There was a time in college when I read a lot of apologetics. It seems that the best way to counter people’s accusations against God was to develop logical responses that defend God. I have repented of this mentality.
God doesn’t need me to be his lawyer.
As I read through the Book of Psalms one year those classified as “lament” Psalms smacked me in the face. The holy Scriptures contained accusatory songs against God? Yes, yes they do.
As many of us watch the news regarding the devastation in Japan we ask ourselves why God allowed this to happen. Some of us will be tempted to formulate apologies for God for our friends and family. Don’t.
As the world mourns together during these types of events it seems to me that if there is anything God invites us to do it would be to look heavenward, hands open, eyes discouraged, tongue waving with a heart of faith. A heart of faith does not look like the cold theology of some Christians that think this is the time to rehearse the ending of the Book of Job. No, it looks like those Psalms where the author asks, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!!!”
Yes, the type of Psalm that we find on the lips of Jesus during his crucifixion.
“My God, my God, why did you forsake Japan? Do not the Scriptures say that you created the boarder over which the ocean cannot pass? Were you not paying attention? Why did this happen?”
I doubt this intimates God. God does not want us defending him. God wants us in dialog with him. Yes, even angry, confused, disheartened dialog.
So pray that angry prayer asking why God has allowed this to happen to Japan. There will be time for theological reflection later. We need to let our mind rest and our heart shout. I think this is what God would expect from us.
My friend Rob Johnson has put his artistic skills to use for Japan. He is giving 100% of proceeds to the relief efforts. See his work here.
Thanks Brian, for reminding us of this. I think this is precisely the kind of dialogue God expects (perhaps even desires) from his children. Its genuine.
I have heard so many snip end times jargon since Japan’s tsunami. So I addressed this on my blog only to have someone actually say – more or less – that the tsunami was God’s judgment on Japan (we knew that one was coming).
But the truth of that matter is that we can’t speculate on these mattes (let alone make audacious absolute judgment calls), but we can – and should – look heaven-ward and cry out with agony – identifying in so far as we can with those who are actually suffering – “why, Lord?” Then we need to take action in the Spirit as the body of Christ to “be moved to compassion” and help in so far as we are able.
Indeed, it seems that we repeat the error of Job’s friends over and over and over again. We want to theologize the hurt away. We can’t do that, but we can show some solidarity at various levels with our fellow humans.
“God doesn’t need me to be His lawyer.”
An ever-needed reminder for everyone of us.
This is a small documentary about John Mark McMillan’s song “How He Loves” and he says something within that gets at what you say in your post:
It’s only 6 minutes long or so, but well worth it. It’s as you say, God wants our angry prayers, our bitter accusations, our hearts and all of their emotions – especially in times of great pain and utter confusion (and when both happen at once). It’s what proves His love even stronger.
@Jeremy: Thanks for sharing the video. This is a great example of what I am saying.
Lament psalms taught me I can be honest with God and ask questions with Him not being offended. Have you been able to read my Scandalous God series the past week or so?
Also, Psalm 22 comes in with a great ending. I think Jesus simply quoted the first line, but it was done to recall the whole psalm. I believe that is how Jewish minds would have worked.
@Scott: I agree with your take on Ps. 22. I have not had the opportunity to read the series, but when I return from Europe I will try to take it up.
I am sure then, you know about the lost art of lament? we’ve forgotten how to lament.
@Brian F.: It reminds me of the part of Peterson’s memoir where he talks about how he almost came to see the people as their “problems” and how he was intoxicated at learning how to “fix” them until he snapped out of it. In a very similar way we’d rather not engage the mystery of silent or noisy lament. We’d rather hypothesis answers.
Well, living in Europe, I could just meet up and discuss with you. 😉
Tempting, but with an already packed itinerary I don’t think it would be wise to try to insert anything else, especially this late in the planning stage!
I agree with you that our immediate response should not be an apologetic response per se, but do you really mean to say there is no place for an apologetic response?
You say God doesn’t need us to be His lawyer, but why couldn’t we equally say God doesn’t need us to be His promoter? If God wants people to know about Him, He can tell them Himself. Surely this would be the wrong conclusion. While God is fully capable of making Himself known to people without our help, the fact remains that He has chosen to employ us in the task. The same is true of “defending” God. Didn’t Peter tell us to be read to give a “defense” to the unbeliever? Didn’t Paul say he was set for both the proclamation and the defense of the Gospel?
I think you go too far in saying we should not formulate theodicies, and in your self-described “repentance” over the use of apologetics. You’ve talked about this before, and you seem to be down on apologetics because they “didn’t work.” But the same is true in regards to the preaching of the Gospel. I’ve preached the Gospel to a lot of people, and in the majority of cases it “doesn’t work.” Should I repent of preaching the Gospel, then? No, I recognize that the problem is with the heart/will of man. The fact remains that the Gospel does work for some people, and apologetics do as well. Apologetics are often instrumental in removing intellectual barriers to belief in God for those whose hearts are otherwise open to God. Just ask the slew of former atheists who have turned to Christ as a direct result of apologetics.
But that’s not the only value of apologetics. Indeed, I think the primary value is for believers. This is especially true in the area of theodicy. Many believers wonder how God can allow all of the evil we see in the world (like the Japan disaster). They have a hard time reconciling their belief in an all-powerful and omnibenevolent God with what they see around them. While we cannot explain why any particular evil happened, we can explain how the existence of evil in the world is consistent with theism. For many, such knowledge is a great comfort.
@Jason: While I tend to have a negative view of most forms of apologetics in general, because it is so often the case that the apologists dehumanize the person in front of them in order to “defend God”, I am not saying that there will be no room for them. In fact, in the last paragraph, I provided important clarification saying, “There will be time for theological reflection later.” I hope that clarifies.
You have rightly identified a problem (dehumanizing people), but that doesn’t seem to be topic-specific. I’ve seen Christians equally dehumanize people while preaching the Gospel to them. It seems to me the corrective should not be eliminating/downplaying a valuable evangelistic tool from our arsenal, but reforming our character and our approach in using apologetics and preaching the Gospel.
Also, remember that apologetics is a two-pronged discipline. Only one prong involves defending the existence/character of God. The other involves demonstrating the falsity of opposing worldviews. It seems to me that both aspects are important since people are not inclined to change their beliefs unless they are presented with good reasons to think their current beliefs are mistaken (the task of negative apologetics), and that your beliefs are true (the task of positive apologetics).
Yes, I did see that line, but since I would distinguish apologetics from theology, I did not understand you to have apologetics in mind.
@Jason: When I think of an apologist who does a great job using his apologetics in a way that shows dignity to others the first person who comes to mind is Ravi Zacharias. I am sure there are others like him. For the most part I do not see myself engaging in apologetics because it would seem that it is more than just giving an answer that is associated with apologetics, but a particular posture of defense regarding particular logical arguments in support of Christianity.
I think I do try to give answers, but I try to avoid the posture of a monologue, which much apologetical discourse has become.
But yes, I would throw apologetics under theologizing. It is thinking about God and matters related to faith. It is a certain approach to apologetics (something that looks like a Christian version of FOX or MSNBC) that bothers me.
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