Abortion: Understanding a Christian Perspective

Abortion: Understanding a Christian Perspective

Versión Español – espero tenerla listo en una semana

With the recent leak of the potential overturn of Roe v. Wade in the US, the abortion debate has hit a whole new level in the past weeks. It’s front and centre, with anger boiling over on all sides. Some are rejoicing, some are in despair, some are just plain furious. It’s a tense subject – so tense that even trying to pick a picture that represented the topic was stressful, so I went with a picture from a park near our house. It’s a reminder that there’s a lot of beauty in the world, even when dealing with tense subjects.

Part of the challenge in any debate is understanding the perspective of people who do not see the issue the same as you do (or even clearly understanding your own perspective!) This doesn’t always happen well in this debate. The purpose of this post, then, is to present the most common Christian perspective and the reasons behind it. I am not aiming to “convince” people that Christians are right, but to help people understand why this is such an important issue to many Christians. This is a really long post, but I simply don’t believe in simplistic talking points, and this is a major societal issue. Feel free to read it in sections or parts if it’s too long.

Throughout, I refer to the views of “many Christians” (I mostly avoid the more dramatic “most Christians”). There are always going to be exceptions, especially with so many different Christian traditions. I’m from an evangelical tradition, and I suspect some other traditions may not fully agree with my representation of Christian views. But I still feel like I capture the basic teaching of the church through history and in our day and age. So here we go.

  1. Christianity views human life as sacred. In Genesis 1 it says God created humanity in his own image, and in Genesis 2 it talks about God forming man and breathing the breath of life into him (and then giving life to women as well, although they are to be considered a pair, not one superior to the other). So from the very beginning, humanity is viewed as special, and life as a gift from God. Although God has the right to give or take life, the Bible is quite clear that the taking of life by another human is wrong (with some exceptions, but that’s obviously a whole other topic).
  2. When does life begin? Many Christians would argue, based on our current scientific understanding, that the clearest beginning point of life would be conception. Simply put, once an egg has been fertilized, it will result in a human being unless there is a “natural” intervention (egg doesn’t implant in the uterus, or is rejected by the body, etc.) or an unnatural one (doctors, accident, etc.). Any other point is a random moment in the development of the process begun at conception. The presence of blood or a heartbeat? The ability to experience pain? Viability outside of the womb? All of these are simply progress points in the development of a human being – similar to progress points after birth such as learning to crawl, then walk, then speak. Many Christians therefore find it confusing and even anti-scientific when pro-choice advocates claim that a fetus is not a person. It’s noteworthy that there is a long-standing philosophical debate about when a person is considered “a person” and worthy of rights. Some place it at the beginning of biological life, some at viability or life outside the womb, some argue that the child has to be conscious and aware of themselves as a person – which might justify killing any infants younger than 15-24 months! This is a major question with significant moral overtones, and many Christians find it easiest and most logical to simply place personhood at the moment that biological life begins – conception.
  3. The soul. Most Christians believe that each life is an eternal soul. Since we don’t really know of any moment when the soul would be “magically bestowed” upon a person, it makes sense to view the person holistically and assume that the soul also exists from the time of conception, although again, this is a theoretical question. Also, while there’s no clear answer about what happens to children who are killed pre-birth (most believe they go to heaven), most Christians would still hold that it is wrong to kill a person who has been given life and a soul by God, regardless of when that happens.
  4. Abortion as murder. I’ll admit, this one sounds pretty harsh in our current climate and majority worldview, but it is the logical conclusion of what has come prior. If human life is essentially infinitely valuable and a gift from God, then the taking of that life – even that of a pre-born baby – is, logically, murder. This is how many Christians (and some non-Christians) view the issue, and is one of the reasons why it is such a dramatic, hot-button issue. While some view it as less serious than the murder of someone outside of the womb, many view it as even more egregious, often because the one choosing to make this decision is the one who, in their view, is the one who is supposed to protect that life, not end it. However, Christians must note that given the difference of opinion about whether a pre-born baby is considered a person or not, it is hard to put abortion on the same “level” as any murder law that is presently on the books. Simply put, there is virtually unanimous agreement that killing an 18 or 57 year old woman, or a 6 or 73 year old man is considered murder. There simply is not the same consensus about a baby. This has significant implications both for how we react to people who support, have had, or want to have abortions, as well as how we approach the legality question.
  5. The abortion itself. While proponents of abortion use soft words or phrases like “remove the pregnancy”, most Christians find the actual process, when studied, quite disturbing, violent, and downright detestable – especially since the fetus looks very much like a person by 8-10 weeks. While perhaps we shouldn’t let looks guide our decisions, when you combine some of the methods (cutting up, sucking out with a vacuum) with the fact that it looks like a person as early as 8-10 weeks (and, we believe, is a person), Christians are understandably horrified. If anything similar was done to a person outside the womb, it would be violently condemned by all. For the Christian, consistency says if it’s horrible out of the womb, it’s also horrible inside the womb since we believe this is a person from the moment of conception.
  6. Negative social impact. Many Christians feel like abortion has a negative social impact. Part of this is that the ready availability of abortion seems to devalue human life and treat pregnancy as a curse rather than a blessing. It is at least a confusing message when one segment of the population celebrates pregnancy as the arrival of a new life and immediately begins treating the child in the womb as a person while another segment argues that it is just a “thing” that is of no value until it is born. Another reason it is thought to have a negative social impact is because it is seen as one more avenue to “cheapen” sex and relationships. Sex is viewed as a commodity or pleasure, rather than something intended both to build intimacy among a committed couple and to bring life into this world. While most Christians (with some notable exceptions) are fine with contraceptives and family planning, and view sex as pleasurable, we usually believe that sex is intended to be within a marriage, where it can be both safer, build stronger intimacy, and provide a theoretically stable environment for when a pregnancy does happen, rather than outside of marriage with abortion as one more solution to make sex commitment-free. While there could be plenty of argument about how well Christians themselves live up to these ideals, it doesn’t change the belief that abortion frees people up to pursue sex outside of marriage, which we believe has negative effects on families, communities and our society.
  7. Bodily Autonomy and Women’s Rights. In most places, it seems like this issue is being framed as an issue of women’s rights and bodily autonomy (my body, my choice). This automatically makes out anyone who opposes abortion as anti-woman and oppressive, which I think is both unfortunate and almost irresponsible. It also puts many Christians in an awkward spot as we try to discuss the relationship between multiple rights.

    a) Women’s rights – Christianity has had a checkered history with women’s rights. In many cases, Christians have advanced and promoted women’s rights. Especially in the early church, Christianity held a high regard for women, both because of Mary, the mother of Jesus, but also as the first witnesses and even early leaders in the church. Christianity did a lot to protect women and improve their status in society and in the family. In recent years, however, Christianity has come to be seen as patriarchal and oppressive to women. In some cases, that is valid, as men have used certain biblical passages to “lord over” and restrict women instead of promoting the position of women as partners with men – created equal. Part of the challenge arises from what feels like a social move to make men and women “the same” instead of “equal” (the same value, but different). In many cases, what is seen as patriarchal is actually Christians struggling with this, seeing natural differences between the biological sexes that they feel like are being ignored in a quest to make men and women exactly alike. While voiced in a variety of ways (some healthier than others), many Christians see men and women as different, but equal. Many (I hope most) Christians are not against women or women’s rights, but see how those roles play out in society as complex, not simply “we can all do the exact same things all the time equally well”.

    b) Value of childbearing – hand in hand with this is an underlying, common attitude that seems to view having children as nothing more than a hindrance to a woman’s path in life. They are an obstacle to be overcome or a necessary nuisance at best, and a downright curse at worst. Since Christians view life as a gift from God, many Christians view the role of motherhood as incredibly valuable, and in some ways almost akin to God. It is the closest role possible to the creation and nurturing of life. While this view definitely sometimes overplays this role and limits or restricts women to exclusively or primarily childrearing, it views the current atmosphere that downplays childbearing and childrearing as negative to both women and society in general. One of the complexities regarding women’s rights is how to value both the unique role of women as those who bring life to this world, but also acknowledging that they have many other gifts and abilities to contribute to society (at the same level of competency as men), and not allowing childbearing to become the only (or only valuable) role of women. Many Christians feel like the promotion of abortion completely devalues the bringing life into this world, and promotes pregnancy/childbearing as a hindrance to a woman’s true value and role, instead of viewing it as a part of many women’s role in life (just as fatherhood should be a valuable part of many men’s lives).

    c) Bodily autonomy and the right of the child – many (boy, I sure hope this is most, if not all!!) Christians view the woman as having bodily autonomy, and choice over her actions. However, most Christians also would argue that there is a point where any of our rights need to be restricted, in particular if those rights infringe on the rights of another. So we have the right to drink alcohol, but not the right to drink and drive. We have the right to earn money and have stuff, but not to deceive others and steal from them. In the case of abortion, we believe that women have bodily autonomy to have sex or not have sex, or to be on birth control or not be on birth control (with Catholics being a notable exception). But since we (generally) believe that a baby is a person from the time of conception, once a woman is pregnant, that right is modified because we are now dealing with two people, not just one. Again, the implications of the value of life and the beginning of life are far reaching. Since pregnancy is always a known possibility of the sexual act, many Christians would argue that once a person is pregnant, their bodily autonomy is modified. They have autonomy over their own body, but not the baby’s. While this is presented as a woman’s right’s issue because “the baby is part of the woman’s body”, Christians disagree and say that the baby is not part of the woman’s body, but a separate being, so therefore it is not a strictly bodily autonomy/women’s rights issue.

    This is a very different perspective than what is portrayed in the media, and I feel it necessary to add some caveats. First, this view assumes that both the sex and birth control were the woman’s choice. In the horrible situations of rape (including, in my opinion, sabotage of birth control), the woman’s bodily autonomy has definitely been violated, and many Christians would accept abortion as a possibility (see exceptions, below).

    Second, Christians would argue that both parents are now responsible for this new life – their rights are modified (in the woman’s case, bodily autonomy, in the man’s case, the “right” to live completely selfishly). Thus the older custom of “shotgun marriages” if a woman got pregnant. The man is just as responsible for this new life as the woman, and should be held just as responsible. Unfortunately, the biology of the matter dictates that the woman cannot run away from the situation in the same way that a man potentially can. While this might be considered “unfair” (and it is, in a manner of speaking), it is a reality that women have to take into account. I’m not even a woman, and I can find this frustrating, so I can understand to some degree how brutally unfair many women would feel this is. But I don’t believe the solution is to give the women a similar “get out of jail” card as to what the man has, but to change our perspective on sex, relationships, childbearing and the miracle of life. The direction we should go should be to make the men take more responsibility, not remove the consequences entirely for both. Obviously, this requires a major shift in our approach to sex and relationships, but I would argue it’s one that would be healthy for our society.

    Third, a lot of pro-choice advocates speak of anti-abortion laws as attempts to “control women’s bodies” and their rights, with a special focus on the fact that most legislators are men, and therefore it is men controlling women’s bodies. While there is some sad history behind this, I find it worrisome that this issue is set up as men vs. women, since there are both many women against abortion and many men who are pro-choice. It seems to be a jaded view that forms a narrative of conflict as the only option – we believe that men and women were created equal and are supposed to work together. Many “pro-life” Christians, and I’m sure many legislators (certainly not all!), are just that: pro-life. They are not anti-women. Again, many Christians see the rights of the woman modified (albeit significantly) by the rights of the baby. Most Christians who are anti-abortion do not have in mind the goal of controlling the woman’s body, but the goal of protecting an unborn life, which has the result of affecting the woman. Most are not trying to “control” the woman, but to protect the baby. And again, it should affect the man just as much, but unfortunately many refuse to take on the responsibility that they should.
  8. Exceptions. I believe that a large percentage of Christians would support the most common exceptions usually mentioned – those of rape (clear violation of bodily autonomy, not to mention horrendously traumatizing), incest (I believe this is primarily concern about genetic problems, but also social trauma), and danger to the mother’s life. In these cases, while it might still be “ideally preferable” to avoid abortion, realistically I think most Christians would recognize the significant trauma or danger in these situations, and, trusting in God’s mercy on the child, agree that abortion may be the best of some bad options. Of course, when you start getting into allowing abortion for trauma, it raises the valid question of what level of “trauma” is acceptable to allow for an abortion (financial? familial relationships? others?). This is a very fair question, but I believe many Christians would prefer to limit abortion as much as possible.
  9. Compassion. Christians have competing reputations. Sometimes they are seen as being angry and judgmental. At other times, they can be perceived as kind and compassionate. Both have some truth to it. Christianity holds that some things are wrong, and therefore it is very easy for Christians to “judge” or criticize people who do those things. On the other hand, the teachings of Jesus call us to love people, show grace, mercy and forgiveness, and to comfort those who are mourning. In relation to the abortion issue, both happen at times. Christians teach the need to do what is right and also the need to show love – but the practice of how they mix those two varies wildly, so I can’t really say “most Christians” do such and such. Here is my approach.

    We should always lead with love and compassion. I remember when my wife was pregnant with our first child, and I suddenly realized how drastically our life would change. It scared me. Even though I was 25, was well established in a career, the pregnancy was planned and welcomed, and we had a great relationship and great support, it was still frightening. It gave me a (small) glimpse into how deeply scary pregnancy must be for many women, and with each layer of challenges – financial or educational stress, an unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancy, no partner, no extended support – the feeling of fear and being overwhelmed would grow. Considering those factors, and that many people don’t share Christian convictions about the personhood of the pre-born baby, Christians should show tremendous love, graciousness, comfort, and even support to those who have abortions or are considering them.

    I would go even further and say that that grace should extend even to abortion providers. I think that most are not people who believe that they are doing wrong or “committing murder” – many see it framed primarily as a women’s health issue, and therefore view it as a good act. As a Christian I may disagree, but attacking, calling names, holding protests, and being scandalized is hardly going to accomplish anything. I honestly see no value in demonizing people for holding what is essentially a different philosophical viewpoint.

    With that in mind, I think the best approach for Christians is to be clear on our perspective, but to do everything possible to support pregnant women (and eventually new moms if they choose to have the baby), to discuss calmly the different perspectives on the beliefs of a pre-born baby, and to support both those who are considering an abortion, and those who have had an abortion. We may rarely be able to encourage anyone to have an abortion, but we don’t have to vilify someone who is likely in a very difficult, emotional spot in life and needs help, and we can even walk with them through the abortion process.

    I’ll be honest – many Christians seem to get so focused on whether something is “right” or “wrong” that they completely lose sight of the call for love and compassion. This grieves me deeply, because I don’t believe that it accomplishes much of anything except put up yet another layer of walls between Christians and those we claim that we’re supposed to love. Despite that, I suspect I will have more than one Christian who disagrees with me on this, but I can only call them like I see them, and I think much of the protesting and anger is counterproductive and even contrary to the teachings of Christ.
  1. Politics and legalities. I believe that many Christians would prefer that abortions be illegal, or at least severely limited, simply because it is as detestable in our eyes to kill an unborn baby as it is to kill any other human being. It’s not an anti-woman belief, it’s a pro-life belief. Again, my point is not to convince you that you should hold this belief, but merely to help you understand it.

    That being said, there are some objections that Christians need to consider carefully. The first are the exceptions that I mentioned above – the health of the mother, rape and incest. We want to protect life, but we need to recognize that we don’t live in a perfect world, and exceptions that are very much related to women’s health need to be considered.

    An extension of this would be the other ways that having a baby affects women’s health. For example, women who do not have the financial or relational resources to take care of and raise a child, as well as the life-altering decisions that need to be made, such as giving up (or at least pausing) an education or a career, among others. Christians (and politicians) need to recognize that in pushing for the abolishment of abortion, we have done a poor job of considering the broader implications for women. We have become obsessed with right and wrong, and not sought compassionate solutions for legitimate concerns. With that in mind, I do think that if the government is going to limit abortion, they should at the same time dramatically increase support for women in a variety of ways to mitigate many of the reasons that women feel compelled to have an abortion, such as financial/educational issues and the lack of relational support. And if the church/Christians are going to argue for limitations on abortion, they should push for these types of inclusions in the laws and be ready to step in and put their money, time and energy into supporting pregnant women whenever possible and needed, both on an institutional and a personal level. And regardless of the laws that may or may not exist, Christians should be leading the way in showing compassion and finding ways to help those who are struggling with the dynamics of an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy.

    One final concern raised is the likelihood of women being persecuted for having an abortion and/or seeking out dangerous (illegal) abortions to get rid of unwanted pregnancies. The potential to save lives by making abortion illegal seems to blind many Christians to this concern. But we should care about all lives, which means if legislation is ever passed to make abortion illegal, it needs to find the delicate balance of making abortion illegal, but not sending a parade of women to jail (focus on abortion providers, perhaps?). I’m not sure what the solution is to this, although if there are multiple avenues for supporting women, as I stated above, perhaps that would help reduce the desperation that many women face when they are faced with an unexpected pregnancy.

    Making abortion illegal is a complicated issue. Christians find it unethical to allow and encourage what we see as the killing of millions of babies every year. But it’s also unethical to ignore the plight of many women who feel desperate and don’t have the resources they need to cope with their situation. Laws that don’t take that element into account also fall far short of being good laws. And through it all, regardless of what the law is, Christians should be leading the charge by finding ways to support both life and women.


So that is the briefest summary I could manage of the Christian perspective of a major, major issue in our society. You may agree or disagree with some of these perspectives (even if you’re a Christian), but I hope that it at least is helpful to understand the reasoning of Christians, and why so many find this to be such a significant and even distressing issue.

God bless.


Ukraine: Injustice and the Apparent Absence of God

Ukraine: Injustice and the Apparent Absence of God

Versión Español

I must say, the attack by Russia on Ukraine has hit home a little harder than other wars around the world. Doubtless some of it is due to Ukrainian influence in my life (our area of Alberta had a significant presence of Ukrainian settlers). Probably it has a lot to do with the closer historical ties that Canada has had with Europe and events there (participating in both World Wars, being allied with the US during the Cold War). It makes me feel kind of sheltered and callous that I haven’t been as impacted by other wars over the years, but I also think it’s somewhat natural to be more impacted by events that seem more closely related to you.

Probably one of the biggest reasons for the shock that many of us feel is just the sheer injustice of the situation. While Putin doubtless had his reasons (NATO sucking up former Soviet Republics and therefore Russia feeling threatened), the rationale seems incredibly weak and nonsensical. I have never seen any indication that NATO was making any effort to threaten Russian militarily, and it could be argued that Russia is better off with stable European countries – peace seems to help everyone prosper. But more specifically, I don’t think most of us can figure out what, exactly, Ukraine did to deserve to be attacked by Russia. This feels like a naked power grab by Putin.

With that in mind, my mind and heart turn to the countless citizens of Ukraine suffering due to this conflict – hundreds of thousands, now even millions, fleeing the country due to the warfare; people unable to flee forced to hide or fight; the complete lack of access to food and necessary resources; the apparent targeting of civilians by Russian forces (and, even if it’s not clear how “targeted” they are, the clear death of many civilians due to the conflict). The entire situation seems unnecessary and completely unjust, and my heart cries out both for resolution and with a desire to see God “solve” the situation – to rise up and protect the weak and helpless, a theme we see often in the Bible.

As my heart cries out, it is easy to ask, “Where is God in all of this?” This is the type of event that causes many people to doubt that God even exists. As many have voiced in the past, if there really is a loving God, how could He allow something like this to happen? How can He stand by while a dictator runs amok, an army invades, and thousands of people – many of them completely innocent – die? We face this internal conflict – on one hand crying out for God to intervene, on the other, giving up completely on Him and even denying His existence. And this type of internal conflict isn’t just limited to this war. It arises through many different challenges we all face in life, both big and small. Sickness, accidents, tragedies, death, corruption, injustice, destruction… At times, both personally and socially, we feel surrounded by evil and injustice, and it makes us long for God’s salvation – or despair that He cares not or exists not.

So how do we deal with the incredible unfairness of life and still believe in a loving God?

One of the most enlightening exercises for me in this regard is to ask myself, how would God stop this from happening? If we think about the war, God could have:

  • caused all the Russian military weaponry to malfunction
  • miraculously prevented them from entering the country (“What do you mean, ‘All the vehicles are out of gas’?”)
  • destroyed the Russian army before they attacked (a la Isaiah 37)

If we push things back a bit further in time, God could have:

  • prevented Putin from even contemplating this idea
  • had Putin “removed from office” somehow (coup, assassination, struck dead, etc.)
  • given different advice through his advisors

Or, if we want to go a different direction, God could defend the Ukrainians by:

  • providing angels to guide them to safety (like Peter in Acts 12)
  • providing “protective shielding” to keep them safe (Daniel 3, anyone?)
  • bringing the dead back to life (Jesus’ ministry, Paul a few times)

There are probably lots of other ways that God could correct these injustices if we thought hard enough, but my realization is this: To end injustice, God would have to miraculously or directly intervene, either completely overriding the will of one or more individuals or preventing the anticipated result of someone’s actions, thereby making their choices completely irrelevant. And this is only speaking about the Ukraine situation. If we start addressing all of the personal injustices that we face, God would have to micromanage every aspect of humanity’s interactions. Basically, we would be nothing more than God’s playthings. By preventing every injustice, God ends up controlling everything. We can have free choice or we can have perfect justice, but we can’t have both.

But what about…?

This raises the question, though… What about the fact that God has intervened in human history, as I have referenced above a few times. As Christians, we would argue that God does answer prayer and does still perform miracles. At times, sickness is healed, injustice is rectified, and miracles happen. How can we believe that God does work at times, but still say that He doesn’t work at other times?

I see four factors that impact our understanding of God’s work in the world.

First, we need to understand God’s relationship to the world as a whole. It seems that God set this world up as our world, and gave us the responsibility of governing and developing it (Gen. 1:26-30). I think we could make an argument that we were to have this authority with God’s assistance (God bringing Adam the animals to name, for example), but Adam and Eve rejected that shared authority for their own path. The result is that humanity is governing the world without the guidance of God, and making all of the unwise choices that accompany even our best intentions. The biggest result is that God stepped back. I would argue that for the most part, he does not directly intervene in human history. Even if we consider all the stories in the Bible and all the reports that we sometimes hear of miracles, the vast, vast majority of life is governed by us making our own decisions and God allowing it.

The second factor is God’s overarching plan. When we read the Bible, it appears that humanity will not exist forever, but that eventually, our existence will end. There’s a lot of debate about what that will look like, but that seems to be the story. And throughout the Bible, we seem to see God developing a plan to save as many as possible – first Abraham, then the nation of Israel, then Jesus… He seems to be working in history so that when things conclude, as many as possible will enter into life instead of death. And in so doing, it seems that He directly intervenes at times to keep things on track and to further his plan. It’s not outright control, but it is “shaping” it to avoid the worst consequences and open as many doors as possible to as many people as possible (just as we shape our kids’ experiences to guide them in good paths – sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly).

The third factor is similar, but on a more personal level. God desires that each individual come to know Him and that they be transformed into His likeness and become the person He created them to be. At times, there is divine intervention in human lives for individual purposes – answering specific prayers at key moments, sending dreams and visions, healing people, doing miracles. But the opposite is also true – often God refrains from doing these things for the same reason: To help someone in their personal growth, their understanding of Him, and to place their trust in Him. Most of the time, God seems to trust that the guidance He’s given us (revelation in nature, our conscience, specific revelation through the Bible and history) should be sufficient for us to question life and seek Him out.

The final factor is perhaps the key to all of this. God is a person, not a “force” or principle. That means that there is no clear way to identify God’s reasons for allowing injustice on one occasion, and intervening directly in another. There’s no “secret formula” that will get God to answer our prayers or save us. It’s not that God is capricious, randomly tossing out miracles or favouring some people over others. It just means that He’s got a far broader perspective than we do and we will often never fully understand them. We look at a situation and say, “If God only intervened here, then I would praise Him, and people would love Him, and everything would be better!!” But God knows better. I mean, look at Jesus – he did non-stop wonderful works and his reward was not commendations and a joyful praising of God, but rejection, betrayal, and crucifixion. So when we think that we or others would praise God if only He would intervene, then we are deceiving ourselves about the true nature of humanity. God knows best when to intervene and when not to. And mostly, He seems to choose not to, in accordance with the desires of Adam and Eve – and, to be honest, ourselves.

A Different Gift

God has chosen to interact with humanity in a completely different way than we expect. Rather than overwhelming us and controlling everything, or responding to our every whim (basically we control Him), He has chosen to work with and alongside us, to the extent and limit that we allow. This shows up in two ways:

  1. In Jesus, God lived this imperfect, unjust existence with us. He experienced the worst that humanity has to offer, including an extremely painful, unjust death. Whether it’s in the middle of a war zone, then, or in our own daily struggles and injustices, we experience not a God who miraculously solves all of our problems, but a God who is with us, who sees everything we experience and gets it. It is the gift of companionship and understanding. And when we add to that his victory over death, it is the gift of hope and perseverance in the middle of our trials. Life will win, and justice will be served. There are times when this doesn’t feel like enough, and we think He should do more. But there are countless testimonies from many people of the deep comfort that has come from knowing that God understands, is with us, and will handle all of the injustice in the proper time. The people of Ukraine are not abandoned. God is there with them, and He will bring both justice and peace in the proper time.
  2. Just as God gave us this world as ours, to develop and govern, so He calls us to be His hands and voice in the world. He does not control us or intervene in most situations, but He offers to walk with us as we tackle the injustice of this world. This is most evident in the Church (although imperfectly), where God grants His people His Holy Spirit to do His work and follow His leading. But it is also seen outside of the Church, where people respond to the general revelation God has given and to being created in His image, and do the good works that He desires – whether they know or acknowledge God or not. God’s response to injustice is not to solve the problem miraculously, but to call us to respond appropriately. He created us for this purpose, and is more than happy to walk with us as we do our job.

At the end of the day, as much as I struggle at times with the question of “Where is God” and the desire to see Him intervene, I come repeatedly to the conclusion that God is, indeed, present in every situation. And while He might not intervene miraculously very often, there’s nothing wrong with asking Him to do so! And in the meantime, He is with us – each of us, whether we acknowledge Him or not – and is gently lobbing the question back to us: “This is your world, My gift to you. Where are you in the midst of this? How are you helping? I am with you, too, so let’s see what we can do.”

May God guide us as we respond to the injustice of this war and the world around us.

Ucrania: La injusticia y la aparente ausencia de Dios

Ucrania: La injusticia y la aparente ausencia de Dios

English Version

Tengo que confesar que el ataque por Rusia contra Ucrania me ha impactado un poco más que las otras guerras que han ocurrido en el mundo. Una parte, sin duda, es la influencia de Ucrania en mi vida – muchos de Ucrania se establecían en mi parte de Canadá (cerca de Edmonton) en el tiempo de los pioneros y hay mucha influencia de su cultura ahí. Probablamente otra parte tiene que ver con la relación cercana que Canadá ha tenido con Europa a través de los últimos 2-3 siglos, especialmente las Guerras Mundiales y la Guerra Fría. Me hace sentir un poco mal que no he sentido tan afectado por otras guerras, que seguramente eran tan terribles como esta, pero a la misma vez, creo que es normal ser más impactado por eventos que son más relacionados con tu historia.

Pero probablamente una de las razones por la sacudida que muchos estamos experimentando es la injusticia flagrante de la situación. Aunque Putin puede dar sus razones por la invasión (naciones juntándose con OTAN y la amenaza que “Rusia” (mejor dicho, Putin) siente por eso), sus razones parecen muy débiles y sin sentido. Nunca he visto indicaciones que OTAN quiso amenazar o atacar a Rusia. Creamos lo que creamos sobre ese punto, no creo que la mayoría de gente pueda entender qué, exactamente, Ucrania había hecho para merecer una invasión. Parece nada más un deseo por poder a parte de Putin.

Pensando en eso, mi mente y mi corazón se extienden a los ciudadanos de Ucrania que están sufriendo por este conflicto: cientos de miles, y ahora miles de miles, huyéndose del país debido a la guerra; otros que ni tienen esa opción; la falta de acceso a comida, agua, y recursos necesarios para sobrevivir; y los ataques aparentemente intencionales a los ciudadanos en vez de blancos militares. La situación parece ser completamente innecesaria y injusta, y mi corazón clama por la resolución y con un deseo de ver a Dios resolver la situación – a levantarse para proteger a los débiles y indefensos, un tema que vemos mucho en la Biblia.

Situaciones como esta nos puede generar dudas en cuanto a nuestra fe. “¿Por dónde está Dios en esta situación?” Este es el tipo de evento que causa que muchos duden si Dios aun existe. Como muchos han dicho en el pasado sobre otras situaciones malvadas, “Si de veras existe un Dios omnipotente y lleno de amor, ¿cómo podría Él permitir que algo así pase?” ¿Cómo puede Él solamente mirar mientras que un dictador se vuelve frenético y envía a su ejército a invadir a un país esencialmente inocente, con el resultado que miles de personas mueren? Sentimos ese conflicto interno – por un lado rogándole a Dios a intervenir, por el otro, creyendo que no lo va a hacer y preguntándonos si aun existe. Y este sentimiento no solamente viene debido a la guerra reciente. Lo sentimos en medio de muchas situaciones que tenemos que enfrentar en la vida, tanto grandes como pequeñas. La enfermedad, accidentes, tragedias, la muerte, corrupción, la injusticia, destrucción… A veces sentimos que estamos rodeados por le maldad y la injusticia, y hace que anhelemos por la salvación de Dios… o desesperémonos que aun existe. 

Entonces, ¿cómo reconciliamos la injusticia de la vida con la proclamación de un Dios de amor?

Uno de los ejercicios más impactante para mí en este respeto ha sido preguntarme, “¿Qué pudiera haber hecho Dios para que no pasara esta situación?” Si pensamos en la guerra presente, Dios pudiera haber….

  • causado todas las armas de los rusos a no funcionar
  • hecho algo para que el ejercito no pudiera entrar en Ucrania (de repente, nadie tiene gasolina!)
  • destruido el ejercito ruso antes de poder atacar (como hizo Dios en Isaías 37)

Si vamos más atrás en el tiempo, Dios pudiera haber:

  • prevenido que Putin aun tuviera esa idea
    • quitado a Putin de su posición de alguna manera (una revolución, asesinato, la muerte)
    • dado diferente consejo a través de sus consejeros.

O, si vamos por otra dirección, Dios podría defender a los ucranios por…

  • enviar ángeles para guiarlos a un lugar seguro (como hizo con Pedro en Hechos 12)
  • proveer un “escudo de protección” para protegerlos (como en Daniel 3)
  • resucitar a los muertos y sanar a los heridos (como en el ministerio de Jesús o Pablo)

Probablamente hay muchas otras maneras por las cuales Dios puede corregir esas injusticias, pero mi realización es esta: Para terminar con la injusticia, Dios tendría que intervenir directamente de alguna manera, o por completamente subyugar (a fuerzas) o ignorar la voluntad de uno o más individuos, o por prevenir que pasen los resultados normales de las acciones de alguien, con el fin de hacer que sus elecciones/acciones son completamente irrelevantes. Si hablamos de todas las injusticias que experimentamos, Dios tendría que controlar cada aspecto de la humanidad. Seríamos nada más que juguetes de Dios. Podemos tener libre albedrío o podemos tener la justicia perfecta, pero no podemos tener los dos al mismo tiempo.

Pero ¿no creemos que Dios obra en el mundo?

Esto hace que surja una pregunta. ¿Qué decimos sobre el hecho que Dios sí ha intervenido en la historia de la humanidad, como las referencias que hice arriba? Como cristianos, declaramos que Dios contesta las oraciones y sigue haciendo milagros. A veces, la enfermedad se sana, la injusticia se rectifica, y ocurren los milagros. ¿Cómo podemos entender o explicar que Dios interviene a veces, pero no lo hace en otras ocasiones?

Creo que hay cuatro factores que impactan nuestro entendimiento de cómo Dios trabaja en el mundo.

Primero, necesitamos entender la relación entre Dios y el mundo. Dios creó este mundo para nosotros, y nos dio a nosotros la responsabilidad de gobernar y desarrollarlo (Génesis 1:26-30). Creo que podemos argumentar que era la intención de Dios que lo hiciéramos con sus asistencia (por ejemplo, Dios le trajo a Adán los animales para ponerles nombres). Pero Adán y Eva rechazaron ese arreglo para tomar su propio camino. El resultado es que la humanidad está gobernando el mundo sin la guía de Dios, y estamos tomando todas las malas decisiones que acompañan aun nuestras mejores intenciones. Para decirlo de otra manera, es como Dios tomó un paso hacia atrás para darnos la libertad que deseábamos. Me parece que por lo general, Dios no interviene directamente en nuestras vidas. Aun si tomamos en cuenta todas las historias en la Biblia y los reportes que escuchamos o vemos de milagros, la gran, gran mayoría de la vida se gobierna por nosotros mismos, tomando nuestras propias decisiones sin la influencia o intervención de Dios. Eso es lo que hemos deseado.

El segundo factor es el plan general para la humanidad. Cuando leemos la Biblia, parece que la humanidad no va a existir para siempre. En algún momento, la vida humana va a terminar (probablamente debido a nuestras propias acciones). Hay mucho debate entre cristianos sobre exactamente cómo será ese fin, pero parece que es el caso. Y a través de la Biblia, vemos que Dios está armando y avanzando un plan para rescatar (salvar) el mayor número posible – empezó por a Abraham, lo desarrolló en la nación de Israel y por fin envió a Jesús. Parece que está obrando en la historia para que, cuando termine todo, lo mayor número posible entren a la vida y no a la muerte. Como parte de su plan, parece que Él interviene a veces para avanzar ese plan. No es control directo, pero está guiando la historia de la humanidad para evitar las consecuencias peores y abrir el mayor número de puertas posibles para salvar el mayor número de personas posibles. Es similar a la manera en que nosotros, como padres, guiamos a nuestros hijos por los mejores caminos posibles – a veces directamente, a veces sutilmente.

El tercer factor es similar, pero en un nivel más personal. Dios desea que cada individuo se acerque a Él y sea transformado en su imagen, para ser la persona Él los creó a ser. A veces, hay intervención divina en la vida de una persona o un grupo para cumplir este propósito – respuestas a las oraciones, sueños y visiones, curaciones u otros actos milagrosos, etc. Pero el opuesto es también cierto – que a veces Dios no se interpone por el mismo propósito: ayudar a alguien en su crecimiento personal, su entendimiento de Él, y para confiar más en Él. Por lo general, Dios confía que la guía que nos ha dado en la vida (su revelación en la naturaleza, nuestra conciencia, revelación específica a través de la Biblia) es suficiente para guiarnos hacia Él, pero a veces interviene directamente.

El factor final es tal vez la clave a todo. Dios es una persona, no una “fuerza” o un principio intelectual o matemático. Eso significa que no siempre hay una manera clara para identificar por qué Dios interviene un ciertas situaciones, y no en otras. No hay una “formula secreto” que hace que Dios conteste nuestras oraciones de la manera que queremos. No es que Dios sea caprichoso, lanzando milagros por aquí y por allá al azar, o escogiendo a algunos como sus favoritos. Solamente significa que Él tiene una perspectiva mucho más amplia que la nuestra, y muchas veces no la vamos a entender. Vemos una situación y pensamos, “Si Dios solamente interviniera aquí, yo lo alabaría, y la gente lo amaría, y todo sería mejor!” Pero Dios sabe mejor. Pues, mira a Jesús. Él hizo buenas obras constantemente, y su recompensa no era el elogio de la gente y alabanza a Dios, sino el rechazo, la traición, y la crucifixión. Entonces, cuando pensamos que nosotros u otros alabaríamos a Dios si Èl tan solo hiciera un milagro, entonces nos estamos decepcionando sobre la naturaleza verdadera de la humanidad. Dios sabe mejor que nosotros cuándo intervenir y cuándo no. Y por lo general, parece que no lo hace mucho, de acuerdo con el deseo de Adán y Eva – y, para ser honestos, nosotros también.

Un Regalo Diferente

Dios ha escogido relacionarse con la humanidad de una manera muy diferente de lo que esperamos. En vez de controlarnos completamente, o darnos todo lo que deseamos (nosotros controlándolo a Él!), ha decidido trabajar con nosotros, a nuestro lado, al limite que permitimos. Esto se ve en dos maneras diferentes:

  1. En Jesús, Dios vivió esta vide imperfecta e injusta con nosotros. Experimentaba lo peor que la humanidad puede ofrecer, incluso una muerte muy dolorosa y injusta. Entonces, sea en medio de una zona de guerra (como Ucrania) o dentro de nuestras luchas cotidianas, experimentamos no a un Dios que milagrosamente resuelva todos nuestros problemas, sino un Dios que está con nosotros, que ve todo lo que nos pasa, y que lo entiende. Es el regalo del compañerismo y el entendimiento. Y cuando juntamos a eso su victoria sobre la muerte, es el don de la esperanza y la habilidad de perseverar en medio de nuestras tribulaciones. Al final, Dios ganará, y se servirá la justicia. Hay momentos cuando eso no parece suficiente y pensamos que Él debería hacer más. Pero hay un sinnúmero de cuentas de personas que han experimentado el consuelo profundo que viene de la presencia de Dios en medio de nuestras circunstancias, y la certeza que Él traerá la justicia en el momento correcto. La gente de Ucrania no está abandonada. Dios está ahí con ellos, y llevará la justicia y la paz en el momento correcto.
  2. En la misma manera en que Dios nos dio este mundo para desarrollarlo y gobernarlo, también nos llama a ser sus manos y voz en el mundo. No nos controla, ni interviene en la mayoría de situaciones, pero ofrece caminar con nosotros mientras que nosotros afrontamos la injusticia de este mundo. Eso es más evidente a través de la iglesia (aunque imperfectamente), donde Dios da a su Espíritu a su gente para obrar y hacer Su voluntad. Pero también se ve fuera de la iglesia, donde personas responden a la revelación general que Dios les ha dado y el hecho de ser creado en su imagen, y hacen las buenas obras que Él desea. La respuesta de Dios a la injusticia no es resolver el problema milagrosamente, sino llamarnos a responder de manera adecuada. Nos creó por este propósito, y desea caminar con nosotros mientras que hacemos nuestro trabajo.

Al final del día, aunque lucho a veces con la pregunta de “¿por dónde está Dios?” y el deseo de verlo resolver todo, continuamente llago a la conclusión que Dios está presente en cada situación. Y aunque interviene mucho menos de lo que deseamos, siempre podemos pedirle a hacerlo! A veces sí, se interpone en nuestra situación. Y mientras tanto, Él está con nosotros – cada uno de nosotros, lo creamos o no – y nos está devolviendo la pregunta: “Este es tu mundo, mi regalo a ti. ¿Por dónde estás tú en medio de lo que está pasando? ¿Cómo estás tú ayudando? Estoy contigo, entonces, a ver qué podemos hacer juntos!”

Que Dios nos guía en nuestra respuesta a la situación en Ucrania.

No pierdan el camino!

No pierdan el camino!

English Version

Este post no es igual a la versión inglés porque la situación Latinoamericana la veo diferente que la de América del Norte. En varios contextos, he visto a latinos deseando imitar la situación social y política de Canadá y los Estados Unidos, pero no creo que sea el camino mejor para la iglesia o cristianos.

En Canadá y los Estados Unidos, la iglesia se ha metido de varios grados en la política y el activismo social. Las razones son entendibles – estamos rodeados con problemas y deseamos profundamente ver cambios. Imaginamos sociedades más justas y pólizas mejores que podrían beneficiar a nuestras entidades, sociedades, y países. Y con la Biblia y las enseñanzas de Cristo, creemos que tenemos la mejor guía posible para la sociedad. El deseo es ayudar a todos – y hacer cambios legales y sociales parece ser la mejor manera para lograrlo.

Sin embargo, es necesario preguntar si el activismo social o participación en la política es el trabajo principal de los cristianos. ¿Qué aprendemos de las Escrituras?

En el Antiguo Testamento, vemos la historia de la nación de Israel. Dios llama a Abraham, y de él, poco a poco, crece a una nación. Por Éxodo, vemos a los Israelitas saliéndose de Egípto y entrando en la Tierra Prometida (aunque no llegan hasta el libro de Josué), formando la nación de Israel. En el camino, Dios les da leyes y regulaciones tanto para alabarlo como para convivir como nación de manera correcta. Dios mismo va a ser su cabeza, su líder. Entonces tenemos el mejor líder posible dándoles instrucciones claras sobre cómo vivir. Y ¿qué pasó?

Fue un fracaso completo.

Los Israelitas nunca lograron vivir de acuerdo con las leyes de Dios. Aunque tenían su “época de oro” con David y Salomón, donde dominaron la región por un tiempito, aun así nunca vivían de manera correcta como Dios les había enseñado. Aun con el líder mejor que se puede imaginar (Dios) y regulaciones rectas, no tenían el éxito que uno imaginaría. Fue un ejemplo de la imposibilidad de guiar una nación por el buen camino a través de las regulaciones, la política, y pólizas sociales. Creo que Dios lo hizo a propósito para mostrar que necesitamos más que leyes y poder – necesitamos un corazón cambiado.

Llegando al Nuevo Testamento, el ministerio de Jesús y de los primeros apóstoles (sobre todo Pablo) era muy diferente. Jesús nunca intentó tomar poder dentro de la nación de Israel o a derrocar los romanos. Ni imponía pólizas de gobernación, ni buscaba cambios sociales. Y el ministerio de Pablo era igual. Su enfoque era predicar el Reino de Dios y mostrarlo a individuos (sí, predicaban a grupos a veces, pero la aplicación siempre era personal – predicaban sobre cómo cada individuo debería vivir, no cómo la sociedad debe cambiar). Era un mensaje personal, no social.

En varios cursos que he tomado en el seminario, (completamente con compañeros latinoamericanos), he escuchado estudiantes y profesores hablando de la necesidad de cambiar su sociedad y sus leyes, y de la necesidad de la iglesia a involucrarse en la política y el activismo social. El problema es que no veo evidencia de esto en la Biblia, y creo que ha sido un desvío peligroso en los países donde lo han hecho – como Canadá y los Estados Unidos. No digo que nunca han lograda nada – seguramente unas leyes propuestas y implementadas por cristianos han sido buenas por la sociedad. Sin embargo, las leyes nunca avanzaron el reino de Dios. O sea, la sociedad puede ser más justo, y eso es bueno, pero si no va acompañado por corazones cambiados por Dios, ¿de que se vale?, y ¿cuánto tiempo va a durar? Como Jesús dice, de que sirve ganar el mundo y perderse el alma (Mat. 16:26)? Es otro contexto, pero aplica – podemos cambiar la sociedad pero perder a la gente.

Entonces ¿cómo abordamos el tema de activismo social y la política? Primero, mantengamos lo primero, primero. Nuestro rol, como la iglesia y cristianos, es invitar a personas a restaurar su relación con Dios. Somos los únicos que pueden hacer este rol, y no lo podemos negar. Eso es lo que me preocupa mucho – no necesariamente que los cristianos se involucran en la política o en el activismo social, sino que lo ven como el rol principal de los cristianos, o lo ven como el meta del cristianismo. No lo es – vamos a rectificar algunas cosas, y otros van a tomar su lugar. En la misma linea que indicó Jesús cuando dijo que siempre vamos a tener los pobres entre nosotros (Mat. 26:11), también siempre vamos a tener la injusticia, la corrupción, y diferentes problemas. Nuestro primer enfoque no es la política o buscar mejorar la sociedad, sino construir el Reino de Dios por proclamar (a individuos) el evangelio y mostrarlo (a individuos) por nuestro amor.

Solamente después de eso, como ciudadanos de nuestro país o region, podemos enfocar en los cambios sociales. Y siempre lo hacemos muy conscientes de los limites de esos cambios, para no enojarnos. No resultan en el crecimiento del Reino de Dios. Nunca vamos a llegar a una sociedad perfecta. Muchos cristianos parecen poner toda su confianza o su esperanza en la política o en lograr cambios sociales, y no en Dios y su Reino. Podemos promocionar buenas pólizas y leyes, pero siempre con la paz que, cambie o no la sociedad, somos partes de un Reino mejor y al final de cuentas, es el Reino de Dios lo que va a durar, no nuestra sociedad.

Entonces, mi mensaje sencilla por la iglesia (sobre todo los pastores) y todos los cristianos se resume por lo que dice Jesús en Mat. 6:33 – “Busquen primeramente el reino de Dios y su justicia, y todas estas cosas le serán añadidas.” Este es nuestro primer enfoque – la proclamación y la muestra del Reino de Dios. Todo lo demás viene en el segundo lugar – y eso muy distante.

Dear Christians: Have We Lost Our Way?

Dear Christians: Have We Lost Our Way?

Versión Español

Things are tense out there.

It doesn’t take more than a casual glance at news headlines to see that things are pretty spicy at the moment. Flavours of the day include Covid restrictions and mandates, vaccination debates, the Trucker Convoy and subsequent Emergency Act invocation by Parliament (now repealed), race and LGBTQ+ issues, financial inequality, and many others. A look at the news or social media, or even just casual conversations reveals that there’s a lot of anger and a huge difference of opinion on many of these issues.

That’s not surprising, really. There’s a lot of fear and a deep sense of injustice – whether we see that as being perpetrated by the government, the “privileged”, the media, powerful institutions or individuals, or really anyone who disagrees with us… As I said, the tension isn’t really surprising. Political and social discourse are always tense subjects and prone to significant differences of opinions and fights. This is nothing new.

What is most concerning to me is the extent to which this fear, anger and fighting has permeated the church. I observe it in the posts that many Christians make, in the debates that I hear, and in the priorities that I see and hear from many in the church. It seems that many in the church have turned social issues into the primary focus of their life and discourse, whether that is against the government, in favour of justice for various oppressed groups, or just a general desire to see society become a “better place” – however we define that phrase. It is an approach that makes me wonder if we, as the church, have lost our way.

Now, let’s clarify things that I’m not saying. I’m not saying that we, as Christians, should withdraw from the world and have no say in things. We are still members of society. Therefore, we should vote. We should know where we stand on various social issues and be able to explain our stance. We should participate in civil discourse about the direction that we feel like society should go and the changes that should happen. I am not arguing that we should ignore society around us; rather, it is the degree of passion and the focus that we put on these things that concern me. I am concerned that we have moved from primarily being people focused on the Kingdom of God to being people focused primarily on maintaining or establishing a perfect earthly kingdom. It seems that our focus has shifted and is markedly different from what we see in both Jesus and the early church.

Let’s review:

If we go to the Old Testament, we find that God’s first step in his plan of salvation was to call Abraham and to promise to make him a great nation. And He did. Abraham “begat” Isaac, who then begat Jacob, who then had 12 sons that became tribes, and eventually the nation of Israel. God called them out of Egypt, gave them a land and laws, and called them a nation. Here’s the thing:

It didn’t work.

Even with God as their head and laws given specifically by Him, the nation of Israel was a pretty spectacular failure. They simply didn’t obey. They turned aside repeatedly, spurned what was right, and eventually were punished with exile. God Himself could not legislate correct behaviour or turn a group of people into a successful, righteous nation – so why do we think we can do it? The nation of Israel was such a spectacular failure that God completely changed His approach. (Of course, I think it’s fair to argue that God had this in mind the whole time, but that’s a different discussion). 

In the New Testament, the approach of Jesus was significantly different. There are some that argue that Jesus’ message was entirely political – he spoke of a kingdom, opposed the Jewish leadership of the time, and was crucified through a political process. There’s no doubt that Jesus’ words and actions caused some political turmoil. And yet, it’s really hard to read the gospels and feel like Jesus was making a deliberate effort to “be political” or even to be an activist for social change.

What we see in Jesus is an ongoing ministry to individuals. Yes, sometimes those individuals gathered and he taught them in groups, but he was worried primarily about individuals. He healed people individually as they came to him. He cast demons out of individuals. His focus was primarily on proclaiming a message to individuals – “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near” – and then demonstrating what that Kingdom should look like. But I just can’t see any indication that he did this in such a way that he was trying to gain political power or change the country at a social level. In fact, when they did try to proclaim him as king, he deliberately escaped them. Jesus’ focus was on calling individuals to decide whether they were for God and His Kingdom or not.

I see the same in Paul and the early disciples. Sure, Paul got imprisoned and ended up in front of some politicians (perhaps even Caesar at some point, although there’s no clear evidence that his appeal to Caesar in Acts 25 was ever actually fulfilled). But I can’t see any indication through his missionary journeys that he was attempting to overthrow the government, take on political power, or enact social change. Nor do I see that in his writings. The entire focus was on calling individuals to faith in Jesus and to change their lives accordingly.

All of that makes me very concerned to see the degree to which many Christians (certainly not all) seem to believe it is their purpose to right all the injustices of society, enact laws in line with Christian teaching, or to protect our “rights and freedoms”. It’s not that it’s wrong to want some of these things, it’s just that many Christians seem to have put all of their hope in achieving these objectives, when we know from thousands of years of history, including the nation of Israel, that they will never be achieved. Jesus said plainly that we would always have the poor with us, and I think the same is true politically and socially – we will always have corruption, bad laws, some degree of authoritarianism, and injustice. This is the human world that we live in, and no amount of attempted political or social change will get rid of it. In fact, our pursuit of these other goals causes significant problems for Christianity.

There are three main concerns that come to mind.

First, there is a degree of anger that goes along with this political and social discourse that does not look even remotely honouring to God. And yes, I’m talking about Christians – if I was to judge Christianity by the political and social discourse that I see from many Christians, I would run far away. And I think many are doing just that. 

Second, the political and social agendas of many Christians seem to dramatically take away from the amount of time and energy spent on building God’s Kingdom. The message of Jesus and Paul (“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near”) seems to rarely be proclaimed – or if it is, it’s deeply clichéd and just thrown out there as another meme rather than personally proclaimed and demonstrated to those around us.

My third concern is that power and politics tend to lead to both corruption and resentment, and the attempt by many Christians to use these means to change society seems to be backfiring. Aside from the fact that political and social change has never led anyone to Christ (or rarely, at the very least), trying to force society in a certain direction creates significant animosity, no matter how good the ideas may be for society. It also often creates false ideas about Christianity, mainly that it is a religion of power and, therefore, no different than any other political system.

My point is fairly simple. Both Jesus and Paul, as well as the early church, seemed to have their focus firmly set on calling individuals to faith in God, and from there to a changed life. In our present day, I hear way more from Christians about how we need to change government or society to protect or improve it. I’m not so sure that Jesus or Paul would have recognized this message. I think they might have been baffled by our insistence that somehow we can change humanity by changing society rather than changing the individual. 

Again, it’s not that I’m opposed to social and political discourse, it’s just that it is a distant secondary goal. We first proclaim and demonstrate the good news of Jesus in our relationships and community. Since we believe that most of the world’s problems are caused by human sinfulness, it makes sense that our focus should be on our primary purpose – reconciling people to God – not on trying to change the outward realities of society and ignoring the heart of individuals.

It is only secondarily that we discuss changes that we think would be beneficial on a larger scale. And even then, we do so calmly, recognizing that we will never get rid of injustice or solve the world’s problems. We speak humbly and with peace, hoping to make a difference, but knowing that many will simply not listen and that the changes (or protections) we think are important may never come about. And that’s okay (as in, we can be okay despite that), because ultimately our hope doesn’t rest on a perfect government or society, but in Jesus and his Kingdom.

I guess the practical question would be this: Do my words and actions show that I am primarily interested in proclaiming and demonstrating the Kingdom of God, or that I’m mainly interested in shaping our society to be what it should be with little to no mention of the need for individuals to change their hearts to love and follow God? A second question would be: Do people see me trusting and peaceful that God’s Kingdom will triumph regardless of what happens with our government and society, or do they see me angry and full of angst because the world or society is not doing what I believe they should?

What would it look like if our primary focus lined up with Jesus’ primary focus – the reconciliation of individuals with their God and creator? If we pursue changed hearts, we will see society change, even if it’s slow. If we pursue a perfect society, we will see only frustration and resentment. Let us choose wisely.

Too long, didn’t read (Summary)

It seems like the focus of many Christians, and even churches, has moved from the primary purpose of proclaiming the Kingdom of God and demonstrating what that looks like to pursuing a better society through social change/activism and political power. When we look at Jesus and the early apostles, they never pursued these goals. Their entire focus was on proclaiming and demonstrating the Kingdom to individuals. Just as the poor will always be with us, so will all the other ills of society to various degrees. As citizens, we can and should participate in political and social discourse, but always with the understanding that our goal is to grow God’s Kingdom, and we will never achieve the goal of a just, ideal society. Our best hope to move that direction is to call individuals to reconciliation with God, and to allow Him to change them. “If we pursue changed hearts, we will see society change, even if it’s slow. If we pursue a perfect society, we will see only frustration and resentment.”

A Letter to My Conservative Friends and Family: A Few Concerns

A Letter to My Conservative Friends and Family: A Few Concerns

Hay una nota en español por abajo.

To my conservative Friends and Family,

So I grew up in a conservative household, both politically and theologically, in a conservative part of Canada. It was good – I have no significant complaints. And while I would say that I’m probably not as conservative as I once was, I definitely still lean that direction. In fact, when I’m back in Canada (and not living in Mexico), I still live in very conservative country and feel fairly at home there. I bring this up because when it comes to addressing all of you, I feel like I do so from the position of an insider – one who is conservative by heritage and still by association.

With that in mind, to all my conservative friends and family, I have to say that I have some pretty big concerns about what I regularly see and experience as I interact with many in this ideological camp. My concerns fall into two main categories:

  1. The crippling mistrust of the liberal media, science and government; and,
  2. The deep fear that I see many conservatives living in

If I had to guess, I would suspect that most of my family and friends would not be thrilled about this characterization. They may agree that they mistrust the media (with good reason, they argue), but that word “crippling” feels pretty strong. And I suspect most would disagree with the characterization of themselves as fearful – even strongly proclaiming that they don’t fear anything man can throw at them, and that it is the left who lives in fear! But that’s not what I see and hear, so allow me to explain.

Crippling mistrust

There is no doubt that there is ample reason to distrust the liberal media, science and governments. Those of us who grew up conservative have for years felt that popular media (movies, music, TV) was leading a stampede against “traditional” (Christian) values through the promotion of sexual liberty of all sorts, the pursuit of pleasure, the belittling of the family and the devaluing of traditional morals in general. The primary news networks all skew left (or did, for a long time), and the presentation of stories in the mainline media very much promotes certain agendas. Because most of our scientific information comes through the media, it is commonly spun to favour certain narratives. Of course scientific corporations, regardless of the media, make their own problems, as there are countless stories of corruption, unethical practices to make profit, skipping or skirting regulations, etc. There’s a reason many people don’t trust “Big Pharma”. And with the Liberal/NDP party (Canada) and the Democrats (USA) pushing many of the same “progressive” values and ideas as the mainstream media (the two seem to work in tandem), it is no wonder that conservatives mistrust the governments as well.

But there is a reason that I have used the particular phrase “crippling mistrust”. You see, although there are many reasons to be skeptical of the liberal media and government, as well as science, many seem to have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, as it were. The good and the relevant is thrown out along with the things that are incorrect or misleading. It is as if many conservatives have taken the Biblical doctrine of the sinfulness of man, looked at the liberal media/government/scientific community, and applied that label entirely to them, stating that “You are the sinful part of humanity, and everything you do and say is evil and corrupt”. What I hear from many conservatives is the idea that “all evil resides there (the liberals)”, and thus anything and everything stated by any liberal source is of no value. We have taken healthy mistrust and skepticism and turned it into a crippling mistrust.

The reality (and hear me out on this!) is that there is a lot in the liberal ideology that is good and important. There is an empathy there that often feels absent in conservative policy (although not necessarily in individuals). There is a deep concern for injustice and a desire to see change in society to address these issues. And make no mistake – there are no lack of issues. There are legitimate climate and environmental concerns. Racism does exist. There are deep economic problems within capitalism that need to be addressed. For all our concern about “big government”, there is a need for regulation and guidance – it’s true that governments are a bureaucratic mess and seek too much control, but leaving businesses and society to their own devices is just as prone to abuse and problems. In short, while skepticism is valuable and pushback on liberal ideas/government/media is important, we need liberals. They view the world differently and bring a perspective that we as conservatives need. We have forgotten the Biblical doctrine that these, too, are made in God’s image, and reflect Him in many ways – whether they acknowledge Him or not!

Hand in hand with this crippling mistrust of all things liberal is a dangerous faith in all things conservative. And yes, it is dangerous. Conservatives, the same as liberals, are both made in the image of God and corrupted by sin. Both conservative governments and conservative media (including the science promoted by conservative and independent sites) are guilty of just as much sin as liberal sources. There is the same ignoring of inconvenient facts, the same tendency to slant things ideologically, the same fear-mongering, the same dismissiveness and arrogance, the same proclivity to greed and corruption. Just because a government, scientist or media source lines up with our ideology doesn’t mean that we turn off our skepticism and blindly accept everything that they have to say, or excuse or ignore their failings. The world needs the conservative voice as much as it needs the liberal voice – but it needs an honest conservative voice, not a blindly ideological one. And to my friends and family, I would say that we have failed far too often to be discerning and skeptical of our own motives, ideas and representatives.

Deep Fear

I spoke of a deep fear that I can see in the conservative camp and it is this – the fear that our society is “falling apart”, and that we are the only ones who can save it, as well as a fear of believing or trusting anything that the liberal camp says. For a people who often claim to trust in God, it’s amazing how often the conversation isn’t about God and trusting in him, but rather about our rights and freedoms, about the destruction of our society, about the need to “get back” to the golden days – except that it wasn’t anywhere near as “golden” as we make it out to be. Not for us, and certainly not for everyone. 

It is natural to feel fear, especially when we feel like things are chaotic and not going the way we want them to or in the direction we think is best. But society won’t be “saved” by choosing one group of corrupt people over another group of corrupt people. Societies, countries, and empires all ebb and flow. Some last a long time, some a little. Most have their moments of glory and their strengths, but all end up corrupted and failing, whether sooner or later. Not only is it bound to happen, it will happen through conservatives as well as through liberals. So as Christians (as most of my friends and family are), we participate in our society and strive to be salt and light in whatever way we can, but we certainly don’t put our faith or all our energy into one political party, or one ideology. We live in what some refer to as the “radical middle” – acknowledging both good and bad from both sides, and trusting that whether society thrives or falls apart, whether we have complete rights and freedoms or none, that there is One overseeing all, who will be with us through all. Our antidote to fear is not the policies of conservative groups or rejection of liberal groups, but rather trust in and obedience to Jesus.

Covid, for example

The last two years of Covid have really served to highlight, I believe, the crippling mistrust and the fear of which I speak. Here’s what I have seen over the past two years:

The general Liberal response to Covid – “Covid is coming for us, it will do untold damage to our world, hospitals will be overrun, the government must intervene in every way possible, vaccines will save us or at least vastly protect us, we must completely eradicate Covid, we all need to pull together to protect ourselves and others, we need to trust the scientific consensus.”

The general conservative response to Covid – “It’s not really that bad, it’s just a bad flu, the death rates and infection rates are overstated, governments need to stay out of it and let people deal with it as they see fit, don’t infringe on our rights and freedoms, mandates are evil, vaccines are at best somewhat helpful but are untested and dangerous, people are living in fear of the virus but we don’t fear it, and we need to believe those who oppose the scientific consensus (the little guys bucking the consensus).”

Obviously there are a range of ideas within each group, but that’s what I have personally heard from many people as well as read constantly in the news (liberal and conservative).

Now here’s what I have personally observed:

  • I have known a large number of people who have been sick, with quite a number sick for an extended period of time, including time in the hospital (or time when they maybe should have been in the hospital)
  • most have recovered and most cases were mild
  • I personally know two people who have died from Covid (i.e. they were not sick and in no danger of death until they developed Covid, then they passed away due to Covid)
  • All accounts seem to indicate that in a variety of places, the medical system (even with restrictions, vaccines, etc.) was very overwhelmed, with all sorts of non-essential medical cancellations and worrisomely full ICUs. This includes at least one wave in my home provinces of Saskatchewan (where I was born and raised) and Alberta (where I have raised my family). Speaking to a few nurses in these situations gave me a perspective that it was not just “media overreaction”.
  • I have only seen or heard personally of two significant reactions to the vaccine (in comparison to the two deaths, various hospitalizations and significant illnesses due to Covid). One was a lady in the pharmacy who showed up with blood clots shortly after she got the vaccine (I overheard the conversation with the pharmacist, who seemed unconcerned as she helped), and one who had physical reactions for about a week that were significant and unpleasant, but far from life-threatening. Obviously I believe there are more out there, but as my own experience shows, they pale in comparison to the number of people affected by Covid.
  • Since the vaccine has been rolled out, I have only heard of severe cases of Covid among my contacts who have not had the vaccine. Others who have been vaccinated have had Covid (including in my own family), but I don’t know a single person with the vaccine who has had any severe sickness, while I know a variety who have refused to be vaccinated who have been severely sick. (Fortunately, none have died, but I have known at least one who was hospitalized and others who perhaps should have been.)

In short, my own observations and lived experience lines up much more closely with the liberal view and response than the conservative response. That’s not to say that liberal sources and reactions have been all correct. We could discuss for hours cases of overreaction, poor rollout of support services, ignoring data or putting conflicting/nonsensical restrictions in place, mask and vaccine mandates, etc. But despite various points of disagreement, my observation remains – the liberal perspective captures reality better than that conservative perspective, which heightens my belief that the conservative mistrust of all things liberal has led to reporting and decisions that seem to be based more on a reaction against liberals rather than an actual analysis of the situation. Mistrust has crippled our response. Rather than agreeing with some of the basic trends and concerns and working to correct over-the-top or inaccurate responses, conservatives seem to have been focused on rejecting everything liberals say or try to do, to our own detriment. Our faith has been misplaced.

This speaks to the issue of fear, as well. The fear of believing anything that liberals say has hampered our ability to assess things accurately. Instead of assessing each issue and conceding where “they” might be right (or disagreeing when wrong), we have reacted against everything, pushing a counter-narrative that opposes virtually everything, even when it flies in the face of observable evidence. 

I also believe that this fear can be seen in our response to the vaccine. Why is it, when people are sick all around us and there is a very discernible and clear danger of sickness and even death (although significantly lower the younger and healthier one is), that many conservatives claim that they “are not afraid of the virus – it’s just a minor sickness” and downplay all the dangers, but when it comes to the vaccine, which has extremely low and rarely dangerous side-effects (yes, they exist, but are much more rare than the complications caused by Covid) and quite clearly observable benefits, conservatives suddenly become fearful of what it “might do” someday, and that it hasn’t been fully tested, and that there are reactions that the news isn’t reporting. Why do we as conservatives downplay the clearly documented reality and danger of the virus, but fear the vaccine so much? It seems like both these reactions have little to do with the actual facts and evidence, and a whole lot to do with the fact that it is the liberal media and government who are promoting these narratives. Fear has led us to reject the real danger (the virus) and to fear the much-lesser danger (the vaccine). Does this really make any sense? For me, it was a very simple analysis – the danger of getting significantly sick personally was way higher with Covid than it was with the vaccine. And the benefit to society was way better with the vaccine as well. For me, it was a very simple numbers game, and I am very confused why so many are so fearful of the vaccine. My only solution is what I mentioned – fear of trusting anything liberal.


My point here is not to push you to get the vaccine (obviously, I think the benefits far outweigh the potential negatives), nor is my point even anything to do with Covid specifically. That is nothing more than a handy example of my main points:

  • a blanket mistrust of all things liberal actually cripples us, both personally and societally. While I may disagree with many liberal ideas, they are people created in God’s image who have significant ideas that we need to hear and consider.
  • related to that, conservatives are just as corrupted by sin as liberals – it just shows up in different issues. We need to be just as skeptical of conservative bias, ideas and reporting as we do of liberal bias, ideas and reporting.
  • while we might claim we don’t fear, there is a ton of fear in the conservative camp. Fear of all things liberal, fear of the collapse of our society, fear of change, fear of the vaccine…

The questions that I have for my conservative friends and family are quite simply this: Are you willing to acknowledge that you have been crippled by mistrust, and to step back from crippling skepticism to healthy skepticism (and even recognition of the good in liberal views)? And are you willing to confront the fear that exists so deeply within your (our) beliefs?

As a fellow conservative, let’s change our perspective.

With deep love, but also deep concern,


Por los que leen en español – este artículo tiene más que ver con la situación política en Canadá y los Estados Unidos. No sé si es una reflexión de la situación en países Iberoamericanos, por eso no lo va a traducir. Un resumen rápido: Crecí en una familia y región con una perspectiva muy conservador, y que los que pertenecen a este grupo (conservadores) han rechazado casi cualquier perspectiva “liberal”. El punto de este post es argumentar que no es saludable rechazar por completo los liberales (ya que ellos también son creados en la imagen de Dios) y confiar completamente en fuentes conservadores (ya que ellos también son pecadores que cometen muchos errores). Hablé de las diferentes perspectivas de Covid para mostrar que la perspectiva de los liberales alinea mejor con la realidad vivida que lo que están diciendo muchas fuentes conservadores, que a menudo argumentan que Covid no es un problema tan grave y que la vacuna, de hecho, es peor que Covid. El punto no es empujarlos a vacunarse (aunque creo que sería algo bueno), sino mostrar que el rechazo de cualquier perspectiva liberal no es saludable, y de hecho nos causa a rechazar ideas y perspectivas de valor junto con las cosas que es bueno rechazar. Por fin, argumenté que aunque muchos conservadores confiesan confiar en Dios, muchos de ellos viven en temor – temor de los liberales, temor de la vacuna, temor de la posibilidad de que la sociedad vaya a colapsar, etc. Los que supuestamente confían en el Señor no lo muestran por sus temores.

How to Cope with a Covid Christmas

How to Cope with a Covid Christmas

A los que leen este post en español: Perdón por no tener una versión en español. Este post surge de una situación particular en Canadá (en algunas partes), donde nos han puesto restricciones debido a un aumento de casos de Covid y no podemos tener reuniones de familias para celebrar la navidad. A lo mejor puedo traducirlo dentro de la semana, pero quise publicar este post por mis amigos en Canadá que están tratando de manejar esta nueva situación y la tristeza que muchos están experimentando por no poder ver a su familia durante las vacaciones.

So, Christmas just got cancelled. How are you doing? Many are struggling with a variety of emotions as the government of Alberta (and various others) have brought in regulations that essentially ban all social gatherings during Christmas, leaving families to celebrate with only their own nuclear family or (in the case of singles) one or two others. This is a hard blow, and seems to rip all of the joy out of Christmas for many, which is totally understandable. So I (Chris) would like to share a little bit from our story, and the stuff that we have learned about celebrating Christmas when everything you look forward to is gone. You see, what many people don’t realize is that this is actually a common experience for those of us who are missionaries. So if we can, we’d like to help.

For us (okay, let’s be honest, for me), the Christmas of 2014 (pictured above) was really tough. We had just left Canada in August, and were preparing for our first Christmas overseas. I love Christmas, and pretty much everything about it – the lights, the Christmas baking, the dark and cold (the only time of the year I’m okay with it!), the Christmas specials (some more than others), and especially the time with family and friends. I’m not “crazy Christmas guy”, but I definitely like it. Now here we are in Costa Rica. The days are all the same length all year long. There were Christmas lights up, but without the snow and cold, it felt…fake, almost. It’s not, of course (they love Christmas), but it felt wrong. My wife did some baking, but it was hard to find some of the ingredients. We wanted turkey, but they were hard to find and prohibitively expensive. We ended up with two roast chickens, just to make sure we had leftovers. We listened to music, but like the lights, it felt out of place. We had no TV, and really bad internet, so Christmas movies and TV specials were almost not a reality. The entire environment for Christmas was wrong.

But most spectacularly (and most relevant to our present reality), we had no family or friends to share it with. We had some friends at our language school, but most of them had family or friends visiting, so we ended up celebrating Christmas all by ourselves. And for me, it was incredibly difficult. There are still good memories – the boys loved the toys that we got them, and when we took them to the park in the morning, it was like a ghost town, which was really bizarre and amusing. In Costa Rica, they celebrate in a huge way on Christmas Eve, and we had a two story house that looked towards a major centre, so we got a spectacular, hour long fireworks display (I think the kids slept through that one because we didn’t realize it was coming. They caught the New Year’s show, which was even more spectacular – including people lighting lanterns and releasing them into the sky. Which looks cool until the lantern crashes on the cables outside your house and you get to watch the neighbours scramble to get it unstuck and the fire put out before it burns your house down. But I digress…) So there were good and fun memories. But everything was tinged with sadness and disappointment.

I wish I could say that I handled that Christmas well, but I didn’t. I was sad. For the sake of my kids (and my wife), I tried not to mope around all day, but it was tough. All I could think about was what it should be, what I was missing, who wasn’t there, and how…lonely… it all felt. Since that time, we’ve had much better Christmases. At times, we have had family and friends around, but part of it is just learning how to cope with Christmas being different. 

As we approach this Christmas, with some of those same elements in play (particularly the inability to gather with family), I want to offer some ideas that will perhaps help you (and continue to help me) cope with Christmas in an appropriate way, rather than getting swallowed by sadness or anger.

  1. Acknowledge the sadness. It’s not good or healthy to pretend. If you’re sad (or angry!), be honest about it. I’m not advocating that we hide it or pretend. It’s likely that, like me, this emotion will colour many of your experiences this Christmas. So let’s at least acknowledge the elephant in the room. The goal is not to deny or completely get rid of these feelings, but to be honest enough about them that we can look past them rather than getting stuck in them.
  2. It’s all about perspective. A key to coping with that sadness or anger is to do the deliberate work of gaining a proper perspective. For some reason we like to wallow in self-pity or indignation. It somehow seems to be human nature, but it’s not healthy. I offer the following ideas to help us get a good (or better) perspective:
    1. Thankfulness – In the midst of our difficulties, we still have so much to be thankful for, which we often lose sight of. Compared to previous generations, we live in the comfort and even luxury of Kings and Queens, or even gods and goddesses! And yet, we are so used to it that we don’t even notice how good we have it. Even when we are separated from family, the vast majority of us still have technology that allows us to connect, even better than in 2014 when we were at least able to do a (patchy) video call from Costa Rica with our families. Take some time to lift your eyes up and look not just at everything that is missing, but everything that you have. Living overseas, I have learned to be thankful for what I do have when we are so far from familiar traditions and family, rather than focusing only on what I don’t have.
    2. New traditions – Living overseas, we have had to adapt and develop new Christmas traditions. Some have involved new foods – which we absolutely love. Some have involved new habits – we often take a small family trip of some sort over Christmas. Sometimes it involves accepting that all the Christmas stuff (lights and music) are still nice, even if the setting (warm and sunny!) is not right. Sometimes it just requires that we accept that Christmas is going to look a lot smaller and simpler than it does when we do it in Canada. And so we have been able to make it fun and special despite the restrictions.
      So how can we do that this year? The day I heard about Alberta’s restrictions, I sent my brothers a message that simply said, “Christmas in March?” Perhaps we can plan a get together at a different time (totally out of season) that will replace Christmas. I’ve already been thinking about games like jackboxtv, which allows you to play games with people over the internet. Maybe I can still get game time with my brothers and family after all! Maybe we can arrange a special activity with the kids (kind of like an Easter egg hunt, but tailored to Christmas). I don’t know. The challenge is to say, how can we make this special and meaningful, not just sad and angry.
    3. Serve – I’m not even sure what to say about this one, except that perhaps there are some people out there who need help even more than you do. Maybe, rather than focusing on our loss, we can turn our focus to others who have greater needs. People who have been laid off. People overseas who have no capacity for Christmas (groups like Compassion Canada or World Vision often allow you to purchase gifts for people overseas). Maybe part of our sadness comes from thinking only about ourselves, and that can be turned to thinking about others.
  3. Bring God into it. This almost seems like I shouldn’t need to say it, since the entire origin of Christmas is the birth of Jesus (let’s not get into technical arguments about the date and where different traditions came from, etc. Not the point.) The point is that Christmas has changed to primarily be a focus about family (love it), love (totally agree), and giving gifts (love the concept, despite concerns about the extreme commercialism and materialism that sometimes dominates). None of those things by themselves are bad. But Christmas was and should be primarily about celebrating the birth of Jesus, and let’s be honest, he gets pushed completely to the background. So maybe we can recapture some of that. How? Just some ideas:
    1. Most of us have a nativity scene somewhere. Maybe we make it more central. Or actually talk about it. Take seven days and talk or think about about the different people and what they would have been experiencing and what it meant – Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the shepherds, the wise men, the innkeeper and even the angels.
    2. Set up a music playlist that only has songs about Jesus and his birth, and reflect on what it means. Use that playlist regularly and in some dedicated moments to turn your attention to Jesus, rather than to just the other factors.
    3. Reflect on why Jesus came. In Luke 2:11, the angels refer to him as the Saviour. In Matt. 1:21, Gabriel makes it quite clear to Joseph that Jesus has come to save people from their sins. It’s about sins and salvation, not merely family, love and gifts. Those are all related, but not central.
      Perhaps this will help: What will make heaven and the afterlife different than earth? There could be many answers, but I think the biggest one is the lack of sin. Think about it – if we die, and continue to be as self-focused and sinful as we are now, heaven will be exactly the same as earth: Miserable!! (I don’t know – maybe you’re better than me, but I would certainly make it less than heavenly in my present condition.) If you’ve ever seen the Pixar movie Coco (about the Day of the Dead in Mexico), I think that its view of the afterlife is one of the most interesting aspects of the movie. And what do we find? In spite of the movie’s attempt to focus on family and love, the view of the afterlife is depressing. People are exactly the same as they are before death – there is loneliness, despair, jealousy, pride, betrayal and so on. This is not what God offers us, and the only way that is possible is if our sin is dealt with. So Jesus came, both to forgive our sin (because we all know doing wrong should be punished in some way), and also to give us his Holy Spirit to allow us to live without sin, a process that begins slowly now, but will be fulfilled at our death. So Christmas is about our forgiveness, life and restoration, not about so much of what we’ve made it (as good as those things may be).
    4. Read the Christmas stories (Matthew 1-2, and Luke 1-2). Multiple times. Or watch some movies about it, although it’s good to have a solid basis in the story as written so that we can identify both creative license and potentially outright errors. (But not with an eye to complain about the movie, just to keep us centred on what the Bible actually says and doesn’t say.)
    5. Share Jesus with others. Invite others, both in and outside of your family, to read the Christmas stories with you, or watch the movies with you, or think about the songs with you. And have some real conversations about what it actually means.

So, there you have it. From one who has felt the blistering sting of a lonely Christmas that wasn’t at all what it should be, a few ideas to help us refocus and make Christmas good. I’ll be honest – I’m sad that I won’t see my family the way I was hoping to. I’m sad that the Christmas feast won’t be shared. But I’m also kind of excited, because I know, both from experience and from anticipation, that it can still be good. And that’s what I really want. A good, special Christmas that not only will I remember, but that will be meaningful for the coming year and perhaps far into the future.

God bless, and Merry Christmas.

Life, Death, Heaven and Hell

Life, Death, Heaven and Hell

Versión Español

This is the seventh part in a series called “Simple Faith”, examining the simple concepts of the Christian faith. You can read the previous posts by following these links: Simple FaithGodThe Bible,  Sin and Death, and Jesus, and Livin’ la vida… Christian.

Note: The picture above is me with our third son when he was born (more than a decade ago).

The final section in our simple faith series relates to what happens to us after we die. This is an incredibly complex topic, in no small part because we have no way to actually study the afterlife or to have any sort of objective certainty about what is coming next. Our ideas are based entirely on what is revealed in the Bible and the interpretations people put on that information. It is also the most difficult topic because of our emotional reaction against hell. In fact, these things have made this post incredibly difficult to write – this is probably my fifth or sixth version.

The simple concept that I want to explain is the following: We have hope of eternal life instead of death. This might seem like an odd way to address this topic. After all, I don’t mention heaven or hell or the concepts of sin and punishment or rewards. I do that for a simple reason – as much as we might speculate about heaven and hell, I think the Bible primarily offers a stark contrast between life and death, with heaven and hell sort of being the symbols of each (I say symbols without necessarily meaning that they don’t really exist). So what can we say about what happens after we die?

At one level, it’s very simple. In its simplest form, we could just say that the wicked will be punished and the good will be rewarded. The wicked will face eternal death and/or destruction while the righteous will receive life. It’s really just that simple. And yet, it’s hard to just leave it there – I feel the need to walk through how we got to that point. So here we go.

  1. God is the Giver of life. He created us and gave us life, and He is the one who sustains it in every moment. This theme runs through all of Scripture.
  2. Sin is basically the destruction of good and life that God created. So as we sin, we bring destruction and death into the world and our own life. Left to our own devices, even if we struggle to overcome sin, it will still eventually destroy us.
  3. Jesus came into the world to do multiple things: First, he accepted the punishment that sin deserves; second, he destroyed death through his perfect life and his resurrection; third, he made it possible for us to be connected to God through the Holy Spirit. This allows us to be connected to the giver of life, and will eventually be what allows us to be changed after our death. By accepting Jesus, we are basically saying that we hate the sin and evil in this world and in ourselves, and we want to be saved and changed. After our death, this change will be completed – whatever that looks like!
  4. Even in the New Testament and even in Paul’s works (Paul, who stridently declares salvation through faith), we are constantly told that God looks at our heart and that we will be judged for our works. This does not, I believe, negate Jesus at all. If anything, it is just a simple way of expressing the situation that takes into account the fact that many people will never hear about Jesus, or may be taught incorrect things about him, etc. We will be judged based on what we know (God’s power seen through nature, our understanding of morality, etc.) and whether we have responded to that in faith (believing and living according to what we have understood) or denying that and living our own way. But it’s still only Jesus who paid for our sins and Jesus who restores our relationship with God and saves us. And we still only are saved by faith – even if that faith is very incomplete.
    Note: I need to emphasize that although it seems likely to me that some will be saved even without knowing Jesus, it also seems incredibly dangerous to know about Jesus and not accept him. If he is God’s chosen path for salvation and we reject him, we are essentially saying that we do not need his help to obtain eternal life, or that we are good enough to save our selves. It is a way of rejecting God and saying that we would rather follow our own way. It is a highly inadvisable path to follow.
  5. In the end, God is the one who judges us. This is not a cruel tyrant making random decisions. It is a Father and King who is revealing what is really in our hearts responding in grace and love to those who desire and seek what is right, and anger and wrath to those who reject Him and His ways, choosing to seek only their own power, control, benefit, and desires. I hope it’s pretty obvious why people like that wouldn’t be welcome in heave. They would quickly turn heaven back into a world just as bad as the one we presently have. It is also important to note that many who seek only their own way can appear to be pretty good people, but what lies underneath is not so nice. In the same way, some can appear pretty ugly, perhaps for their upbringing, poor teaching, or bad life circumstances, but they honestly desire what is good. This is why we leave those judgments up to God.
  6. Heaven is spoken of as the place of life: all good, no sin, the presence of God, and the tree of life, among many other images. It is what we were created for. For those willing to acknowledge God as both their King and Father, it will be glorious. But many will never be willing to make that confession. Again, heaven would be hell for them, and they would make it awful for everyone else.
  7. Hell is consistently described in terms of darkness, gnashing of teeth, weeping, and destruction. It is hard to know how much of that is to be taken literally (as has been most common throughout church history) and how much is to be taken figuratively. Some Bible verses emphasize the concept of eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41, Revelation 19:20, 20:10-15), while others emphasize the concept of permanent destruction (Matthew 10:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Perhaps it’s even a combination of both – punishment that eventually leads to destruction as sin slowly destroy our soul. There’s a lot of debate about the exact nature of hell. The main point, though, is that those who are “in hell” are not the poor innocent people begging for mercy, but those who have already set their hearts against God. They will not be begging to get into heaven – or if they are, it would only be so that they could do whatever they want and turn it into their own kingdom, not so that they could actually work with God in making something beautiful.

I think that about sums it up. At then end of all of that, we still come back to the simple concept – that the good will be rewarded and the evil will be punished. Those who seek God and life will find it. Those who seek their own way and follow the ways of death will also find that. And while God seems willing to judge people on what they know, He earnestly desires that all would know about Jesus – the one who conquered death so that we may have life, the one who took the punishment for our sins, the one who offers us a relationship with God. He is our Saviour, and the one who makes eternal life possible. Through him we have hope for eternal life instead of death.

La vida, la muerte, el cielo y el infierno

La vida, la muerte, el cielo y el infierno

English Version

Este post es la septima parte de una serie que se llama “fe sencilla” que tiene el propósito de destacar los conceptos sencillos de la fe cristiana. Se puede ver los primeros posts por los siguientes enlaces:  Fe sencilla,  DiosLa BibliaEl pecado y la muerte,  Jesús, y Viviendo la vida cristiana.

La foto arriba es de mí con mi tercer hijo cuando nació (hace más de una década).

La última parte en esta serie sobre fe sencilla toca el asunto de qué nos pasa después de la muerte. Este es un tema increíblemente complejo, en gran medida porque no tenemos una manera objetiva para estudiar la vida ultratumba para tener certeza científica sobre lo que viene. Nuestras ideas se basen solamente en lo que revela la Biblia y las interpretaciones de esa información. También es un tema bien difícil por nuestra reacción negativa al concepto del infierno. De hecho, son estas cosas que han hecho este post muy difícil a escribir. Este es probablamente la quinta o sexta versión.

El concepto sencillo que quiero explicar es lo siguiente: Tenemos esperanza de vida eterna en vez de la muerte. Esto tal vez parece como una manera extraño para abordar este tema. No menciono el concepto del cielo y el infierno, ni los conceptos de castigo o recompensa. Lo hago con intencionalidad. Tanto como podríamos especular sobre esos conceptos, creo que la Biblia principalmente ofrece un contraste entre la vida y la muerte, con el cielo y el infierno siendo símbolos de estos conceptos (y por decir “símbolos”, no quiero implicar que no existen). Entonces ¿qué podemos decir sobre la vida ultratumba?

En un nivel, es muy sencillo. En su forma más sencilla, pedemos decir que los malvados serán castigados y los buenos recompensados. A los malvados, se les impondrán el castigo y/o la destrucción eterna, mientras que los justos recibirán vida. Es tan sencilla. Sin embargo, es difícil dejarlo ahí – siento la necesidad de examinar cómo llegamos a esa conclusión.

  1. Dios es el Dador de Vida. Él nos creó y nos dio la vida, y Él también la sostiene en cada moment. Este tema de la vida corre por toda la Biblia.
  2. El pecado es esencialmente la destrucción de lo bueno y de la vida que Dios creó. Cuando pecamos, permitimos que la destrucción y la muerte entren en el mundo y en nuestra vida. Dejados a nuestros propios méritos, aun si luchamos contra el pecado, eventualmente nos destruirá.
  3. Jesús vino a este mundo para cumplir varios propósitos: Primero, tomó el castigo que el pecado merece; segundo, destruyó la muerte a través de su vida perfecta y su resurrección; y tercero, permitió que fuera posible tener una relación con Dios a través del Espíritu Santo. Esto nos conecta directamente al Dador de la Vida, y eventualmente nos permitirá ser cambiados después de la muerte. Por aceptar a Jesús, estamos proclamando que odiamos el pecado y la maldad de este mundo y dentro de nosotros mismos, y que queremos ser salvados y cambiados. Después de la muerte, Dios completará este cambio – comoquiera que parezca eso.
  4. Aun en el Nuevo Testamento, y aun en las obras del Apóstol Pablo (el que proclama salvación solamente por la fe), las Escrituras nos dicen continuamente que Dios mira a nuestro corazón y que nos juzgará por nuestras obras. Esto no contradice, yo creo, la obra de Cristo. Creo que es una simplificación que toma en cuenta la realidad que muchos nunca escucharán de Jesús, o que son malinformados sobre él. Dios nos juzgará basado en lo que sabemos (el poder de Dios visto en la naturaleza, nuestro entendimiento de la moralidad, etc.) y si hemos respondido a eso en fe (creyendo y viviendo de acuerdo con lo que hemos entendido) o si hemos negado esa revelación para poder vivir como rey de nuestra propia vida. Pero todavía es solamente Jesús que pagó el precio por nuestros pecados, y Jesús que restaura nuestra relación con Dios y quien nos salva. Y todavía somos salvos solamente por la fe –  aun si esa fe es muy incompleta. Y necesito enfatizar que aunque me parece probable que podemos ser salvos aun sin conocer a Jesús, me parece muy, muy peligroso conocer de Jesús y no aceptarlo. Si él es el camino revelado por Dios y lo rechazamos, estamos diciendo, más o menos, que no necesitamos su ayuda para obtener vida eterna, o que somos lo suficientemente bueno para ser salvos. Es una manera de rechazar a Dios y decir que queremos seguir nuestros propios caminos – un asunto poco aconsejable.
  5. Al final de cuentas, es Dios quien nos juzga. Él no es un tirano cruel tomando decisiones al azar. Él es un Padre y Rey quien revela lo que realmente existe en nuestro corazón y responde con gracia y amor a los que buscan y desean lo bueno, y con enojo e ira a los que lo rechazan a Él y sus caminos, prefiriendo buscar solamente su propio poder, control, beneficio y deseos. Espero que sea muy obvio por qué personas así no son bienvenidos en el cielo. Muy rápidamente convertirían el cielo a un mundo tan malo como el presente mundo. También es importante notar que muchos que buscan solamente su propio camino parecen ser buena gente, pero lo que vive bajo la superficie no es tan bonito. De la misma manera, algunos parecen muy feos, tal vez por su crianza, su falta de educación, o malas circunstancias en su vida, pero honestamente desean lo bueno. Por eso dejamos que Dios juzgue!
  6. El cielo se presenta como el lugar de la vida. Todo es bueno, no hay pecado, Dios está presente, y existe de nuevo el árbol de la vida, además de muchos otros imágenes de vida. Es el lugar por el cual Dios nos creó. Por los que reconocen a Dios como su Rey y su Padre, será glorioso. Pero muchos nunca van a estar dispuestos a hacer esa confesión de fe. Por ellos, el cielo sería el infierno, y ellos lo harían terrible por todos los demás.
  7. El infierno se presenta con términos como la oscuridad, crujir de dientes, llantos y destrucción. Es difícil entender si deberíamos entender esas ideas literalmente (como ha sido común en la historia de la iglesia) o si es mejor entenderlas figurativamente. Algunos versículos enfatizan el concepto de castigo eterno (p.e. Mateo 25:41, Apocalipsis 19:20, 20:10-15), mientras que otros enfatizan el concepto de destrucción permanente (p.e. Mateo 10:28, 2 Tesalonicenses 1:6-9). Tal vez es una combinación de los dos – un castigo que eventualmente lleva a la destrucción a través del poder destructivo del pecado. Hay mucho debate sobre la naturaleza del infierno, con pocas conclusiones firmes. Pero el punto principal es que los que están en el infierno no son pobres inocentes que están rogando que Dios les muestre misericordia, sino los que han puesto su corazón en contra de Dios. No estarán rogando por entrar en el cielo, porque no quieren estar con Dios. Y si están rogando entrar, sería solamente para poder vivir por su propio placer y para convertirlo en su propio reino, no para trabajar con Dios para crear algo bonito.

Creo que eso cubre todo. Después de todo eso, regresamos al concepto sencillo – que los buenos serán recompensados y los malvados serán castigados. Los que buscan a Dios y la vida, los encontrarán. Los que buscan sus propios caminos y siguen los caminos de la muerte también encontrarán lo que buscan. Y aunque Dios parece dispuesto a juzgar a las personas por lo que saben, desea sinceramente que todos conozcan a Jesús – el que conquistó la muerte para regalarnos la vida, el que tomó el castigo por nuestros pecados, el que nos ofrece una relación con Dios. Él es nuestro salvador, y el único que hace la vida eterna posible. Por él tenemos esperanza de la vida eterna en vez de la muerte.

Livin’ La Vida…Christian

Livin’ La Vida…Christian

Versión Español

This is the sixth part in a series called “Simple Faith”, examining the simple concepts of the Christian faith. You can read the previous posts by following these links: SimpleFaithGodThe Bible,  Sin and Death, and Jesus.

“I’m a Christian”. The statement sounds so simple, yet it can have many layers of meaning behind it which cause confusion. The speaker might simply mean that they have been raised in a Christian culture, and are not buddhist or muslim. Or they might (likely will) have a specific “brand” of Christianity behind the statement – Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Reformed, etc. There are a million of them. There are also those who would use it for its explanatory power – to say why they do or do not participate in a certain activity or event. All in all, it can be a confusing term.

So how do we cut through all of the complexity to get to the heart of Christianity and what it means to be a Christian? If we look at the historical concept, it originally meant, quite simply, to be a follower of Jesus. This captures much of the idea intended by the term, but I have chosen the following phrase to try to capture it: We live in relationship with Jesus. What does it mean, though?

I would say that there are two underlying concepts that help us to understand this, and  then a few practices that can help us live it out. But at the end, I want to add a personal testimony of what this really looks like.

The first underlying concept is this: Since Jesus rose from the dead and went to heaven to be with God, he is alive to guide us and interact with us. We will get to the practical details of this shortly, but when we try to make Christianity all about just rules and regulations instead of relationship, we begin to lose the interactive aspect that is at the heart of Christianity. Christianity, we believe, is about a relationship.

The second concept is that we have been united to God (and Jesus) through the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that each person who enters into a covenant with God receives the Holy Spirit. This Spirit, alternately called the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, is who allows us  to connect with Jesus and interact with him. 

So what does this look like on a practical level? I would argue that there are a few simple practices that have been foundational to Christians throughout the entirety of history. The forms of these might look different in many different traditions, but someone wanting to live in relationship with Christ will return to these simple practices over and over. They are so simple that they can almost seem boring or too easy, but the ability they have to impact one’s life are so significant that they should never be looked down on. They are:

  1. Read the Bible – Christians have always held that God can speak to us, and that the primary method of Him doing so is through the Bible. We believe that the Holy Spirit guided the authors of Scripture to record what we need to know God and to live out our faith. We also believe that the same Holy Spirit can speak to us through the words. While the Holy Spirit may speak to us in many different ways (“nudges”, the words of others, life’s circumstances, dreams, visions, and even an audible voice at times), the Bible was given to us as the steady guidebook that allows us to evaluate all of these other methods of hearing the Holy Spirit. And I have found the more that someone accepts the Bible as God’s Word and takes it seriously (when it says to forgive your neighbour, you forgive them!), the more their lives reflect Jesus.
  2. Pray – Prayer is a method given to us to both listen to and speak to God. If we believe in a relationship, then interaction is important. Obviously God knows everything about our lives, but as we pray we both pursue that relationship with God and take deliberate time and energy to listen to Him. Again, there are many different forms to do this, but the heart of it is interacting with God.
  3. Gathering – Christians have always met together to praise God and grow in their faith. There are two principal ways that Christians meet. The first is in a large group, almost always on Sundays, to praise God together, learn and visit. The style of these larger gatherings can vary wildly, but the purpose is more or less the same. The second way that Christians gather is in smaller groups, often during the week. This format works very well to “personalize” the teachings of Jesus, applying them to to the particular situation of the individual. It’s an excellent way to hear the voice of Gd through the counsel of others, as well as to encourage one another, challenge one another to growth, and seek the will of God together.
  4. Obedience – Of course, the ultimate purpose of all of these practices is to live the way that God wants us to live – both in a general sense and also in specific instances where he wants us to do particular things to bless and help others. We read the Bible, pray, and gather together so that we can learn to live as the people of God and to be His representatives here on earth. This ought to touch every aspect of our life – work, leisure, family, friends, hobbies, etc. We seek to honour God by obeying Him.

But let’s be honest – this all sounds very boring in some ways. You go to church, pray, and read the Bible. Where’s the adventure? The adventure comes when we really begin to implement the “obedience” part. For us, that has meant leaving our comfortable life in Canada and heading off to Costa Rica, and then Mexico, to serve in churches there. The picture at the top is our family on vacation in a small mining town in Mexico. The entire process of obeying God has been an adventure, to say the least! 

Of course, most people won’t leave their home to serve God in another country. But we are still called to be obedient to God. This means we don’t just pray, read the Bible and go to church – it means we act. It means we step out of our comfort zone and love people as Jesus called us to. It means we go to work, but also that we pray for the people at work, and show them love. It means we fill our spare time not just with our own hobbies and interests, but with some activities that will be a blessing to others. It means volunteering at the Food Bank, visiting sick neighbours, praying with people going through difficult circumstances, making immigrants feel welcome, contributing financially not just to the church, but to other organizations that need help. It also means choosing discipline and service over freedom and rights in our own life. It means sacrificing to follow God – whether that’s building a strong marriage rather than running around in multiple relationships, investing more time and energy into your kids’ lives, working less hours so you can invest in other activities, or undergoing significant counselling and changes to become the person God wants you to become. That’s why I focused on living in relationship with Jesus. It’s more than just going to church and praying and reading the Bible. It’s living a life in response to what Jesus says. And therein lies the adventure.

So there you have it. While it is very challenging to live as a Christian, at its heart, it’s very simple. We live in relationship with Christ, listening to his voice and trying to obey what he is saying and follow where he is leading. We are Christians – followers of Christ living in relationship with him.