. Imagine my friend's surprise that such a thing can happen. Oh yes, the story above is not the first of its kind.
It seems like children cannot be children any more and playfulness can be wrongly interpreted!
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
He had some really interesting tales of life in Papua New Guinea. There was one occasion when he was in a boat with some locals trying to get to an island when a storm came up. They got lost in the storm, but he had his GPS with him and he knew exactly the location of the island that they were heading for. He explained to the locals, that even though he had never been to that island, just trust him when he told them to go a certain direction. The locals marveled at his knowledge! Heheh.
A few days after that missionary's visit, I happened to flip through the channels on TV and settled on the Travel Channel. It was one of the most amazing sights I had ever seen! The featured country was Vanuatu, in the South Pacific Ocean. Vanuatu is not that far away from Papua New Guinea and the people of these two countries look like they are of the same racial stock.
I got to thinking that the missionary did not tell all there was to know about the lifestyle of the people that he ministered to. From the TV program on Vanuatu, the people still walked around almost naked .. all they had was a bamboo sheath around their private parts, for the men, and the women wore grass skirts and were topless.
The sight that almost made my jaw drop was that of semi-naked men belonging to one team playing soccer with another team who had their soccer jerseys and boots on. Boy, could they play soccer well! I was so tickled by the sight that I just couldn't help marvel that there are still people in this world where time almost stands still, while for the rest of us, time marches on with all the technological and medical advances.
But who's to say which of us is better off? Those people in Vanuatu seem happy enough. Fish is plentiful and they are well fed. They don't have to get up every morning and join the rat race. This particular tribe that was featured on TV was determined to maintain their traditional way of life.
But at other times, I wonder how it is, that in some places of the world, there are still no peace, no stable governmnet, people are still foraging for food in the wilds, no running water, no proper housing, no education. Who is to blame for this? Those in power seem to have and enjoy all the amenities that the wealthy have but for the rest of the their citizens there is none. I see this injustice and wonder about when the poverty and hardship of these people will ever end .. if ever in their lifetime.
For a country to progress, there have to be a stable government with good governance, some form of democracy, and people allowed to own land and property. I think these have to be the basis, and then comes education, exploitation of natural resouces, and capitalism allowed to flourish without much government intervention. Heheh, I am not an economist, but those are my observations. :-)
Sunday, February 05, 2006
The movie was called Kal Ho Naa Ho: Tomorrow May Never Come, produced in 2003. The lead actors were Shah Rukh Khan, Ali Saif Khan, and Priety Zinta. I'd only heard of Shah Rukh Khan and not the other two. Heheh, goes to show how out of touch I am where Hindi movies are concerned!
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the film was set in New York city. I rented this movie from Netflix because the movie had some really positive reviews and was rated 4 stars by viewers. I enjoyed the film very much and the theme song had a very good tune too.
The acting from the three main actors were really good, and so were the acting from the rest of the cast. I enjoyed the many comedy moments in the film and the tear jerker moments almost made me bawl out loudly! Hahaha, been a long while since I had a good cry while watching a movie! I highly recommend this movie to all who enjoy Hindi movies.
I am recommending my good friend in Maryland to subscribe to Netflix so she can enjoy her Hindi films in the USA. I know she used to watch a lot of Hindi movies back in Miri!
The next Hindi film in my Netflix rental queue is called Parineeta, starring Vidya Balan, Ali Saif Khan and Sanjay Dutt. It has a 4 star rating, so it should be good too! Heheh.