The Bookshelf God

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It’s interesting how small God is to some people.

Recently, a biology professor from my former high school named Eric Kretschmer wrote an article outlining his journey of reconciling what he had studied in the scientific field and what he knew as a follower of Jesus Christ. You can find the article here. It’s worth reading. Specifically, Kretschmer does a thorough job of balancing an Old-Earth perspective with a Christian God. If you have any questions, leave a statement in the comment section, and I’m sure he will do his utmost to respond to you in a timely and courteous manner.

In response to this article, a certain gentleman named Ken Ham wrote another article. You can find that here. It is also worth a quick read, if for no other reason than understanding what prompted me to write this. Ken Ham is a very ardent Young-Earth Creationist, and this becomes immediately evident in his critique. However, unlike Kretschmer’s article, there is no comment section, no room for dialogue, and no way for the Eric Kretschmer to defend himself.

Behind this curtain, Ham lambasts Kretschmer for daring to introduce evolutionary theory into a Biblical interpretation of the Bible. He concludes this exceptional rant with an exceptional closing paragraph:

Teachers like Kretschmer will be held accountable for the many students they lead astray with their compromise regarding biblical authority and undermining teaching.  How very sad.  And the board/administrators of such Christian schools will also be held accountable.  What they are doing in essence is helping the secularists capture the hearts and minds of generations of children!

Just marvelous.

Teachers like Kretschmer.

Teachers that devoted a good portion of their lives to pursuing a MD in Theology so they could better equip young minds to defend their faith. Teachers like Kretschmer that venture into the public forum in order to help strengthen the Christian body through dialogue and conversation.  Teachers like Kretschmer who are more focused on rooting and growing the Christian body than being a divisive voice in an already divided Church.

I shudder to think of the horrors that befall the Christian body when men like this are teaching our children science—I’m shocked we haven’t been consumed in fire and brimstone already.

Ken Ham is a textbook case of a man who has crafted God in his own image—a bookshelf God—and refuses to let it go. I don’t know Ken Ham from Adam. For all I know, he is a decent man with decent values who follows the same Christ that all Christians worship. But what can be seen from his brief, yet scathingly bitter article, is that this man has a very small God. If a man cannot admit an infinite God, how can he admit infinite grace? If a man cannot admit the possibility of a system outside his own frail understanding, how can he throw himself blindly onto a Divine system that no man can comprehend? As GK Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy, “A personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside of time.”

Ken Ham says that “we have abandoned the authority of God’s Word.” Yet where has Kretschmer abandoned the authority of God’s Word? He is a man that believes in Jesus Christ resurrected, in the Holy Trinity, in a Divine God who is returning to judge the living and the dead—and who happened to manifest himself through evolution. Nowhere in the Apostle’s Creed is evolutionary theory mentioned, yet Ken Ham seeks to discredit and defame a Christian brother over a couple million years. What is a million years to the power of God? What is a hundred million years to the love of Christ?

Titus 3:9-11 declares, with no light tone, “Avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

My issue is not so much with intelligent design vs. evolutionary theory—nor are the two entirely incompatible. My issue is with a self-proclaimed Christian who deems it a profitable use of his time to attack another member of the Church. The Church is persecuted on every side; do we really need to tear at each other from within?

Christ didn’t come to preach a message of Young-Earth creation; he came to preach love. I’m angry with Ham, not because of his views (which are entirely legitimate), but because of a glaring lack of grace and his confinement of God to fallen man’s rationale. He is a man given some measure of authority and recognition and, instead of furthering the call of Christ, he is furthering his own idol of Young-Earth creationism—a clanging gong and a resounding symbol.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. Against such things there is no law.

When we stand before Heaven’s gates, Christ will not ask us how old the earth is—the concept seems laughable. He will not have a gate marked “Calvinist” and another marked “Armenianist.” He will not differentiate between the Catholic, the Orthodox, and the Protestant.

No, we will stand before the Judgment Seat, and Christ will look down, and he will ask, “Did you know I loved you?” And if we answer “yes”, there will be no more questions. For if we truly trust that the risen Christ loves us, we will have loved others. Instead of defaming our Christian family, we will love them. We will pick and choose our battles, allowing foolish controversy little attention and saving our breath for the message of Christ. Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor as yourself.

In the words of John the Apostle: little children, love one another.

Overindulged

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Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.

–        Henry David Thoreau, 1854

Our Information Age is a grand old time. Now, more than ever, we can know what’s happening on the other side of the world in the twitch of a finger. We have a veritable fount of knowledge to draw upon; every riddle has a solution, every problem has an answer, every destination has a safe path. The internet and media has broken down barriers of mystery and shattered imagination; we no longer need to wonder or research at how the sun turns overhead—somebody has done it for us.

We seek out knowledge, regardless of whether or not it’s worth seeking. And we end up with what we ask for—a whole bunch of information that has no purpose. We go looking for truth and instead fill our heads with the inane and unessential and are contented. We need meat, but instead eat cotton candy. There is a place for cotton candy—at a carnival, where we are looking to be entertained, and in small amounts. But to make one’s diet revolve around cotton candy is to allow the mind to become slow and lazy.

The Age of Information (and it’s more serious, yet mistreated brother, Knowledge) has ransacked Wisdom. We are the most informed people ever to walk the earth, yet we are perhaps the most foolish. Our father’s books are too long for us; we can know the whole story in a few lines. Moderation and meditation are for monks and fanatics, and we leave these comical vices to those who have the time to indulge in such pointless intellectual discipline.

Any rational man would regard it as a health problem if they sat on the couch for six hours a day and ate nothing but fast food and washed it down in litre after litre of soda. Their body would feel the strain of it, and they would quickly become tired and sluggish. If they didn’t change their lifestyle, they would quickly be confined to a wheelchair, subject to the direction and guidance of whoever was pushing them at any given moment. If they remarked, “I have become exceptional at consuming quantities of fast food,” we would scoff at them: how silly to take pride in something that we ought be ashamed of.

And yet in our insatiable thirst for knowledge and stimulation, we will sit in front of a computer screen for days on end—playing games, reading two-cent news articles, and filling our minds with bits of useless information that began to pile up like black mildew in a sink. We have a lot of this mildew available, and we are very good at it gathering it, but does that mean it’s worth indulging in the first place? The wise man knows he knows nothing; the fool thinks he knows all.

Object, if you please, on the grounds that this Age of Information provides a means to stay in touch with distant friends and family. If people who are not present are the focus of your attention, then by all means, continue to give your time to those who aren’t around. If it is important to know what your high school friend is having for breakfast in Maryland, then leave off your own breakfast in California.

We live in a place where we are relatively free to do as we please, and if we please to neglect the reality of the physical moment in exchange for 140 characters, that is our business. But that does not make it ideal, nor healthy. You may know the state of your cousin in Italy this morning, but do you know the state of your friend across the table this afternoon? Have you taken time to talk, or would you prefer to throw up the flimsy wall of a laptop or a cell phone and hide behind that? Human interaction is difficult; interaction with a screen is easy and stimulating. A magic show is fun and entertaining, life is hard.

Object also, on the grounds of being informed about the world around you. I would be more willing to concede this point, but only to a degree. Information that sparks action or a complete world perspective is wonderful; that Hugo Chavez passed away is huge news—where will Venezuela go from here? There is a place for such news; this is an improved means to a reasonable end—knowing the state of the world around you, being an informed human being.

However, this is not necessary; it is neither good nor bad. It gives us the illusion of being responsible, but if we do not do anything with our knowledge except file it away in the recesses of our mind and pull it out to show people, then what good is it? What does it benefit a man to know everything yet do nothing?

If I know of that terrible earthquake in Japan, and then I go to Japan to help, or send my resources in my place—this was news worth knowing. If I know that some new laptop or movie is coming out next month, and I spend my time waiting and talking about it—instead of, say, the tsunami in Japan—I am no better than a small child reading a nice story of castles and fairies, fantasizing about what it would be like to be a princess.

Then there is the rest of the “information”: the 30-second sound bites, the useless facts, and the endless stream of lazy humor. Most pitiful of all is the shouting commentators on such events, whose opinion and influence holds no sway unless projected onto the theater screen of a message board, where they can get the flickering warmth of attention, if only for a moment. They are like a freezing man in the midst of a storm, lighting individual matches for warmth. Or, in the case of those who try to enflame others, they are like a man who burns his entire box of matches all at once, and then is left to a merciful death from hypothermia.

That doesn’t mean that you need entirely give up any sort of electronic interaction; there is indeed a place for such means of communication. Sit down at any computer, and the world is at your fingertips. But any man who is given the whole world, and prefers to forever crawl from shallow ditch to shallow ditch is a man to be pitied. Our Age of Information should be a tool, not a lifestyle. When we pull out a phone instead of having a conversation, we are valuing an illusion (at best, a shallow form of interaction) over those around us. Why turn to a blind crowd to hear their every thought, whim, and idea? We would do better to listen to the crazy drunk on the street corner shouting that he had been probed by aliens. At least that man is passionate and committed enough to say what he believes where people will see his face; at least that man is a member of society—albeit a disturbed one. For if someone entirely neglects all personal, physical interaction, they aren’t anti-social, they’re inhuman.

So where is the line? There must be some measure, some filter to determine what we take in and shut out. The answer is simple and subjective; do unto your mind as you would do unto your body. If you would view it as a good use of time to sit on the couch, cram greasy fries down your throat, and never lift a finger to exert any meaningful effort, then do the same in your intellectual life. But if you want to explore, to dance a salsa, to sit on the beach as the sun sets, to do something that will perhaps leave some shallow imprint on the world that one day a person may venture to pass by and see, then do the same for your mind. You do not learn how to ride a bike by sitting on a couch; nor do you become an interesting human being by staring at a screen. Perhaps you can walk; why not learn to run? It’s not pleasant, but it’s a sight better than giving up creativity and life abundant to some glowing pictures and lines. The glow may be stimulating, but this stimulation—like cocaine—only lasts for a season, and then leaves a mind empty and ragged.

A pagan man would look at us and think that we worship our laptops, our cell phones, our televisions—these glowing idols. He would think us possessed, the way we sit in quiet subjugation to a flickering light. Ancient gods demanded a sacrifice, then men could go on their way. Our new gods are far more cruel than the pagan’s. They require our constant attention; we must sacrifice our very lives to appease them. The pagan, in all his barbaric wisdom, could recognize enslavement for what it is—that every time our idol vibrates or makes a noise, we are obligated to placate it with tapping hands and spoken words.

“You call me barbaric?” he would remark, “I who worship the sun, and the sky, and the raging sea—I am the fool? At least I worship things that are bigger than me, that can tear me asunder. I worship that which I cannot understand. At the foot of my gods, I have become still and calm. I have sought peace and clarity in the midst of storms.”

“But you enlightened folk are too good to be still and be small. You have taken the fierce gaze of the sun and hid from it. You cower away in caves and crowd around glowing statues of your own creation—weak gods that entertain you and whisper to you. I worship gods that frighten me; you worship gods that make you giggle.”

And then, when he was done speaking, he would look around in incredulous pity, and he would leave. He would go back to his home, where the sea is still violent and untamed, where the breath of God still dances along the crooked fingers of the tress. He would leave us to our caves and endless knowledge, and he would return to his wilderness.

Maybe I could talk him into taking me with him.

Gradual Remittance

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I didn’t want to write this in the personal tense. I tried to word this article by using the indifferent and safe pronoun, “we.” But I couldn’t. As much as I wanted to hide behind “we” and throw everyone under the metaphorical bus along with myself, it wasn’t fair–and it would probably be untrue for many. So, I didn’t. I wrote using “I.” I apologize profusely to all my high school English teachers, but I had no choice.  

My biggest complaint of God is his apparent complicity in my life. I have wrestled with certain sins for years; some of them I have battled almost half of my relatively short existence on this planet. Some have them have crested over my life like breaking waves, and I thought I would drown. Some of them, I can hold at bay for months, years, only to have them surge back at me with a ferocity and viciousness I am wholly unprepared for. I feel like William Prescott at Bunker Hill; I’m never quite overrun, I just keep losing.  

Part of that is due to the fact that I am not a “good” Christian. Anyone who knows me would attest to that. I am good in the sense that Christ has imparted his grace to me, and I stand before God a perfect, cleansed being. And I realize no one but God is “good.” But the practical reality is that I drift through a good portion of my days either intentionally or unconsciously neglecting the ruthless love that is showered upon me. There is nothing that I will ever do that will make Christ love me more, and there is no sin I can commit that can make Him love me less–I know this to be true. In my heart, I know I am loved. That doesn’t mean that I float along in perpetual realization of that. The sun always shines; that doesn’t mean I have to come out of the shade.

We are told in Scripture that we will not be given more than we can bear; I feel, as many others surely do, that God lied. If we’re not given more than we can bear, why do we fail so much? “More than we can bear”—what a cheap and abstract value of measurement! How can I battle my habits without divine intervention? How can I stand a chance against my genetics and predispositions without explicit grace? I can’t bear myself, but I’m supposed to bear the world?

I try–like the rest of Christendom, I try as hard as I can, but common grace hasn’t cut it, and yet I seem to get very little else. A good book here, a kind word there, and I’m held over for a day or a week. I go to Mass and I’m good for the afternoon. In the evening, I’m right back to where I started. Where’s God? Where’s Jesus? Where’s that Holy Spirit I was promised? All I can see is myself–floundering and raging against the darkness I cannot drive out of my life. In one hand, I grip a rosary—in the other, a glass filled with condemnation.

Perhaps the idealist or the sainted would say that after our initial experience with Christ, we cannot help but improve. They are not wrong, but perhaps they do not assume a proper timeframe. Those who have been forgiven large debts–those alcoholics, prostitutes, drug addicts, corrupt officials, murderers, rapists–those ordinary folks who try and fail over and over, they are branded with the mark of their sin. These are most acutely aware of their sin and most struggle with it. We are forgiven, but we struggle to forget; I’m not sure that we should. An open wound may heal, but scar tissue is inevitable. And after a certain point, it feels that all is scar tissue, and all the new flesh is reserved for the Second Coming. These things happen, whether we want them to or not.

In the meantime, I am left with my scar tissue and a faint, yet reborn heart. I am not strong and courageous, but Christ is, so I hide behind him like a timid child. Some days, it’s all I can do to climb out of bed; I prefer the company of my sheets to the company of myself. I remember to pray, but I don’t want to approach God. This regrettable sentiment is not rooted in any of the cliché, fixable reasons for not wanting to pray. I know that I must approach the risen Savior as I am. I know He doesn’t want me to get my act together before I come. The only call I hear is, “Come to Me, you who are weary. And I know you are so very weary.”

But so often, I am too fatigued, too bedraggled. Prayer requires surrender and effort, and I often can’t drum up the energy to take my armor off. Meanwhile, I lie in bed and wait for strength that is a long time coming.

And it will come; I trust that it will. As Brennan Manning wrote: God’s grace is not cheap, it’s free. It has carried me through in the past; it will carry me through tomorrow. I don’t often see it, but the fact I’m still standing bears witness to the fact that it is nonetheless present. When my inspiration and enthusiasm has crumbled, something keeps me falling forward, and that something is not myself. I would prefer to curl up and die; something outside of me insists I stumble onward.

Maybe there is a reason for this I don’t yet see. After all, you can’t see light through a wall without cracks and holes, and there is certainly plenty of chipped and broken plaster in my life. In many ways, I could use more breaking and crumbling. I need to be rebuilt. God is working, but often it feels like more tearing down then building up; there’s a season for that, I just wish it wasn’t so long. I left Alaska three years ago to get away from winter, but it caught up with me in California.

Maybe there isn’t a reason beyond the reason of Job–that God is betting with the Devil over my soul. Love trusts all things, but sometimes I wish God didn’t trust me so much, and instead walked me by the hand. But He doesn’t do that. If He let Peter sink in a stormy sea, and He let Paul suffer a thorn in the flesh, who am I to think that He will whisk my problems away? I am not yet calloused enough to pray that specific prayer of deliverance.

So I keep losing, knowing that I’m winning. It may not be in this lifetime; it may not be until I have embraced the death that has reigned in me a shade longer than it should. But when I do, I will be carried home and I will be free. Christ promises freedom from sin; my freedom is coming–my freedom is already here. We are working together–Christ has freed me, now I’m trying to follow Him.

So I, with the rest of the saved sinners, wait for when we are wholly and entirely repaired. Perhaps I will get closer in this life; perhaps I will move farther away. The cross of Christ stands before me and behind me. I walk on.

I keep losing, knowing that I’m winning.

The Stigmata of Adoption

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Recently, a friend approached me and proposed I write about adoption. We talked for a minute about how the act of taking an unwanted child and trying to love them well is a physical reality that’s reflected in the Christian life. It seemed like a great idea. Then I sat down to write and realized something: I wasn’t adopted. I’d heard all the sermons about adoption, and I knew what the Bible said about it, but that doesn’t count. How do you write about something you aren’t sure how to fundamentally approach?

I understand adoption psychology in the spiritual world; or rather, I have a tiny grasp on it that I can put into words. But I have no first-hand experience with adoption in my life. The closest knowledge I can claim is that I have friends and family members who have undergone the process. So what follows is a mix of speculation and research, with just a dash of comprehension of the love that Christ has shown to a world of sinners.

We all struggle with adoption in different forms. We want to be adopted into a friend group; a bride is adopted into the groom’s family–and vice versa; we work at a job long enough and we begin to feel like we’re “part of the family.”

Regardless of how serious and real things such as these are, they are mostly superfluous. Someone who claims to understand adoption on such grounds is like someone who makes the rather audacious claim that they know the feeling of flight because they once enjoyed a quick jump on a trampoline.  They know only the shadow of the issue–an issue that is a fundamentally defining aspect of the human experience.

Regardless of when it happened, regardless of how loving the new parents are, the adopted child is a scarred child. Even the most well-adjusted, understanding adopted child will have to learn to bear these marks–a stigmata all their own. Jodi Picoult, in her book Handle With Care, explains that “Since I was five, I’ve known that I was adopted, which is a politically correct term for being clueless about one’s own origins.” At the very least, an adopted child is left without a relationship befitting a parent and their offspring. Is it any wonder they can be prone to act out?

Our origins define us. As Americans, we tend to feel otherwise—“It’s where you are, not where you’re from.” While this is a nice thought, it is an inaccurate one. Whether you have stayed home your whole life, or were left in an orphanage, or ran away to join the circus, your roots have shaped you, even if it was just by leaving you in the care of someone else. A tree may still grow despite having been planted in dry sand, but you can’t get around the fact it’s playing against a stacked deck. A number of studies point to the unfortunate reality that adopted children are statistically more likely to end up in correctional facilities or find themselves succumbing to drug or alcohol abuse and suicide.

And while the thought of being given up in infancy is harsh, perhaps even more traumatizing is the child who had the misfortune of knowing a parent that did not want them. Tragic is the image of a baby left on the steps of a home by a weeping mother; soul-rending is the reality of children being turned away on their front steps and forcibly orphaned. This deliberate separation is terrible when it is so brutal and stark–it is perhaps even more insidious when it comes about in subtle words and actions that remind the child they are not wanted. When this child is finally placed in the arms of parents who love them, if these memories didn’t occasionally spring up it would indicate a problem–the fact that they do (consciously or not) is inevitable.

And now the spiritual crux: we are all orphans. It’s a cliché, but it’s true in ways that we generally don’t acknowledge. We are an unwanted people, cast into the world by Nature. Whether we understand it or not, we are left on the doorstep of this life desolate and alone. If we have loving, caring parents who cradle us in our infancy, we may not recognize this hard fact till we are much older. On the other hand, those who have been physically adopted are confronted with the reality of their situation and understand it in a way that those who weren’t must struggle to understand.

So what do we do? We tend to flail a bit, to lash out in a misguided and understandable attempt to protect ourselves or deal with our confusion. Is it any wonder the world can be so hard, so illogical, so broken? It’s a world of orphaned children. Some of them have parents, some of them don’t, but we all have been thrown out of the womb of Eden and left crying in the cold. Orphans raise orphans and the problem continues.

We grow up ignoring our Father; when he shows up, instead of running and throwing ourselves sobbing into his arms, we wonder where he was all this time. Christ was looking for us before we were born; just because we’ve gotten good at covering our ears and hiding doesn’t dismiss the fact he was searching.

Even when he does find us, there’s work to be done. Just because he has given us a home does not mean that we will appreciate it. We’re left with physical scars and emotional trauma that takes time to heal. We act out. We rage against the arms holding us and take our inheritance and throw it away for a weekend in Vegas and a night in a brothel.

A professor I had a class with once said that when it comes to adopted children, the fundamental response to their inevitable anger and rebellion shouldn’t be punishment and discipline. He relates that whenever he counseled a person he knew to be adopted, when they began to get heated or confrontational, he would–with a heart of compassion–ask, “Why are you so angry? Who hurt you?”

Mother Nature hurt us, and how can we blame her? She can barely keep her own act together, and she’s not fit to raise kids. She does what she can, but Nature is broken and has abandoned us.  When the Father comes to take us home, we run away, and we bite and claw and scratch. There is no example of this response more vivid than the Cross: we murdered our Father because our Mother abandoned us.

And all the while, God keeps whispering: “Who hurt you? Let me love you. You don’t need to do anything, I forgive you. Just come to me, just relax. Let me take care of you; let me show you I won’t hurt you.”

As for myself, I still often find myself rejecting this love. I will lose my temper, lose my control, get run down, then run away. But the outbursts are getting shorter; I’m starting to get a little more disciplined. My Father’s love is starting to heal old scars and old habits. Every time I head down the road with my pack slung over my shoulder, I’m more acutely aware of my Father watching me go, and I come home a little sooner. But while I’m out in the cold, I meet all the other wayward children, all us adopted sinners, and we know–know that it’s just a matter of time before we get to go home. Maybe it’s something behind our eyes, or the fact our heads are held a little above the fray. Maybe it’s because we’re just all so screwed up, and no amount of love can fix that in a single instant. It takes more than a lifetime–it takes a childhood.

Maybe that’s why Jesus says we must become like little children–it’s easier to accept love when we start from scratch and all we know is trust. Heaven will be like that–a bunch of adopted kids who know where they came from, but know they are loved. Until then, we are all still trying to work it out. But it will only take a lifetime; and then we can dance in an eternal, conscious surrender–a beautiful, adopted childhood.