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Archive for May, 2011

A note from a friend of a friend that I found very interesting. I’d love to know your thoughts.


Hi folks,

I had an interesting conversation with Elizabeth XXXXXX  yesterday that I thought was worth expanding into a written reflection.

It seems to me that a lot of people’s faith in God rather closely tracks  the vagaries of their personal lives.  Something “good” happens to them,  and they react by praising and thanking God.  Something “bad” happens to  them, and they fall into doubt and confusion.  Their faith bounces up and down like the stock market.  What I’m wondering is, is this the way faith is supposed to be?

It’s easy to raise some objections.  The stock-market God apparently goes to great lengths to grant us parking places when we want them, while calmly allowing 300,000 people to die in an earthquake—though perhaps saving a few of them “miraculously”.  Apparently, the stock market God takes sides in sporting events, deserves the credit for my not being seriously injured in an accident but not the blame for the accident happening in the first place, and can ensure that it won’t rain on the day of the church picnic but can’t (or won’t) prevent a drought that causes thousands to starve to death.  Is this really a true picture of the God we worship?  Speaking for myself, I hope not.

On the other hand, what are the alternatives?  One alternative is one that, roughly speaking, I live by.  My faith in God doesn’t really
fluctuate along with fluctuations in my personal fortunes.  My faith remains high (though not at 100%) regardless of whether something “good” or “bad” happens in my personal life.  This approach has the advantage of avoiding the wild contradictions of the stock-market approach.  One side effect, though, is that I don’t spontaneously announce “Praise God!” when something “good” happens—say, when a medical test allows me to rule out a serious illness.  This isn’t because I’m ungrateful, or because the question of God’s role doesn’t occur to me.  The point is that I know that if the medical test had turned out the other way, I would have accepted it with the same equanimity.  To me, praising God for a negative test result carries an implicit assumption that a positive test result would *not* have been cause for praising God (or at least that praising God for a positive test result would require finding some silver lining in the cloud).  Since I don’t want to promote what I regard as a false view of God’s action, I refrain from exclamations that might be construed that way.

This attitude of mine strikes some people as wrong.  Surely my faith must be dry, lifeless, sterile, intellectual, stoical, and excessively
rational.  Surely I must be failing to engage my heart and my emotions.  Surely I lack a vibrant personal relationship with a personal God who cares intensely about my personal life.  Surely the believer who exults when “good” things happen and whose faith soars as a result, and who gets confused and struggles in anguish when “bad” things happen, enjoys a much more vibrant and meaningful spiritual life.  Surely?

I’m not completely sure how to respond, but one thing I do believe is that  I don’t think my emotions are any less engaged.  The word “emotion” seems to be associated with irrationality and with big up-and-down swings.  In my view, though, calmness, interest, and alertness are all emotions.  When “good” or “bad” things happen, all the knotty problems surrounding  the attribution of God’s action instinctively leap to the surface of my mind, because they are issues that I think about all the time.  One doesn’t constantly think about something that one is emotionally disengaged from.  Just because I have, through deep reflection and long training, arrived at a steady stock price that doesn’t destabilize with each piece of fresh news, doesn’t mean that my faith is “unemotional.”

Nevertheless, stock-market faith seems so pervasive that I have to wonder if we should regard it as “normal.”  That is, someone with a “normal” spiritual life is supposed to engage in soul-searching every time bad things happen, but ignore the deep theological puzzles behind the problem of evil when good things happen and just directly attribute pleasant events to God’s intervention.

Thanks,

Tim

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I am greatly looking forward to this:

Rod Wilson was born in Dublin, Ireland and immigrated as a child to Canada with his parents. He has served as President of Regent College since 2000. Originally trained as a clinical psychologist, Rod pursued theological training after the completion of his doctoral work. He has been involved in the field of counselling and consulting for over 30 years and held various positions at Tyndale College and Seminary in Toronto from 1978-1995: Professor, Dean of Students, Vice-President and Academic Dean. From 1983-1995 he held part-time staff positions in two different churches and from 1995-2000 he was the teaching pastor of a growing church in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada. In 2004, Rod received an honourary doctorate from Trinity Western University in recognition of his gifts of leadership and acuity of vision. He is the author of Counseling and Community and How Do I Help a Hurting Friend?—both award-winning books— and the co-author of Exploring Your Anger and Helping Angry People. He lives in Burnaby, BC with his wife, Bev.

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