The Problem of Evil

December 2, 2006

“In his winepress the Lord has trampled the Virgin Daughter of Judah.”

Lamentations 1:15b

Encountering verses like this reminds me how anemic is our common understanding of God and the Bible. When was the last time you heard a sermon about Lamentations in general, much less Lamentations 1:15b? I don’t say this as someone who has got if figured out; I think the only reason I read Lamentations was an old bulletin in my Bible that made me open to it. But look at those words. Read them again. Imagine a crushed virgin and the God who crushed her. Is that the God we worship?

I once asked my professor Gregg Ten Elshof what to do with the doctrine of hell, something I struggle to understand. He replied, “Ask God prove it good to you, and if he doesn’t, to give you faith to accept it.” So that’s what I do, all too infrequently.

To learn more about how to think about hell: wikipedia on hell. Needless to say, while I find C.S. Lewis’ famous words on hell attractive, (the bit about it being locked from the inside) I’m not convinced they found their way into the Bible.

To end, here is a poster I made for a recent event. Our presenters did a fantastic job. Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.






Mark Makin and I are co-presidents of ASP. This year we wanted to avoid what happened last year, when once a week about four of us would talk about Andrew Bailey’s grad school application process. It paid off for Andrew, but wasn’t helping many other people. We decided we needed to do fewer events better. Our second talk (Mark did the first one on the mind body problem) was last night. Oscar Tovar was the speaker; he did a tremendous job on difficiult material. He spoke on Kant and Hegel, taking questions at the end. German Idealism isn’t something you learn much about at Biola, partly because no one knows enough to teach it. The fact that its incomprehensible, even in the orginal German, doesn’t help.

I made the sign below to help promote the event. I got the idea from a Chip Kidd book cover; he’s about as close as you could get to being a rock star graphic designer. The signs were a huge hit, we even got a few requests from people who wanted a copy. My favorite was from professor Bruce Wilshire of Rutgers University’s philosophy department. He recently gave a lecture at Biola critiquing analytic philosophy that I unfortunately had to miss. My roommate Ben told me someone asked for some “practical advice” for a budding philosopher. I guess Wilshire looked at him and replied “Practical advice? I’ll give you some practical advice; go to the Mojave Desert and look at the stars…”



November 1, 2006

small.jpgSo the house took a trip to Yosemite. It was awesome. Here is a picture I took; I will say more in a bit.


November 1, 2006

Dallas Willard on Humility

October 30, 2006

Dallas Willard is my intellectual and spiritual granddaddy in a lot of ways.He’s had a huge (huge! HUGE!) influence on contemporary Christianity, particularly at Biola. Something like four of our philosophy professors studied with Willard at USC, including my teacher and a mentor of sorts, Gregg Ten Elshof.

One time I was flying back to LA from God’s Land and found myself sitting next to a chatty high school English teacher. I usually get pretty giddy whenever I meet anyone who likes to read; you can imagine my excitement at discovering this guy had studied philosophy at USC. He was very nice, but unfortunately a little too “I-try-to-avoid- real-thought-about-religion-and-its-oppression-but-did-I-mention-I’m-spiritual?” Despite this, when I asked about Willard he started glowing. He told me story after story about how kind and wise and peaceful Dallas had been: one of the best men he had ever met.

Christianity Today recently had an article on the “Divine Conspirator” (read it here) in which they spoke about the tremendous impact he’s had on how people think about the Christian life. Among my favorite Willard-isms: “People of late have seemed to reduce the whole of our faith to the agreement with a certain theory of the atonement.”

One of the most revolutionary notions for me was initiated by something Ten Elshof said, in obvious agreement with the spirit of his mentor. It involves a genuine and extravagant good-will toward others, even to the point of wishing their benefit over your own. It’s appalling how often the goods I set myself on securing are necessarily unsharable. To want to be the best (notice it’s never just “good”) means in some real way I hope my neighbor will lose to me. I am very attracted to the opinion that success, even “Christian success,” is fairly trivial; you get the impression Willard would almost prefer someone else to have said these wonderful things and been made an icon. Influence is important and can be very good, but I hope I never forget the words of my dad: “We have to pray that our success won’t outpace our soul’s growth.”


So my friend Leif is awesome. Not only did he give me a free ticket to go see Paul Simon with him, but he put up with me taking pictures out the window while I was driving in downtown LA. What a guy. He even has this really tiny kitten at his house that almost justifies all those calenders you see with pictures of eight kittens stuffed in a mailbox. Who says guys from Oregon aren’t sensitive.

Paul Simon turns out to be about as tall as a mic stand, and still able to put on a good show. My favorite song was the The Boxer; I was pretty bummed he didn’t play Sounds of Silence. Leif told me Art was usually the one to sing that. Leif has all these stories about getting into afterparties and finding backstage passes, but this night wasn’t one of such exploits.

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G.K. Chesterton Article

October 14, 2006

I recently wrote this article on G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday for THI‘s “Symposium”. It was a pleasure to work on because Chesterton is hilarious and brilliant. To the right is a self-portrait Chesterton drew when he was twenty. The article below:

“The Man Who Was Thursday, The Man Who Was Sunday, and The Man Who Was, And Is, and is to Come”

The Man Who Was Thursday is irritating its well-fed author right now, wherever he is. What peeves Chesterton, probably, is what makes most intellectuals chartreuse with envy, his almost effortless achievement of that holy grail of scholarship: a book that is understood by everyone to be brilliant, but not actually understood by anyone. Thursday is a mystery thriller, a meditation on the problem of evil, and an exquisite picture in words. It is also really hard to understand. Perhaps we should not expect so much. Chesterton wrote the book and prefacing poem in 1908 to childhood friend and fellow mystery author Edmund Clerihew Bentley, and one can imagine close friends sharing obscurities. (For at least some eye into London at the time and the many names that surface, The Annotated Thursday by Martin Gardner is helpful.) Specific references, however, don’t seem to be the tricky bit for most readers—the whole thing is. Most of the puzzlement surrounds how to interpret the inscrutable character Sunday, particularly in the book’s final chapter. This Gordian knot of a man (or is he a god, or is it a force…) dominates the imagination, preventing even a careful interpreter from making much sense of the beginning of the book, not to mention the first six days of the week.

Chesterton noted similar fumbling when a few critics praised his Sunday, whom they thought a portrayal of the Christian God: “I have sometimes had occasion to murmur meekly that those who endure the heavy labor of reading a book might possibly endure that of reading the title page.” The full title is The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. To those readers who are presently quite satisfied to know its full title but still lack acquaintance with the book itself, I urge on you heavy labor—there are few stories more pleasing to read.

Thursday is some of Chesterton’s best fiction, and surely his most iconic. The book’s first sentence signals the end of an epoch: “The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset.” Saffron Park is the book’s name for Bedford Park, the bohemian West London suburb where Chesterton met his wife Frances. Chesterton loved the neighborhood, but in many ways it stood as a bastion of what he wrote against. The occasion described at the beginning of the book is characteristic of the place: an anarchistic captivating the crowd with poems praising chaos as a red sky suggests impending Armageddon. The dying day is not the only thing red; Rosamond, a girl perhaps very much like the one Gilbert met and married in similar circumstances, is adorned in braids of red hair. Chesterton once said of the color, “Red is the most joyful and dreadful thing in the physical universe; it is the fiercest note, it is the highest light, it is the place where the walls of this world of ours wear thinnest and something beyond burns through.”

Under this scarlet banner, not far from this girl, purpose, goodness, and tidiness battle chaos and disarray. Gabriel Syme, a lilac-scented, self-proclaimed “poet of order,” confronts the anarchist, one Gregory Lucian. Syme scoffs at Gregory’s pessimism and chuckles when he threatens of revolution. Syme doesn’t know that Gregory is about to be elected to the Supreme Council of Anarchy, a body of seven members, each named after one day of the week. Gregory smuggles Syme into the anarchists’ den, but not before both men promise to hide their secret allegiances. Syme quickly turns on Gregory at the election and galvanizes the anarchists with a fiery speech; they elect him to be Thursday on the Supreme Council instead of Gregory.

Syme steadily discovers, with who-dun-it hilarity, that that like him, all of the other days of the week are undercover policemen. Each was commissioned by the same nebulous figure, a man they never see who sent them into the world with the promise of martyrdom: “I am condemning you to death. Good day.” Syme often believes himself to be entirely alone fighting a struggle that is as impossible as it is isolating. Once, when four of the detectives are hounded by what they think to be the entire world of anarchists, peasants, and policemen, Syme asks his companion:

You are quite hopeless, then?” Mr. Ratcliffe kept a stony silence; then at last he said quietly—“No; oddly enough I am not quite hopeless. There is one insane little hope that I cannot get out of my mind. The power of this whole planet is against us, yet I cannot help wondering whether this one silly little hope is hopeless yet.” “In what or whom is your hope?” asked Syme with curiosity. “In a man I never saw,” said the other, looking at the leaden sea.

That man never comes to save them, but the whole world is also not actually out to kill them. Read the rest of this entry »

What Not to Do

October 10, 2006

Life is so ironic. So the house had the Andersons and Wards over for dinner last night. We had buckets of fun talking about their Biola days, the Wards’ time at Oxford, and how sad it was that most people seem to think their wedding pictures are more important than their actual wedding. During this conversation Matt Anderson kept going on about how we should all write things like they did in the good ol’ days of pen and paper. (If this sort of sentiment appeals to you, read some Wendell Berry to fuel your fire.) So, repeatedly, Matt says the fall of civilization will be due to the backspace key. And this from a guy who organizes a conference like this.

Anyways, the next morning comes and I’m reading the news and eating breakfast. Suddenly I reach for more milk and knock my cereal bowl onto my laptop. Death by Mini-Spooners. I frantically flip it upside down and try to dry it off, but not before my space-bar, apple key, option, brackets, enter, and yes, you guessed it, my backspace key are all obliterated. SonowIllhavetotypelikethis.