Pragmatic Communion

pragmatic living in the presence of God

a loving God. evil and suffering.

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:14-15

I’m reading The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. (Click HERE for his youtube testimony.) In this book, Strobel attempts to “investigate” the most common obstacles to the Christian faith. He calls these obstacles “the Big Eight.” I’m reading about Obstacle #1.

“Since Evil and Suffering Exist, a Loving God Cannot.”

Why am I reading this? I was led. Compelled. There are so many struggling. Suffering. All ages, genders and walks of life. Suffering physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially. Children died this week. Children die every week. A young mother at my church lost her battle with cancer the day before a friend who defeated stage 4 breast cancer got her breast reconstruction.

I pray. For people I know, and people I don’t. I pray for strength and comfort. For peace.

I pray because I personally believe a loving God does exist, despite the evil and suffering in the world. But in my prayers, unspoken, was always “Why?”

My auto-pilot answer was “Have faith in God.” But in truth? I had nuthin. Except that whole “then we shall see face to face” thing. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

If there is a loving God, why is there pain and suffering in the world?

I’m 44, for crying out loud. I’ve been a Christian for nearly 30 years! I should to be able to ANSWER THE QUESTION instead of mumbling words like “sin” and “test of faith” and “God’s will” and “free will” or quoting scripture to Christians, agnostics and atheists alike. Scripture. Not a credible resource for agnostics and atheists. Quote the Bible if it makes you feel better, but when I’m talking to someone who doesn’t believe the Bible to be the Living Word of God, or to a person who doesn’t even believe in God, I need to approach the conversation in a different way. God can use other books and resources besides the Bible. He can use a sunset, a song or an impossible coincidence. He can even use my personal experience and fallible human intellectual understanding. He is that good. (I just need to gain some intellectual understanding and identify my personal experience.)

Besides not being able to intelligently articulate a reasonable response when talking to others, I personally didn’t like not having answers to the “why” question and the “how can there be a loving God” question. And I believed there were answers. Just because I didn’t know what they were, didn’t mean there weren’t any. This week, I found myself no longer comfortable just believing and trusting in God and accepting suffering without question. (Which I did, by the way.) For some reason, I’m at a place in my life where I want to know WHY I believe what I believe about this issue and be able to explain myself to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Wait. Don’t go off and comment yet, telling me “the” answer. Bear with me. I want to work through this one pragmatic step at a time. I’ve had discussions with “strong” Christians, “longtime” Christians, pastors and FirstHusband. I’ve read the Bible, commentaries, and books. Nothing seemed REASONABLE. The Christians were often patronizing and/or vague, attributing my doubt – or questioning or whatever you want to call it – to a lack of faith or an immature Christian. Because they really believed I lacked faith or was immature? Or to cover up the fact that they themselves weren’t able to effectively articulate an answer either? Back then, I believed it was me. After this week? Not so much. Because I found two authors who were able to articulate their reasoning in a way that resonates with me. It’s not that they “told” me the answer to these questions so much as they rounded up many of my thoughts on the matter (conscious and not) and were able to lay them out in an organized, reasonable way.

Let me back up a bit, before the resonating, and answer a likely question. What have I been doing all these years, with this seeming contradiction between suffering and a loving God?

Years ago, FirstHusband gave me the thought that allowed me to let the contradiction rest – until now. In discussing why a loving God allows human suffering, we had a lot to talk about. In the end, it was this:

Could it be (I said COULD) that one (I said ONE) reason people suffer is so the world can see the difference between how a Christian and a non-Christian deals with the suffering? The theory is that Christians have a hope, strength, peace and comfort that comes from God. Now THAT, I’ve seen. On more than one occasion. And so have you.

But what about non-Christians who approach adversity with a seemingly positive outlook? What about non-Christians who overcome obstacles to make things better or inspire us? Randy Pausch never professed Christianity. Neither has John Walsh. Both remarkable men, who, when faced with tragedy, responded much like we expect Christian men would. And what about the Christians who react to tragedy with anger, blame God or who fall apart and shut down? Non-Christians blame God, fall apart and shut down. It can go both ways.

So I personally choose to believe that there IS a loving, all-powerful God despite the seemingly contradicting evidence of evil and suffering present in the world. For years, I’ve been able to fumble around the God-speak, quoting scripture and using words like faith, free will, sin, and God’s Will, but I’ve never before formulated an intelligent response which adequately, logically, PRAGMATICALLY addresses the question AND the objections to the pat, theological answers.

Faced with the multiple tragedies of the death of her uncle and and her aunt’s diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and terminal cancer, Lee Strobel’s wife said:

“If someone thinks he can wrap everything up in a neat little package and put a fancy theological bow on it, go somewhere else.”

I don’t want to be “someone” or “go somewhere else.” I need to be prepared to answer.

To read Part 2, CLICK HERE

[This devotion was prompted by THIS post on my Pragmatic Compendium blog.]

“But faith isn’t always easy, even for people who desperately want it. Some people hunger for spiritual certainty, yet something hinders them from experiencing it. The wish they could taste that kind of freedom, but obstacles block their paths. Objections pester them. Doubts mock them. Their hearts want to soar to God; their intellects keep them securely tied down . . .

. . . If doubt and faith can co-exist, then this means people don’t have to fully resolve each and every obstacle between them and God in order to have an authentic faith.”

Lee Strobel
The Case for Faith

April 19, 2009 Posted by | apologetics, books, comfort, faith, god's will, strength, suffering, witnessing | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

be strong and courageous.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

This is PinkGirl’s new memory verse. Not assigned by school, mind you, but given to her by her brother when I asked him if he knew of a good verse to help her with her fear. (I told you he was a walking concordance.) Her fear was born the night of Hurricane Charlie as our family sat in our laundry room with flashlights and no power, listening to the storm and the local Christian radio station, which was reporting on the storm. When we ventured outside, this impressionable four year old discovered that her house wasn’t as strong as she thought. And the fence around her backyard playground wasn’t as strong as she thought. And the giant tree, which landed on her swing set, wasn’t as strong as she thought. Fortunately, the daddy-built swing set WAS as strong as she thought or the back porch would have had a big hole in the roof.

So last weekend, she came pounding down the stairs, “MOM! There’s a storm coming! I heard it on the radio!” She was not calm. She did NOT want to leave the house and we were supposed to go to church. So, I made a decision. We stayed home and did a family devotion on fear. And then FavoriteSon led another devotion on not giving up. And PinkGirl read a poem and explained her interpretation – that being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re perfect, but covered by grace, and then I led a devotion about generosity and giving to others. (FirstHusband was at work or he would have gotten one too.)

So we didn’t go to church. But what an amazing time together, listening to my children talk about their faith they way they never do when we are rushing through our day and our week. PinkGirl even forgot about the storm. Now, we can say: “Have I not commanded you . . . ” and she will repeat it and continue through the end of the verse.

I need that verse too. I mentioned that I am FINALLY going to get rid of my fibroids by having a hysterectomy this year. Things are progressing and the realization that I’m going to have another surgery and go under general anesthesia – which is scarier to me than any pain resulting from the surgery – is settling in. I HATE going under. See when I’m under, I have NO control over what’s happening. I have to trust OTHER PEOPLE with my LIFE. I’m continuing through the process, taking action one step at a time, but I know the night before the surgery is going to come with some Ambien.

What I need to see is GOD working through those people. Let me tell myself that again. I need to see GOD working through those other people. He’ll be there in the operating room with me because he loves me. He’ll be there in the operating room. He’ll be there in the operating room. He’ll be there . . .

What I also need to do is to stop feeling guilty about having this surgery. Thoughts creep in and out of my day – I could just live with the daily iron pills and frequent bleeding. It’s not like I have a “real” problem. I’ve had a pap smear, an internal and external sonogram, a cervical biopsy, and two different kinds of endometrial biopsies. There is no cancer, there are no polyps, nothing suspicious. Just annoying bleeding and low iron that can be treated with a daily supplement. But. I know that life will be better if my iron levels are normal. I know I will be more active if I don’t have to deal with the bleeding. I KNOW the surgery is the right thing to do. My hormone levels are completely normal – no sign of menopause. So if I wait for menopause to stop the bleeding, I’ll be waiting a very long time.

“Have I not commanded you . . .”

So here’s the step of faith. I’m going to have the surgery. Because He’ll be in the operating room with me, guiding the surgeons, the anesthesiologist, and the nursing staff.

And since I’ve decided to have the surgery, I decided to have a consult with a plastic surgeon to discuss removal of the pannus I’ve had since PinkGirl was born. The crease is right at my c-section scar and it’s very uncomfortable, especially during the summer months. FirstHusband is very supportive of both surgeries. He knows what I deal with.

I originally asked my GYN if she would consider working with a plastic surgeon to remove the pannus and she immediately said yes, that she had done it before and gave me a referral. I was very surprised because she is over the top conservative. I called the referral and he was no longer doing “tandem” surgeries, but his son would consider it. His son. But. That’s not the referral I got. I was nervous. His son doesn’t have as much experience. I researched the son and his credentials are impressive, so I went to the consult, praying all the way there: “God I want to do this if it is okay with You. Please guide me by either easing my fears or making me even more nervous.”

I get to the plastic surgeon’s office and discover it is located INSIDE the hospital. I walk into the reception room and there are two people seated in the waiting room, one scheduling another appointment and one waiting to pay. I waited less than 5 minutes to turn in my paperwork. The receptionist validated my parking ticket, I sat down, pulled out my book and was called back before I even put on my glasses. I went into the examining room, explained my situation to the nurse, she left and I changed into my paper dress, sat down, pulled out my book and the doctor knocked before I even put on my glasses. He spent a good 20 minutes with me, first listening, then explaining everything. He suggested a full abdominoplasty and showed me that my rectus muscles, were separated. He said he could tell they were strong (all that ab work is paying off), but that no amount of crunches would ever bring them back together. All in all, I left feeling very confident in him. On the way home, I prayed, thanking God for easing my concerns. When I finished praying, I didn’t turn on the radio. In the silence of the car, I consciously asked for and then listened for God’s response. A few minutes later, I glanced over at the car next to me and read the bumper sticker:

“Gene’s Law: If anything can go well, it will.”

Thanks God. I don’t know who Gene is, but I get the message.

Then yesterday afternoon, I had a flash of fear again. Strangely, the fear was about the hysterectomy, not the plastic surgery. The hysterectomy is the more invasive surgery.

“Have I not commanded you . . . ”

So I continue. My iron levels are still low and my GYN changed my iron supplement to something stronger. I’m supposed to take it for 1 to 2 weeks, bank a unit of blood, wait 2 weeks or so, bank a second unit of blood and schedule the surgery. Right now, looking at FirstHusband’s work schedule, mid to late April seems good.

“Have I not commanded you . . .”

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Reinhold Niebuhr

March 4, 2009 Posted by | god's will, prayer, strength, women | , | 2 Comments

builder unknown

“With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.”
1 Corinthians 15:58 the Message

This is a reminder that there is great value in the small.

“It’s okay that they don’t see. We don’t work for them. We work for Him. We sacrifice for Him. They will never see. Not if we do it right. Not if we do it well. Let’s pray that our work will stand as a monument to an even greater God.”
Nicole Johnson

May 8, 2008 Posted by | marriage, parenting, patience, strength | Leave a comment

manna from heaven. just enough. just in time.

And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.’” Then the children of Israel did so and gathered, some more, some less. So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one’s need. And Moses said, “Let no one leave any of it till morning.” Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. So they gathered it every morning, every man according to his need. And when the sun became hot, it melted.

Exodus 16:15-21

Let’s stick to the facts:

Fact: My mother is purchasing a house in Arkansas.
Fact: She has asked my father for a divorce.
Fact: She is moving to Arkansas.
Fact: Neither the divorce or the move to Arkansas are a secret.

As empty nesters, my parent’s lifestyles are largely incompatible and have been for some time. I can’t explain without compromising my parent’s privacy, so lets just say the divorce is probably a good thing in the long run. I understand the divorce. I can accept the divorce.

So what’s my problem?

I don’t understand the moving so far away. I’m working on it. From what I do understand, a few years ago, my mother reconnected with someone at a high school class reunion and has stayed in touch. He and his wife live in Arkansas. For over a year, my mom expressed her interest in moving to Arkansas and wanted my father to move with her. He didn’t want to move that far away from his family and friends and said no. He didn’t change his mind. Neither did she. So he is staying. She is leaving.

During my mother’s last trip to visit her friends, she bought a house. When she came home she told my father she wanted a divorce and that she was moving to Arkansas. She’s moving to a place that is two full days drive away. Two days there. Two days back. Considering we usually get about 7 days vacation at a time, that’s four days in the car for three days there. That’s not reasonable for us. The plane fare for four people isn’t something we can afford either. Over a year ago she asked me, “Would you come visit me if I moved to Arkansas?” I said, “Well, if you look at how often we’ve been able to visit Tom’s parents over the last 17 years, I would have to say, probably not, Mom. Arkansas is twice as far away.”

My in-laws live about 8 hours away, along with my husband’s grandmother, two of my husband’s sisters, their husbands and (total) four kids. We can leave Orlando in the evening after my husband gets off work, travel 4 hours to Valdosta, stay in a hotel overnight and arrive at my sister-in-law’s house around lunch time on our first official day of vacation! Then we get to visit 11 people for almost 6 days! And the cousins are the high point for the kids. The cousins and their dogs. LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of laughter! So, we do go to Georgia to visit, but never more than once a year. Some years we don’t make it at all. My husband’s family have never lived in the same city as us. He left home to come to Orlando for college. Finished college, married me and never went back home. So my kids have never experienced the loss of someone moving away before. They don’t know yet. They will not understand why she’s leaving. My 7 year old daughter is not going to understand why Mamaw is moving away. I can hear her now. She’s a smart kid. No matter what reason I give her for Mamaw moving away, she will say, “But Pappy’s staying here.”

And while I’m okay with the concept of my parents divorce, the process has proven to be stressful. I spent the morning yesterday with my dad, at an attorney’s office, reviewing his options and the settlement agreement my mother has drafted. A few phone calls with my dad and mother throughout the day. Late into the night, typing up the attorney’s notes for my mother.

The result? The most stressful day I’ve lived through in years. This is what my dad must be dealing with every day. I had no idea. He doesn’t like to “bother you girls with this stuff” as he said yesterday. I can’t imagine living through another day like yesterday. It was emotionally exhausting. I can’t imagine my dad living through every day like that until this whole thing is over. Every conversation is about the many, many, many details of splitting of debts and assets. It’s exhausting. I can’t do it. I could barely do one day. The divorce settlement needs to be signed already.

My mother is leaving. We can’t change it. We can only let her go. But the time between now and then is proving to be . . . stressful. And sad.

My pastor’s wife invited me to a women’s circle at church on Wednesday evening. I’m a member of another circle, but both kids were in Wednesday night programs, so I had the time. I arrived a few minutes late, after the devotion, but Sharon asked that the Bible used for the devotion be passed down the table to me. While the other ladies were discussing Breakfast with Santa and other circle news, their words became background noise as I read Exodus 16:15-21.

Thank you Sharon, for reminding me that God will provide just what I need, just when I need it. At the end of the day, when the manna is melted and I’m at the end of my ability to cope, I can go to bed with the assurance that the next day, He will provide again. Just what I need.

“If this is a blessing, it is certainly very well disguised.”
Winston Churchill

December 7, 2007 Posted by | comfort, patience, strength | 2 Comments