Musings, Nits, and Praises: September 2007

Musings, Nits, and Praises

A farrago of all things deemed blog-worthy by a music-loving, poetry-writing, humor-seeking English teacher

Religion as a Hobby

I read something on Richard Beck's blog today, Experimental Theology, that rings with a lot of truth. In his latest entry, "Hurry," he describes John Darley and Daniel Batson's 1973 study From Jerusalem to Jericho in which they conducted a controlled simulation of the parable of the Good Samaritan with seminary students. To read Richard's full post, including a description of the workings of the study, go here:

In short, the seminarians who were in the least hurry were the ones who most often stopped to help someone in need.

But here's the part of Richard's post I'd like to focus on. In examining the implications of the study, he writes:

We are a different kind of person when we are hurried versus when we are unhurried. There is no "real" you. There is, rather, hurried you and unhurried you. And, as your family, friends, and coworkers can attest, hurried you and unhurried you are really two very different people.

Second, Jerusalem to Jericho makes this acute observation: Most of us pursue spirituality as a hobby. That is, Life with God is pursued as a leisure activity. Why do I say this? Well, hobbies and leisure activities are what we pursue when we have free, expendable time our our hands. But when we have "stuff to do," we tend to place our hobbies to the side. They are not allowed to interfere with our urgent agenda. If so, then the Jerusalem to Jericho study suggests that helping others, for many, is a hobby. It's something to do on weekends, when you have some spare time. This is a penetrating diagnosis. Too many Christians treat altruism as a hobby, rather than as a central and urgent feature of their life. In short, you know Life with God is no longer a hobby when altruism is allowed to interfere with your life.

Third, hurry is a form of everyday evil. Hurry turns us into self-interested, callous jerks. We need to be reminded that love involves slowness. Love has a speed, a pace.

So, how do we make our faith the "central and urgent feature" of our life instead of a hobby? I think the answer may lie in working and pushing each other in our churches as a community of believers. But how can we do that when as the individuals comprising a church most of us are rather complacent?

The Problem of Pain

No, I don't intend to discuss C.S. Lewis' book The Problem of Pain, nor do I want to try to tackle directly the question of theodicy--"How do we reconcile the existence of evil and suffering in the world with a benevolent God?. Maybe that's a post for another week. But here are the questions I'd like to pose: Accepting the fact that evil and suffering do exist, why does God seem to do so little to mitigate them? Why does God seem to seldom if ever intervene when we pray for people with life-threatening illnesses?

Suffering can plague entire segments of a population or entire nations. As someone born into middle-class America, I essentially won the geographical lottery compared to someone born in an inner-city slum or in a third-world country. Millions of people around the globe go hungry and suffer diseases that we no longer have to bother about. Why the disparity in fortune? Some thinkers have suggested that virtues such as compassion would not be possible without the presence of suffering. But if God is love, then such virtues existed perfectly in Him before anyone existed on earth to suffer. Furthermore, the explanation feels like God would be using people as object lessons. Maybe He is, but I find the explanation rather cold. Whatever the reason for the disparity, if we as the church are to act as Christ's body, then we need to be about meeting the needs of the "least of these." Unfortunately, I don't think we focus nearly enough on doing so.

As to the second question, consider James 5:13-16: "Is any of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one if you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." Some writers have suggested that James is concerned with spiritual healing in this passage. Perhaps some of you who possess some hermeneutical acumen could support or refute that claim for us. But as I understand the passage, although James does address spiritual healing, he also speaks of physical healing. We spend a lot of our time in prayer (as a church body and as individuals) asking God to heal the deathly sick or severely injured, but how often are they made well? Sure, we have to balance James' passage with the fact that everyone eventually dies, but I'm sure we could all compile rather lengthy lists of children or young fathers or mothers we've fervently prayed to be healed only for them to die. Are we misunderstanding scripture?

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