Welcome! The picture above is me contemplating the bust of Thomas Chalmers on a visit to Scotland. For the most part these articles were written by me, and so I have to take responsibility for them. I know I am subject to error so if you see where I have been wrong, or misused Scripture especially, please correct me. I only ask that you do so in the same way you wish to be corrected.
Monday, August 25, 2014
ASHES AND GOOD THEOLOGY
Recently a friend of
mine became the victim of an arsonist. He owns a small hotel and one
someone tried to set it on fire. Thankfully no one was killed, but
folks did have to jump off of a balcony to escape. The resulting and arduous
experience of figuring out the cause, of getting a settlement with the
insurance company, of working his way through the fire department, arson
detectives, claims agents, and city bureaucrats was frustrating, and sometimes
After finally getting word that he would get an insurance
settlement I texted him, "God is good."
He came back at me with
"even if I hadn't gotten a settlement God is still good." I complimented him on his good theology,
and so he sent me a simple
"Ashes and good theology!"
It seems to me there is a lot in that phrase.
There is a
lot of reality in it, and a lot of hope too. Okay, so the hotel is still
destroyed, it is
no longer beautiful, no longer something
or someplace that
anyone would want to stay in.
All the hardship of having to rebuild it,
of working his way through designers,
contractors, builders, and government
regulation still lies ahead.
that someday people will make
reservations trusting that it is a safe place to stay, that it will again be a means of income,
all remain to be seen.
Whatever comes my friend has a good theology, and that theology is one which
believes in the immutable character of God as benevolent, compassionate, kind,
loving, caring and mindful for all he has made. He has taken the
Christian commitment of believing that these things never change about God.
I guess my friend doesn't live in Ferguson, Missouri. Maybe
he doesn't live in Mosul, Iraq, or in Liberia, or Donetsk, Ukraine. Surely theology has to adjust and change for such places and for various contexts full of despair, evil, injustice and death.
How can our
circumstances not change our view of God? How can our pain and
suffering, whether as individuals, families, ethnic groups, or nations not
affect our view of what God is like, or even if he exists?
One of the important sub-points of theology,
(and not just
philosophy in my opinion,)
is aesthetics. Our view of beauty, what is
pleasing, fulfilling, hopeful. The sensory aspects of life
that give us
hope and renew our hope. They are emotional and they give us comfort.
is order and symmetry, it is proportion,
it is attractive and stimulating, it
is the sense
or rightness and balance or even intriguing
strangeness in things
and places, it is akin to
justice but in a different plane. Whether made
by the unseen hand of God, or what others call nature, or made by humans and
even intellectual thought-beauty gives all of us hope if indeed we can see or
What do we do when it is gone, or destroyed?
What do we do
when what brought us delight
turns to ashes, and do those ashes rattle our
expectation of continuity, and convince us
that all good things will perish and fade, diminish, rot, and burn?
What do we do with the reality that
the children we held from the birthing table,
whose fingers and toes we
counted, whose coos and giggles, unbridled laughter and joy, and sweet and
tender flesh are now dead and buried in a box? Our only visual of
amazingly beautiful people left in photographs which only too soon will fade. Their images trapped in digital electrons so easily deleted, as if God
pushed the wrong
key on the board and can't get it back;
all his work for
The Bible (Romans chapter 1) teaches us
that God's eternal power
has been clearly perceived in what he has made. "Eternal power" means it is one of the things that never runs out, never gives out, and can
never turn to dust and ashes. Now our wickedness takes that truth and
tries to smash the life out of it, attempts to scream over its voice, and uses
all its argument to deny and suppress what the stars and the universe shout so
loudly: "God is forever, and he is the creator of all
beauty," and thus all goodness is his idea, and his work. Eternity
and beauty taken together
leaves us with one exhilarating conclusion,
good and that goodness is neither
circumstantial nor temporary.
This is not a denial of ashes, nor of the reality
or loss, or pain. Good theology
doesn't deny the inevitable rubbish of
the wake of evil, the waste of a despised
perfection we lost once in a
to which we cannot return. Good theology
doesn't deny the
reality of ashes, rather
it affirms the undiminished love of God
in the face of
a diminished and fallen creation.
without faith in a good God
is a skull's mouth filled with dust, there is
can be nothing left for which to hope.
Without faith in the benevolent
constancy of God
we are left with anger, grief, remorse,
bitter frustration for
the loss we bear of all
that we loved and valued. We despair
having the justice for which we fought
and dreamed but which we will never see
or see no more, this is all that is left us.
Unless we think memories of
auld lang syne
are enough; death will erase those too.
Our faith is in a God who is good, and good
all the time, even
when buildings burn and we lose hope in structures and lose faith in human
beings who set the fires. Our faith is in a God who is good
in the midst
of pestilence, and war,
and the brutality of authority without restraint, and
ideology let lose to murder and rape. That faith is because of
beauty once seen in what and whom God has made, that such stuff and such people
were actually created by him.
That faith is because of love now known
in the face of a Christ who died for
and forgives us for our part in this common tragedy
of earthly rot
and human failure. That faith
is in the future revealed of a new heaven
and new earth where there is no more suffering,
or crying, or pain. Our
faith in a good God
is because we believe that the God who took
dust and formed
a man can bring life even
out of ashes if he chooses. Resurrection makes
phrase "second chance" a short-sighted and
An eternal God has a lot
more to give than a second chance, or the
an erased hard drive, or even
the hope of learning from our mistakes.
Every person, and every place, and every culture can breathe a
constant renewal of hope from the only source of life, who calls himself "I AM."
And as long as he is, ashes are not the definitive end.
It is as Job said, "though worms destroy this body,