Tag Archives: life

Thanos and Theodicy: Why don’t we just fix the world? (Part 1)

by Bradley Yam, SY ’21

Imagine that you are given a glove that granted you magical god-like powers over all of human life everywhere. You would only need to snap your fingers, and it would in some way make the world perfect. It would be whatever version of perfect you choose. Minmax human suffering and happiness? Done. Eradicate systemic oppression and inequality? Done. Eliminate scarcity of everything, everywhere? Done!

If this sounds like some purple giant from the latest Marvel’s Avengers movie, and if you knew the plot of the movie, you would be suspicious of this line of questioning. “But we all know that Thanos was crazy, after all, if we had that kind of power, we would surely use it for good. It would be unreasonable, irresponsible not to. After all, isn’t that what being at Yale is all about? Making the world a better place? Fixing the injustices of the world?” In fact, this is also one of our perennial gripes with the idea of an all-powerful, loving God, that he hasn’t already fixed the world. This is theodicy: answering why is the world bad if God is good. I am going to argue that if we take the question of Thanos’ glove seriously, we might not have a solution to theodicy, but we will ask the question of theodicy differently.

For the uninitiated, in the latest Marvel Avengers blockbuster, Thanos gains the Infinity Gauntlet, the glove grainting sovereignty over Soul, Reality, Mind, Space, Time and Power. The wielder of the glove gains god-like dominion over the universe. Our purple giant Thanos uses this unrestrained power to exterminate half of all life in the universe in order to end the suffering caused by overpopulation. You can complain about Thanos’ failure at Economics 101, but Marvel chose to portray him as basically altruistic. Thanos, unlike almost every other character on the good side, sacrifices his emotions in favour of his ideals. He sets aside his own interests, for the sake of what he thinks is the higher good. Regardless of how we feel about those ideals, we are led into admiring his methodical and relentless pursuit of his goals over the last gazillion movies. Now this is the kind of pursuit that Yalies can resonate with.

Thanos’ unyielding and unswerving determination confronts us with the potential problems with our own expectations of the perfect world. We all think we could do better than Thanos, but we seldom stop to consider that in his position, we might do far, far worse. That the world is not yet prefect is clear to everyone. Yet, if we press the the more rigorous flipside of the theodical question, “what is a reasonable version of the best possible world?”, there is unlikely to be any consensus at all! We might all agree that a marginal increase in freedom, a marginal increase in equality, and a marginal decrease in suffering are all good things, but our imagination fails us when we try to take the limit of those ideals. All our utopias turn into dystopias. We trust the old adage that good things can be taken too far. We criticize Thanos, but cannot really offer the perfect alternative.

Since it seems impossible to concur on what to do with Thanos’ glove, we ought to ask the questions related to theodicy with at least a sense of our lack of complete knowledge. The question: “Why does evil exist?” is still valid, because it is apparent that evil does indeed exist! But that hardly puts the nail in the coffin for the an all-powerful, benevolent God – because we ourselves are unable to articulate what exactly we would expect an all-powerful, benevolent God to do! In effect, we are left with a mystery: we don’t want things to stay as they are, but we do not know what we want them to become. If we are seekers of the truth, then we need to confront that mystery, not use it to explain God away.

We will think about what that mystery suggests to us in the second half (yet to be published) part of this article. For now, as privileged and empowered people, we need to be conscious that of our desire “to seek, to strive, and not to yield” after our ideals. We only imagine that we might do good, but we are all always wearing Thanos’ glove- will you snap?

 

Following Jesus from Cradle to College

by Bella Gamboa, JE ’22

Veggie Tales, C. S. Lewis, and a familiarity with the most repeated pieces of Biblical advice: they all become moments of connection between people who grew up in a Christian home. There’s a certain feeling of familiarity when someone else also knows the words to “Barbara Manatee” or has memorized Bible verses for Sunday school. Such connections are frequent when growing up as most people who attended youth group in high school had Christian families. Even many Christians I’ve met in college come from a Christian home. But I have always felt different toward those (mostly adults) who came to Christianity later in life, generally independent from (or even in spite of) their families. I envied their radical experiences of God that led them to give their lives over to being followers of Jesus, Christians.

When  growing up, I would regularly re-read the Chronicles of Narnia, and C. S. Lewis has always been one of my favorite people. I’ve attended church for as long as I can remember. I have listened to Christian rock music for so long that I can mark the progression of the genre from the radio to Spotify. For my entire life, my family has prayed together before we go to bed (and even since I moved away, my dad will pray with me when I call home). As a result, Christianity has become like a deeply ingrained habit, as natural as brushing my teeth twice daily— my faith is inextricable from my childhood and upbringing, and Christianity has shaped my perception of the world and my own life.

So many grown-up Christians I admired– my  grade’s small group leader in youth group, C. S. Lewis himself, and many others– had a tangible turning point at which they became followers of Christ. […] I yearned so strongly for some decisive event in my own life, to help dispel the doubts and distance from God I felt for almost all of high school. Maybe if I could have such a moment of overwhelming certainty, of unquestioned belief that God is real and really who He says He is, I would feel more secure in my faith

I struggle with Christianity’s pervasive influence on me. I am careful to actively practice Christian faith and not just passively receive of a sort of cultural faith — I ask questions, debate, read, consciously choose to attend youth group, read the Bible and pray. Any one of these things, or all of them, could easily be lost if I stop making an effort. most of my peers from high school weren’t giving up Friday evenings and their Sundays to go to church or youth group. I also feel moments where I would rather just go to sleep than read the Bible and pray. But even as I continue to do all these things, I sometimes felt resentful of what appeared to be my lack of agency in my faith, and often I was envious of others’ stories of conversion.

So many grown-up Christians I admired– my  grade’s small group leader in youth group, C. S. Lewis himself, and many others– had a tangible turning point at which they became followers of Christ. No matter what struggles they faced in their faith, they had that moment to turn to and consider, to comfort them; I had nothing of the kind. I yearned so strongly for some decisive event in my own life, to help dispel the doubts and distance from God I felt for almost all of high school. Maybe if I could have such a moment of overwhelming certainty, of unquestioned belief that God is real and really who He says He is, I would feel more secure in my faith, which I had continued to maintain but without the same sense of intimacy with God I had enjoyed earlier in my childhood. Although I decided in high school to honestly reckon with my faith, to determine that I would myself (not as my parents’ daughter or member of my youth group or baptized child) practice Christianity, I had a nagging sense that my decision was inevitable because of how growing up Christian has shaped me. Was my faith legitimate, or as legitimate as that of those who converted later in life?

Recently the meaning of the word “practice” (as in practicing Christianity) has become clearer to me and eliminated my envy towards those who did not grow up in a Christian home. That moment of conversion I so envied in others’ testimonies is not the crux of what it means to be a Christian. As Jesus says, “‘If anyone would come after [Him], let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow [Him]’” (Luke 9:23). Even after one makes the great choice to be Christian and follow Jesus, one must make countless other, smaller, everyday decisions in the lifelong process of following Him. Christianity is not about a momentary acceptance of Jesus as Redeemer, but rather an ongoing effort to actively follow God and, to use St. Augustine’s word, cleave to Him. Gaining a better understanding of the “daily” nature of faith has both comforted me and strengthened my relationship with God. It has been the most obvious facet of my increasing spiritual adulthood.

But in Christianity, adulthood cannot simply be a matter of maturity and wisdom. Jesus clearly has a special love and esteem for children, so Christian adulthood must in some ways resemble a return to childhood. Children are able to love quite quickly and completely (a three-year-old once called me her “friend” after a five minute conversation), and we are called to “‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:30). Children are used to surrendering control to their elders, because they understand that adults are better equipped to navigate life. Similarly, we must learn to relinquish control over our lives to God, which is not a simple or easy task, but a necessary one. Finally, there’s a childlike sense of wonder that finds extraordinary things which older people often don’t even consider; we should try to nurture such a wonder in our lives, because it helps us to better understand the glory of God as reflected in His creation.

While entering and growing in adulthood, let us consider what to retain from childhood and how to change and grow up as we continue to walk with God in faithfulness for every small decision, each day.

Being Christian at Yale

by Christian Olivier, TC ’20

 

What does it mean to be a Christian at Yale?

Being a Christian at Yale means always relying on God’s grace and mercy to speak thoughtfully, act graciously, think critically, and love deeply, never losing sight of God’s plan for my life.

Being Christian at Yale, though, seems to not always align with what being a Christian should be.

Being Christian at Yale should be relying on God to guide every aspect of my life- you know, except those pesky post-grad plans. “I have to secure the bag, Jesus. You get it, right?”

Being Christian would also mean hungering for a personal relationship with God- I mean, of course, time permitting. “I have studying to do, Lord! Don’t you get it? I’ll get back with you right before I’m about to go into this exam.”

Being Christian at Yale should mean shining God’s light through meaningful connections with people. You know, through Snapchat or whatever. All of this “let’s get a meal” nonsense is for the birds.

It feels if at times, being Christian is falling short of what it looks like to be a Christian. If I were a Christian Christian, I wouldn’t be doing the things that Christian is doing, but what good Christians do.

Do you see what I’m saying?

 

At times, my walk with God feels as if I am not measuring up to a moralistic standard that hangs over my head.  

The apostle Paul from the Bible seems to struggle with the same thing. In Romans 7:15-20 he says:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

Here, we see Paul struggling with a dichotomy of self: what he knows he should do, he is not doing; and what he shouldn’t, he is. In verses 17 and 18, you can see why this passage is important to this problem. Paul is saying that we are not inherently good people, saying that “good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” The desire is there, but the support from basic human nature is nonexistent.

What is beautiful about Christianity, however, is that God did not send his son to reinforce our goodness. Jesus did not bear the weight of humanity on his shoulders to make good people great- he died so that every sinner has no obstacle between himself and God.

So now where does that leave us?

 

Being Christian, Becoming Christian

Being a Christian at Yale- or a Christian Christian I should say- is restlessly living with the tension between sin and goodness. Relentlessly striving toward the standard that Jesus set, while not negating the grace he as shown in my life when I fall to the base of the insurmountable peak of righteousness. Being a Christian at Yale is standing right back up and fighting the good fight, even if being Christian is what got me on the ground in the first place.

 

A Case for Rebuke

By Bradley Yam, Class of ’21

There is one way of reading the Bible that involves nodding to the parts of the text that affirm a pre-supposed moral framework and lightly skimming over the parts that seem puzzling, culturally irrelevant or simply difficult. This is merely an exercise in self-congratulatory confirmation bias. Addressing these systematic omissions – that are only too easy for the lay reader to make – is a task for a longer and more thorough piece of writing. Instead, I want to focus our attention on one topic that is easy to assume we have understood, but actually challenges our thinking and living far more than we realize: “Rebuke”.

First, a few brief observations about how rebuke appears in the scriptures.

1) Rebuking fellow believers is always given as an imperative. It is not a suggestion, or helpful advice, it is a key part of our duty to brothers and sisters in the church. (1 Timothy 5:20, Matthew 18:15-17, Titus 2:15)

2) Rebuke always occurs with the intent of restoration to a standard of righteousness, it is often paired with the command to exhort (2 Timothy 4:2, Galatians 6:1, Titus 2:15)

3) Rebuke demands gentleness, patience and truth (in other words, complete Love) on the part of the rebuker (Luke 17:3-4, 2 Timothy 4:2, Galatians 6:1) .

It is clear from a brief survey of the Scriptures that rebuke has an incredibly prominent role in Christian life. Rebuke functions as a process through which moral truth is preached, sin is uncovered, repentance is expected, sanctification happens on a spiritual level and restoration happens on a social level. In other words, rebuke is hard. It is extraordinarily hard. We might ignore it precisely because it is so hard. And if we find ourselves rebuking someone and finding it easy, the likelihood is, we are probably the ones in need of rebuke. It is hard because rebuke is the loving use of verbal force for the purposes of sanctification and righteousness.

Unfortunately, a mental picture of rebuke that involves both force and love might appear difficult or even completely alien to us, because there are far too few good examples of rebuking and being rebuked. Instead, we are used to being shamed into obedience, and penalized into agreement; paternalistic means of compliance arising out of a misunderstanding of true biblical hierarchy. What we suffer, we then go on to inflict on others. Or perhaps, we retreat into a comfortable hesitancy and false-tolerance that doesn’t demand anything of us or our brothers and sisters in Christ.

In other words, rebuke is not just calling someone out, it definitely isn’t scolding someone for annoying you, and it clearly cannot be shaming someone for disagreeing with you. The call to rebuke is far loftier and far higher than that – it is a call to love someone so radically that you are willing to enter into the discomfort of risking your relationship and good-standing with them in order to bring them further from sin and closer to God. Even if you were hurt, rebuke involves forgiveness and love. Even if you are angry, rebuke involves peace and gentleness. Even if you are right, rebuke involves God’s justice, not yours. Rebuke is not self-congralutory, it is self-sacrificial.

Because rebuke is loving, there are many conditions we must pay attention to in terms of who, when and how to rebuke. Because rebuke is the use of verbal force, we must examine ourselves to know how and why we are rebuking, to ensure we do not fall into error ourselves (Galatians 6:1) Kevin DeYoung provides some excellent guidelines to properly rebuke in his three-part TGC article: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/the-ministry-of-rebuke-1/

Instead of reproducing DeYoung’s good work, I will focus on interpreting what the simultaneous unwillingness and overzealousness to “rebuke” reveals for us in the Church. Full disclosure: such an analysis is necessarily speculative, but the hope is that we will be more aware to the temptations that are before us, and in understanding them, we would be able to give or receive rebuke to prevent ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ from falling into sin.

Our Excuses:

1) We fail to rebuke because we fail to love others.

If we find ourselves constantly worrying about what others will think about us or if we will continue to be liked, included or admired, perhaps we value our own comfort and reputation more than the well-being of our brothers and sisters. There is no such thing as unloving rebuke, because all rebuke comes out of a genuine desire for the flourishing of the Church. The flourishing of the Church is synonymous with the holiness of the Church. If we want to be liked more than we want others to be holy, then we probably love ourselves more than we love them.

If we find ourselves unable to rebuke because we surround ourselves with merely social relationships in the Church that do not involve spiritual realities, then we short-change ourselves from the fellowship and community that the Scripture calls us to. If we are comfortable treating church like a social activity, then we do not love the Church enough to be vulnerable with them, or love the Church enough to build deep relationships with them.

2) We fail to rebuke because we fail to love God and his righteousness.

If we are perpetually comfortable with everything that happens in the Church and with our fellow believers, and we are able to somehow justify that with a casual indifference, then we fail to understand God’s righteousness and its deep necessity in our lives. We need to know the Scripture, to be convicted of its truth, and to have a vision of the Church – we do not need this vision to be perfect, or claim to know the full absolute truth, but we must persist in the process of mutual correction.

Perhaps we do care about God, and we do care about our believers, but we have never taken the time to study the word to be convicted enough to engage in rebuke. In this case, we have failed to equip ourselves with the knowledge that enables practical love.

On Overzealousness:

1) We are too quick to “rebuke” when something makes us uncomfortable.

If we rush to rebuke before we consult Scripture to fix the grounds of our contention, then we replace the authority of the text with our own personal barometer of comfort. If we persist in this behavior, we do not love the word, or our neighbor, we only care about own moral sentiments. But we do not care enough to verify these sentiments.

2) We are too quick to “rebuke” when we feel self-righteous.

The last thing we should use rebuke for is a nasty means of self-justification. We can easily make ourselves feel superior and better about our own moral failings by pointing out the (supposedly worse) moral failings of others. The truth is, rebuke ought to expose equally our own failure to adhere to the standard that we are exhorting others to, and more often than not, rebuke is accompanied by repentance of our own.

And Why Should We Care:

We must think about rebuke because of what it reveals about the shallowness of our religion. In addition, in an time where people everywhere struggle to preach the truth in love, rebuke offers us a paradigm of both truth and love that is fully coherent, and helps us understand our areas of growth. I know I need to grow in this as well.


 

1 Timothy 5:20 ESV

As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

2 Timothy 4:2 ESV

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

Galatians 6:1 ESV

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Titus 2:15 ESV

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Matthew 18:15-17 ESV

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Luke 17:3-4 ESV

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Ready to welcome Him?

It has been a crazy last few days leading up to Christmas. Gifts to buy, food to prepare, friends to see. But are the multitudes preparing for the holidays ready to welcome the baby Christ into the world? How can we fathom the “adventus” of the infant God in a society that might not have even let Him live? Perhaps I will be criticized for broaching the topic of abortion as we near one of the most important religious holidays of the year. I couldn’t help but notice the striking incongruity in thought that necessarily occurs- we wait to welcome the birth of the Lord, yet had he chosen to be born into our millennium, he might not have even seen life outside of the womb. Our culture is so hostile to life, especially that of the unborn. How can we expect anyone to center their Christmas around Christ’s birth, if, on a whole, we don’t understand its inherent value?

I think Christ would be calling all of us to that on this Christmas. We’ve let the injustice go on for just too long. For Christians, an answer to the abortion question is that every human life is made in the image and likeness of God. Yet, yesterday’s celebrations take us further. Christ took on our human flesh in his Incarnation, ennobling it and endowing it with the value we had forgotten. Would our Lord have bothered if it wasn’t important? If each act of creation in the womb was not unique and unrepeatable? I don’t think he would have.

Let’s not let another Christmas go by without remembering that the spirit of the season is one of rebirth and new life, of welcoming God’s presence into a world which often seems so void of it. We cannot let this issue become so taboo that changing things becomes impossible. It must be talked about every day of the year, in every conversation. The act doesn’t only harm the women and their children in our nation; rather, it does pernicious violence to families and the culture of life. When the most stable unit of humanity, a mother and her child, is turned topsy turvy, is it a surprise that we’ve taken a turn for the worse? Roe v. Wade turns 40 this year, and I hope I won’t be writing a post like this again next year.

Merry Christmas to you and your families! Pax vobiscum.

Image