Sunday, March 25, 2018

"Are faith healers real?"

Yes, it's another Reddit "debate religion" question that I felt driven to take on. And here's what I had to say:

I've known people who have been healed of poor vision, breathing troubles, and other ailments from prayer alone. I also know folks just as faithful who have prayed and not been healed.

Here's the thing: God is not some genie, you rub a lamp and get your wishes granted. Prayers are not magic incantations, they are conversations and petitions that may be granted, or not. As Gandalf said of himself, do not take God for a conjurer of tricks. In the Chronicles of Narnia, it was often remarked that Aslan isn't a tame lion, after all.

No one I know who is really practiced in prayer for healing ever promises 100% results. There are people who make that sort of promise, and they are generally hucksters. It's no contradiction to believe that there are both real healers and fraudsters, any more than it is a contradiction to believe that there are both real doctors and snake oil salesmen.

Legitimate churches do not generally preach against medicine or science. The God that gives spiritual gifts is also the same God that gives doctors and nurses their talents and skills. Luke wasn't just the writer of a Gospel, he was also a physician.

Yes, we are to ask God for healing. And yes, we are to seek out the help of trained doctors. And yes, we are to pray that God will bless those doctors and aid their work, even those doctors who may not believe in Him.

So why does God heal some miraculously, others through ordinary medicine, and others not at all? Hard to say. I personally don't think that capriciousness, cruelty, or unfair partiality is in His nature. At least, that's not my experience. My understanding of God's whys and wherefores grows with time, but it's far from perfect.

One priest I heard recently talking on the topic gave this metaphor as food for thought: We are promised that in the final resurrection, all will have healing, of sight, of mind, and of every other ailment. We aren't there yet, and no one can say for sure when it will be. But just a few weeks ago, we had a few days of warm, nice weather, a foretaste of the spring that we know is coming before the cold came back. In the same way, we sometimes get just a taste of Heaven before we get to experience the real thing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"There's no proof that He exists!"

Here's another train of thought inspired by reading atheists on Reddit.

"If God is so all-powerful, surely He can prove His existence to me! I might believe if there were any evidence!"

Let's be real, atheist friends. I respect you, but I don't think you're giving enough credit here to the human capacity for skepticism. And skepticism can be both good and bad at times.

There was at least one time during Jesus's ministry when an actual voice from Heaven told a crowd, "I am the Lord, this is my Son, listen to what he has to tell you." And some in the crowd said, "Meh, thunder." So, even presented with direct proof, people came up with alternative explanations.

Can you honestly tell me that if I were to show you a sign from God right now, out of the blue, that you wouldn't look for a hoax behind it? Of course you would, and it's sensible to do so. With photoshoppers and video manipulation neural networks producing more impressive fakes all the time, saying "I'll believe it when I see it" doesn't even work any more.

Something else you may be surprised to hear me admit: Religions have long been plagued with hucksters and fraudsters wanting to make a quick buck. But, it doesn't follow from that that all miracles and healings are frauds. Weight loss scams are a dime a dozen, that doesn't mean that Weight Watchers isn't the real deal. Real supernatural miracles don't tend to get many headlines, because the people who God uses in these cases aren't out to make that quick buck.

Even the best evidence doesn't always convince. There are otherwise sensible people out there who will never believe that certain medicines are safe and beneficial, no matter what evidence you give them. Still others will never be convinced of the ineffectiveness of snake oil. Yes, their skepticism hurts themselves and others. But you can't just shove "proof" in someone's face and expect them to automatically buy it. So, I can't shove any "proof" that I may see for God's existence in your face and automatically expect you to buy it, either.

I'm not asking you to give up your skepticism, but I am asking you to be honest about it. Accept that the burden isn't just on God to provide proof, but also on you to accept His proof when He offers it. Accept that just because you haven't seen God's hand in the universe, doesn't mean that others haven't. Many of us who believe, do so based on what we have seen with our own eyes. Quite a few of us have scientific or engineering backgrounds that have taught us to examine evidence critically. You are free to accept our testimony, or try to explain it away. But, I wouldn't lie to you. I gain nothing by it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"Why do you think God would care about you?"

This question was posed by an atheist on on Reddit some days ago, and I have been mulling over how I might answer it since. Instead of replying in that environment, I thought I might put my answer here.

Really, I have a number of points to make to answer that challenge.

1) He is much better at giving attention than I possibly can be. For me to give time and attention to one thing, I generally have to take time and attention away from another. God exists outside of time, so He doesn't face this difficulty. Imagine history is layed out like a book to you: You can spend all day reading and rereading one page, or skimming back and forth between chapters. That's what it's like to be outside the timescale experienced by the characters.
     Furthermore, our issues of size are not an issue to God. He can look at galaxies in one moment of eternity, then look at atoms the next, and still have plenty of "timeless time" for each of us in between.
     This isn't an argument that He does pay any attention to me. It's just an assertion that He can, at the same time, be God of All Creation and my Lord and Savior, without either taking away from the other.
2) God is a Creator, and creators tend to be mindful of their creations. I am also a creator, on a much smaller scale: I write software, I have built computers, and I dabble in creative arts. I have a family of creators: My wife is a performer, my mom is a painter, and my dad makes things with his hands. Every person feels a bit of connection to the things that they make with their mind, hands, and skills. Even the things that aren't necessarily of professional quality are special because they are ours, especially if we have put time and effort into them. We are God's creations, would He not be interested in us?
3) He said so. I take the Bible to be the Word of God, His self-introduction to humanity delivered through inspired human authors, including historians, poets, and prophets. In the Bible, we are described as His children by adoption. Jesus says that the smallest sparrow's fall doesn't escape His attention, and each of us is worth more than many sparrows. Jesus taught His followers to call the creator of the universe "Father". More than that, the Arameic word he used, "Abba", is a word that has strong connotations of affection and close relationship. God asked us to call Him "Dad". It would be utterly presumptuous of us to assume that relationship if He had not offered it first.
4) I believe because I have experienced. This is a point that can't really be debated, but I include it because it is part of my personal answer. I cannot prove it to anyone else, they can't disprove it to me. It would be like trying to prove the existence of snow-covered mountains to someone who has only ever lived in the desert: You either have to just take my word that I have experienced what I say I have experienced, or you can decide to disbelieve, but don't blame me if you aren't willing to come and see for yourself.
     My life has always been better whenever I have involved God in it. The more I pray, and study His words, and seek to follow His ways, the more I understand that He really does love me. I have stumbled plenty of times, and gone off in my own direction; He's always ready when I come back to Him. That's not to say that my circumstances magically become easier when I'm following Him. But He settles my unsettled heart, gives me perspective on my problems, and helps me to make better decisions. He has even helped me out from time to time with downright uncanny coincidences.
     I believe because I have seen. If anyone wants to come and see what I have seen, I would be glad to have you walk with me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The consequences of crying wolf in politics

A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to an article claiming that President Trump's election was made possible by "fear of losing white privilege". Here's my response, trying to be respectful in my disagreement:

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

No Choice 2016

A good friend from church sent me a forwarded email, one of those "Trump is bad but still have to vote against him to stop Hillary" things.

This was the reply I sent back to him:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My Voting Guide for November 2016, The Amendments


I'm going to have to do some jumping around here, but I'll make up for summarizing at the end. Items #1 and #3 are each standalone, but each of them has a bunch of story that is not being told on the ballot that has to be shared. #2 and #4 each seem to follow a pattern that I want to explore, to make sure that I can vote with principle and consistency, so that I can decide not just the question of whether this particular proposal is good, but whether this type of proposal is sound.