Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Problem Of Suffering And The Loving God (Pt 2)

Suffering. I'll be frank: I don't know what that word means. I'm not wanting for any of life's basics, and I even have many of its non-basics: I've always had food in my stomach, friendship and love (whenever I wasn't busy botching my relationships, that is), a roof over my head, and plenty of entertainment. When I read about persecution, torture, rape, and war, I think to myself "That's terrible", but I don't know *how* terrible. I shrug and think "People are like that, that's why we do those things to each other", but I don't actually know what exactly drives a person to those extremes, and I have less of an idea what it is to be the victim of such extremes. When I read about natural disasters -hurricanes, tsunamis, whole families displaced, loved ones missing- I have little or no personal experience that helps me relate to people who suffer like that. I haven't even had someone I love die on me yet. The most honest emotion I can muster, when I read about the horrors the world endures, is disbelief. There may be some sympathy, but I can't say there's any empathy.

Still the question of suffering gnaws at us, even those of us who have all the basics of life many of its comforts. We ask questions like "Why them, why not me?", and rightly so... there appears to be no rhyme or reason to who gets their particular lot in life. We see suffering, and something inside us protests at what we percieve as something inherently unfair and unjust, but tragically rampant in the world. I had the same question Templeton asks in Strobel's book, which I'll just paraphrase: "If there is a loving God, why do innocent people suffer?". I have to admit, I avoided the question entirely for a long time. I had ideas of my own, but no strong conviction if any of them held up. I did read the bible's musings on suffering (especially in Job), but I still wasn't certain if it had any intellectual answers. Even the answers I've gotten since from outher sources were not answers I went out of my way in search of. I was simply there when this or that sermon was preached, or happened to glance through this or that article. I confess that I've dealt with the subject in a decidedly lazy manner.

I guess my reason for blogging about suffering is to lay out the various ideas I have about the concept of the loving God and see how it all holds up. Now I'm not going to have a very objective opinion. I'm going to use scripture and previous works of Christian apologetics quite a bit. I'll even throw in the occasional "My pastor said..." statement. I will try to hypothesize a bit, and use my (very) rudimentary knowledge of philosophy wherever I find it applicable, but I'm still a staunch Christian. If pressed I'll most likely say I am a Christian by faith alone. I'm not like C.S. Lewis, who claims he became a Christian by induction. I didn't read some reality-altering apologetic that convinced my mind beyond any doubt that Christianity is true (I'll still allow, from an intellectual point of view, that I'm completely wrong, there is no God, and life is devoid of any true meaning). I did not examine scientific or archeological evidence nor require anything specific in that regard. I'm where I am mostly because of intuition; Christianity makes sense to me, so I choose to believe it is true. A Christian may say God lead me here. The unbeliever may say I'm a Christian just because I want to be. I'm not sure how to tell the difference.

If you're not a Christian and you're reading this, here's a warning: I'm not going to be 100% philisophically fair or politically correct. What you're going to read is what this Christian thinks about suffering and why the Christian God makes sense to me in light of suffering. You may wonder why pay any heed to someone whose entire worldview and philosophy rests on something so tenacious as faith. I'm not sure I will answer that here, nor will I intentionally attempt to. I'll say this much: If, after I'm done, the Christian God makes sense to you too, or at the very least seems plausible, then that's as close to an answer as I'll get to for now.

An initial word about Strobel's book, 'The Case For Faith', and it's chapter on suffering: In style and content, this book is made very much of the same substance that 'The Case For Christ' was. The chapter's interviewee appeals to the Judeo-Christian view of God for answers, and you will have to allow for the plausibility of that view of God for the book's arguments to have much power over you. I do think you could arrive at a picture of God very much like the Judeo-Christian God by pure reflection (as G.K. Chesterton says he did), but this book does very little to demonstrate the viability of that approach. In other words, if you think the bible is bunk, and you want a purely philisophical defense of the assertion that there is a God and He is a loving God, this book may not help you much. Strobel's book argues for the plausibility of that particular view of God; if that's what you're looking for, it may be worth checking out. I might elaborate on how well Strobel's book does that here... I'll need to read it again more carefully, though. I will say that my initial impression is that labelling the 'Case For...' series as "beginner-level apologetics" would be a fair evaluation of his work.

Alright, I guess I'm done with the prelims. Over the years I've built up a number of ideas that frame my approach to the issue of suffering. I think it's best, if I want to see if the whole thing holds together, to summarize all the ideas I've gathered into my head one by one. I'll do exactly that next time.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Problem Of Suffering And The Loving God (Pt 1?)

I've never been much of a holiday person, but I guess Christmas went well. I quite enjoyed the party CDPC put on. They had a pretty good spread plus a message from Peter Rowan and a lot of presentations from various groups within the church. My favorite had to be the kid's ministry skit. The kids were surprisingly adept onstage, and recovered from goof and gaffs with more grace than most adults could muster. The carolling I did with SIB was a less graceful affair (I kept getting the rhythm and timing wrong), but it turned out alright nonetheless. I would've liked a few more practice sessions, but something tells me the whole exercise wasn't about getting the performance technically right 100%.

I had been involved in a little discussion at the SNK-Capcom forums about the plausibility of the theory of Intelligent Design, which asserts that the marks of an "unidentified intelligent cause" are observable in nature. Obviously a fighting game forum is not the best place to have such a discussion, but the topic came up and I pounced on it in ernest. The central concern is the origin of life: is the inherent complexity of life compelling evidence of an intelligent cause (i.e. God, or space aliens, depending on who you talk to), or can life be explained as the result of sheer chance, borne of a primordial broth with the right ingredients and the right conditions?

Well, after that discussion, I was browsing through the stuff at Summit's Salvation bookstore, and I saw Lee Strobel's "The Case For Faith". I'd read his earlier book "The Case For Christ" before, and actually didn't like it much (if he was trying to present a purely objective view, he mostly failed. His choice of interviewees, for starters, would seem highly suspect to most objective readers. If he was writing for a Christian audience, the back cover is misleading.), but after thumbing through his chapter entitled "Objection#3: Evolution Explains Away God", I decided I'd give him another chance. It helped the book only cost RM17.

That chapter was good enough, based solely on the strength of the answers of the guy he interviewed. It also pointed me in other directions to look for answers on the topic, which is always helpful. I then started reading the introduction to the book, in which he narrates the interview he had with Charles Templeton, the once-preacher turned agnostic, and close friend of Billy Graham (at least at one time). Templeton was once tapped to be the greatest evangelist of his time, not Billy. Then he had a change of heart, found he could no longer believe the things he preached, and left his ministry.

In Lee's account, Charles' crisis of faith came about because he could not accept that a loving, all-powerful God would allow the sort of suffering we see in the world. He recounts how a photo of an african woman with a dying child in her arms struck him profoundly. She was looking at the sky, wishing for rain. Templeton's simple objection was this: if we don't control the rain, and God does, why would a loving God allow that woman to watch her child die for lack of rain?

Reading that, I couldn't help but think about my own objections to faith that I have made periodically in my own spiritual walk (and even on this blog itself, as some of you may remember). Up til now, I think I've only let the question rest for the most part. I do have certain beliefs on the matter... but does my system of beliefs hold up? I think I'll explore that here for a couple of entries and see what happens. I haven't read the chapter that deals with suffering in Strobel's book, by the way, but I'll be sure to include what he writes in my musings.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Carolling Pilgrims

This past Wednesday I took part in the first (of two) SIB Young Adult carolling practice. It was a first overall for me. I've never taken part in a carolling choir all my life. I'd always thought it'd be a fun thing to do, but the opportunity never came about, I guess. The practice itself went alright, though I'm a little nervous about there being only two practice sessions. The carols are split into two medleys, and the melodies are a little funkified in places, so there were actually some new notes to learn even for carols I already know. I guess the good thing about singing with a group is that if it all goes south, you can point at somebody else and say "It's his fault".

Last Sunday evening I went to Subang Parade to hear CDPC's carolling choir perform. They had a small band and only five singers, but those guys did a really good job. The singers sang part harmonies and solos and everything, with some complex jazzy rhythms to boot, and there was nary a cringe-inducing moment. I asked Mei Sin (one of the folks in the CDPC cell I'm attending) if they were professionals. She told me the only professional musician of the whole bunch was the keyboard player, which surprised me very much. The singers either put a lot of effort and practice into the arrangments or they are just that naturally talented. Maybe both.

Mei Sin also said they were encouraging folks to participate in the worship team. I recognized three of the singers from the various worship teams that rotate at CDPC. It'd be great to be in a band with any of these folks. If it turns out I'm staying in Malaysia (which to be honest I'm really hoping for at this point), then I'll definitely ask about that. Actually, there are a bunch of things that make me want to stay. It's not really up to me, though. If my visa application succeeds, I really ought to go back to the states. A lot of money and time went into that endeavour, and it'd be a poor thing to do to back out now. Besides, it's not like Knoxville's a bad place to be.

But like I said, I hope I get to dig my heels in. There's lots I'd love to do here and it'd be a drag to have to start over again. That seems to be my life in general, though. I never did get to be in one place for very long. I guess like the old song says, I'm a pilgrim, I'm a stranger.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
Bob Dylan

Well, they'll stone ya when you're trying to be so good,
They'll stone ya just a-like they said they would.
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to go home.
Then they'll stone ya when you're there all alone.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

Well, they'll stone ya when you're walkin' 'long the street.
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to keep your seat.
They'll stone ya when you're walkin' on the floor.
They'll stone ya when you're walkin' to the door.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

They'll stone ya when you're at the breakfast table.
They'll stone ya when you are young and able.
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to make a buck.
They'll stone ya and then they'll say, "good luck."
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

Well, they'll stone you and say that it's the end.
Then they'll stone you and then they'll come back again.
They'll stone you when you're riding in your car.
They'll stone you when you're playing your guitar.
Yes, but I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

Well, they'll stone you when you walk all alone.
They'll stone you when you are walking home.
They'll stone you and then say you are brave.
They'll stone you when you are set down in your grave.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

John 8:1-11

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Onion Does U2

The actual article is way more fun than I anything could possibly say about it, so here it is.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Even More Ps2

Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks
Rating: 7 out of 10 Misuses Of The Letter 'K'
This is one of the games I've that I've never bothered playing alone. It's got a 2-player ko-op mode that just begs to be played exclusively. The game's not too long, but it's a lot of brainless fun while it lasts. There's a rudimentary XP system that lets you buy more moves as you level up, but I didn't really use a lot of the more 'advanced' moves even after I bought them because a handful of lower and mid-level moves seemed to dominate well enough. Carol just kept using Kung Lao's dive kicks from start to finish... that got a bit annoying. The over-the-top fatalities are fun the first time around (especially Kung Lao's rabbit fatalities), but after a while they just began to grate on my nerves (you can't skip the fatality cut scenes, some of which are really long).

Capcom VS SNK 2
Rating: 7 out of 10 Magic Fireballs
Ok, personally, I'm a sucker for this game. When I had it on my Dreamcast in the states I just couldn't stop playing it. I had a couple of friends that could give me a good challenge over there, too. It doesn't get many great reviews, though, and probably for good reason. The graphics aren't technically as good as, say, Guilty Gear XX's are (the low-res, pixelated sprites are just plain ugly). The fighting system is also a bit of a mixed bag. It is, however, a BIG mixed bag, made up of three systems from the Capcom side and three systems from SNK's side. That and it's got a HUGE roster of characters. And who doesn't get a kick out of seeing Haohmaru VS Akuma? Or Rock VS Geese? Or Mai VS Chun-Li? What's that you say? You don't? Well... booger!

Capcom Fighting Evolution
Rating: 2 out of 5 Whiffed Throw Attempts
Ok CVS2 I like. This game... not so much. It's got less characters to choose from, you don't have the luxury of mixing and matching fighting systems with characters from different games, and I don't really care about the guys from Red Earth. It does have one thing going for it though... the endings drawn by Udon are well drawn, and usually pretty entertaining. Bison VS Gill... now that's a great matchup. Only in Bison's ending though.... sigh.
Some Songs (and Two Riddles)

It's coming close to the end of the year, so I thought I'd compile the lyrics to the songs I wrote since I got home from the states. I don't think I've quite lived up to the 'song' part of 'riddle and song' too well on this blog. Actually, I don't think I've lived up to the 'riddle' part either, so here's a couple to start off:

Q:What do you call a deer with no eyes?
A:No-eye deer.

Q:What do you call a deer with no eyes and no legs?
A:Still no-eye deer.

I guess it's a good thing I don't put up too many riddles here.

I wrote 'The Lord Your God Is With You' after Gretchen Paxton emailed me about her trip to Mexico. In it, there was a reference to the book of Zephaniah. I picked it up, read it, and liked it a lot. There were parts of Chapter 3 that sounded like they would make a good song. So I took the words, paraphrased a little, and came up with a fairly simple but (I think) singable tune to go with. The tag came to me a while later than the rest of the song. I was playing the song to myself last week and started freestyling at the end, and realized that what I came up with at the time was good enough to keep. I think a lot of good songs come about like that.

The Lord Your God Is With You

The Lord your god is with you
He is mighty to save
The Lord your god is with you

Verse 1:
He rejoices over you with gladness
And stills your heart with His love
He rejoices over you with song
O daughter of Jerusalem
Do not fear!


On that day you shall not be put to shame
For all the evils of your past
Upon His holy hill, He glorifies the meek
O Israel, shout aloud
And be glad!


Sing a new song unto Him
Sing a new song to the Lord
Sing a new song to your God...

When I started writing 'I Will Come To You Again', I had it in mind to write something you could safely put on a contemporary Christian CD without confusing too many people. Folks familiar with the stuff I have written in the past know that I tend to be too cryptic, angsty, jokey, folky, or a combination of these to ever be classified as mainstream CCM. I wanted to write something fairly pop-ish, mainstream, and heartfelt, but would yet be something I wouldn't detest singing over and over again. I guess time will tell if I've fulfilled that last criteria.

I Will Come To You Again

Many are the times
I'd hidden my heart in a box
And pretended I'd lost the key
Many are the times
When you pointed at the locks
And said "I rolled away the stone... what's this to me?"

Well you know I'm good at hiding
And you know how far I've run
It's no further than you've come
To find me

Many are the times
I'd lost myself in stuff to do
Looking for a brand new thing to start
Many are the times
You said "Well, just look at you"
"Your hands look full, what's in your heart?"

Well this heart is prone to wander
In search of what the fall had stole
But only you can make it whole

So I will come to you again
In times of joy and times of pain
And speak with you as a man speaks with his friend
To let your grace wash me like rain
I will come to you again

Many are the times
I'd found a good thing on this earth
And desired it more than it was made to be
Many are the times
In darkness that my heart had birthed
You broke the silence and made your plea

Not just to me nor just with words
But with blood poured from your side
And with arms that stretched out wide

And I will come to you again
In times of joy and times of pain
And speak with you as a man speaks with his friend
To let your grace wash me like rain
I will come to you again

And you knew my heart so well
Its darkest rage and deepest fear
But it's your grace that makes me holy
And it's grace that draws me near
Oh, to You Lord

So I will come to you again
In times of joy and times of pain
And speak with you as a man speaks with his friend
To let your grace wash me like rain
I will come to you again

Something my friends in the Navigators impressed upon me was the sheer beauty and theological heaviness of the old reformation hymns. A lot of them had attended various Reformed University Fellowship (RUF, and acronym that I had a lot of fun saying) meetings, and I think maybe that's where they got that love of hymns from. These old hymns made up the bulk of the songs we would sing during the smaller Nav meetings. We sang mostly the versions that came out of the Indelible Grace project (a bunch of people putting new music to the old words) and the RUF hymnbook, and quite a few of those made it into the staple of songs I like to do for private worship ('Arise My Soul Arise', 'Thy Mercy My God', 'Come, Ye Sinners', 'O Love That Will Not Let Me Go', among others).

I suppose at one point I wanted to try writing something along the same lines. I know of one contemporary song that sounds like an old hymn (In Christ Alone, the only worship song I know with the word 'babe' in it!), so there's a precedent for that at least =). I'm not sure I succeeded as thoroughly as I would've liked (the grammar seems a little off here and there), but I like the result as a whole. It has guy and girl parts, which is my favorite thing to have in a worship song, so I think that helps me like it.

Lift Up Your Voices

Lift up your voices, brothers, sing
Your great Redeemer’s praise
Recall your hearts’ first wakening
To love Him all your days

Recall that first bright fledgling light
The cross’s quiet demand
Repledge your heart, your soul, your might
To His strong guiding hand

Sing Praise! Sing Praise!
Lift up your voices, sing!
Sing Praise! Sing Praise!
O let His praises ring!

Lift up your voices, sisters, sing
Of wonders Love has wrought
For His dear cross, let praises ring
For mercies Christ has bought

As far as to the East and West
Our sins, our misdeeds cast
Forgot’n by Him who knows us best
And loves us to the last

Sing Praise! Sing Praise!
Lift up your voices, sing!
Sing Praise! Sing Praise!
O let His praises ring!

Lift up your voices, heaven and earth
From sea to hill and plain
All creatures laud His matchless worth
Declare the Master’s reign

Join with the songs of starry host
Let swell a gladdening sound!
O ransomed man, now take your post
With grateful heart, resound

Sing Praise! Sing Praise!
Lift up your voices, sing!
Sing Praise! Sing Praise!
O let His praises ring!
Sing Praise! Sing Praise!
Lift up your voices, sing!
Sing Praise! Sing Praise!
O let His praises ring! X3