Why Does God Drown the World? Still Reflecting on Noah – Post 4

I keep thinking and blogging about the movie Noah and have found it to be an appropriate exercise throughout Lent. If you are just stopping in, welcome and consider this your spoiler alert. If you’d like some earlier context, check out earlier posts “Presuppositions and Expectations – Post 1″ & “The Complexity of Calling – Post 2″ and “Justice, Mercy and the Awkward Moment with Ham – Post 3.”

I remember the first time I saw the trailer for Noah and seeing the incredible special effects of the water and destruction. My next thought was something like: “Oh no, now I have to process why God drowned humanity again.”

My second thought was they got Russell Crowe to play Noah so either Kirk Cameron just led him to Jesus or this is probably not going to be Biblically consistent. This is not intended to judge Crowe, nor do I know anything about what he believes. I only know he is a serious actor and he’s not going to be in a movie that is flat and uninteresting, you know, the way that 90% of Christian movies are. Then later I would learn more about who wrote and directed it.

Before some of the backlash against Noah, there was a lot of excitement for the movie. Christian leaders were excited, Facebook friends posted trailers and a friend of mine even told me he saw the trailer at a Hillsong concert. Most Christian leaders (and I imagine, the Hillsong types too) now say they never saw the full movie or the same version that was released in theaters.

Ok, maybe that’s true. But for me, though interested, I wasn’t excited, I was anxious, because this story is a problematic for me. God drowns the world.

One might wonder why has this matter not been settled by this point in my life. Well it has and it hasn’t. The short answer is while I have studied it, I understand the theology behind it, I think I can even provide an adequate explanation to most – I just don’t like it.

If you’ve ever had to explain the concept of death to a 4 year old who can’t stop asking questions about it, you know what I mean. You understand it, you can explain it, you just don’t like the whole thing.

It’s a timely question to consider as we are in our last stretch of Lent.

Why does God allow everyone else to perish in the story of Noah? Further, why does God punish the wickedness of the world and then later choose to become a man and perish for the very same wickedness? Or even better, why doesn’t Jesus come during the time of Noah? Why go through all this? Why drown the world and then save the world? Was the post-Noah human population that much better? We’re the updated 2.0 version and this is what we ended up with? Drown us again.

No wait. Don’t do that.

Redemption is by far a greater solution.

But why doesn’t God foresee all this?

Then there’s the context. It’s difficult to conclude when Noah lived, what the global population was, and how far that population had spread out across the planet. This inevitably leads us to consider other theories including the idea of a more regional flood. Keeping all the super-natural in it, God drowning the entire Middle-East population and not those who may have settled in other parts. It’s tempting but feels weak. But who really knows?

I’m sure a better answer awaits us when we are reunited with the fulness of God in His domain but until then, here’s what keeps me going:

The theological answer is that God drowns the world because humanity is hopelessly wicked. This doesn’t mean that we are committing wicked deeds 24/7. We often think of wickedness as merely an action, but it’s a condition. There is no way of getting rid of this condition.
Humanity is capable of great good and capable of great evil.
God gives us the free will to choose between the two.
It’s God’s job to judge.
It’s also God’s job to save.

I confess I often think of this from the human vantage point, as opposed to God’s, you know because I am human and not God.

In short, God given His sovereignty chooses to judge the world by destroying it. He’s the Creator, He’s the Judge, He’s not an elected official. This and more is what makes Him God. For the most part, I’m ok with this brutal summary.

God being all-knowing foresees human wickedness. He knows after the flood, that Noah and his descendants will follow the same route. He knows He can repeat this story a thousand times and ultimately still have the same outcome.

God knows this, we don’t really.

From our human perspective, eventually some of us might be convinced that no matter what we do, we cannot save this world by our own inniative. We cannot cure the wicked condition and be made whole, even with an entire system reset and restarting with our most virtuous human examples, we are doomed to our inevitable wickedness. It’s the design flaw of our humanity and free will. And we must have free will in order to have love and freedom.

At the end of all this, I start seeing that God drowns the world to demonstrate that regardless of what we do, we are corrupt and hopeless. And so we need divine intervention.

Which brings us back to the movie Noah and the different interpretations we have.
Does Noah reject the plan of the Creator when he chooses to not kill his grandchildren or my interpretation. Some have speculated that this is Aronofsk’y's trojan horse: Noah defying the Creator to save humanity.

Personally I reject this interpretation. For me and many I prefer Noah discovering what it’s like to wrestle with the tension of justice and mercy (as discussed in the previous post). And I love that Aronofsky sees this too (Christians/theists and atheists/agnostics probably have more in common than we all realize but that’s another story).

Noah realizes the love he has in his heart for his children is more powerful and though they will be inevitably be wicked, he wants them to live, to know them, to love them. This is the very same way the Creator sees us. He must let them live, because God lets humanity live.

God drowning the world is both judgement and a demonstration that regardless of what we do, we will be wicked. We must be saved because again, He wants us to live.
I still don’t like any of this. I don’t like the question, I don’t like the answers I’ve found, I don’t like the reality, the wickedness, all of that.

To follow my logic and my heart, I realize it’s not a wicked humanity that I want to save. Rather, I want to be part of a humanity that loves and takes care of each other. I want to be part of one that shares, supports, builds, celebrates, and grows. We all want meaning, love, purpose, beauty and experience the collective goodness of it all.

This is what God has always wanted too. It’s why He created us in the first place, it’s why He went to the cross to redeem us. This is the promise of heaven. This is what the rainbows should remind us of. Which brings us to the meaning of Easter.

Justice, Mercy and that Awkward Moment with Ham – Reflecting on Noah Post 3

I keep thinking and blogging about the movie Noah and have found it to be an appropriate exercise throughout Lent. If you are just stopping in, welcome and consider this your spoiler alert. If you’d like some earlier context, check out earlier posts “Presuppositions and Expectations – Post 1″ & “The Complexity of Calling – Post 2.”

By far my favorite part of Noah was the tension between justice and mercy. The plot twist of watching a Noah who has either gone mad or is truly convinced that the Creator has called him to consider such extreme action is powerful to say the least. Now we know that Noah is not actually going to kill [Read more...]

The Complexity of Calling – Reflecting on Noah Post 2

Spoiler alert: If you’re like Frank Castanza and need to go in the movie “fresh” then stop reading.
If you haven’t seen it but already engaged, I’ll do my best to not to ruin it completely for you. If you’ve seen it, would love to discuss.

As mentioned previously, I really liked the movie Noah but among my complaints was that it moved slow. Sometimes the slowness of a movie works like with  Drive. But in this case, it was slow and it was difficult to figure out how much time had passed between scenes. If I see it again, maybe I’ll feel different.

I also found the need for the hallucinogens to be annoying as well. I just don’t understand why they were needed to produce Noah’s visions? Earlier in the movie, Noah’s wife, Naameh sprinkles some hallucinogenic pixie dust to help him sleep resulting in his first vision. Then his grandfather Methuselah gives him a drug and he has another. Now my family works a little different but I’ll avoid judging.

My question is why don’t Naameh and Methuselah drug themselves and “vision-check” Noah. “Yes, we too [Read more...]

“Pre-suppositions & Expectations” – Reflecting on Noah Post 1

The other night, my wife and I went to see the new movie Noah. In short, I liked quite a bit about it which I want to share why but it seems most helpful to begin with pre-suppositions and expectations.

If you need a literal re-telling of the Noah story found in say, the NIV/KJV, I’m not sure I know of a movie to recommend. From what I know, all attempts for a literal re-tellings of Scripture come off comical, boring or flat (as in lacking of any creative imagination). I’m not sure any serious reader of Scripture will ever be completely pleased in a screen adaptation of scenes in the Bible.

As I mentioned in my Facebook post:

”…Frankly, it’s very difficult for me to be satisfied with any piece of art that is describing, re-creating, painting, telling, interpreting our sacred Scriptures. Everything from sermon to canvas to film falls short. So given that, what goodness can be found then? And though things like Last Temptation of Christ and “Piss Christ” are offensive, oddly enough, I think this is where some Christian art has failed us as well – because many have settled for a boring and flat retelling of events that our mind’s eye does a far better job with than their storytelling, cinematography, etc. SO, Noah was actually really good for me (not “perfect” mind you). Ok, blog post coming.”

In thinking about this, I found myself wondering why I even wanted to see this movie. It’s wrought with controversy, I don’t need any more and after an intense week, I could really use a laugh. Frankly, would this be worthwhile for the trouble it might cause? I’ll get to that.

Like most, I desire to be fluent with various aspects of culture – you cannot say you love people and [Read more...]

Why Won’t God Join the Search for Malasyia Airlines Flight 370?

Throughout this Lent, I’ve been trying to make myself attentive to the familiar question does God really exist? My mental backdrop of Lent has been Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness which was a time of self-denial, fasting, reflection and eventually, filling, centering and renewal.

I feel anytime I mention my doubt in a blog post or a sermon or a small group discussion that some misunderstand me. So for those that need to hear it (and honestly for those prone to over-react), no I am not really on the verge of abandoning my faith. The purpose of these posts are at least three-fold:
1. I like to explore, reflect, feel, think and process the tension of faith. I like to do the math.
2. I believe confronting my normal and healthy doubts leads to greater faith.
3. And perhaps God would use these words to strengthen your faith as well.

Be warned, it could get darker before we see light.

[Read more...]

What Pastors Never Tell You About Officiating Wedding Ceremonies

I’m in Washington D.C. for a wedding I officiated last night and after the reception, I went on a  leisurely walk around the city. While taking in the sights and the lights, I couldn’t help but reflect on what it’s like to officiate a wedding. I’ve thought about some of these thing a few times but because last night was fairly flawless, it seemed safe to post.

1. It Actually Is Harder than It Looks and There’s Some Pressure.

There are a lot moving parts in a wedding and most couples I marry are getting married for the first time. But just about everyone in the audience knows what it should look like. Also, there really are a lot of distractions during the wedding. Cameraman jumping over altar railings to get the perfect shot, kids crying, uncles who don’t know how to whisper, “Looks like Johnny put on some pounds!” and trying to stay on the same page with the musicians or the sound guy or the wedding coordinator.

More so, the minister is doing just about all the talking and while most of us like to talk, the reality is that we like to talk intelligently and most  who are somewhat self-aware, have a fear of babbling. And we’ve all been to weddings where the officiant rambles on and on. Having known I was heading into ministry since my college years, I’ve often listened to wedding guests critique and complain about ceremonies during the reception. “He just couldn’t shut up.” “Hello, we didn’t come to hear you.” “Her voice was really nasally and she stuttered during that ring part.” I really don’t want to be that guy.

Further, it is such an honor to stand at that altar with a couple but there is also the realization that your face will be in particular wedding pictures forever (I for some reason have a habit of constantly licking my lips or flexing my jaw when couples are reciting their vows, exchanging their rings, lighting unity candle or simply standing there. Knowing there is a tool for “cropping” gives me comfort).

There was a time in my ministry when I would have preferred to officiate a funeral than a wedding. Funerals don’t have to be perfect, weddings have been planned and dreamed about for years. Then you have the dreams of the parents, sisters, grandmothers, aunts close friends who are like sisters, mothers/grandmas and add it all together you have about a millennia of expectation, so no pressure. Then I started getting the hang of it (I credit my sister’s wedding for the epiphany) and used the mediation time to tell the story of the couple, give them a personalized charge and remind them that God is the source of love and when marriages are rooted in Him, there is unconditional love, sacrifice, forgiveness and joy. Knowing what you’re supposed to do really takes the edge off.

2. Each Minister has their own favorite moments of every ceremony.
The highlight of the wedding is to witness the couple exchanging their vows. But there are other moments that you might miss because of the intend focal point.

For me, I love that moment of watching the groom watching the bride coming down the aisle. Many will steal a look at the groom but keep watching the bride, I’m watching them both. The bride is looking at him, she’s looking at her guests, she’s looking at the floor – the groom never stops looking at her. Never.

I also love watching the mother of the bride’s reaction when the bride’s father answers the question, “And so who gives this bride away.” Everyone’s looking at the father and the bride share this moment. Keep an eye on the mom.

Lastly, I always try to glance over at the bridal party and see their reactions throughout the ceremony. Sometimes they’re standing nervously, sometimes they’re frozen, sometimes they look soldiers guarding the altar but many times, they have the “best seats in the house” and often you benefit from their joyful reaction in seeing their closest friends get married.

3. We say that it’s an honor and it really is – Here’s why.
What were the circumstances of being asked to officiate? For those whom you are close to, this works nicely. But for others, context is really helpful. Finding an officiant can be particularly tricky for young couples transitioning out of college and trying to figure out their next steps. You also learn that some people in your congregation never connected to a pastor or they did but he/she moved on.

When you’re asked by someone no longer in your local congregation, you get a whole other set of thoughts and questions. People come and go out of your church and out of your life and while some people leave in anger and frustration, there is a significant number that leave in peace. Maybe they’ve moved, maybe you’ve moved, maybe they needed to find a different community or left not finding community and faith at your church., there are countless reasons. The thing is often, you don’t exactly know where you stand with them. And so when someone calls you up and asks you to be part of the most important day of his/her life, well, now you know.

4. Pre-marriage counseling helps pastors in their own marriages.
Similar to how the wedding ceremony reminds the married guests (and unmarried I suppose) on the beauty and meaning of marriage, the counseling often helps the minister and their spouse.
No one wants to be a hypocrite and there have been numerous times after a counseling session that I’ve returned home and began a conversation with my wife that said, “Hey, this came up in the counseling and it got me thinking …” To which my wife has sometimes replied, “Oh yeah, I think I may have mentioned something similar to that last week.” “Oh right :)”

5. It’s so personal.
Related to the first, when a couple asks you to perform their wedding ceremony and chooses to get pre-marriage counseling, obviously it gets personal. Now I should say that I have had a handful of couples give me the same treatment that they would a car salesman, “Listen Pastor, we just need the keys to drive off the altar, that’s it” but the majority take advantage of the

As a minister, you often get an “insider’s understanding” of people’s lives. Sometimes you’re there at a hospital during the worst moment of a family’s life, sometimes you’re there in the waiting room of the maternity wing celebrating the arrival of a child. Sometimes you sit with people discussing their jobs, their children, their parents, love, faith, future and countless other matters of life.

When it comes to getting married, you hear quite a bit. After all, two lives are going to become one. And this moves you to prayer because marriage is not just about finding someone great and getting some great advice. Marriage is work, sacrifice, and all things rooted in love. And while it’s not an act of God to have a great marriage, rooting your marriage in God’s love is profoundly good and wise.

And while everything that is shared in counseling is always confidential, even as a young pastor who is married also, you start seeing patterns and hearing unique perspectives that shape your own which all add up to better counsel for the next couple and the next one.

The interesting thing is that you don’t begin thinking that it will. You actually think you can do this without getting close. And there’s a responsibility that comes with getting close because now you have to address any issues, problems and concerns that come up and that takes energy, wisdom, thought and time. Hence the dependence on prayer.

As you do this, you now have a shared history. And this is what it makes each couple that gives you access to their lives so special and hopefully, it contributes to a more personal ceremony.

It’s fair to say that most pastors take your wedding seriously and despite looking cool and relaxed, many really are focused on trying to make this ceremony as sacred, personable and special as possible.

Beyond the ceremony, we think about the marriage. Marriage is difficult and we think about you … we thing about what we told you, what we haven’t told you, if we have over-romanticized, over-simplified, over-complicated our marital advice. It’s the biggest day of a couple’s life and it’s brilliant when it goes well and you had the blessing of being a part of it.

God’s grace and strength to those unravelling the mystery of “two becoming one.”

3 Options and My Reaction to the Mark Driscoll Apology

Many have been reacting to Mark Driscoll’s apology letter for the tactics used to get his book Real Marriage on the New York Times Bestseller list.
I wanted to add my reaction too. You can read the apology letter sent to his church but got leaked out here (can you actually have a private letter among a few thousand people? Anyway…)

But first a bit of context. To say it politely, I’ve never connected with Mark Driscoll on any level. His style, personality, theological differences, the hyper-masculinity comes across as more desperate than macho to me and his outright chauvinism have made it easy for me to focus my attention and appreciation elsewhere.

Oddly, over the last ten plus years, a good number of my friends have loved/liked/man-crushed on Driscoll and I’ve had too many conversations that have started with, “Tim, how can you not like him?” Some of them like the Red Sox or the Phillies so yeah, they have many problems.

Among my frustrations regarding Driscoll is how celebrated he is when there is just so much better content and character out there. I’m at the point where I’d rather watch Kirk Cameron in Left Behind than read a Driscoll book (I’ve always preferred comedy to horror).

But despite my intent to not give him any of my attention, his name inevitably shows up on my social media feeds and comes out of my friends’ mouths. “Did you hear Driscoll said Avatar is the [Read more...]

Justice Conference Boston Simulcast – Part 3: NT Wright’s “If It’s Real, It’s Local”

I’ve always felt that If you want to get the most out of the conferences you attend then you need to review your notes and stay in touch with people you’ve met. You can’t be best friends with everyone but it’s great to stay connected with the people you meet along the journey. When possible, I like to watch/listen the recordings of presentations I liked the most and every so often, I even check out the ones I didn’t connect with. It’s amazing how receiving content in a different context alters your perception and understanding.

You can’t think about everything you’ve heard, you can’t blog about everything you liked and though I wasn’t able to take many notes at the Justice Conference (anyone want to share yours with me?), I was able to for N.T. Wright’s presentation. Wow – how incredible was that – can’t wait until it’s released on video.

So deep and rich a presentation but the line that sticks out at me most is “If it’s real, it’s local.”

At first thought, it rings true. Then on second, I wasn’t sure if it was complete enough. After all, there are many things that occupy my mind that are not near to me at all and there are many things that are local to me, that are not that real to me, if I were being honest.

Much of our attention this week has been focused on Malyasia Airlines Flight 370. None of us know [Read more...]

An Ash Wednesday Reflection: Meteorologists, Interruptions and Does God Exist?

Ash Wednesday – the day of interruption.  Nearly out of the dreariness of winter and so badly wanting to experience the life of spring, but first, here’s a little more gloom.

For those of you speak “movies,” maybe it’s something like after watching all eighteen of the coming attractions, you get that  “Now the feature presentation” slide which in that split-second, you have to remember what you actually came to see. Then comes Ash Wednesday stopping the opening scene so you can be shown 40 more previews. Oh come on, will we ever get what we want?

As you may know, Lent simply means “springtime.” Here in the Northeast, it feels like a rumor. And now that I live in New England, it almost feels like the speculation that meteorologists come up with, “We might get 15 more inches of snow, or just a little rain.” (Every time I hear a meteorologist give the weather, I thank God this person chose a career outside of medicine or commercial aviation).

Now, I know as a pastor, it is possible that if the faith I profess is wrong, then I am worse than any meteorologist who ever stepped foot in front of those green screens. I can’t really say, “There might be a God or not. You might be created in the image of God or there really is no soul and your body just decomposes six feet below the ground if your family didn’t cremate you. Come back next Sunday for an update.” I’m all in this faith thing and frankly, I [Read more...]

Reflecting on the Justice Conference Boston – Part 2 – The Simulcast Experience

There we were watching someone speak of the horrific evils of trafficking and poverty from 3000 miles away. Our minds filling with statistics, principles, history lessons, missional terminology, our hearts breaking from the stories of elementary-aged school children forced into horrific situations. And at the moment what may have hurt more acutely were our ears were wincing from the buzz of the feedback.

During Lynne Hybels’ excellent presentation, she invited us to sit in silence to hear God’s voice as she had shared how God had “spoke” to her. But the feedback was so deafening that when she stopped speaking I wanted to yell out, “No keep talking, please!” But she was 3000 miles away and running on an eight minute delay.

Can God speak through feedback? Where is God in simulcast with an eight minute delay?

Being the emcee of our simulcast, I tried to remind myself and my fellow attendees, “The feedback is a first world [Read more...]