On God Providing and Why Bad Things Happen

A common theme we see throughout both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the New Testament is that “God will provide”.  This is assured both implicitly and explicitly hundreds, if not thousands of times (If someone could give an exact number in the comments that would be greatly appreciated).  As such I am not going to bother going over exact verses today, rather, I’ll be going over what I take away from them and what that means.

Numerous times throughout the Bible we see God provide for his creation, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in little ways, and often in ways in between.  We see this in history, poetry, myth, genealogy, prophecy, and parable.  It’s one of the most shared ideas among the authors of the different biblical books, and it is certainly a comforting one.  So then why do so many people go without, and suffer in our world?

When I see “God will provide” I read it as “God has provided”.  Sure, I believe miracles can and have happened, but I’m pretty sceptical of them in general.  Rather, I believe God has provided from the start.  We have the resources to stop poverty, reduce violence and discrimination, and to lift up “the least of these” (Oops, it looks like I just quoted a Bible verse.  Bummer.)  But you know what?  Largely, we’ve chosen not to.

A common question and field of thought is, Why could an omnipotent and completely good God allow bad things to happen?  Known as Theodicy, this discussion and often debate has been pursued by humankind for thousands of years, and has no clear answer.  Things get even more complicated (albeit more interesting) when you throw things like atheism and non-deistic religions/spiritualities into the mix.  So why does God allow bad things to happen?  I’m gonna turn that question right around.  Why do we allow bad things to happen?  God has provided, we have everything we need.  The world will never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get it pretty darn close.  Sometimes as Christians (if you, the reader, are one) we hyper-focus on the Great Commission (Spread the Good News) and forget or place too-little emphasis on the Great Commandment (Love God, Love Others).  After all, didn’t the Great Commandment come first, and isn’t it the core of all Christ’s teachings?  Many of the problems in the world are our fault.  We choose to allow them to happen, to still exist.  So why do we allow bad things to happen?

 

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Social Justice: Not Compatible with Christianity?

If you’ve been paying any attention to American Christianity lately, you’ve probably heard of the “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel“.  If you’ve taken the time to read it, chances are you’ve found at least part of it to be confused and/or concerning, and when you consider that thousands of prominent Evangelical (in this post Evangelical means any Christian group who affirms any form of Biblical-Inerrancy, which yes, still refers to a broad range of viewpoints, but at least narrows it down a little) it becomes especially alarming.  If you still haven’t read it and would like to, you can find it here.

While it is well-organized and not particularly dense, “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel” is somewhat lengthy so I’m not going to over the entire thing today.  I will look at a few highlights and compare them with the Bible (which they claim to have based it on) and reality.  I’ll then briefly summarize why Social Justice is integral to the Gospel and the ministry of Jesus, the principles on which Christians supposedly follow.

  • (Stated Purpose): “We invite others who share our concerns and convictions to unite with us in reasserting our unwavering commitment to the teachings of God’s Word articulated in this statement.” So far nothing inherently wrong, but as we’ll see their purpose comes to clash with the content of their statement.
  • “We deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching” Well, it appears we’re running into problems right on the first page.  First, let’s take a moment with what each of these ideologies actually is.
    • Intersectionality: “An analytic framework which attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society.” (Wikipedia)  It appears that intersectionality is not a set ideology, but rather a problem-solving method for discerning how aspects of society can oppress the marginalized in society.  Saying this contradicts scriptures is like saying using a calculator or psychology contradicts it, far too generalized too actually mean anything.  In addition, we can consistently find in both the New and Old Testaments teachings and commandments to lift up the marginalized in society, specifically forming a key part of Jesus’ ministry.
    • Radical feminism: “A perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts.” (Wikipedia)  First of all, it’s important to note that no perspective within feminism believes or calls for women ruling over or being treated “more equal” than men.  If someone believes and/or acts upon that, they are no longer a feminist.  Throughout most of Church history, we have seen Christians striving to change society (and often succeeding) for better or worse.  And hopefully, now we all view men and women as equal and believe they should be treated as such.  Again, nothing un-Christian here, though you are welcome to disagree with this approach to feminism personally (I myself tend to lean more towards traditional Liberal feminism with a tinge of Black and Marxist feminism).
    • Critical race theory: “A theoretical framework in the social sciences that uses critical theory to examine society and culture as they relate to categorizations of race, law, and power.” (Wikipedia)  This denial just has some nasty racial subtext.  It’s essentially calling for freedom from accountability of Christianity’s racist past.  No, not all Christians supported slavery, and while they were also at the forefront of the abolition movement, just as many if not arguably more supported it.  The problem is Scripture can be twisted to mean almost anything you want, often leading to oppression/exclusion.  So denying a research method that seeks to examine racism in society betrays underlying beliefs of the documents’ creators.
  • “WE AFFIRM that God created every person equally in his own image. As divine image-bearers, all people have inestimable value and dignity before God and deserve honor, respect and protection.”  No complaints here, I actually like this one.
  • “We further deny that Christians can live justly in the world under any principles other than the biblical standard of righteousness.”  There’s a difference between literal biblical and Christian righteousness.  One often calls for violence and oppression, the other will always call for peace.  Once again, the problem with following a “biblical” model of righteousness is that the Bible can be twisted into almost whatever you want, evidenced best in the slavery/abolition debate.  Both justified themselves with Scripture, but clearly only one was Christian.
  • “WE DENY that any obligation that does not arise from God’s commandments can be legitimately imposed on Christians as a prescription for righteous living.”  Unfortunately, the Abrahamic law does not cover all possible legal or moral issues, and some of it clearly very wrong (as Jesus himself taught).  There are many things that nearly all Christians (and people in general) consider wrong, but are not explicitly covered in the Bible.  Once again, this denial is an attempt to escape accountability, because “if it’s not explicitly there they should not be bound legally by it.”
  • “WE AFFIRM that all people are connected to Adam both naturally and federally.” Please define and justify the statement “connected to Adam…federally”.
  • “WE DENY that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel.”  Yes, the gospel books are themselves complete.  However, the Gospel itself is the Good News, which can be summed by both the Great Commandment (Love God, Love others) and the Great Commission (Go forth and spread the Good News).  I would think the Great Commandment includes Social Justice, and the Great Commission is not really directly related to, being in itself concerned with evangelism.
  • “Further, all who are united to Christ are also united to one another regardless of age, ethnicity, or sex. All believers are being conformed to the image of Christ.”  While noticeably lacking in a few demographics, I have not contention with this statement.
  • “We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.” Technically true but laws and regulations can reduce sinful behavior, especially that which bring harm to others.
  • WE AFFIRM that heresy is a denial of or departure from a doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith.”  I really don’t see what this section is doing in a statement on Social Justice.  The only reason I could think of is the authors are basically saying “If you don’t agree with us, you’re not a real Christian”.  So to the other 40,000+ Christian denominations out there, many of whom view Social Justice as a positive force or for some even an integral part of Christianity, sorry.  I guess according to these guys your fake.
  • Most of the “Sexuality and Marriage” section Regardless of what you think about subjects such as gay marriage, we really need to stop saying sexual orientation is a choice (because it’s not).  In addition, their statements on gender expression are wrong, because “male” and “female” does not mean the same thing in every part of the world.  Western gender norms are quite different than those we would see in biblical times, as well.  And conversion therapy?  Just no.
  •  The entire “Complementarianism” section: Separate but equal is not equal.
  • “All that is good, honest, just, and beautiful in various ethnic backgrounds and experiences can be celebrated as the fruit of God’s grace.” Fair enough. It’s an old concept, but it checks out.  Move along.
  • “WE AFFIRM that racism is a sin” I hope so.
  • “We deny that systemic racism is in any way compatible with the core principles of historic evangelical convictions.” Here it is, literal, explicit, they’re saying it themselves, no subtext required denial of Christianity’s role in racism.  No, racism is not Christian, and no, not all Christians back then were racist but racism and slavery were most definitely convictions of not just evangelical Christianity but other groups as well for hundreds of years.  This is an explicit denial, not an apology or even an explanation!
  • “Historically, such things [Discussions of Racism] tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.” So the church discussing racism will ultimately lead to departure from the good news…not sure I follow.

 

Ok, so maybe I looked at more than a few points, but it was kinda’ hard not to.

Is an interest in Social Justice actually newfound in Christianity?  If you know your history (or have access to Google), it appears not: “The Gospel,” preached abolitionist Gilbert Haven in 1863, “is not confined to a repentance and faith that have no connection with social or civil duties. The Evangel of Christ is an all-embracing theme.” (https://www.dallasnews.com)

A recurring theme in many Biblical teachings is caring for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and lifting them out these situations.

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Mathew 25:40, NRSV)

A significant part of Jesus’ ministry involved social justice.  His teachings were radical and viewed as “heresy” by many of the leading religious leaders at the time.  I truly hope this document represents a minority belief in American Christianity, but it’s over 8,000 signers (at the time of this writing) suggest otherwise.  To reject social justice is to reject the Gospel itself.

 

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A Brief Clarification on Universal Healthcare

Hey everyone, today I’m going to briefly discuss a few objections to Universal Health Care in the United States of America.  This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive list, nor is it in any way meant to say that there are no concerns regarding Universal Health Care.  I also am not advocating any specific method Universal Healthcare should be implemented–I’m not a healthcare expert or a Politician, so I’m not particularly qualified to do so.  However, I can address a few misunderstandings and hopefully promote a discussion on how to fix the healthcare crisis in the US.

  1. Universal Healthcare Is a Step Close to a Communist America: First, I would like to discuss the difference between Communism and Socialism, because while there is overlap between the two they are two entirely different concepts, such as a hot dog and a sandwich.  Communism is government ownership of the means of production, such as factories, mines, and farms.  Socialism is the redistribution of wealth.  While “redistribution of wealth” may sound scary, all it means is that funds provided through taxes are used to provide a service to citizens.  If you support public schools, fire departments, and even a military, then you support “the redistribution of wealth”.  More importantly, having socialized policies does not make a country a socialist country.  Our country has had socialized policies before socialism was even a thing (And so has virtually any country with a government, because that’s what a government does, provide services.  Well, part of what it does).  Likewise, just because a country like Denmark has capitalist policies (such as private ownership of property and means of production) does not make it a capitalist country.
  2. America Already Has Systems in Place to Provide Healthcare for Those Who Truly Need It: Yes, America does have services such as Medicare and Medicaid that provide health care to millions of needy Americans.  These services are far better than nothing and truly do a lot of good.  However, they are inadequate and alienate many needy people.  A large part of the problem is the Poverty Threshold.  Those who fall at or below the Poverty Threshold are legally considered to be in a state of “Absolute Poverty” and qualify for certain types of government aid.  Those who are slightly above the Poverty Threshold may qualify for reduced or partial aid.  What makes the Poverty Threshold problematic, however, is the formula behind it.  The current formula for the Poverty Threshold has existed since the 1950’s, and is “Cost_Of_Foodx3”.  Back in the 1950’s, food was the largest expense for a family, and this formula largely worked.  However, this is no longer the case.  Advances in storage and transportation, as well as agricultural technology, have lead to food being one of the cheapest expenses for a family.  Changing society and economy has caused things such as insurances, childcare, and debt to become a much larger expense.  Because food is no longer the largest expense for families, this formula no longer holds up in today’s world.  It causes millions of Americans who fall into the category of “Relative Poverty” (meaning they make less than the average amount for comparably sized family units) instead of “Absolute Poverty”, where they should probably belong.  Because of this, they no longer have access to the same benefits, even if they need them, or only have access to insufficient benefits.
  3. America Cannot Afford Universal Healthcare: Actually, it can, and it would potentially be cheaper than the hodgepodge of solutions we have now.  According to a 2018 (meaning recent) Harvard Study, America spends proportionately more on Healthcare per resident than other developed countries (the overwhelming majority of which have Universal Healthcare) yet has “the shortest life expectancy and highest infant and maternal mortality rates among any of its peers”.  This is not saying that the exact systems these other countries have would work in America, but is saying there’s a strong correlation between Universal Health Care and an overall higher standard of living.  It also shows that a single-payer system universally (pun totally intended) actually costs less than a mixture of subsidized and private healthcare we have today.  Another issue is decreasing regulation on the prices of medication.  With many types of medication, there is very little (if any) regulation on the cost Labs can charge for medications.  While they are going to have to charge more money than it costs to produce the medication to make up research costs (research is expensive and lengthy) they are charging exorbitantly more, sometimes exponentially greater.  Many of these medications are sustainably sold in other countries at lower, more affordable rates.

Hopefully, for the three issues I discussed tonight you’ll come out with a greater understanding of them.  Some of you may even disagree with Universal Health Care as the solution, but I hope that at least you recognize the need for a solution.

“If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.” Deuteronomy 15:7

 

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