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Indelible Grace Church Blog

Death and the Christian Hope

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Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It is these moments that bring into sharp relief our most searching questions about grief and the presence of evil. What is the answer to death? Christianity offers us the great hope that one day even death itself will be undone and all our tears will be wiped away.  On September 11, 2006, Rev. Tim Keller spoke at the memorial service for the 5th anniversary of 9/11. Below is a transcript of his message:

As a minister, of course, I’ve spent countless hours with people who are struggling and wrestling with the biggest question - the why question in the face of relentless tragedies and injustices. And like all ministers or any spiritual guides of any sort, I scramble to try to say something to respond and I always come away feeling inadequate and that’s not going to be any different today. But we can’t shrink from the task of responding to that question. Because the very best way to honor the memories of the ones we've lost and love is to live confident, productive lives. And the only way to do that is to actually be able to face that question. We have to have the strength to face a world filled with constant devastation and loss. So where do we get that strength? How do we deal with that question? I would like to propose that, though we won’t get all of what we need, we may get some of what we need three ways: by recognizing the problem for what it is, and then by grasping both an empowering hint from the past and an empowering hope from the future.

First, we have to recognize that the problem of tragedy, injustice and suffering is a problem for everyone no matter what their beliefs are. Now, if you believe in God and for the first time experience or see horrendous evil, you rightly believe that that is a problem for your belief in God, and you’re right – and you say, “How could a good and powerful God allow something like this to happen?”

But it’s a mistake (though a very understandable mistake) to think that if you abandon your belief in God it somehow is going to make the problem easier to handle. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail says that if there was no higher divine Law, there would be no way to tell if a particular human law was unjust or not. So think. If there is no God or higher divine Law and the material universe is all there is, then violence is perfectly natural—the strong eating the weak! And yet somehow, we still feel this isn’t the way things ought to be. Why not? Now I’m not going to get philosophical at a time like this. I’m just trying to make the point that the problem of injustice and suffering is a problem for belief in God but it is also a problem for disbelief in God - for any set of beliefs. So abandoning belief in God does not really help in the face of it. OK, then what will?

Second, I believe we need to grasp an empowering hint from the past. Now at this point, I'd like to freely acknowledge that every faith - and we are an interfaith gathering today – every faith has great resources for dealing with suffering and injustice in the world. But as a Christian minister I know my own faith's resources the best, so let me simply share with you what I’ve got. When people ask the big question, “Why would God allow this or that to happen?” There are almost always two answers. The one answer is: Don’t question God! He has reasons beyond your finite little mind. And therefore, just accept everything. Don’t question. The other answer is: I don't know what God’s up to – I have no idea at all about why these things are happening. There’s no way to make any sense of it at all. Now I'd like to respectfully suggest the first of these answers is too hard and the second is too weak. The second is too weak because, though of course we don't have the full answer, we do have an idea, an incredibly powerful idea.

One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God identifies with the suffering. There are all these great texts that say things like this: If you oppress the poor, you oppress to me. I am a husband to the widow. I am father to the fatherless. I think the texts are saying God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that he interprets any move against them as a move against him. This is powerful stuff! But Christianity says he goes even beyond that. Christians believe that in Jesus, God’s son, divinity became vulnerable to and involved in - suffering and death! He didn’t come as a general or emperor. He came as a carpenter. He was born in a manger, no room in the inn.

But it is on the cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack. And so you see what this means? John Stott puts it this way. John Stott wrote: "I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?" Do you see what this means? Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn't, what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn't love us! It can’t be that he doesn't care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to come down and get involved in it. And therefore the cross is an incredibly empowering hint. Ok, it’s only a hint, but if you grasp it, it can transform you. It can give you strength.

And lastly, we have to grasp an empowering hope for the future. In both the Hebrew Scriptures and even more explicitly in the Christian Scriptures we have the promise of resurrection. In Daniel 12:2-3 we read: "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake.  They will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and like the stars for ever and ever." And in John 11 we hear Jesus say: "I am the resurrection and the life!"  Now this is what the claim is: That God is not preparing for us merely some ethereal, abstract spiritual existence that is just a kind of compensation for the life we lost. Resurrection means the restoration to us of the life we lost. New heavens and new earth means this body, this world! Our bodies, our homes, our loved ones—restored, returned, perfected and beautified! Given back to us!

In the year after 9/11 I was diagnosed with cancer, and I was treated successfully. But during that whole time I read about the future resurrection and that was my real medicine. In the last book of The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee wakes up, thinking everything is lost and discovering instead that all his friends were around him, he cries out: "Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?"

The answer is yes. And the answer of the Bible is yes. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue.

Oh, I know many of you are saying, "I wish I could believe that." And guess what? This idea is so potent that you can go forward with that. To even want the resurrection, to love the idea of the resurrection, long for the promise of the resurrection even though you are unsure of it, is strengthening. I John 3:2-3, "Beloved, now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope purify themselves as he is pure." Even to have a hope in this is purifying.

Listen to how Dostoevsky puts it in The Brothers Karamazov: "I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, of the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they've shed; and it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify what has happened."

That is strong and that last sentence is particularly strong…but if the resurrection is true, it’s absolutely right.  Amen.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 September 2011 16:46
 

Retreat 2011

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Our first retreat was at Mission Springs from August 19-21, with IGC joining New Hope Church in San Jose.  The theme of the retreat was “Encountering God” – that our greatest need is not a good life, or a job, or even health, but to know God and experience his grace.   Undoubtedly, the best moment of the retreat was the campfire on Saturday night when Pastor SooSang led New Hope in praying for IGC’s work as a church plant. It was a powerful experience to know the love and support of our new Christian friends, and to be reminded of the important work of the gospel in the East Bay. We come back refreshed and with renewed commitment for gospel life together.

More images from the retreat:

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You can also listen to the four retreat messages here.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 August 2011 15:04
 

Reflections on the Second Commandment

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The second commandment says that we are not to make images of God.  Most Christians breezily believe this is one of the easier commandments to keep.  Just go through your home – no weird idols statues laying around? – check, I’m keeping the second commandment.

The story of Jeroboam tells us otherwise.  Jeroboam was the first king of the northern kingdom after Israel split in two.  He was anxious about the people going down to Jerusalem to worship God, so he built two alternative temple sites centered around these huge statues of pure gold, each depicting a bull calf.  Now you would think Jeroboam was introducing a new religion.  After all, the people were bowing down to a golden calf!

But here’s the kicker.  Jeroboam did not say these were pagan gods, but that the golden calves was the God of the Bible.  He said, “behold your God*, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:28)  Jeroboam believed the golden calves were an accurate picture of God.  This might seem ridiculous to us modern people, but in the culture of the day, it made enormous sense.  A bull calf was the most valuable animal in a farming society, signifying great worth and strength.  And rendered in glittering gold, it must have made an overwhelming impression on the worshippers – surely here is the glory and majesty of God!

The sad truth is that Jeroboam was woefully ignorant of Scripture and thus let his imagination and the culture of his day shape his understanding of God.  The question for us is this – how do we know we’re not doing the same thing?  How do we know that the God we worship is the true God, and not a golden calf?  The answer is that unless we’re immersed in Scripture, we don’t.  If we’re not constantly seeking to understand God as he has revealed himself in Scripture, then we will simply depend on our own imagination and the images popular culture gives us.  In other words, we will create a god of our own convenience and a god who serves our interests – just like Jeroboam.  And just like Jeroboam, we won’t even know.  We’ll just think the Bible is too much of a hassle to read, and besides, it won’t tell us anything we don’t already know about God – again, just like Jeroboam.  This is a sobering reality.

Here’s what this tells us about how to keep the second commandment.  Unless you’re constantly battling the false images our modern culture tells us about God, by soaking yourself in Scripture, you are breaking the second commandment.  For, as you read the Bible seriously, you will find yourself constantly surprised and stunned at who the real God is, the God who acts in Scripture and whose final revelation is Christ crucified.

"Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth." (Hosea 6:3)

* Most translations render the verse in the plural, “behold your gods, O Israel.” The original Hebrew word is “Elohim.” The problem here for translators is that this word is both singular and plural – so it can be either “gods” or “God,” depending on the context. Some translators look at the fact that there were two golden calves and so render it “gods.” But if you look at what Jeroboam says, he clearly has the God of Exodus in mind (“who brought you out of Egypt”), and so the better translation is the singular “God.” We also know Jeroboam was not creating a new pagan religion because he establishes identical feast days and priestly responsibilities as what was done in Jerusalem. (1 Kings 12:32)

Last Updated on Monday, 08 August 2011 11:16
 

Church at the Park 2

This past Sunday, we held our second "Church at the Park" at Palomares Hills Park. It was a beautiful day to worship God, grill meat and hang out.

You can see images from our first "Church at the Park" by clicking here.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 July 2011 22:06
 

Skeptics Night

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On July 9th, Indelible Grace Church hosted our first "Seminar for Skeptics." We rented a bar, bought everyone a drink, and held a discussion on the question – "How can a good God allow for evil and suffering?" Some might raise an eyebrow at the fact that a church event involves buying people alcoholic drinks. Our response is: first, the Bible actually has an incredibly positive view of alcohol (the heavenly banquet feast includes copious amounts of wine – see Isaiah 25:6), second, the Bible condemns the abuse of alcohol (drunkenness) not alcohol itself (this applies to all good things like sex, money, etc.), and third (and most important), we deliberately chose the venue because of its attractiveness for those who are otherwise allergic to church.

The talk began with the story of Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old Syrian boy who was brutally tortured and killed by security forces for tagging along with his parents on a democracy march. He sustained three gunshot wounds, multiple broken bones, including both his kneecaps, multiple burn marks, and his genitals were cut off. Where was God in all of this? The talk presented three answers:

(1) It is self-defeating to disbelieve in God because the world is full of evil, since it is only because of God that we can know there is evil.

(2) The fact that we don’t know of a reason why God would allow for evil and suffering does not mean there isn’t one.

(3) Evil and suffering is not something God hovers over and remains aloof from. But astonishingly, God enters into our suffering in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. We may not know the answer to problem of evil and suffering, but seeing Jesus dying on the cross shows us that the reason can’t be because God doesn’t love us. This is a unique resource Christianity gives us and what distinguishes Christianity from all religions – a portrait of a suffering God.

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We also had a follow-up question and answer time. The questions ranged from the morality of homosexuality, the fairness of hell, the challenge of science, among other issues. These are all important questions for which Christianity has a response. However, it is important to remember that what you believe about homosexuality or evolution is not what makes you a Christian. What makes you a Christian is whether you believe and trust in Christ. That’s the core question – do you believe Jesus is who he says he is? Everything else is peripheral. We make the mistake of wanting to settle first these peripheral questions before we can believe in Jesus. But that is to go about it entirely in the wrong way. First, we ought to determine if Jesus is worthy of our adoration and worship, and only then ask what Jesus teaches us about sexuality and science and so forth.

The evening created some good discussions and we hope to host another event in the coming months, addressing the question – "How can Christianity claim to be the only true religion?"

You can listen to the audio of the evening here.

Last Updated on Saturday, 13 August 2011 12:17
 


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