Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Act of God

Most folks around here already know that I was prevented from teaching at the seminary in Kiev, Ukraine this week by the volcano in Iceland. I was on the all-night flight to nowhere, taking off from Houston, getting turned around as the volcano erupted, and landing seven hours later right back where we started. At least I was fortunate to be able to get back home, unlike the tens of thousands who are stranded.

I've watched all the reports on CNN and I had many conversations with stranded travelers from the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany while I was still in Houston, and one phrase kept turning up over and over - "an act of God." This is not really a biblical phrase, although scripture tells us about all kinds of things that God does. No, I'm guessing we made up this phrase ourselves to describe those horrific moments when nature violently reminds us just how vulnerable and helpless we are. So whenever nature seems to go on a rampage, such as asteroids crashing to earth, volcanoes erupting, earthquakes leaving cities in shambles, tornadoes tossing trailer houses across the Midwest, we survey the wreckage and debris and call it, "An act of God."

And, I guess there's a sense in which that statement is very true. After all, God is the Creator, isn't He? He's the Big Guy who started this show in the first place, whether you think it took six days or six million years. God has established the laws by which this universe exists, from the tiniest molecule to the grandest galaxy. He made the rules, and He is ultimately responsible.

But, I have to tell you, I'm a little uncomfortable with that phrase, "an act of God." When airlines use it, they mean, "No refund." When insurance companies use it, they mean, "You're not covered." When some religious types use it, they mean "God is punishing you." When children hear that phrase, they wonder, "Is God mad at us?" When skeptics ponder those words, they point to the randomness of nature and say, "See, there is no God who rewards the good and judges the wicked."

An act of God. What do you make of it? Well, I don't think God sits around playing with nature like a kid playing with his X-Box, constantly changing the game options to make it more interesting. The Creator created and nature will continue to play by His rules - rules that we can only dimly comprehend, even in our scientific sophistication. Nature will never be tamed or predictable or controlled and neither will the Creator. Get used to it. This is life on planet Earth.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Life and What You Make of It: Part 3

"The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it." (William James)
"Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself." (Harvey Fierstein) 

"Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out." (Anton Chekhov)

"Every man dies. Not every man really lives." (William Wallace)

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'." (Erma Bombeck)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

No Mere Mortals

Remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. - C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory"

Friday, April 2, 2010

An Unforgettable Morning

I took this picture at dawn on January 11, 1985, the morning of my 25th birthday. I had just arrived in Israel as a seminary student taking a class in Old Testament archeology. My first journey overseas had been a blurry nightmare including a bad head cold, a blown tire on takeoff in New York, landing in a blizzard in Belgium, an extra 17 hour delay spent trying to sleep on the floor of an airport, some woman who spoke no English offering to buy me a drink, and then an 8 hour bus tour spent mostly snoring with my mouth wide open. I probably slobbered, too. Finally, we arrived in the city of Tiberius. After a hot shower and a good meal, my longest day came to a merciful end.

The next morning I got up early and drew back the curtains of my room. There it was, the Sea of Galilee, calm and serene, the water lapping almost up to my door. I pulled on my jeans and sweatshirt and took a walk along the shore, still just a hint of early dawn in the east. As I walked, I thought back over that long journey and realized this was the 11th, my birthday. What a unique and wonderful birthday gift, watching the sun come up over Galilee.

I soon realized that I was not alone. I don't know how to describe it, except to say Christ came near to me. I can hardly write about it. It was so moving and mysterious and yet unmistakable all at once, just taking a walk with Jesus. He came to meet me that morning as if He had been waiting for me. I can't fathom such love and grace, condescending to me. Jesus reminded me that I, too, am His disciple, called to follow wherever He leads. It was a morning I will never forget, and when I see this old picture I run back to Galilee and listen for His voice again.

On this Good Friday, I am 50 years old, twice my age when I first saw this sunrise. Yet, still He calls and still I follow, just walking with Jesus, until we finally make it back home - this time to His place.