Six Christmas specials

When I was a boy (walking in the snow, uphill, to school), television was a lot simpler. We could not buy copies of our favorite shows to watch at our convenience. We could not even record our shows to watch them later. The newspaper printed schedules of what was showing on which channel at what time; if there was something we wanted to see, we had to make sure to be at home in front of the television to catch that broadcast (interrupted every few minutes by a string of commercials).

Christmas specials were particularly important. Each one could be seen only once a year, at a certain time on a certain channel. We checked the schedule to find our favorites, and sometimes we changed our personal schedules so we would not have to miss an important show that year.

Some Christmas specials were variety shows—humorous skits and song-and-dance numbers, linked only by the presence of the host. I tried never to miss the Bob Hope Christmas specials where he entertained the troops. Others were also meaningful: some designed only for Christmas, but others appearing as a Christmas special in a regular variety show, such as Carol Burnett.

Other Christmas specials were short movies made for television. Some were cartoons and others were Claymation, but they were part of the holiday season. Again, they could be seen at one time on one station, and if you missed it that year, you had to wait an entire year for a chance to see it again. All of these were made in the 1960s and continued to be shown on television year after year until they became holiday classics.

My number-one top favorite Christmas special is A Charlie Brown Christmas. Of all the Peanuts holiday specials that were created, this and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown are the only two that rank as classics. A Charlie Brown Christmas not only features Linus quoting from Luke’s gospel to explain the real meaning of Christmas; it also addresses holiday depression and the emptiness that some people feel while everyone around them appears joyful and festive. Key to the story is a little Christmas tree. On the tree lot it has only three branches. Once Charlie Brown chooses the tree and makes it his, the size of the tree doubles to six branches. At the end of the special, when all the children care for the tree, it becomes a full tree. What seems at first to be a lack on continuity is instead a depiction of the need for love and of the results of being accepted and loved.

A second special that I love is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This special does not quote the Bible—it even creates its own nonsense Christmas songs to avoid any mention of Christ other than in the word Christmas. The Grinch lives on Mount Crumpet and hates Christmas for many reasons, chiefly because of the loud noise of Christmas celebrations. (I can relate.) He tries to keep Christmas from coming by stealing the decorations and presents and holiday food, but even with all those missing, Christmas comes all the same. Enlightened by that discovery, the Grinch returns the presents and decorations and food and celebrates Christmas with the Whos. Had I been the Grinch, I would have held back the loud musical instruments and other noise-making devices; with that compromise, I would gladly carve the roast beast.

Frosty the Snowman is also high on my list of favorites. A magic snow on Christmas Eve and a magician’s hat creates a talking walking snowman. The magician becomes a villain who wants his hat back, even at the cost of Frosty’s life. Accompanied by the adorable Karen, one of my first childhood TV sweethearts, Frosty sets off for the North Pole to be protected by Santa Claus. Frosty is one of several Christmas specials based on a song, but its message of faithfulness and of the victory of good over selfishness makes it a holiday favorite.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is also based on a song. This television special becomes a bit heavy-handed with its message of accepting oneself and also accepting others in spite of their differences. Even Santa joins the dark side, criticizing Rudolph’s nose until it suddenly becomes useful to him. The Abominable Snowman who threatens Rudolph and his friends scared me just as much when I was young as did the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

A nicer Santa Claus is shown in Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Here we see Santa grow up as a baby, raised by the toy-making Kringles, until as a young man he resolves to deliver toys to the children of a nearby town. One villain, the Winter Warlock, is easily defeated by the gift of a toy; the Burgomeister Meisterburger is a far greater threat to Santa and his career. Along the way, Santa meets Jessica, a schoolteacher who is to become Mrs. Santa Claus. More than the other Christmas specials, this cartoon reflects the psychedelic cartoons of the 1960s, along with the spirit that love and generosity will always overcome greed and the abuse of power.

The Little Drummer Boy builds its plot around the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and the travels of the wise men to bring him gifts. The narration attempts to imitate the sound of Shakespearean English to make it seem that the Drummer Boy’s story is found in the King James translation of the Bible along with the shepherds and the wise men. The title character comes from a background of extreme bleakness and cruelty, which has made him bitter, but his encounter with Baby Jesus makes everything better. Although I watched this special most years, it never meant as much to me as Charlie Brown or the Grinch or Frosty.

These, then, are the Christmas specials I remember. These are those I bought to show to my family. These are the Christmas shows I can now watch, without commercials, any day at any time. The world is different today, but many of the Christmas messages of the 1960s remain meaningful because they are timeless. J.

God in a box

When your family celebrates your birthday with you, do they get out the old pictures and look at you as a newborn baby, lying in a crib in the hospital with a knit cap on your head to keep you warm? Do you look at the same picture year after year? I thought not.

On Washington’s birthday, do we talk about the baby born in the colonial mansion? On Lincoln’s birthday, do we talk about the baby born in the log cabin in Kentucky? On King’s birthday do we talk about the baby born in Atlanta? Generally, when we celebrate the birth of a hero, we remember the entire life and career of that hero, not merely the circumstances of his or her birth.

What is it, then, about the manger scene that makes it central to every year’s Christmas celebrations? We see it on Christmas cards and in three-dimensional displays, we see it portrayed by children, we sing about it, and every single Christmas we hear again about Mary and Joseph and the manger because there was no room in the inn. Every year we hear about angels and shepherds and Bethlehem. Every year we bring out the baby pictures and remember Jesus at the time when he was born.

The prophets spoke of a King born in Bethlehem and of a virgin giving birth to Immanuel, but the prophets never mentioned the manger. The apostles wrote about Jesus, but they did not comment on the manger. Only Luke gives us the details of a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger—Matthew and Mark and John did not consider the manger worth mentioning.

The cynical part of my mind thinks that the manger is celebrated because it is our chance to put God in a box. No one feels threatened by a newborn baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. The power of God and his judgment upon sin are conveniently missing from our Christmas pictures. On Good Friday and on Easter we see the cost of sin and the power of God. We are confronted by grace and mercy in a way that encourages us to confess our sins and to trust ourselves in the hands of our Savior. On Christmas, we can leave God in the manger, and we can credit ourselves with bringing gifts to him as the wise men did. We invite our Lord to “sleep in heavenly peace” while we go on celebrating his birth in a way that suits our sense of autonomy and control.

Yet that baby lying in the manger was still running the universe at the same time. That baby lying in the manger was invading a sinful world to confront and destroy evil and at the same time to rescue the victims of evil. That baby lying in a manger, relying on his mother for food and shelter and diaper changes, was almighty and all-knowing, present everywhere in the universe even while confined to a small human shape.

If Christmas is merely Jesus’ birthday, that is still no reason to skip over the rest of the life and career of Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem long ago. He did not remain the Christ Child lying in a manger; his birth into this world means more than any other birth in human history. The point of Christmas is more than a birthday—it is the Feast of the Incarnation of our Lord. It is a reminder that the all-powerful eternal God became one of us, as human as we are, to battle our enemies and to defeat them, not with power but with sacrifice, because God is love.

Jesus called himself the Bread of Life. To underline the promise of that title, he was born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.” His first bed was a manger, the very place where sheep come to be fed. The manger is meaningful, not as a box to contain God, but as a humble place in this world where God promises to be found. The manger becomes a symbol of the other humble places where God is found—in his Word, the Holy Bible, and in the gathering of his people, the Holy Christian Church.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the people of God will gather to hear and to sing about the baby wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger. Beyond that manger lies a cross where the Shepherd will rescue his sheep, giving them peace and eternal life by his sacrifice. May your coming Christmas celebrations bring you, not only to the manger, but to the Shepherd and the King. J.

 

Broken people among us

They drive the same roads, walk the same sidewalks, and shop the same stores as the rest of us. Some of them work with us. Many of them communicate with us on the internet. Yet they are not like the rest of us: they are missing something that most of us take for granted.

I am not describing all people who struggle daily with anxiety and depression, for anxiety and depression have many different causes in different people, and they bring about a variety of reactions. Many of the people I am describing would not consider themselves depressed and anxious, and they have not been diagnosed as such. Yet they live their lives without hope, without meaning, without compassion or concern for others, and without healthy relationships with other people.

During the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States experimented with various forms of mind control, hoping to use the results of their experiments to defeat the communist forces aligned against the United States. These experiments included powerful drugs, food and sleep deprivation, and various forms of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. Some of these horrific experiments were based on Nazi practices from their concentration camps during World War II. The secret program, code-named MKULTRA, came to light during Congressional investigations of the executive branch of American government in the mid-1970s. CIA leaders promised to discontinue the program immediately.

Some people believe that the program has not been discontinued. They state that the CIA, in conjunction with Illuminati or the Masonic lodge or some other nefarious group, has enslaved a large number of American citizens by these same procedures, using them to accomplish secret goals, which are known only to the central group. Of course any massive conspiracy is going to be clumsy, ineffective, and vulnerable to the human self-interest and incompetence of its members. Strange to say, though, the victims of mind control experiments appear to be real, even if no conspiracy is guiding their training.

Mind control was intended to remove the moral and compassionate restraints that most people possess so they would be willing to do the bidding of their masters. Various forms of abuse were used to achieve this effect. I cannot say whether child abuse of various kinds has increased in the last seventy years or if society is more aware of child abuse than before; the latter may be the case, but I see the former as more likely. Society has changed greatly in seventy years. Gone are the extended families living close to one another, in which grandparents and uncles and aunts could assist in watching and caring for children. Gone are the small towns and the city neighborhoods in which everyone knew everyone else and people watched out for each other. Rapid communication and rapid transportation have created a world in which workers and their families are moved from place to place and in which families choose to relocate regularly for other reasons. Single-parent families and two-income families require paid strangers to care for their children. Children are more vulnerable to various kinds of danger these days, not all of which would be considered abuse, but all of which can disable their moral and compassionate restraints.

In addition, modern families bring into their homes the very kind of sexual and violent materials that were used years ago to desensitize mind-control subjects. Now these things are considered entertainment. Through television, the internet, and video games, children are exposed to sexual behaviors—often inappropriate behaviors—and violence in far larger and more persistent doses than ever before. This is not the result of a conspiracy trying to control people. The entertainment industry only wants to make money. It distributes the products it creates because they sell. Yet the net result of this influence is a larger number of people who are without hope, without a sense of meaning for their lives, without compassion for others, and without healthy relationships with other people.

Not every victim of child abuse remains scarred and miserable for life. Many do find hope and purpose, they do have compassion for others, and they do develop healthy relationships with others. Not every child who plays violent video games or watches violent movies becomes a violent person. Many of them can distinguish between reality and entertainment, and they also have meaningful and hopeful lives and healthy relationships with other people. Not all the broken people around us are victims of abuse or have been swayed by inappropriate entertainment. Some of them are broken for different reasons. Yet it seems that society as a whole has been following the pattern of mind-control techniques, and yet no mastermind is controlling the process. The train is roaring down the tracks, but no one is minding the engine.

Christian truths are the best help for people broken by abuse, by neglect, and by a world that seems out of control. Christian truths teach compassion and help to create healthy relationships. Christian truths offer hope and a meaning for life. Christian truths offer forgiveness to those who have done wrong, and they offer victory to those who have been victims of evil. The victory of Christ’s sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection overpower evil in all its forms and restore human life to dignity and hope.

Yet the broken people, without hope and without compassion, are largely turned against religion in general and Christianity in particular. They reject God and all his teachings. They sneer at commandments to love one another, or they redefine love to remove the meaning of those commandments. They have no desire to repent and be forgiven. They call religion a set of fairy tales, a crutch for weak people, and the source of violence and abuse in the world. It seems as if these broken people have been programmed to turn against the one power in the world that could fix their lives and make them complete human beings.

Is there no hope for the broken people in the world? The Word of God is still powerful and active. Such people can find hope and meaning in the good news of Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, Christians can model hopeful and compassionate lives. They can care for their own children and prevent them from being desensitized to morality and compassion. And Christians can pray for the broken people, asking God to reach into their lives and fix what is broken. Where there is Christ, there is hope. And Christ has already defeated evil at its source. J.

 

Assorted thoughts about Christmas

I have always enjoyed this time of year. The build-up to Christmas and the celebration of Christmas are both meaningful and fun. Being the curmudgeon that I am, though, I can still find reasons to complain even about the Christmas holidays.

When my favorite radio station started playing wall-to-wall Christmas music on the first of November, I was not ready for Christmas music. I switched stations, and even now, with barely a week left before Christmas, I have not bothered to switch back.

For me, Christmas is a celebration with the Church and with my family. In those two places we can be very specific about what we are celebrating. We still have plenty of secular items—the Christmas tree, stockings with gifts, and so on—but we are able to center our celebration on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. When I am at work, observing Christmas is more awkward. On the one hand, I’m glad that they give us paid time off to celebrate the Christmas holiday. On the other hand, when we are in the building, I would just as soon focus on my job. Holiday decorations and parties and sing-alongs do not appeal to me at work, in part because these events have to reach the lowest common denominator so that no one is offended. I don’t object to people decorating their own work space with reminders of Christmas, but if I were to set up a nativity scene, other people might object. So I don’t decorate at all. If I can slip out and miss a party or a sing-along, that’s fine with me. I will do enough celebrating at church and with my family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and through the twelve days of Christmas.

Part of my family celebration involves a new decoration appearing each day through the season of Advent. We have so many items to deck the halls and living room and dining room and outdoors that I can bring one decoration out of storage each day. Some decorations are big projects—the lights on the house, for example, or the tree. Others are just a small touch—a stained glass decoration hanging in a window, or Christmas towels in the bathrooms. When they were younger, the children tried to predict which decoration would appear each day. Sometimes they searched the house looking for that day’s decoration. My oldest even checked in from college, trying to keep up with the daily decorations.

I have stopped sending out Christmas cards. I have neither the time nor the money to spend on that custom. I still get fifteen or twenty Christmas cards a year. Like my parents and my grandparents before me, I like to tape the cards to ribbons and hang those ribbons on the wall of the living room. About twelve years ago, I set aside that year’s cards, meaning to check them later for notes, and they sat around all year. When December came again, I decided to post them with the new cards from that year. Each year the collection grew a little larger. Now I have nearly two hundred Christmas cards on the living room wall and down the hall. I toss duplicate cards or any that I don’t think are attractive. Even when the other Christmas decorations have been put back into storage, the cards will stay up until the start of February.

Like decorations, songs and movies and special food are all part of the Christmas experience. Many of them have no direct connection to the Incarnation of our Lord, but they have all become part of the scenery for this time of year. I understand why many people struggle with depression during this holiday season. I can be prone to depression at times like this as well. By taking it easy, by not having high expectations, and especially by keeping the focus where it belongs and not on what I’m doing, I am generally successful at escaping negative feelings about Christmas. May all those who struggle find ways to do the same. J.

 

The Salvageable way to trim a Christmas tree


I was recently told that I am the only person who treats putting lights on a Christmas tree as an art form. I know that isn’t true: my father taught me his method for lighting a tree, and he is still alive and decorating Christmas trees. However, since I got to put lights on the family tree not once but twice this past weekend, it seems to be the right time to share the method I use to create a beautifully-lit tree.

My father taught me two rules. First, every bulb must be on a branch. There are to be no bulbs dangling in midair, and no strings merely lying along the surface of the tree. Second, some bulbs should be within the tree. They should not all be on the outward branches, creating a hollow cone of light, but they should help to reveal the inner depth of the tree.

Last Saturday I set up the family tree with lights and tinsel, but I decided to delay the ornaments until Sunday, when more members of the family would be available for decorating. It’s fortunate I made that decision, because by Sunday morning it was evident that the old light strings were overheating, shutting themselves off before starting a fire, but still unsafe. After church and lunch I ran out to the store and invested in modern LED lights for the tree. Then I stripped off the tinsel and the old lights and began to place the new lights on the tree.

Here is a step-by-step process of the Salvageable way to trim a tree. Once the tree is in place and stable, bring out the lights. If you are using lights bought in previous years, test the strings one by one, setting aside those that do not light at all. Disregard burnt-out bulbs; these can be replaced during a later step. Once all the strings have been tested and are working, assemble them in a single line and start putting them on the tree.

Most tree decorators start at the top of the tree and work toward the bottom, either clockwise or counterclockwise. With a long single string, that method is impractical. Therefore, I start at the top of the tree in the back and install one row clockwise and the next counterclockwise, reversing direction each time I reach the back of the tree. This allows me to have the entire row of strings together at once without having to go through the effort of circling round and round the tree, pulling the strings of bulbs behind me. Each bulb is carefully placed on its own branch. (This is the time to replace burnt-out bulbs.) Most of them are pushed several inches down the branch so there is room for ornaments. Especially with the middle and lower branches, I work along the branch toward the trunk of the tree and back out, not necessarily on every branch, but on enough branches to have lights scattered through the interior of the tree.

For the home tree, I prefer colored lights—red, yellow, green, and blue. A single-color tree may look better at church (white lights in particular) or other places, but I like the combination of colors at home. Tinsel is optional, and I prefer the strings of tinsel rather than single strands to be placed on the tree one by one. Silver is an ideal color for reflecting the lights of the tree. Unlike the lights, the tinsel can be laid on top of the branches, being careful to fill some of the holes left when lights were placed on the tree. Again, space must be left for ornaments.

The ornaments are to be scattered evenly around the surface of the tree, with heavier ornaments placed on branches within the tree, nearer the trunk. Once again, the goal is to show the richness of the tree rather than creating a hollow cone of decorations. Ornaments of sentimental value should be placed where they are easily seen; others can be used to fill in the back and the lower branches. When children are helping to decorate the tree, this is the time to share stories that the older ornaments bring to mind. It is important that fragile ornaments not touch each other, especially if the household includes cats that like to climb Christmas trees.

Our younger cat still likes to climb the Christmas tree. Between the lights and the tinsel Sunday afternoon she got into the tree and posed, lying along several of the branches about halfway up the tree. Since the decorating has been finished, she has gotten into the tree twice. It is startling to see the decorated tree sway and shake, but the tree itself is stable, and the ornaments so far have not fallen off the tree. Our older cat does not climb the tree; he is content to sleep underneath on the tree skirt, and he can be found there most of the day.

Taking a few steps to help the Christmas tree reach its potential in form and beauty is worth the effort. A tree should be decorated in a calm and relaxed way. The Christmas tree is supposed to be fun, not a source of stress. I recommend that the tree trimmer allow enough time to decorate without being rushed, remain hydrated, and be prepared to share anecdotes and memories while crafting the holiday decoration. J.

 

Starlight Blogger Award

The always amazing and adorable Authentically Aurora was kind enough to nominate me for the Starlight Blogger Award. This award is created to “celebrate the creative bloggers who have truly inspired others through their beautiful and original content, imagery, art, abilities, and wonderful personalities.” As I told her at the time, I am honored and humbled, and I’m sorry that it has taken me this long to acknowledge her acknowledgement and pass it on.

There are three rules attached to this award. The recipient (if he, she, or they choose to accept) should thank the nominator, answer three questions from the nominator, and then nominate six more blogs for the award. So, first things first—thank you very much, AA. I enjoy following your adventures and look forward to many tidings of great joy for you in this season and in the coming new year.

Second, I would like to nominate following blogs for the Starlight Blogger Award. They are listed in alphabetical order:

Elihu’s Corner

Kaleidescope49   (I’m glad you’re back from your long vacation.)

INFJ Ramblings by Pearlgirl

Playfully Tacky

See, there’s this thing called biology… by InsanityBytes.

Wally Fry  ‘s Truth in Palmyra.

If you choose to accept this award—and you are under no obligation to do so—I would be curious to know your answers to the following questions.

  1. What is your favorite part of the holiday season? (Yes, I stole that from Authentically Aurora.)
  2. Of all the posts you have written, which one do you consider the best? (You may define “best” any way you wish: most meaningful, most humorous, most popular, etc.)
  3. What is one book you hope to read (or reread) in the next month or two, and why?

And now I must answer Aurora’s questions.

What is your favorite holiday tradition, and why? Many holiday traditions are special to me, but the one tradition that has meant the most to me in recent years is visiting the Lord’s house on Christmas Day. After all the effort to produce and enjoy a great Christmas Eve service or two, the Christmas Day service seems calmer, more peaceful, and therefore more significant. A lot of churches have no Christmas Day service—some even cancel the regular services when Christmas Day lands on a Sunday. I don’t understand. Where better to celebrate the birth of our Lord than in his own house. I’m blessed with a preacher who not only keeps Christ in Christmas but who also keeps the Mass in Christmas. I visit the house of Jesus, and he is the Host who serves me and blesses me. That is so like him!

What is the most difficult topic you write about, and why? Of my half-dozen categories, none is harder than the “therapy” category. As I address my struggles with anxiety and depression—things I have spent a lifetime trying to ignore—I don’t always feel that I am finding the right words to express what I have experienced. For this reason, several posts I have written in that category still have not been posted.

What is the reason you write? It might be that I like to read, but a bigger reason is that I have bad penmanship. I was getting Fs in penmanship in the third grade. To improve my grade, my parents had me sit at the table and write for a certain number of minutes each day. At first they had me copying paragraphs from my favorite books, but after I while I asked if I could write my own ideas instead of copying. They agreed, and I have been writing ever since.

Thank you again for the kind nomination, AA! J.

A pain where the sun does not shine

The pain is real, not a metaphor. The location is, of course, euphemism.

Americans (from both continents, not just from the fifty states) and Europeans do a lot of sitting. The posture of right angles at the waist and at the knees is very common in Western Civilization. Westerners sit in cars and trains and buses and airplanes. We sit at work and at home. Africans and Asians are more likely to stand on buses and trains and to be on their feet more of the day. When they rest, they sit on the ground or on mats or cushions on the ground or floor. The posture of two right angles at the lower half of the body is not common in many nonwestern cultures.

In a related item, lower back pain is far more common in American and European countries than in Asian and African countries. In other words, if westerners had fewer chairs (and couches, sofas, benches, etc.), they probably would have fewer complaints of lower back pain. I know that if there was one fewer chair in my house, there would be one fewer person in pain today.

Last Friday night I was getting ready for bed. I turned off the overhead light and began to cross the dark bedroom. A certain chair, which will remain nameless, was not exactly where I expected it to be. My feet got tangled in the bottom of the chair, and I lost my balance and toppled backwards. My full weight met the floor at the location of my coccyx, or tailbone. It hurt when it happened, and I knew that it would continue to hurt for a while. With nothing better to do, I got up and went to bed.

Saturday I was in some pain, but I was able to get through the day. I even climbed a ladder to the roof to hang lights. Sunday I made it to church and through the rest of the day with some pain, but again I had no restrictions.

Monday at work was a different story. I must have done more sitting, and I must have used chairs less friendly to the human body—at least to the damaged human body. By Tuesday morning, while driving to work, I noticed that my right leg was becoming increasingly sore because of the adjustments I was making to try to handle the pain of the original injury. Therefore, I did some internet research and discovered that what I really need is a donut-shaped pillow. There were many on-line ads for such pillows, but when I visited a large department store there selection was much smaller. In fact, the store had only one kind of donut-shaped pillow, and it is inflatable, an option I had not wanted to consider. Needing some kind of relief, I bought what the store had, brought it home, and struggled for about half an hour to inflate the pillow.

“But, J, have you been to the doctor?”

No, because there is not much a doctor can do for me. A doctor could order an X-ray to find out if my coccyx is bruised or fractured, but a bruise or fracture would be treated in the same way. No matter what expressions you have heard or used, no sling exists for that part of the human anatomy. About the only help a doctor might offer is prescription pain-killers, and I prefer to get by on my generic ibuprofen, thank you very much.

After buying the inflatable pillow, though, I began to look for ways to duplicate its helpfulness. Before the end of the day, I learned that I could make a useable pillow out of a large towel or a small blanket. On Wednesday I brought a towel to work—a Strawberry Shortcake beach towel that no one has used for a few years. It felt odd to be carrying a towel to work when it was not Towel Day, but the relief was worth any slight embarrassment. The towel needs to be adjusted every so often, but that means that I am standing from time to time, taking weight off my injury.

I am using towels at home and at work and the inflatable pillow in my car. Sitting on that pillow behind the steering wheel, I feel as if I am driving a borrowed car. The angle is a little different for the brake pedal, the accelerator pedal, and all the mirrors. I also feel a bit out of balance, especially when driving on curves. So far I have not lost control of the car, but at times I have had to slow down and concentrate to keep myself safe.

Aside from sitting, the most painful experience with this injury is rising from sitting to standing. Getting out of the car has become a complicated exercise in contortionism. One never notices the intricate motions involved in standing up until one has reminders like a painful coccyx to indicate all the parts of the body that one must move in that simple change of posture.

Yesterday I took off from work two hours early to get some leaves raked from the lawn. I had done the front lawn on Saturday, but the back lawn was still carpeted with leaves. I started at the property line with Mrs. Dim’s yard and moved the leaves to the far side of the property, where I have created a giant leaf pile. Eventually, I hope to get those leaves to the curb for the park district, but the city has not yet picked up the first pile of leaves, and I have only so much curb space to fill with leaves.

I presume that Mrs. Dim does not approve of my leaf pile, but that does not concern me. If she does complain, I will simply tell her that I am doing the best that I can in my injured condition. I might even show her the bruise. J.

 

More theodicy, and theocracy

While I wrote about theodicy last weekend, the original conversation was being carried forward here. This gives me more to say in response, but this time I will write in a direct essay form rather than attempting a Socratic dialogue.

The question is asked: If you had the power to prevent a terrible crime from happening, would you act to prevent that crime, or would you stand by and watch and do nothing to stop it? Of course my answer is that I would do anything to stop a crime from happening. I would assume that God had brought me to that place for that reason, and after stopping the crime, I would thank him for giving me the strength and the courage to rescue a possible victim. Moreover, I would notify the police of the attempted crime, and I would be prepared to testify about the event in court if I was asked to testify.

God is almighty, so he could stop any crime from happening. He has the power. Does this mean that I am more ethical and moral than God, since I would prevent a crime if I had the power to do so? By no means! God is working with more wisdom and more information than is available to me. His failure to prevent certain terrible crimes is not an indication of his weakness or his badness; his failure to prevent those crimes is part of a larger plan which leads to good, not to evil.

I already made the point in my previous post that God does prevent some wickedness and evil. He says, “This far you will go, and no farther.” We have no available statistics about how many tragic and terrible things God has limited. He is under no obligation to file any reports. When he chooses, God prevents evil; when he chooses, God limits evil; and when he chooses, God permits evil. In each case, God is in control. No one is overpowering him or deceiving him—that cannot be done. If God chooses to permit evil to happen, he has a reason; again, he has no obligation to tell us his reasons. In the latter part of this post, though, I will offer five reasons that I believe are among God’s reasons for permitting evil to happen.

Before I share those reasons, though, I want to address an important side issue regarding evil and vengeance. InsanityBytes pictured herself as a superhero, sweeping into the potential crime scene and destroying the criminal for the protection of others. She also noted that more bad than good could come from her playing the part of a superhero. God has chosen better options than instant wrath and destruction upon each sinner.

In his creation, God chooses to work through agents. He divided the waters of the Red Sea with a wind from the east. He sent his Son to be born of a virgin and receive his human nature through Mary. Jesus fed the crowds of thousands with a small amount of bread and fish which he then multiplied. In the same way, when God intends to bring justice and vengeance into creation, he works through government employees—police officers, judges, and all the other workers of the justice system. Paul wrote to the Romans that the government bears God’s sword of vengeance (Romans 13:1-7). On occasion a private citizen acts to prevent a crime, because the police cannot be everywhere at once. Vigilante justice should be the exception and not the rule, though, because one of the purposes of government is protect those who are good and punish those who are evil.

In the book of Deuteronomy, God (through the preaching of Moses) described the government he intended for Old Testament Israel. The Levites were to teach the people the Word of God, and all the priests had to come from the Levites. Each tribe was also to have judges to determine legal cases among the people. The Israelites were told to respect the priests and judges and to follow their decisions, not turning right or left, not adding or subtracting anything from what the priests and judges said. God also anticipated that they would one day have a king, and he gave them rules about that king—that he must be an Israelite, that he must not gather great wealth or many wives, and that he must keep the book of Deuteronomy close at hand to guide him in his decisions. God then spoke about prophets who would proclaim the Word of God and bring messages from him. The people were to respect the true prophets, but they were to reject any false prophets, any who spoke for false gods or who spoke falsehood in the Name of the Lord.

In a very important sense, these various jobs all were fulfilled in Jesus. He is the final Judge, the ultimate Priest, the King of kings, and the Prophet who always spoke God’s Word because he is God. Only Jesus could take all these jobs on himself; in fact, kings of Israel and Judah were punished by God for trying to do the job of priests.

Old Testament Israel was to be a theocracy, a nation ruled by God. All the authorities of the nation were to be under God and led by his Word. The people were to respect judges and priests as representatives of God. All these jobs, though, were fulfilled in Jesus, and the apostles did not call for a theocracy in the New Testament. Instead, they urged respect and obedience to worldly rulers accompanied by faithfulness to God in all things. Jesus himself said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”

The great theologian Augustine wrote about this dual citizenship. He also urged obedience and respect for worldly leaders, but he reminded Christians that our greater citizenship is in the Kingdom of heaven. When we become so involved in earthly politics that we forget the Kingdom of God, our priorities are askew. Our concern for our native land on earth is commendable, but it should never overshadow our concern for God’s reign both now and forever.

Protestant reformers took different positions on dual citizenship. Calvin sought to create a government on earth that was controlled by faithful Christians. Those who follow Calvin’s way still seek to evaluate candidates for public office as much by their statements of faith as by their actual abilities to lead. Luther said he would prefer to live in a land governed by a competent Muslim rather than in a land governed by an incompetent Christian. Luther did not go so far as to speak of a separation of church and state—that language belongs more to John Locke and Thomas Jefferson—but he did speak of the two authorities God uses in this world. One authority is secular rulers. They protect good citizens and punish people who are bad, whether they are criminal citizens or enemies from outside the country. Therefore, as Jesus and Paul both said, secular rulers merit the respect and obedience of Christians even if those rulers are not Christians. Only when their laws conflict with God’s law should Christians oppose the government, and even then the opposition should be to the bad laws and not to the government as a whole. The second authority is the Church, in which God takes away sins, rescues from evil, and promises eternal life to all who trust in him.

The point of these last five paragraphs is that God does work through secular government to protect those people who do what is right and to punish those people who do what is wrong. This is why I wrote at the beginning of this post that, in preventing a crime, I would make use of the local system of justice rather than relying on my own power and ability. I have no desire to be a superhero striking down the wrongdoers; that job is taken by ordinary people, people who have received special training, and those people deserve my support as they do their jobs. Meanwhile, God works through the Church to bring comfort to victims of evil and to bring forgiveness to sinners. This is the greater and more important work, because it has eternal benefits. As a police officer once told a pastors’ meeting in one neighborhood of a large city, “My job is to arrest criminals; I don’t expect you to do that. Your job is to preach the gospel; don’t expect me to do that.” Again, both the police officer and the preacher are doing God’s work, one by enforcing the law and the other by sharing Christ’s forgiveness.

As we well know, police officers and judges and other government officials sometimes make mistakes. Preachers and church leaders sometimes make mistakes. God has given his authority to sinners, working through less-than-perfect people to accomplish his plan in the world. Because God entrusts such authority to sinners, bad things sometimes happen, both in secular government and in the Church. Crimes happen because not every criminal can be stopped. Sometimes criminals escape punishment entirely. Likewise, the Church sometimes fails to comfort the victims of evil and to share with them the hope that we have in Jesus Christ, a hope that far transcends all the problems of this sinful world.

And now I am out of the forest and into the home stretch of this theodicy. Why does God entrust such authority to sinners, knowing they sometimes will fail? Why does God permit terrible crimes and other great wickedness in his creation? I cannot go through the newspaper and tell you God’s reason for each tragic event described there, but I can share some general principles, found in the Bible, that help believers to understand why an almighty, loving, and holy God allows evil things to happen.

First, as I indicated in my previous post on theodicy, God does limit evil. We do not know how often and how powerfully we have been protected from evil and from suffering, but it does happen. God is still in control of the world, and all the evil powers that afflict creation cannot do even one thing that God has not permitted.

Second, God permits some evil things to happen so people see the difference between good and evil. If God stepped into the world and stopped bullets in midair or froze would-be criminals in their tracks, he would prevent some suffering, but he would not make people better. When people see the consequences of evil in tragedy and suffering, they can be moved to reject evil and to prefer the good. When people suffer, they can turn to the God who has defeated evil and who wants to include those suffering people on his winning team rather than abandon them to the enemy.

Third, God permits some evil and suffering to strengthen his people. As the body grows stronger with physical challenges and exercise, so Christian faith grows stronger with spiritual challenges and exercise. Not all problems are intended for the good of the sufferer, but in many cases it is so. Likewise, without bad things happening in the world, there would be no opportunity for people to do good things. When we witness suffering, the godly response is not to seek someone to blame. The godly response is to help the victim. Many times great holy acts are done by God’s people in response to evil. If the evil had been prohibited, the great holy acts could never have happened.

Fourth, God does not idly watch creation while terrible things happen. God entered creation to oppose evil and to rescue the victims of evil. The almighty God chose to be limited as all human beings are limited so he could claim all of us for his Kingdom. He experienced hunger, thirst, loneliness, and the abandonment of family and friends. He suffered under unjust governments of Caiaphas and the High Council and then under Pontius Pilate. He was mocked, beaten, tortured, and finally killed. The suffering and death of Jesus were a terrible crime—theocide, I believe it is called—but God allowed this tragedy to happen to himself so he could defeat all evil and rescue all the victims of evil.

Bad things still happen in the world with God’s permission because God is waiting for more people to learn about his victory, turn from evil, and be his people forever. Jesus, before he went to the cross, healed some blind people and deaf people and paralytics and lepers. He raised to life three people who were dead. At that time, though, Jesus did not heal all the sick or raise all the dead. When he is seen coming in glory, Jesus will raise all the dead. Every eye will see him, and every ear will hear his voice.

On that Day, all those who are found guilty of evil will be punished for their sins, but all who belong to Jesus will be welcomed into his new creation. The new creation is like a wedding reception, except that it will never end. The punishment for sin is like being locked out of the party, spending eternity in the dark parking lot. Yet the people who remain in the parking lot do not want to be at the party. To join the party, they would have to join Jesus and his Kingdom. They don’t want to do this.Therefore, God is just; they are punished for all their sins, but chiefly for resisting the rescue mission of Jesus and remaining stubbornly outside of his kingdom.

Few topics challenge believers and unbelievers as like as much as this problem of suffering and tragedy. Because God does not give us detailed reports on his working, we cannot know many times why a certain terrible thing has been permitted to happen. God directs our gaze beyond all other tragedies to the tragedy of the cross, where horrible injustice, pain, and abandonment were experienced by God and defeated. There is our hope; there is our victory.

J.

 

The worst part of the holidays

Someone recently asked me about my favorite part of the holidays. I am not going to answer that question in this post. No, curmudgeon that I am, I must first talk about my least favorite holiday activity, the part of the season I dread the most, the activity that I would rather not do, but which I did yesterday.

The worst part of the season is decorating the front of the house with holiday lights. I have trouble with heights, but it is impossible to avoid heights when decorating the house for the holidays.

I once lived in a house where I could climb out a second story window onto the porch roof and attach decorations above the porch. That decorating was not so bad. Then I lived in a house where the eaves were well in reach, just a step or two up a stepladder. That decorating also was not so bad. In my current house, the only way to get to the eaves is to go up a tall ladder, high into the air. I can move the ladder along the house and go up and down the ladder fifteen times, or I can climb the ladder to the roof of the house and work along the edge of the roof. I have tried both methods, and I prefer the second way.

First I got the five strings of lights out of the box and untangled them. When they were untangled, I plugged them all in to test them. All of the lights were working. I carefully coiled the strings, hoping they would not tangle while I climbed the ladder. I looped them and the extension cord around my arm, took a deep breath, and began to climb.

One of the three bad things about decorating the house is climbing the ladder. It is a long aluminum extension ladder that is safe up to three hundred pounds, and I weigh well under three hundred pounds. Even so, about half-way to the top, I feel as if the ladder is unstable. I feel this for two reasons: when my weight is in the middle of the ladder, the ladder flexes a bit—my weight has more support near the top and the bottom of the ladder—and also my legs are shaking, making the ladder shake. All the same, I climbed all eighteen rungs (Of course I counted them!) and crawled onto the roof.

The second of the three bad things about decorating the house is being on the roof. Have I mentioned that I have trouble with heights? When I was a small boy I tried to climb trees, because boys are supposed to climb trees. My mother and father were working in the garden, and I screwed up my courage and began to ascend a tree. Before long I reached the point where I was too scared to move either up or down. I would call to my parents for help, and my mother or my father would walk over to the tree, reach up, take hold of me, and bring me back to the ground. They did all this with their own feet flat on the ground. This happened several times. In elementary school, I could not climb the rope to the top of the gym, not because my arms were too weak, but because I was too frightened to get far from the floor.

Once I was on the roof, I untangled the strings of lights again. Then I went to the corner of the house nearest the ladder, pulled a handful of leaves out of the gutter, and clipped one end of the first string of lights to the gutter. As the morning went on, I crab-walked my way along the edge of the roof—remember that I have trouble with heights—cleaning out leaves and clipping lights. Sometimes I had to fuss a bit with the plastic clips to make them hold the lights and then make them stay clipped to the gutter. I worked my way along…the first string…the second string…the extension cord…the third string (I was now past half-way)…the fourth string…the fifth string. All along the way, of course, I was pulling handfuls of leaves and dirt out of the gutter and letting them drop to the ground. Finally the last clip was in place, and I only had to go down and put the ladder away.

The third of the three bad things about decorating the house is going down the ladder.

Before I went down the ladder, I sat for a few minutes on the roof, not near the edge, and looked out over the neighborhood. Also I listened to the chorus of leaf blowers being operated in the neighborhood. Not only do I have trouble with heights; I also have trouble with loud noises, and leaf blowers are a particular bane to me. I can fall into an anxiety attack from the sound of a leaf blower when I am inside the house with all the windows closed. Mrs. Dim chose that fine Saturday to groom her yard. Her goal was met when not a single blade of grass was in contact with a single leaf from a tree. This meant that from time to time she had to backtrack and claim the leaves that had fallen since she started blowing leaves. The entire hour I spent decorating the house, she was blowing leaves, then stopping to bag leaves, then blowing more leaves, then stopping again to bag leaves. From my vantage point on top of the roof I could hear two or three other leaf blowers operating in the neighborhood.

Finally I found the courage to approach the ladder. Getting on the ladder from the roof is not easy. I had to swing my leg over the edge of the roof and feel for a ladder rung I could not see. That was hard to do with my right leg. Once my right foot was planted on a rung, I had to get my left leg off the roof. That was even harder. Finally I was standing on the ladder facing the house. Rung by rung I made my way down—only seventeen rungs going down (of course I counted them!) and the worst rungs were numbers eight, nine, and ten, when once again I was in the middle of the ladder, feeling it flex and shake.

I made it safely to the ground, put the ladder away, and went inside to wash my hands. As I stood at the sink my legs were still trembling. Almost literally, my knees knocked together. After my hands were clean, I prepared lunch and ate it. Then I went to the grocery store to get two ingredients for supper. I came home and put them away. Mrs. Dim was still working in her lawn. I got out my rake and raked the front lawn, putting all the leaves from the lawn in a big pile by the curb so the city can take them away and use them as mulch in the city parks. (I recently read that bagged leaves and lawn refuse make up thirteen percent of the garbage in our landfills. Thirteen percent!) When the front yard was tidy, I got out a box of plastic greenery and bows and decorated the railing around the front steps of my house. Mrs. Dim was still working on her lawn. I went inside, put some loud music on the CD player, and tried to accomplish some work on the computer. Mrs. Dim was still working on her lawn.

When it was becoming dark, I went outside and plugged in my lights. One part of one string was no longer working, but I didn’t care. If someone else wants to go up on the roof and try to fix that string, that’s fine with me, but I can make it through the month with only ninety percent of my lights working.

Someone might ask, J., why don’t you pay some other person to decorate your house if it troubles you so much, being that you have trouble with heights? The answer is that I do not have enough spare money to pay someone to spend an hour decorating my house. At least I do not have as much money as it would take to persuade me to decorate someone else’s house if his or her house was as tall as my house.

Besides, I feel a certain nobility in the fact that every year I do something for my family even though the act terrifies me. Other years I approached the task with stoic nobility—I don’t like doing it, but I will ignore my fears and get the job done. Now that I am in therapy, I am learning to be aware of my fears and deal with them instead of ignoring them. That made this frightening exercise a bit more meaningful, because I was able to use the things I am learning in therapy to address my fears while decorating my house for the season.

What did I learn? I learned that I have trouble with heights.

But now I have blue lights across the front of the house, and every night, for the rest of December, I will plug in the cord that powers those lights and let a blue glow shine in the neighborhood. One of the great things about those blue lights is that they make other people’s white lights seem a dingy yellow by comparison.

Guess how Mrs. Dim decorates her house for the season . J.

 

Theodicy

A fascinating conversation took place yesterday on the blog “See, there’s this thing called biology…” by InsanityBytes. (You can read it here.) In summary, IB wrote a splendid essay about the perspective of God, knowing all things, allowing his people to make bad choices and to suffer the consequences of those choices. She described God’s steadfast love, his patience with sinners in a sinful world, and his willingness to remain with us even when we are doing wrong over and over again. In response, a commenter raised the image of two horrific sins and, essentially, asked how a good and all-powerful God can watch such things happen and not intervene to prevent them.

This conversation is a version of a classic theological debate: If God is almighty, good, and loving, then why does he permit evil? Some people conclude that God is not almighty and cannot stop evil from happening, while others conclude that God is not good or loving. Still others use the existence of evil as proof that God does not even exist. One reasonable answer offered by believers is that the existence of evil is actually proof of the existence of God. If some things are right and other things are wrong, then there must be a source of ethics and morality. That source cannot be individual opinion or an agreement by the majority of people, because individual opinions and majority opinions can still be wrong. The Source of ethics and morality must be intelligent and personal, because ethics and morality do not exist apart from intelligence and personality.

Of course some believers pay no attention to reason when they speak about God, and also some unbelievers pay no attention to reason when they speak about God. Each side sometimes uses rhetoric and emotion to defend its position while refusing to consider the evidence for the opposite position. When one side attempts to use reason, the other side often ignores those reasonable statements, determined only to win the argument. Perhaps a Socratic conversation would do more to illustrate what I am describing. In the following dialogue, J is a reasonable Christian defending the propositions that God exists and that he is almighty, good and loving. K is a reasonable unbeliever who doubts the existence of God because of the existence of evil.

J: So you do not believe in God? Tell me about this God you reject, this God in whom you do not believe.

K: I cannot believe in a God who watches as terrible things happen and who does nothing to stop them from happening. I reject a God who has the power to do anything he wants, because that God permits suffering and tragedy and offers no hope to the victims. I refuse to honor a God who watches evil happen every day and never lifts a finger to stop it.

J: I see. I respect you for rejecting such a God. In fact, I don’t believe in that God either.

K: I thought you were a Christian.

J: I am a Christian. I worship and trust in a God who is holy, a God who hates evil, a God who provides for his people…

K: But your God still allows bad things to happen. Either he is not as powerful as you believe, or he is not as good as you believe.

J: How can you know whether or not God limits the power of evil? Who can count the number of times that God has restrained evil, saying, “This far you can go, and no farther”? Not only has God given his Law to the world, he has also threatened judgment on all who do evil.

K: You cannot prove to me that God has limited or prevented evil even once.

J: And you cannot prove to me that God is not constantly limiting evil and preventing greater wickedness than he has allowed. Therefore, we have to set aside the statement that God is doing nothing about evil, since it can be neither proven nor disproven.

K: Still, the fact that evil happens at all casts doubt on the existence of God.

J: Tell me what you would do about evil if you were an almighty God.

K: I would keep it from happening. It’s as simple as that.

J: Would you prevent every sin? Would you stop not only horrific crimes but also petty lies, dishonesty, and general rudeness as well?

K: If I were almighty, I would stop every kind of evil. If I could make a perfect world, then I would make sure it remains perfect.

J: And how would you stop people from doing bad things? When a person first tried to do something that was bad, would you snatch that person out of the world? Or would you impose your will on that person so that he or she was unable to do the bad thing that he or she had planned?

K: Well, snatching the bad people before they do bad things is tempting…

J: In that case, the world would be empty of people, because all of us do bad things every day. You and I would no longer be here to have this conversation.

K: And now you are going to say that making people unable to do bad things is unloving, right?

J: Yes, imposing your will on another intelligent being is unloving. How could anyone be good if no one had any knowledge of evil? When God gives rules, he also gives the ability to break those rules. Otherwise, the rules would have no purpose.

K: I believe it was Leibnitz who said that this is the best of all possible worlds, because if God took away our freedom to do wrong, the world would be less good than it is now. But I can conceive of many ways the world could be better than it is. That must make me wiser than your God.

J: Not necessarily. But we assumed a God who is not only almighty and good, but also loving. If you have ever loved anyone, you know that love makes you vulnerable. When you love, you do not try to control the one you love. Because you love, you give freedom to the one you love. That one can love you back, and can show his or her love in many different ways, or that one can choose not to show you love.

K: So love makes me weak? Perhaps we should become Buddhists and not allow ourselves to love anything or anyone.

J: Love does not make you, or God, weak. But it does make you, and God, vulnerable. Whenever you grant freedom to the one you love, you risk disappointment. But the disappointment of loving and not being loved in return is less than the sorrow of having no one able to love you at all.

K: So in love God permits people to do any bad thing they choose to do?

J: We have already discussed the possibility that God limits evil in the world.

K: Well, if I were an almighty God, I would at least limit evil far more often than your God limits evil.

J: Again, what would you do to the evildoer? Would you just pluck him or her out of the world?

K: If the evil was bad enough, yes I would. At the very least, I would take away all the murderers, those who torture others, the rapists…

J: How will you decide, then, which rules you will enforce and which bad deeds you will allow?

K: Any action that harms another living being will not be tolerated. The bad deeds that have no victims could be allowed.

J: Does that include careless mistakes that harm another living being, or only premeditated evil? And what of the neglect to do good? If one person starves and thousands are guilty of not giving that person food, will you remove all the thousands?

K: Once again you are painting me into the corner where the world is empty because every person has done something that harmed another living being in some way.

J: If we include careless mistakes and neglect to do good, everyone in the world is indeed guilty. But even seemingly petty bad deeds, such as shoplifting a piece of candy or telling a small lie, could be considered harmful to other living beings.

K: Maybe the best thing, then, would be to change the world so that no person can harm another living being. Whenever one person does something that is wrong, that person suffers, but no one else suffers for that bad deed.

J: That is an interesting thought. Consider a world where no one can hurt anyone else. Consider the perfect justice of everyone suffering exactly as he or she deserves, receiving the penalty for his or her bad deeds.

K: That world sounds better than this world.

J: Of course if one person could never hurt another person, then no one could ever help another person.

K: I don’t see how that follows.

J: If my deliberate cruelty, or my carelessness, or my failure to do good things could hurt no one but me, and no one else could be the victim of what I did, then no one would have any problems that he or she did not deserve.

K: Of course.

J: So no one would starve unless he or she deserved to starve, and no one would suffer unless he or she deserved to suffer.

K: Still true.

J: Then how can I do anything to help the hungry if they deserve to be hungry? How can I act to reduce suffering if all those who suffer deserve their suffering?

K: But we would still be able to help the people who deserve our help.

J: But that would be no one. Every single person would be getting exactly what he or she deserves—no more and no less.

K: Justice does tend to work that way.

J: Instead of creating a world of perfect justice, the almighty God created a world where people can hurt each other, but where people can also help each other and do good things for each other. People can be evil, but people also can be good.

K:  But God is not good if he allows people to hurt each other and does nothing to stop them. I know you said maybe he sometimes stops evil, but far too often he does not stop it from happening. Bad people get away with bad deeds all the time.

J: God has promised a Judgment Day when everyone will receive what he or she deserves. God has an eternal prison for those who break his rules and do not care about the harm they have done.

K: That Day has not happened yet, and believing that it will happen has not stopped people from doing bad things today. And your God just sits on his hands and watches, waiting for that Day while people suffer every single day without deserving to suffer.

J: You do agree, though, that it is better to live in a world where people can do good things even if that does make it possible for people to suffer?

K: I suppose so. I don’t see how that gets your God off the hook, though.

J: Suppose that, instead of sitting on his hands, God decides to come down and get involved in this world of suffering. Suppose that he even decides to find out how it feels to suffer.

K: I don’t see how that would make any difference.

J: That’s because you are not thinking about the way that people can help each other in this world. Because God became a victim of evil, he is able to rescue the victims of evil. Because he suffered, he is able to help those who are suffering.

K: I don’t see any evidence that such a thing has happened.

J: Surely at some point you have heard about Jesus giving his life on the cross.

K: I thought that was done to forgive sins. I don’t see any rescue happening on that cross. It helps the criminals but not the victims of the crimes.

J: Jesus suffered and died to take the penalty for every sin, every bad deed, even every careless deed and every sinful inaction. Being God, he was able to pay once for all the bad deeds of history. Now, because Jesus took that penalty, no one deserves to suffer. Every person has been rescued from receiving what he or she deserves, and instead every person can receive the rewards that Jesus earned by obeying all the rules.

K: If that is supposed to bring an end to suffering, why are people still suffering?

J: We have not yet reached the Day when the final results of what Jesus accomplished are revealed. From that Day on, this world will be perfect, and no one will suffer. But now God is patiently waiting for that Day.

K: And why is he waiting?

J: He is waiting for more people to find out what Jesus did for them and take the benefits of his sacrifice. He is waiting for more believers to enter his kingdom and be set free from all suffering. In a sense, he is waiting for you.

K: Waiting for me to do what?

J: Waiting for you to acknowledge his victory over evil and to trust his promises. Waiting for you to stop resisting his kindness and to start celebrating your place in his victory.

K: And God lets other people suffer while he waits for me?

J: It’s a bit more complicated than that. He calls on his people in this world to resist evil, to stop doing bad things and to oppose those who do bad deeds. The actions of his people to make the world better are part of God’s victory over evil. Sharing the good news of his promises is also part of his victory.

K: Well, God is going to have to wait a little longer. I still cannot accept the evil he allows to happen in this world.

J: I hope you are right that it will be only “a little longer.” God has not only tolerated the bad deeds of other people. He has tolerated every bad deed you have ever done as well. Jesus paid to redeem you, and God wants to include you in his victory. He knows that you hate evil, and he hates evil too. But he is willing to tolerate the existence of evil, defeated as it is, for a little longer so he can increase the joy of his eternal victory celebration with more redeemed sinners gathered into the fold.