Thursday, July 11, 2013

doubts and stouts

You may be surprised to hear that pastors doubt.

I certainly do and I'm ok sharing it with the world because my doubt often allows me to move closer to trusting and loving God. Instead of avoiding that there are hard things in life to reconcile with my faith, I prefer to name them, test them, and debate them. And this process helps me claim my belief in God even more.

Mission Bay Community Church just recently formed a group called "Doubts and Stouts." A member of our community, Joel Bylsma, had this hunger to talk about hard theological/philosophical questions and wondered if others might, too. So, we started this group. He coined the awesome name "Doubts and Stouts" and we met last night for our first gathering at a grill/pub for conversation and craft beer.

Our first topic was theodicy - If God is all powerful and all loving, why is there suffering in the world? I know...start easy, right? The conversation was rich and diverse. More like a brainstorming session than a philosophical argument. We provoked each other and the question and we found ourselves considering history, philosophy, science, scripture, and church culture. We had a lot of fun!

For those of you interested, here are some brief notes from our discussion. You'll notice there are WAY more questions than answers :)

 Theodicy = if God is all powerful and all good/loving, then why does suffering exist?
- Why do we believe that God is all powerful? (God created, Jesus' miracles - power over nature)
- Why do we believe that God is all loving/Good? (The Bible tells us so. Jesus loves us. John 3:16)
- Does God love ALL people? What about when God told the Israelites to kill their enemies. Is God loving then? Contradictory scripture verses. 
- God's justice. Do we comprehend God's justice? Sometimes it feels like God is just unfair. 
- Deism - belief that God created the world and then stepped back and let the world run its course. We don't believe this. We believe God is personal and interacts/cares/provides for us. We believe this through the life, ministry and death of Jesus. 
- What are examples/expressions of pain and suffering that make us question God's character? cancer, natural disasters, suicide, young death, accidents, addictions, genocide.
- What about prayer? Do we believe that God is affected by our prayers? Or is prayer more about changing us and our perspective? What do the psalms do?
- What are some explanations for theodicy? 
(1) God is mysterious/we cannot know God's plan. Some of us are unsatisfied with this answer because it can make us complacent/passive. We think the conversation and action is important. 
(2) God gave us free-will, so suffering is our fault. This explains suffering that we can create, but not illnesses or natural disasters.
(3) The analogy of life being a quilt....the threads underneath don't make sense to us, but are being woven together to create something God-intended/beautiful. It's a perspective thing...we don't see the whole picture. We liked this explanation more, but still believe that God cares about us (little threads, if you will). We are told in scripture that God provides - God cares for the flowers of the fields and feeds the birds much more does God care for us? (Matt. 6) 
- Question of scripture vs. theology came up. Why do we want historically/culturally to affirm that God doesn't change (all powerful/all loving), when in scripture God does change God's mind and sometimes God's character (wrathful, loving)
- Maybe suffering is given. Suffering is life. If this is the known, then how do we live our lives to find joy, hope, truth and love? 

At the end of the discussion, we had not solved this great problem. We affirmed that we only see dimly (1 Corinthians 13) and that faith cannot be built upon facts or philosophical claims. We talked about how some of us are ok accepting the mystery of God, but that we couldn't expect everyone to like or embrace the mystery. Some of us are just like "doubting Thomas" and we need more intellectual discourse and explanation. What I know... is that it is good for us to be faithful to our doubt, to question, to debate, to share our life experience, to share our brokenness..and that through all of this, we may catch glimpses of hope in God and in one another.

We're meeting again the first Wednesday in August and will discuss another topic - "If God is all powerful, why did Jesus have to die to forgive our sins?" Thanks to David and Bob Boles for the awesome curiosity and honest question! Join us in person on online and feel free to share questions/doubts of your own!