On Planned or Not

Embed from Getty Images

There’s a great data department in the sky – that department is responsible for checking people in or out on a given date at a designated time.

The check-ins are the births. The assigned clerk has a card for Justin, who will check in later during the shift (3:52 am UTC) at 9 lbs 8 oz (4.3 kg). Before pacing the card to Accounting for record keeping during life on Earth, the noticed that Justin would eventually become a CEO of a prominent global company and live to the ripe age of 95.

William’s card was directly behind Justin’s because he is to be born two seconds later at a different hospital. Checking the records, the clerk applies a special sticker for expedition to the check-out group.

Accounting is much more high-tech as it tracks everyone’s determined roles for that day. With all the people in the world, there’s always much happening … and those occasional glitches in the system can cause a bit of disarray. But the Accounting staff works well under pressure, thus can get the plan back on track with seemingly unnoticeable successful adjustments.

Over in Check-Out, clerks are dealing with car accidents, cancer, heart attacks, murder, drowning, and many others. One particular clerk is unaware that William’s card will arrive at their desk for processing in a matter of hours. From the living human perspective, these clerks have a tough job … but they also look at it from a different perspective.

Some Christians see life this way – that is everything is predetermined in accordance to God’s plan for that individual – including meeting a person that turned out to be a network opportunity for potential employment … but could that have encounter been coincidental?

I don’t know why I used to believed in predestination – after all, I wasn’t taught that way in Catholic catechism … no friend guided me in that direction … I didn’t read it in an influential book … so I probably guided myself that way for whatever reason.

During my mid-20s and early in my teaching career, I met Nancy – a very bright and personable student whose father happened to be a Baptist minister. In a discussion with her, I mentioned the great database in the sky, to which she responded with a very important question – Do you really think God is that cruel?

Although it did take a long time to answer that question to myself (and I don’t know when I did), her question remained active in my mind for 40 years – but in a good way – well, at least for me.

There is no way I believe that God sent Hurricane Katrina to punish the people of New Orleans. God didn’t sent a horrific tsunami to Indonesia, or a drunk driver wildly across a road to collide with an unsuspected vehicle that killed multiple people – including a small child, a teen, and a parent. God doesn’t plan for people to be homeless, have mental illness, or be malnourished.

God didn’t make a networking opportunity possible, didn’t send volunteers to a disaster area, or provide a hole-in-one to a golfer. Nope, God didn’t make Justin a successful CEO, and Nancy wasn’t sent to me to deliver a message.

God didn’t inflict cancer on my mother nor any other unsuspecting person. God didn’t plan a young child drowning in a pool, a person’s violent shooting spree, or the physical deformities that would take William’s life in less than a day.

Nope – God isn’t that cruel .. and God isn’t playing out the world as if it was a video game. God is good. Free will is a gift to the natural world and to human beings, and with free will, many events will happen – positive and negative – which includes bad things to good people.

Thank you, Professor Nancy.

Other Posts on Free Will

 

On Letters to a Skeptic

The father grew up with church being part of his life. Over time, he withdrew, so the son grew up without church. While attending during college, church become part of the son’s life. In time, he became a pastor and a professor.

As one would expect, father and son would have religious discussions, and many went nowhere. Eventually, the son invited his father into an honest dialogue through written letters – and the father agree. Their format was simple – the father asks a question, then the son answers. As with any meaningful dialogue, answer lead to more questions.

Letters to a Skeptic (Gregory Boyd and Edward Boyd) is the collection of letters of such a journey. The father (Ed) asks good questions, and provides thoughts around his questions. Ed’s responses to his son Leters2aSkepticCover(Greg) are also direct, poignant, and relevant. Greg’s replies are respectful and (generally) easy for a layman to understand. However, the responses are also debatable within the Christian community because one size does not fit all.

The father’s questions are good, such as;

  • Why has Christianity done so much harm?
  • Why is the world so full of suffering?
  • Does God know the future?
  • Is you God all-powerful?
  • Why does God create earthquakes and famines?
  • Are the Gospels full of contradictions?
  • Isn’t the Bible full of myths and God’s vengeance?
  • Do all non-Christians go to Hell?

Given the content and the situation/circumstances of the characters involved, one would think this is a book for any atheist or agnostic – or even as a toolbox for Christians when discussing religion with atheists and agnostics. Although this may be applicable to somebody in some circumstances, I see Letters to a Skeptic as an excellent read for Christians – especially in a discussion format. (Note: I read this book this book and participated in a discussion group. The book also provides discussion questions to consider.)

The discussion between father and son is sincere, respectful, and thought-provoking. Every Christian won’t agree with every point made by the son or the father – let alone by others in a discussion group. After all, theological disagreements exist with Christianity.

This book enhanced my Christian perspective, it also caused me to question the thoughts said by others – yes, the others in my own church – and that’s OK. In the end, reading and discussing Letters to a Skeptic was worthwhile – therefore, I recommend this book for those who might be interested in learning more.

On Free Will

Acts of God are acts of God. From time to time there are going to be things that can’t be prevented. (Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) regarding the gulf oil spill)

There are those who believe that the recent earthquake and hurricane along the US’s east coast is God’s sign that he disapproves Democrats in Washington. Then again, do the same people believe that the fires in Texas are God’s way of warning Americans about Texas Governor Rick Perry? At least he is out of the 2012 picture.

Last year I wrote this post about the burning of a large Jesus statue near Cincinnati. A friend of mine told me that it was God’s way of showing his disapproval of the statue; so, I respond of saying that is God’s way of wanting a newer and bigger statue. Of course, I could add numerous Rev. Pat Robertson examples to the above, but I will spare my readers. Interestingly, all this leads to the concept of free will.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Adam and Eve would be one of the first examples of free will in the Bible and Torah by demonstrating their free will by rejecting God’s will. To me, Adam represents all of humanity because of the free will we possess.

Life involving making choice – and no matter our choice – that choice leads to other choices. Regardless if the relationship is with a spouse, friend, neighbor, family member, co-worker, managers, or stranger, our individual choices affect our relationships. No matter the relationship, every choice one makes leads one makes leads them toward or closer to that personal entity.

For those of us believing in God, each choice we make leads us toward or away from God. Sure God has a preference, but we have a choice. However, no matter our choices, we still sin, we remain selfish, people die, and some do horrible acts on humanity.

As God gives us a gift of choice our own path, free will has consequences because the greatest freedom also leads us to unacceptable behaviors as abuse, murder, greed, deceit, evil, hate, and others lead to suffering. Free will is a gift, an opportunity, and a curse – thus how each of use it is a matter of individual choice.

God’s free will gift also extends to nature and the universe for they operate within the parameters natural laws. As with human behavior, this free also leads to abuse and suffering – such as, natural disasters, diseases, genetic disorders, and handicaps to name a few. Although the natural laws are not the same as human behavior, the natural world’s free will allows it to operate with ever-changing forces that work to maintain a steady state with benefits and consequences. Yet, Pat Robertson wants to use natural disasters as a way of God punishing people.

Human creations are subject to disasters as Exxon’s Valdez, Union Carbide’s Bhopal, coal mine explosions, and post-tsunami meltdowns of a nuclear reactor. Yet, Gov. Perry refers to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as an act of God that can’t be prevented.

Each of our lives are not pre-programmed with dates of birth and death, family information, interests, occupations, locations, and events; nor is God playing out the natural world as a video game. Just something to think about the next time someone makes a statement about God’s involvement in a natural disaster, a horrible highway accident, or a personal illness.

Other posts done here about free will:

On Free Will or Planned?

Many people drive on an interstate every day as part of their daily routine, yet each day brings events that change people’s lives.

On March 26, 2010, I heard the news of the horrifying accident on I-65 as a tractor-trailer semi crossed the median and crashed into a van killing most that were on their way to a wedding. Because I have traveled that road more than a few times, the event bothered me a bit more than normal.

I flashed back to May 14, 1988 when a church bus filled with 70 members of a church youth group were returning home after a full day at an Ohio amusement park (Kings Island), whose bus caught fire (killing 27) after a collision with a drunk driver (who survived). Whenever I travel between Cincinnati and Louisville, a sign reminds me of that event.

Events like these sadly happen – but comments as “It’s God’s will” or “It’s part of God’s plan” bother me. Do people really believe that the God of love, compassion, forgiveness, and grace is so cruel to cause a crash killing people? Do people really expect the God of hope, care, joy, and goodness is into playing cruel jokes on humanity? Do people really believe that God programs our lives, thus we (individually) lack any free will?

I close with this thought by Dr. Joseph Bracken from his book Christianity and Process Thought.

The divine persons make things happen by giving us “initial aims,” by enabling us to be ourselves at every moment. This is a minimal exercise of efficient causality (the power to make things happen) on their part since in the end the decision is ours, not theirs. But they are much more active in terms of final causality (the power to give order and direction to decisions).

The divine initial aim, after all, not only empowers us to make a decision, but is likewise a feeling-level lure or sense of direction and purpose for us in making that decision. Because they see the bigger picture for each of us as individuals and for our world at any given moment, the divine persons are in a unique position to guide us to a better rather than worse decision at every moment in our lives.

Christianity and Process Thought at Amazon and Google Books.

On Love or Fear?

Some preachers deliver a message of fear through fire and brimstone – thus many in the flock fear God. Since that is not my background, I have often pondered how that message conflicts with my view as I see God through a different lens.

I see a God of love, life, and peace.

I see a God of trust, compassion, joy, glory, and endless mercy.

I see a God who is full of infinite wisdom, forgiveness, grace, and goodness.

I see a God who is a firm foundation, an anchor for life, a positive beacon of hope, a guiding light, and a sunshine of everlasting life.

I simply see a God that is good – so how can I be fearful?

On Being at Peace

This is the final day in a 3-part post. For those seeing this for the first time, here’s Part 1 and Part 2.  In the story, it’s now Monday and I’m at the pulpit during my mother’s funeral.

I thank God for giving me the strength to write his and ask for continual strength in delivering a message to you in my mother’s memory.

The essence of the Christian religion lies in these very simple words: faith, hope, love, and suffering.

Love is special. Yet not easily defined in words, its meaning is shown through its presence and our actions. God expects us to demonstrate and show two basic loves: the love for him and the love for others. Guidelines for both come to us though numerous verses in the Holy Scriptures.

The love for others is the love we are to demonstrate to our fellow people. We must care for the sick, the homeless, the elderly, the oppressed, and for those full of sorrow. During this time of need for my family, the outpouring of love has been overwhelming. The way many cared for Mom by mail, phone, flowers, visits, and through prayers has been reassuring; but God also asks us to love our friends and neighbors who are full of well being.

In Romans 13: 8 & 10 St. Paul writes, “Owe no debt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another. He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. Love never does any wrong to the neighbor; hence love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Mom is loved by many and she loved many – that’s why you’re here. She’s one full of kindness and carried very little malice toward anyone.

But a special lover that I wish to say is the love that our dad showed to Mom. He’s gone through much emotional pain, but God gave him tremendous love and strength to be there for her. We thank him and thank God for his gracious giving. Dad, may God’s strength continue to be with you in the days ahead.

Faith and hope serve as a concrete foundation for our beliefs. They are immaterial, yet ever so strong. All of us go through time when we question God or question his presence, but it’s faith that brings us back to him. Our faith in God guides us through our hope for eternal life.

The road to eternal life does have its share of bumps along the way, and each bump is accompanied by some suffering. Any suffering we have here on this earth is our own trip to Calvary.

In Mathew 16, Jesus tells the disciples that he is to go to Jerusalem and suffer, be put to death, and then rise from the dead. Since this is not what they want to hear, Peter stated, “Heaven preserve you, Lord. This must not happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Go away from me Satan! You are an obstacle in my path because the way you think is not God’s way, but man’s.”

Then Jesus turn to his disciples, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Mathew 16: 21-27

In Romans 8:18, Paul writes, “I consider the suffering of the present to be nothing compared with the glory to be revealed to us.”

So how does all this relate to this moment, this situation? My love for Mom and God, along with the faith and hope provided by Christ kept me going. From the beginning I knew and accepted that liver cancer was terminal, but I never lost faith and hope through the battle. I continually prayed for increased strength for my parents; meanwhile, we were suffering. However, Dad tells us that she suffered more from chemos and radiation than she did in her final days.

The day before we lost her, I sat alone at her bedside praying. I asked God, “Why her? She never harmed anybody!” Within seconds I smiled and looked at the nearby cross and said to myself, “It’s because he suffered for us.” That thought has given me a great amount of reassurance.

I have no bitter feeling against God and none against cancer. God loves all of us regardless of sex, color, or nationality. Mom is most special to our family, but unfortunately that didn’t exclude her or us from a very painful journey.

Love, faith, and hope will carry me through the suffering today and tomorrow; that is the Christian way. Let this be a reminder to all who have faith in Christ and God.

She hasn’t died, but rather only left us temporarily as we will see her again. But let us remember that is she is now at peace – no suffering. She achieved the happiness of eternal life; the very goal we are pursuing. As St. Paul says in First Corinthians, “Death is swallowed up by victory” …. And my Mom won!

August 31, 1987

PS:

  • Happy Mother’s Day Mom. We miss you; we love you; and we’ve OK.
  • To everyone who’s mother has passed on, remember good thoughts today.
  • To everyone who’s mother is still here, do the right thing.

On a Message of Power

This is the second in a 3-part post. For those seeing this for the first time, here’s Part 1.

Let us be confident in approaching the throne of grace that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help. Hebrews 4: 16

Other References

Prayer and the power of prayer are aspects of living religiously. Prayer is a trust in God and his ways. Through prayer we receive God’s grace, mercy, joy, freedom, guidance, and peace. Biblically, the gospels have many accounts of Jesus praying, and the apostle Paul always wrote to those who were in needs, thus encouraged power.

This story, one involving my prayers and faith, demonstrated how God acts through the power of prayer. Although 20+ years have passed, the message is timeless.

In January 1968 doctors diagnosed my mother with liver cancer. This was her second round with cancer as she had a mastectomy several years earlier. Through her battle she fought like I never imagined. She took all the treatments and all their side effects; she demonstrated an unbelievable courage.

Because of the physical distance between myself and my parents, I was removed from the struggle; therefore I didn’t understand the day-to-day problems. While I called, visited, encouraged, and prayed, I realized the terminal effect of liver cancer. Through my prayers I continually asked for strength for all of us.

My parents used Florida for its weather and medical facilities, and I knew her June 1987 trip back to Ohio would be her last. On August 20th at 4:30 a.m. I received a call from Dad saying they were off to the hospital. Knowing that she had been declining, I began a series of 2 ½-hour journeys to the hospital. With each trip I could see her declining condition. Prayers became more frequent and more intense; and I started feeling the effects of my efforts.

It was her seventh day in the hospital. As I left the hospital to return home, I realized the next time I would see her, she would be gone from us. The long drive home was filled with even deeper prayer as I asked for three things: continued strength, for no more suffering for her, and for her not to be taken from us while I was on the road. I left the hospital at 4:30 pm, arrived home at 7:00 pm, and received the call at 10:00 pm.

After discussions and some consoling with my wife, I began the necessary phone calls. In the one to my pastor I shared a personal thought I had through prayer while at her beside that day. He reassured me of that thought, and then I stated, “I might share that with others at the funeral.”

I obviously didn’t sleep much that night. Yes, I was also thinking of what I would say to those attending the funeral service. I had many glorious thoughts in my mind, but not on paper. A tremendous sermon was mentally created and never to be repeated again.

The Thursday trip to my hometown was also full of thoughts; thoughts of joy and sorrow that brought tears to my eyes. I kept thinking about what I was going to say and became preoccupied with my desires. Yes, continually praying for the right words to say and the strength to say them.

Friday I saw her in the casket for the first time and realized that speaking at the service was asking too much of myself. Through several long discussions with the local pastor I shared my stories and thoughts. While admitting to him that my expectations were probably too high, he reassured be that he would deliver my themes in his message.

Through prayer I didn’t give up hope of being able to accomplish my mission. Many of the long Saturday visitation hours were taken in deep thought by asking for strength from God through the beautiful flowers, the people visiting, and through Mom.

Sunday morning came a great revelation – Write out those words, thus if I couldn’t read them, the pastor would! Through the Sunday morning service, readings, and sermon I found new strength, and the pen moved quickly; especially considering I’m not very good with Bible references.

Nobody in my family knew of my desires. As my wife saw me writing, she realized I was up to something, so I told her what I was doing, my arrangement with the pastor, and asked her for her support and confidence.

Later in the day I shared the written message with others. The pastor said, “And you think you can read this?” My closest hometown friend who had recently and unexpectedly lost his father said I wouldn’t have the strength to do it. A cousin, also a pastor, read it and his only commented, “You won’t be able to do it.” I told each of these people that I realized that I probably couldn’t, but I had to try. Later that night, I asked Dad’s permission to speak at the funeral, and he granted without knowing anything about my message.

That night was one of little sleep as the mind couldn’t relax. I arose early and was never able to read through the message without crying. The final moments at the funeral home were difficult and my wife kept saying “Don’t do it” as I’m sure she didn’t want me to humiliate myself. I always responded by saying that I’ll make my decision right before my time in the service.

As the funeral service went on, I began to feel a new inner strength. I knew I was going to do it. At the stated time, I went to the pulpit and told the people that if I couldn’t continue, the pastor would deliver my message.

I continued to speak with an unbelievable calm that was filled with confidence. Not once did I shed a tear or stammer my words. I made it through every difficult passage. I felt unbelievably strong. At the end, I shook the pastor’s hand and said, “I did it” and then began to cry as I returned to my seat. God gave me great strength for a given situation, and then quickly pulled the plug on my adrenalin.

I soon regained my composure, and my wife simply smiled. I felt great, comfortable, and so at peace. The last part of the service, the ride to the cemetery, the graveside rites, and the time thereafter were easy. I had then, and still have today, such a great calm.

When I returned to work, many co-workers expressed their sorrow and concern. Without telling my story, I told them of my great peace, yet they looked perplexed.

Throughout my life I’ve prayed from many things: a lower heating bill, more time on task, a sports win, or something at work. All important at the time for some reason, but I never prayed for anything as I did on this occasion. My success this time had to be due to what I was praying for and my continual, deep-spiritual approach.

The following Bible passages support my experiences and beliefs.

What did I say at the funeral? Click here.