When Bad Tornadoes Happen to Good Christians

A good way to start this might be to say that tornadoes have terrified me for a long time. I was at a sleepover in middle school when everyone else was getting ready to watch the movie “Twister”. My heart started to race. I knew that if I watched that movie, I would have terrible nightmares. I fought hard for a 50th time through “3 Ninjas”, but no such luck. I didn’t even want to watch a movie about tornadoes because I always feared being caught up in one.

Tornadoes don’t scare me in the same way they did when I was younger. But, as we’ve seen these last few days, they’re still happening and they’re still destroying. The recent storms in through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky have put huge numbers of people in the midst of the storm.

One way to respond to this, is to blame the people who have just been savaged by these storms and claim that it was some sort of divinely-guided weather judgment. John Piper takes this route. Yesterday, he wrote:

If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command…. God’s will for America under his mighty hand, is that every Christian, every Jew, every Muslim, every person of every religion or non-religion, turn from sin and come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus rules the wind. The tornadoes were his.

I have a number of problems with this. But I think this viewpoint is a symptom of a much larger problem. When we view God as a being who controls every tiny action that happens in the world, then this is where we end up. God sent these tornadoes down because these specific people were so sinful that they needed to be taught a lesson. So God killed 39 people and destroyed countless towns, homes, and lives.

This is one of the most damaging and destructive views I have ever heard.

Weather happens. Anyone who has taken 8th grade Earth science knows that. The weather doesn’t change because Jews or Muslims exist in the world. (Lest we forget that the title of God’s people was bestowed on Jews in the first place.)

This is the type of Christianity that actively detracts from our 21st century world. There is no need for me to tell you why we shouldn’t embrace a 4th century worldview. The world isn’t flat. The Earth is not the center of the universe. And God doesn’t make the weather.

To suggest this is not only embarrassing to religious people around the world, but it’s pointing a finger at the tens of thousands of people who have just had their lives destroyed and then saying that they deserved it. It’s tragic, hurtful, and actively detracts from the kingdom of God.

God pulls life out of death. But She doesn’t kill someone to do so.

Cheers,
Eric

(Yeah. I did the passive-aggressive refer-to-God-as-a-she thing. I’m still a little offended by Piper’s comments from 2 weeks ago. Lord, have mercy.)

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Good News, Everyone! Evil No Longer Exists!

… At least according to a small group of neurologists looking at malformations of the brain.

Yesterday Tony Jones posted an article that was written by Ron Rosenbaum for Slate magazine on just this topic. I’m not going to summarize the full article, but you can find here. And is certainly worth the read.

Here is a quote really stuck out to me as I was reading.

Of course, people still commit innumerable bad actions, but the idea that people make conscious decisions to hurt or harm is no longer sustainable, say the new brain scientists. For one thing, there is no such thing as “free will” with which to decide to commit evil. (Like evil, free will is an antiquated concept for most.) Autonomous, conscious decision-making itself may well be an illusion. And thus intentional evil is impossible.

If the information in this article becomes widely accepted, it would be really interesting to see how people in the church would react. If eliminating evil is some sort of goal of the eschaton, does a change in semantics do anything to aid in that goal?

What do you think? Can evil be explained away through brain science? What does this do to the cosmic battle that so many preachers bring up time and time again? I’m excited to see how this furthers our understanding and conversation.

Cheers,
Eric

Church in the Present Tense: Theology

Sorry these posts have been so sporadic. It may have been a bad idea for such an A.D.D. reader as myself to commit to blogging through an entire book. But I’m having fun engaging the different chapters so here goes with the second section: theology

In the second section of Church in the Present Tense, Jason Clark and Kevin Corcoran deal with the theological issues of emerging Christianities. Clark deals with consumer liturgies in chapter 3 whereas Corcoran deals with an emerging eschatology in chapter 4.

Consumer Liturgies

I think Jason’s chapter on consumerism as a detrimentally developing tradition is a really provocative thought. He writes that consumerism attempts to answer those really deep questions of our existence. What is a good life? Well, a good life is having nice things, of course. The feedback loop that consumerism gives us places our salvation in having the next best thing. Having all of the nice things and experiences that a consumer-centered economy has to offer, in a way, saves us from the worst fate imaginable: boredom. With echoes of Neil Postman, Clark explores how we amuse ourselves to the point of numbness to real and valid engagement with the world around us.

While I was reading Jason’s chapter, I couldn’t help but think of echoes of Pete Ward’s Liquid Church. In this short work, Ward says that in our modern society, the most the church can hope to be for people is either a place of heritage or a place of refuge. Church is important because it either a) connects us with our past or b) shelters us from all of the big, bad, “secular” wolves out there. Otherwise, for many people, church is largely irrelevant as a third space for people, which gets back to what Jason explores throughout the rest of his chapter. He comes out by saying that people are yearning for a third space in their lives. A space that isn’t work, and isn’t home, but a place that offers fulfillment of relationship. People aren’t looking for heritage or refuge, so these third spaces are almost never church.

Jason then heads into an ideation of church that leads us into the exchange of stories that seeks to downplay the self-creation that is endlessly promoted in consumer culture, as a way of leading into a search for the true story of life centered around Jesus with and for others. He juxtaposes consumer culture with true community and fellowship found in Christ. The liturgies of consumerism aren’t going to be thwarted by people from the outside coming in. It starts with the people already in the church putting aside the perverted liturgy of consumerism and offering a way forward in mission with the broader community to make the community a better place.

Farewell, Kevin Corcoran

I only title his chapter with a farewell to be a bit facetious about Kevin’s chapter on eschatology. He espouses similar ideas to that of Rob Bell’s new book as ideas that are appealing to the emerging communities. At one point he even explicitly states the essentials of Bell’s thesis that, in the end, love will win and all of humanity will be reconciled to God.

He takes Christ’s announcement of “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” to explore the already/not yet dichotomy of the coming Kingdom. It’s here and now. Unfolding right before our very eyes. In no way is the fully consummated or revealed at this point. But we participate in this coming with every action we do. When we act with good intentions to help our neighbor, we help bring about the kingdom. When we participate in destructive activities, we actively prohibit the kingdom coming to fruition. But either way… we’re the participants.

For Corcoran, the coming kingdom is characterized by compassion and justice. There needs to be simultaneously both present in order for the kingdom to be realized. One without the other produces hollow sentiments that, at the least, are not productive. In God’s kingdom, both are abundantly present. In the earthly kingdom, that balance is a little bit harder to come by. The Christians who tend to be attracted by emerging sensibilities are attracted to the tension held by justice and compassion. Scores of people want to help participate in the coming kingdom (even though most certainly would not use that language). Creation yearns for the time when justice and peace meet. But it’s only in the full actualization of God’s  kingdom that it happens. It’s a good thing when people wish to come together and defend the oppressed and work to re-gain what has been lost.

As Kevin notes, there are scores of people who still yearn to participate in this work of justice and peace. And as he, rightly, concludes: “That is a good thing. A very good thing.”

Cheers,
Eric

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