Category Archives: faith and doubt

The Spiritual Homelessness of Young Adults

spirtually-homelessMuch has been written about the so called “Nones” – the seemingly growing number of those in America marking “none” as to their religious affiliation.

An article from David Kinnaman is the Barna Research organization’s more detailed take on the spiritual journeys of young adults, or millennials,  and how older Christian leaders can best ‘mentor’ them and learn from them. The study is called: Three Spiritual Journeys of Millennials.  Read it here.

Q – If you are in the 18-30 age – do you see similar trends in yourself and others?

Making Sense of Suffering?

On vacation, I was getting ready to add some resources to the sermon on the Tough Questions of ‘Suffering’ when the Boston Marathon bombing tragedy hit the news. The question sadly rages again as we groan and weep and pray.

Here are some important resources from the viewpoint of our Christian worldview:

Some books I often recommend:

Philip Yancey has written extensively on this issue. Where is God When It Hurts is still among the best.

Tim Keller’s book covers several tough questions: The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, by Jerry Sittser is a more personal testimony of God’s help and grace.

C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain is a classic and helpful as ever.

Christopher Wright has written The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith, that has a helpful study guide.

Finally, David Bentley Hart, editorial writer for First Things, wrote this article in 2008 at the time of the Asian Tsunami. It is not easy vocabulary but worth the work. One of his statements is rich with insight: “…(our faith) has set us free from optimism, and taught us hope instead.”

Tsunami and Theodicy

No one, no matter how great the scope of his imagination, should be able easily to absorb the immensity of the catastrophe that struck the Asian rim of the Indian Ocean and the coast of Somalia on the second day of Christmas this past year; nor would it be quite human to fail, in its wake, to feel some measure of spontaneous resentment towards God, fate, natura naturans, or whatever other force one imagines governs the intricate web of cosmic causality. But, once one’s indignation at the callousness of the universe begins to subside, it is worth recalling that nothing that occurred that day or in the days that followed told us anything about the nature of finite existence of which we were not already entirely aware. Continue reading Making Sense of Suffering?

Be a Humble Apologist!

The New Testament letter of 1 Peter provides a wonderful paradigm for the “Defense of the Faith.”  (Christian Apologetics) This is vital to understand if we are going to welcome tough questions – either our own or those that others want to discuss or argue.

“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,
always being prepared to make a defense to anyone
who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;
yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
1 Peter 3:15, ESV

Let me suggest three qualities of a Humble Apologist that spring from this very rich passage:
[You can listen to the audio sermon here.]

1. Have CONVICTIONS that honor Christ as Lord – keep going deeper in your relationship. It will help you be secure in times of your own questioning and secure as you speak with others who ask you questions.

2. Have REASONS that engage and are clear – in language that others outside the faith can understand.  Jesus and Peter do not expect us to withdrawal from discussion and debate, but rather to proclaim and embody Jesus as the hope of the world!

3. Have CIVILITY – humility and respect for the persons you converse with. In the words of Richard Mouw, the word “tolerance” has lost its effectiveness. We need convictions with civility that show respect to all!  (see this previous post)

As I promised in this morning’s sermon, here is a poem by C.S. Lewis, on the humble part of being an apologist for the faith.

The Apologists Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts,
even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.

Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

C.S. Lewis, “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer,” in Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964), p. 129.

StackFor those who want to go deeper, John Stackhouse has written a fine book with the same title of “Humble Apologetics.”

Ode to Doubters

It’s OK to doubt!

Denise Levertov journeyed more clearly to the heart of Christ in her later years. She loved to write poems concerning doubt and faith.  She compiled a small volume of these from all her works – and called it The Stream and the Sapphire.  I’ve come to treasure it and gifted all my children with it last Christmas.

Here is her poem reflecting on Thomas. She conjectures that his nickname, Didymus (lit. “the twin” in John 20:24) could make him brother to another doubter in the Gospels, the father of a troubled son in Mark 9.

St. Thomas Didymus

In the hot street at noon I saw him
a small man
gray but vivid, standing forth
beyond the crowd’s buzzing
holding in desperate grip his shaking
teethgnashing son,

and thought him my brother.

I heard him cry out, weeping and speak
those words,
Lord, I believe, help thou
mine unbelief,

and knew him
my twin:

a man whose entire being
had knotted itself
into the one tightdrawn question,
Why,
why has this child lost his childhood in suffering,
why is this child who will soon be a man
tormented, torn, twisted?
Why is he cruelly punished
who has done nothing except be born?

The twin of my birth
was not so close
as that man I heard
say what my heart
sighed with each beat, my breath silently
cried in and out,
in and out.

After the healing,
he, with his wondering
newly peaceful boy, receded;
no one
dwells on the gratitude, the astonished joy,
the swift
acceptance and forgetting.
I did not follow
to see their changed lives.
What I retained
was the flash of kinship.
Despite
all that I witnessed,
his question remained
my question, throbbed like a stealthy cancer,
known
only to doctor and patient. To others
I seemed well enough.

So it was
that after Golgotha
my spirit in secret
lurched in the same convulsed writhings
that tore that child
before he was healed.
And after the empty tomb
when they told me that He lived, had spoken to Magdalen,
told me
that though He had passed through the door like a ghost
He had breathed on them
the breath of a living man —
even then
when hope tried with a flutter of wings
to lift me —
still, alone with myself,
my heavy cry was the same: Lord
I believe,
help thou mine unbelief.

I needed
blood to tell me the truth,
the touch
of blood. Even
my sight of the dark crust of it
round the nailholes
didn’t thrust its meaning all the way through
to that manifold knot in me
that willed to possess all knowledge,
refusing to loosen
unless that insistence won
the battle I fought with life

But when my hand
led by His hand’s firm clasp
entered the unhealed wound,
my fingers encountering
rib-bone and pulsing heat,
what I felt was not
scalding pain, shame for my
obstinate need,
but light, light streaming
into me, over me, filling the room
as I had lived till then
in a cold cave, and now
coming forth for the first time,
the knot that bound me unravelling,
I witnessed
all things quicken to color, to form,
my question
not answered but given
its part
in a vast unfolding design lit
by a risen sun.