Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Very Brief Theological Response to the Attacks in Tehran

Most Iranians (89%) are Shiite Muslims. The Islamic State is a radical version of Sunni Islam. If Christians believe that God created humanity, then both Sunni and Shiite Muslims are part of God’s creation. When one group hurts another group, God’s creation is in disharmony. This summation might sound simplistic, but we complicate God’s view of the human condition with our opinions.

Origen of Alexandria wrote about the difficulty of giving up opinions and how dangerous our opinions can be. In Contra Celsus, book 1, section 52, he wrote, “A person will abandon habits more easily than surrender opinions.” If we hold a colonial worldview in which Muslims are part of the heathen masses waiting to hear the Good News, we miss the richness of mutual exchange. Furthermore, dialogue becomes nonexistent when our only interest in Middle Eastern sisters and brothers is converting them to our Westernized Christian faith.

Instead of seeking their conversion, when considering people from other traditions, especially those who oppose Christianity, we can follow Jesus’ lesson in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

God is present in Iran.
God weeps with the people of Tehran who weep.
God wishes to comfort those who lost a loved one.
God seeks a relationship with everyone.
God want to enable doctors and rescue workers to help and heal people.
God desires to change the hearts of those who hate.

Following Origen’s advice, and setting our opinions aside, is a challenge. Opinions can be a deep part of our identity. Our opinions can make it difficult to see people who seem to be very different from us as our sisters and brothers. Setting those opinions aside can help us see people the way God sees them.

God does not want humanity to act violently against itself. When a terrorist hurts a person, we cannot let the terrorist win. When we react with violence, the terrorist wins. I picture a terrorist walking into my office and saying, “I am here to hurt you.” How would Jesus respond? He might say, “I am here to love you.”

What happens next? We think we know. That is, we assume that the terrorist would kill/hurt someone. But, we do not know. Only God knows. Trusting God is difficult. To be a Christian means being a person who trusts God in all things and at all times.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How Would God Approach International Diplomacy?

When I think of God approaching international diplomacy, I trip over the assumption that God has some nationality. God is interested in humanity, not jingoism, patriotism, or xenophobia. Jesus said, “For God so love the world…” (John 3:16). God seeks to reconcile all things to God-self (Colossians 1:20). In Luke 5:32, Jesus proclaims a call to the unrighteous, which would imply those who are not already in the religious in-crowd. The biblical examples of God’s care for everyone go on and on.


Some years ago, imagining what-would-Jesus-do (WWJD) was an inspirational fad. People would consider what Jesus would do in various situations. Thus, this reflection is an attempt to apply WWJD to current events. Currently, the U.S. President is traveling in the Middle East. I thought about his interest in brokering peace and the almost continuous conflict in the region. From Maccabean Revolt (167-160 BCE) to centuries of Roman occupation to Islamic conversion after the Battle of Yarmouk (636 CE), the region has long-suffered conflict.

Instead of asking about God’s approach to international diplomacy  the twenty-first-century question could be reframed as, “How does God approach humanity?” The whole notion of foreign and domestic people is beyond the New Testament. A foreign invader occupied the land of the major biblical characters, like Paul, Peter, James, Mary, et al. They saw themselves as part of a community, in the world, but not of it. They were resident aliens (1 Peter 2:11).

Does that mean patriotism is not biblical? No. But, it might be a stretch to argue for a biblical basis for patriotism. For example, I like ice cream. Is ice cream biblical? The Bible does not address it. We neither say that ice cream is biblical nor that ice cream is not biblical. It is what I do with ice cream that can connect with a biblical ethic and an orthodox Christian worldview. If I choose not to help my brothers and sisters in need, but to buy ice cream, my life might not reflect what Jesus would do. However, if I enjoy ice cream in moderation and try to help my sisters and brothers in need, then I might be closer to following Jesus.

Likewise, when we consider international diplomacy if we adopt a position that puts one nation’s interests ahead of another one, at the other one’s expense, this policy might not be biblical. Let us consider a fictitious trade policy.
Suppose country A adopts a tariff on widgets.
Its widget industry is healthy, but country A wants the industry to grow.
This tariff adversely affects country B’s major widget manufacturer.
It has to close, lay off its workers, and the people begin to starve.

Country A’s policy, in this example, was unnecessary. They already had a healthy industry. They just wanted it to grow. The motivation appears to be greed. In this example, limited as it is, we can see how one policy can be unbiblical.

How would God approach international diplomacy  God would show concern for all people, including the populations on all sides of national boundaries. We should not forget that God did not set the boundaries, but people did. Compassion and mercy are the hallmarks of God’s worldview.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

God & Terrorism at a Concert

When I heard the breaking news, I had to search the internet to find out who Ariana Grande is? Since I have two sons, artists who appeal to mostly tween and teenaged girls are not on my radar. But, I could imagine them attending such a concert with their friends. Both of my sons have friends who are girls (perhaps, a girlfriend? Gulp!). Thus, I can put myself in the shoes of parents who thought they were giving their children a nice evening out.
Police work at Manchester Arena after bombing.

Now, the parents, family, and friends of twenty-two people will never see their children again. I cannot imagine the devastation they feel. My heart goes out to them. I pray that they can experience God's peace.

For me, the question comes back to God. Where was God? Why did God let this happen? And, can Christians say anything meaningful to those who lost a loved one? Can we say anything to those who experience heightened fear in the aftermath of such a tragedy?

God was there. God was dancing, laughing, and singing along with the young people. God might not have been thrilled with everything they did. For example, on the one hand, God would not bless a teen being mean to another. On the other hand, when the young people were having fun, God would be happy. God loves humanity; thus, God wants people to have fun and be happy.

If God is omnipresent, God was at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. If God is omniscient, God knew about the concert and knew the heart of the terrorist(s) before the terrorist act. God knew how many people would die and how many lives would be shattered. God knows how people will react. We do not know these things, but God knows.

Why did God let this happen? If God is omnipotent, God could have prevented it. True. If God is omnibenevolent, God is all-good and acts for humanity. So, why? Why did this happen? Why does anything bad happen?

These questions relate to a classic question in theology called theodicy, or the question of evil. One explanation comes out of a belief in human freedom. That is, God created us as free beings. Thus, we choose whether to accept or reject God. We choose daily whether to do good or bad. This explanation places the blame on the terrorist and the society that produced him. The terrorist had the choice, up until the moment he detonated the bomb. However, he did not act in a vacuum. He had a lifetime of experiences preparing him for that moment.

To the families and friends who lost a loved one, Christians can respond with love and compassion. If we know someone personally who lost a loved one, we can bring by a meal. It will not bring someone back, but it is a tangible expression of care. This gesture can start a conversation and open a whole realm of creative ways to respond positively: prayer vigils, round table discussions, reconciliation programs, and so on. 

What about the society that produced the terrorist? This question opens a whole new chapter and might be one of the greatest questions for the twenty-first century.