The Centre of the Universe

The Centre of the Universe

Versión español pendiente

The other day, out of curiosity, I decided to look up where the centre of the universe is. We’ve all seen or heard about the various landmarks in different places – the centre of North America, the Centre of Canada or the U.S. or Mexico (or any other country), etc. There’s something at least mildly interesting about finding the centre of a place. So imagine my surprise when various sources reported that despite there being mass consensus about the universe beginning with a Big Bang, and expanding continuously, there is no centre to the universe! Apparently it has to do with space being curved and space and time coming into existence simultaneously, and other crazy concepts. Whatever the reason, we’re not going to be able to take a spaceship some day and find a floating sign declaring that we have arrived at the centre of the universe. Sorry all you selfie junkies!

But that’s okay. The question behind the search wasn’t really the geographical centre of the universe. The real question is what is the centre of our existence. I have come to realize how significant of a difference this makes in our view of life and how we live.

This question arose in my mind as I have struggled to work through and understand the concept of hell and the judgment of God upon humanity. To be blunt, this seems deeply unfair at times and almost cruel of God. I have struggled how to understand God as a loving God when faced with multiple passages talking about God’s wrath and judgment. I’ll freely admit, God seems pretty angry at times. So what gives?

Two Worldviews

As a Christian, I believe that the centre of our existence is God. Without going into details about the reason for this belief, in short it seems that a personal, intelligent God is the most logical explanation for a complex, conscious, and moral world. I believe anything other than that (an impersonal force or nothing) is inadequate to explain the reality that we see before us. Most Christians would at least claim to hold this belief, but I think a closer examination reveals a different picture.

We presently live in a society which places humanity or individuals as the centre of our existence, and I think that many Christians in North America (and even here in Mexico) have incorporated this view into their life. We still believe that God is “sovereign” over all, but there has been a subtle, but significant, shift. Whereas in prior times the teaching of the church was that God was over all and people existed to serve God, this is no longer what I hear or see. What I see is the following: People are the highest creation of God and God exists to serve us.

People in the Centre

I can anticipate many Christians objecting to this idea. We are not God, after all, and most people are well aware of their shortcomings. Nor is this idea without aspects of truth. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say. Reality in church life shows a tremendous amount of people-centred ideas:

  • how could God do this to me? Why is this happening?
  • it’s not fair for God to condemn people
  • how can God say this is wrong?
  • Jesus just loved people no matter what, and so should we
  • people are so amazing and wonderful
  • God just wants us to be happy and fulfilled

As I said, there is some truth in the concept I mentioned above (and the comments I listed), but there is also deception. To see it, we must look carefully at the full biblical picture.

God in the Centre

Few Christians would argue that God created the world and humanity (despite many disagreements about how He did it). And the truth in the above statement is that people are the highest creation of God. He created us in His image. This is huge and confers tremendous value on each person, whether Christian or not. BUT… this does not mean that we are the centre of the universe. While God created this universe and world for us, this does not mean that He created us to be the main point of the world. HE is still the main point, not us.

If we think about it, this is pretty obvious. Individual humans are certainly not significant enough to be the point of everyone’s existence. We are each rather frail and full of problems. But neither is humanity as a whole significant enough to be the centre of the universe. As a race, we are also extremely frail. Aside from faith, we don’t know where we came from or why we exist. We certainly didn’t bring ourselves into being, nor are we capable of ensuring our existence (just think of the disaster movies that show how susceptible we are to mass extinction from asteroids, etc.). Humanity, both individually and as a whole, is very transitory.

Scripturally, we see that we are representatives of God, not divine beings in and of ourselves. God created us in His image, then turned this world over to us to dominate and rule over. But there’s no evidence that He relinquished his role as king over the world – quite the opposite, in fact. The Bible is pretty consistent in declaring that God is the King. We, frail creatures that we are, are given the distinguished position of his representatives, participating with Him in ruling this world, but never intended to be the centre of it all.

Yet with the growth of humanism, this is the error that we have fallen into. We have embraced the value of human life (true), but forgotten that we are still subservient to the King. We have called God our Father and embraced His love, but set aside His equally valid role as creator and judge who still has a plan for this earth and fairly clear guidelines for what is right and wrong. We have forgotten that God is not focused on our happiness alone, but rather in shaping us and forming us into His image (He is the potter, we are the clay, as Isaiah says).

A Closer Look

This people-centred perspective affects a number of different spheres, mentioned above but amplified here.

  • The nature of people – This is a challenging one, because the value of individuals is one of the greatest things that western society has taken hold of from Christianity (except for the unborn and, increasingly, the old and infirm). People are special and people are valuable. Where the people-centred and God-centred views diverge, however, is in the source of that value and the destiny of humanity. In the people-centred view, humans are seen as the pinnacle of evolution, but it is a bit confusing why we are valuable and special. As near as I can figure out, it is because we are unique, diverse and superior to “other” animals. But there is nothing in either our origin or our destiny that implies any particular value or specialness. Yet somehow this is the view of our society. And what’s more, there has somehow been a leap from the beauty and value of humanity to a belief that humanity is good at heart and getting better, despite a lack of evidence for that (yes, in some regards the situations of many are getting better, but it’s hard to argue that the actual nature of humanity has gotten much better). In the God-centred view, humanity finds its source and potential destiny in God. We are valuable and special because we have been made like God, but we are deeply aware of how far we have fallen (and continually fall) from that potential.There is tension in either of these views, without doubt. The first struggles to show why there is so much evil if humans are so intrinsically good, or why we have value if we are nothing more than intelligent animals. The second requires us to acknowledge our imperfection and guilt, but this is only negative if we fail to understand that God freely holds out forgiving and welcoming arms.

    Key Question: What is the source and destiny of humanity? Does this actually confer on us individual and corporate value? Our answer to this question will guide most of our beliefs about us as a race.

  • God’s Judgment – one of the biggest problem areas, as I mentioned above, is our reaction to God’s role as judge. When we view humans as the centre of the universe, we begin to see God as angry and judgmental, even evil. We are poor, innocent humans, trying our hardest to be good and do right (although this seems to me to be a rose-coloured glasses view of humanity). In this view, even those who want nothing to do with God are “good people” who deserve God’s love and grace. God exists to serve us and bring us happiness, after all.But if we remember that God is the centre of the universe, and view things from His perspective, the story is a bit different. These same people are not seeking to be faithful stewards of God and to do what is right – many have completely abandoned God, and most are certainly not seeking Him, and most are not seeking to do what is right, rather what is desirable, self-fulfilling and comfortable. He calls them to a certain way of life, and they just choose what they want to obey and what they don’t. The focus of most is their own happiness, ease and comfort, not the development of this world in accordance with God’s laws that bring life. It is true that in our present society, many of those values are in line with God’s teachings (after all, our culture is largely shaped by Judeo-Christian teachings), but that does not mean that people’s hearts desire God or His ways. Nor can we say that these values are intrinsic to humanity, as many of them have not arisen in other contexts (or are only entering other cultures as those cultures are influenced by our Judeo-Christian values).

    When we understand God as the giver of life who is seeking to guide and lead people, to help us as we seek to navigate this life and develop this world, then the utter rejection by humanity of God looks a lot different, and His eventual judgment makes far more sense. But even though God consistently threatens judgement (and sometimes follows through with it), it is always with a desire to see people change their ways and do what’s right. It’s like he says, “This is what could happen, but please don’t make me do it!” God is consistently presented as seeking out, calling us and desiring restoration. It is humans who are presented as stubborn and obstinate.

    Key Question: How many, when pointed to God or Jesus, will actually respond, and how many will shrug it off and keep doing things their way? If they want nothing to do with God, why do we try to declare that God is unfair to judge them some day? While I have particular sympathy for those who are trying to find God and seek what is right (and I pray God has mercy on them), many do not fall even into this category.

  • Our life – it is very common to see, feel and hear despair over the difficulties of life. Yet this is only a problem if we believe that God is here to serve us. If we understand that God’s desire is our salvation from a broken and rebellious world (first and foremost) and to make us into His image (secondly), then it is neither surprising nor crippling to encounter difficulties. While this world can be fantastic and fun, it is temporary. While we are made in God’s image, we are far from what God created us to be. So it should not be a surprise that we go through difficulties. While not enjoyable, when we have God and His purposes at the centre of our life, we face them with a totally different attitude. We might not understand the specifics of why we are passing through difficulties or how God is going to use it, but we recognize that God can and will use it. The Bible reveals that God is completely for us – He desires what is good for us individually and as a race. But that means He wants us to grow and be transformed, not stagnant, a fact which automatically implies difficulties and challenges. It also means He is willing to give us our freedom, which includes making poor decisions that affect us or others, and facing the resultant consequences. God being “for us” does not mean a life free from problems by any stretch!Key Questions: If many have no desire to do what is right, and even those of us who do desire to do good struggle, why are we surprised by suffering? When Jesus and all the disciples took on suffering as part of the will of God for their good and to advance His kingdom, is it fair of us to expect any less?
  • right and wrong – with us at the centre, we pick and choose what we want to do and what feels or seems good and right. But I believe a fair appraisal will show that our choices are most often dictated by the culture around us or what feels convenient or comfortable. When we put God at the centre, however, there is a fairly consistent analysis of right and wrong. I freely admit there are some passages that are difficult, but on the whole it’s pretty clear. And all people are held to that standard.But aren’t we to love all people, no matter what? Yes, but that’s not the whole story. Jesus loved people, it’s true, but since Mark declares that his primary message was repentance (Mark 1:15), and the message Jesus gave his disciples to preach centred around the same call to repentance and the promise of forgiveness (Luke 24:47), I suspect many of Jesus conversations with sinners – whom he gladly ate with – centred around this concept of repentance. This would certainly explain the reaction of Zacchaeus after talking with Jesus (Luke 19). With God at the centre, we are constantly challenged to repent of the wrong and seize the right, with clear instructions on what falls in each category.

    Key Questions: Are our individual and shifting standards of right and wrong really adequate for developing and maintaining a healthy life and society? What does it look like to blend Christ’s obvious love for people with his declared message of repentance?


I’ll be the first to admit that making God the centre of our world is tough. I want to be comfortable. I want to have good things. I want God to solve my problems and I want Him to bless me. I want God to serve me. The good news is that God is for us. He loves us and treats us as His children. The “bad” news (which isn’t bad, just difficult) is that He wants us to be for Him as He is for us. He wants us to love Him and centre our lives on Him, not on ourselves. He wants us to take up our divine role as His stewards, building, governing and restoring this world. And that means putting Him in the centre, not us, and accepting all that comes with that.

For the non-Christian or one who doesn’t believe in God, this idea is foolish. Humanity is at the top of the food chain and we make our own destiny. But for the Christian, it is entirely different. If God (Christ) is the centre of the universe, then everything revolves around Him. We live this life not for our own happiness or satisfaction, but to participate in the mandate to create and uphold life. We awake in the morning seeking to know how to govern and live in this world in a way that glorifies God. We face adversity knowing that God is using it to shape us. We view our own sinfulness and the sinfulness of the world as a deviation from what God intended and fight against it with His help.

In short, we live to serve Him, instead of demanding that He serve us.

¿Es el amor de veras suficiente?

¿Es el amor de veras suficiente?

English version

“All you need is love!” (Todo lo que necesitas es el amor!)

Así declaran Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison y John Lennon, mejores conocidos como “the Beatles”. Es una canción muy contagiosa que pega en la mente. Y parece que es el lema de nuestro tiempo.

No lleva mucho tiempo para descubrir este mensaje en la cultura. La Mujer Maravilla lo tenía. Al final (alerta: voy a explicar el final de la película por si a caso no la has visto!), a pesar de una explicación muy correcta de la maldad presente en la humanidad, ella declara que cree en la humanidad. ¿Por qué? Por el amor y la capacidad humana de amar. Podría hacer una lista larga de películas, canciones y libros que hablan de nuestra necesidad de amar y que debemos ser gente de amor. Se lo encuentra en toda la cultura popular – si solamente amáramos mejor, aceptáramos a otras personas por quienes son y trabajáramos juntos, entonces la vida sería muy genial. “Somos una gente, y deberíamos amarnos el uno al otro”.

Ahora, claro, estoy de acuerdo con todo esto. Deberíamos amarnos el uno al otro más. Somos iguales en valor. Deberíamos aceptar a otras personas (aunque “aceptar” y “estar de acuerdo con” no son el mismo). El amor es la fuerza más poderosa del universo y podría cambiar el mundo. En algún sentido es cierto – todo lo que necesitamos es el amor!

Desafortunadamente, somos muy malos con el amor.

Ahora, no quiero pintar un cuadro que no es justo o negar la realidad. Claro que la gente es capaz de amar. Y hay muchos ejemplos del amor. Somos (generalmente) buenos para amar a nuestra familia. Somos (generalmente) buenos para amar a nuestros hijos. Somos (generalmente) buenos para ser corteses y respetuosos durante nuestras interacciones cotidianas con otras personas. Somos (generalmente) buenos para amar a otros desde lejos, personas que están de acuerdo con nosotros, personas que nos tratan bien y personas que alinean con nuestras creencias y causas. Y podemos mostrar gestos dramáticos de amor por nuestros seres amados o en momentos de crisis. Entonces estamos capaces de amar y aun de un sentir un amor muy profundo y apasionado.

Lamentablemente, la vida no consiste de momentos de crisis y gestos dramáticos y personas que son fáciles de amar. La vida consiste de todos nosotros. Y cuando extendemos más allá de nuestra situación cómoda, el grado de amor que mostramos declina dramáticamente. Amamos a nuestros hijos, pero no al maestro que los trata injustamente, el bully que los está molestando o el patrón que no les da las horas que necesitan para sobrevivir. Amamos a nuestros prójimos – hasta que son inconvenientes o interfieren con nuestra paz y comodidad. Amamos a los pobres, siempre que solamente tengamos que sacrificar un poco para ayudarlos. Amamos a otras personas, a menos que no estén de acuerdo con nosotros políticamente o filosóficamente. Amamos a nuestros esposos o parejas con pasión, pero no siempre prácticamente. ¿Una cena bonita? ¿Una película? ¿Una escapada romántica? Claro!! ¿Levantar la ropa sucia? ¿Mostrar respeto y paciencia? ¿Perdonar una ofensa pequeña? No tan fácilmente. Amamos en un momento de crisis (un temblor, un muerte, un tiroteo, etc.), y luego se nos olvida y seguimos con nuestra vida lo más pronto posible.

Como dije, no quiero pintar un cuadro demasiado dramático, pero quiero mostrar lo obvio – no somos tan buenos en el amor como pensamos. Reflexiona sobre las siguientes preguntas:

  1. ¿Qué tan bueno amas a otros cuando estás cansado, estresado o no tienes motivación?
  2. ¿Qué tan bueno muestras amor a los que no están de acuerdo contigo?
  3. ¿Cuán rápido puedes perdonar a los que te ofenden? ¿O que te lastiman profundamente?
  4. ¿Cada cuánto de veras sabes lo mejor por alguien más, y cada cuánto nada más sigues la tendencia de la sociedad o adivinas a lo que es mejor? En otras palabras, es tu amor hacia ellos amor verdadero, o resulta en lastimarlos por accidente?
  5. ¿Cuán listo estás para sacrificar por otros para mostrar el amor? Y estoy hablando de un sacrificio verdadero – dejar de ir a restaurantes para dar dinero a los vagabundos en tu comunidad, o dejar tu propio plan por la noche para hacer lo que tu espos@ quiere hacer?

Mi punto (sobre todo con la última pregunta) no es culparte para hacer algo, o decir que nunca debes pensar en ti mismo. Hay que encontrar un balance entre cuidarte a ti mismo (ser sano) y sacrificarse por otros. Ni es mi deseo denigrar la idea del amor. Creo que “the Beatles” tenían sentido cuando cantaban que sólo necesitamos el amor. Es solamente que creo que necesitamos un poco de ayuda para amar, y amar bien. Y estoy más o menos seguro que yo sé por dónde buscar esa ayuda.

En la Biblia, encontramos una frase corta pero interesante: “Dios es amor” (1 Juan 4:8). También encontramos una de las descripciones más hermosas del amor (1 Corintios 13:1-8, 13), una descripción del poder del amor (Cantares 8:6-7), y el mejor ejemplo del amor en la persona de Jesús, quien vivió una vida de amor y luego estaba preparada morir por nosotros para restablecer nuestra conexión con Dios.

Pero hoy en día, hemos desconectado el amor y Dios. Hemos hecho el amor nuestra meta, sin reconocer que no somos muy aptos en identificar el tipo de comportamiento que muestra el amor, y que solamente tenemos éxito en eso a veces – sobre todo hacia aquellos que son difíciles de amar. Además, el amor, siendo en su turno un concepto, un sentimiento o un verbo, no es algo que podemos capturar o agarrar muy firmemente. Es escurridizo, fácilmente descaminado y a menudo mal informado. Es una amante inconstante. Sobre todo cuando está guiado por nuestro corazón, sobre el cual el profeta Jeremías dice, “nada hay tan engañoso como el corazón. No tiene remedio” (Jeremías 17:9). En la misma manera que tendemos a pensar que el amor es la respuesta a todo, igual pensamos que somos lo suficientemente buenos para entenderlo y guiarlo en la dirección que debería ir. Hay una buena razón por la cual Jesús mismo dijo, “Nadie es bueno sino sólo Dios” (Marcos 10:16). Aunque a veces amamos bien, a menudo no lo hacemos. Necesitamos ayuda.

Entonces ¿por dónde la encontramos? Creo que no existe ninguna fuente mejor que Dios mismo, quien es amor y la fuente de todo amor. No hay mejor ejemplo que Jesús, quien nos modeló el amor (aun hacia los difíciles y cuando le costó muchísimo), y quien nos ofrece el amor incondicional que anhelamos. No existe ninguna guía mejor que la Biblia, que nos muestra qué Dios ama y cómo debería ser el amor, en vez de lo que las ideas inconstantes de nuestra cultura tratan de decirnos. No existe un poder mejor que el Espíritu Santo, Cristo mismo viviendo dentro de nosotros, para ayudarnos a amar cuando es imposible hacerlo por nuestra propia fuerza.

El cristianismo siempre se ha definido por su amor. En diferentes lugares y tiempos, los seguidores de Cristo han olvidado eso, se han desviado por la cultura, han fallado y han modelado muchas cosas que no son el amor. Y a veces, aun con la ayuda de Dios, es difícil sabor como amar bien. Pero en Dios (más específicamente, en Cristo) tenemos la fuente, el ejemplo, la guía y el poder para poder vivir vidas de amor.

Si tú, como muchos otros, anhelas que nuestro mundo sea un lugar del amor, te animo a establecer esa conexión con Jesús, o (si ya eres cristiano) examinar cuidadosamente tu vida en la luz de su ejemplo y dirección.

El amor es todo lo que necesitamos. Siempre que entendamos que “el amor” es “Dios”.


Wallpaper gracias a Analaurasam.

Is Love Really Enough?

Is Love Really Enough?

Versión español

“All you need is love!”

So declare Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon, otherwise known as the Beatles. It’s a catchy little song that sticks in your head – sometimes for way too long. And it seems like it is the slogan of our age.

It takes very little time or energy to discover this message. Wonder Woman highlighted it. At the end, (spoiler alert for the few of you who haven’t seen it…) despite very accurately summarizing the evil present in humanity, she declares that she believes in humanity. Why? Because of love. I could come up with an entire list of movies, songs and books that espouse our need to love, and that we should be people of love. It is all over the popular culture – if only we would love each other more, accept them for who they are, work together, then life would be great. We are all one people, and should love one another.

Now of course, I totally agree with this. We should love each other more. We are all equal. We ought to accept people (although accept and agree with are not necessarily the same). Love is the most powerful force in the universe and it could totally change the world. In some sense, it is all we need.

Unfortunately, we are terrible at love.

Now, I don’t want to paint too unfair of a picture or deny reality. Of course people are capable of love. And there are tons of different examples of love. We are (generally) good at loving our families. We are (generally) good at loving our kids. We are (generally) good at being polite and respectful in everyday interactions with people. We are (generally) good at loving people from a distance, people who agree with us, people who treat us well and people who align with our own beliefs and causes. And we can be especially good at dramatic gestures of love for our loved ones or in moments of crisis. So we are definitely capable of love and even of deep, passionate love.

Unfortunately, life is not made up of moments of crisis, dramatic gestures, and people that are easy to love. Life is made up of all of us. And once we extend beyond our small world of ease, the degree of love that we show decreases dramatically. We love our kids, but not the teacher who treats them unfairly, the bully who is harassing them, or the employer who won’t give them the hours they need to survive. We love our neighbours and the people on the street – until they are an inconvenience to us or interfere with our peace and comfort. We love the poor, as long as we only have to sacrifice minimally to help them. We love other people, unless they disagree with us politically or philosophically. We love our spouses or significant others passionately, but not always practically. Dinner? Movie? Romantic getaway? Great! Pick up the clothes? Help with the cleaning? Forgive a minor offence? Not so easy. We love deeply in a moment of crisis (earthquake, death, shootings, etc.), then forget and carry on with our life as soon as possible.

As I said, I don’t want to paint too dramatic of a picture, but I also want to point out the obvious – we are not as good at love as we think we are. Consider the following questions:

  1. How well do you love people when you are tired, stressed or unmotivated to do so?
  2. How well do you love those who disagree with you?
  3. How quickly can you forgive and love those who offend you? Or who hurt you deeply?
  4. How often do you really know what is best for someone else and how often do you just follow the trends of society or guess at what is best? In other words, is your love for them actually love, or does it accidentally end up harming them?
  5. How willing are you to sacrifice for others to show love? I mean really sacrifice – give up eating out to help feed the homeless in your community, set aside your agenda for the evening to let your spouse/partner do what they want, etc.?

My point (especially with that last one) is not to make you feel overwhelmingly guilty, or to argue that you should never think of yourself. There is a balance to find between taking care of yourself (being healthy) and sacrificing for others. Nor is it my desire to belittle the idea of love. I do think that the Beatles were onto something when they sang that all we need is love. It’s just that I think we need some help to love, and to love well. And I’m pretty confident that I know where to look.

In the Bible we find an interesting little comment: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). We also find one of the most beautiful descriptions of love (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13), a description of the power of love (Song of Songs 8:6-7), and the best example of love in Jesus, who lived a life of love and then was willing to die for us to restore our connection with God.

What has happened, though, is that we have disconnected love from God. We have made love our goal, not recognizing that we’re not very good at identifying what is loving behaviour and only sporadically successful at showing love to others – especially those who are difficult to love. What’s more, love, being alternately a concept, a feeling or a verb, is not something that we can easily capture or hold onto. It is elusive, easily misguided and often misinformed. It is a fickle mistress. Especially when guided by our heart, which Jeremiah accurately describes as “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9). Just as we tend to think love by itself is the answer, so we think that we are good enough to understand and guide it in the way it should go. There is a good reason that Jesus himself said, “No one is good – except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Although we do get love right at times, we very often do not. We need help.

So where do we turn? I think there is no better source than God himself, who is love and the source of love. There is no better example than Jesus Christ, who modelled love (even for the difficult and even when it cost him tremendously) and offers to us that unconditional love that we long for. There is no better guide than the Bible, which shows us what God loves and what love should look like, rather than what the shifting sands of culture try to tell us. There is no better power than the Holy Spirit, Christ himself living in us, to help us to love when we find it impossible to do so ourselves.

Christianity has always been defined by its love. In different times and places, followers of Christ have forgotten that, got sidetracked by culture, failed and modelled anything but love. And at times, even with God’s guidance, it is difficult to know how to love well. But in God (more specifically, in Christ), we have the source, the example, the guide and the power to live lives of love. If we pursue Him, we get love. If we pursue love, we end up all over the place.

So if you, like so many, long for our world to be a place of love, I encourage you to establish that connection with Jesus or (if you are already a Christian) to look closely at your life in light of his example and guidance.

Love truly is all we need. As long as we understand “love” to be “God”.

Wallpaper courtesy of Analaurasam.


So We Changed the Anthem…

So We Changed the Anthem…

Una nota por mis amigos que hablan español: Ya que este artículo trata con un tema muy específica de Canadá, y en parte con un asunto particular de la idioma inglés, no voy a traducir este post a español.

So as of this past week, the Canadian national anthem has officially been changed, with a desire to make it “gender neutral”. While this change hasn’t elicited as much response as I had expected, I have seen some people posting complaints about it, while others are celebrating it. Both the change and people’s response to it kind of intrigue me, so I thought I would add a few thoughts to the discussion. Hopefully this will be a balanced approach that both sides can benefit from.

Note: For those who haven’t heard, the change occurs in the fourth line, where “In all thy sons command” was changed to “in all of us command”.

  1. Change is hard. Since 1914, Canadians have been singing the current version of O Canada. That means that most people presently alive have only sung the anthem as it was before this change. Tradition is a strong thing, and for many, the change feels completely unnatural. Although some people have rightly pointed out that the original song adopted in 1908 used the line “thou dost in us command”, I don’t know if anybody now alive ever sang that. Messing with something aswell-known as our national anthem is going to produce an emotional reaction. So if you happen to agree with this change, show compassion and grace to those who don’t. For many, it simply doesn’t sound right.
  2. It’s not oppressive! Another reason for or against the change is the “patriarchal” language. In other words “sons” refers to all of us, just as mankind does, etc. The language uses the male figure to refer to everyone. Some find this offensive or not inclusive. Some even argue that the entire patriarchal system and language is oppressive. While I don’t disagree that women have been abused and oppressed at times (more than many care to admit, but less than others try to make it seem), I think an automatic equation of patriarchal language with oppression is over the top and unfortunate. For most, this was simply the language used. Throughout history and various (most?) cultures, the male-dominated society simply made sense and seemed natural. Men are generally stronger and in a survival society, they automatically focused more on the tasks that were more physically demanding (warfare and working the fields among them). Women are the only ones who can physically have and nurse kids, and since families often needed to have lots of kids (many would die young, and they were the parents’ old-age security), the women cared for them and the household. It made sense. And the culture and language developed from there. So please step down a bit from automatically equating patriarchal language with oppression. Oppression happened (and sometimes still happens), but for most people, it’s just the way the language was used, and many see no need to change it.
  3. But language and times change. That being said, the culture has changed, and language is bound to change with it. I have heard a variety of women, from little girls to much older ones, question where they fit in comments that use male language. We do live in a different time, and while some might think that change is not beneficial (a much larger topic), I’m personally okay with it. Those who wish the anthem would stay the same need to recognize that some people honestly feel like it doesn’t include them. If the purpose of the line in the song is to refer to all of us (which it obviously is), why is it a big deal to adjust it so that everyone feels comfortable? Let’s put it this way – if we had been singing “in all of us command” for the past 100 years, nobody would even be fazed about it. It’s not a big deal – the bigger issue is just that it sounds strange, or it’s being changed and we don’t like it, or that some feel it’s not really necessary and that people just need to understand that’s how the language works! But that’s the rub – if that’s not how the language and culture actually work anymore, maybe we do need to change it.
  4. It doesn’t sound as good. From a purely linguistic and poetic point of view, I think the old way sounds better than the new way. “thy sons” just sounds more poetic than “of us”. But I recognize that part of that is just that I’m used to singing it that way. Also, as I mentioned before, if we had been singing it that way for the last 100 years, we wouldn’t even think about it.
  5. But it is clearer. I’ll admit, until a couple of years ago, I had never really thought through the entire anthem carefully. The result? I was hearing “sons” as a possessive, not as a plural. I was hearing “in all thy sons’ command” or, in other words, that our sons (all of us as Canadians) were commanding something – I just never really thought about what they were commanding. It wasn’t until I really read it carefully and thought about it that I realized that we weren’t commanding anything, but Canada was commanding true, patriotic love in (or from) all of us. Oops. I’m curious how many others have made that mistake. The new way just sort of eliminates that confusion.

So, in 5, 20, or 50 years, how much will this matter? I anticipate our kids will grow up learning the new way and never give it another thought. Do we need to argue to keep language the same, even when people don’t identify with it the same way that they did? I don’t think so, even though I will probably end up singing it the old way most of the time without thinking about it. It’s just deeply engrained in me by now.

So, if you love the change, sing it the new way, but recognize that change is hard for many people and many honestly (without being oppressive or oppressed) feel like it’s unnecessary. Either way, be patient with them. The change is made, and it will gradually be adopted.

If you hate the change, realized that it’s not a conspiracy! Our culture has changed, and many people feel awkward singing it as it was written or even feel excluded. It is what it is. Learning the new way won’t hurt anyone in the long run, even you. And if you keep singing it the old way, either because “that’s the way it’s always been” or because “we didn’t need to change it” or even just because you don’t like it as much, so be it. Just please don’t be belligerent about it. There is not actually anything wrong with the change, and no matter what the official language is and the law says, it will take a long time for the new wording to become popular and accepted. Just like switching to the metric system, right? It hasn’t hurt anybody, now we’re used to it, and for the most part, it’s just the way it is.

Whatever the specific words we might use, we are all still Canadians. That is the focus.

Cuando tembló la tierra…

Cuando tembló la tierra…

English Version

Han pasado casi cuatro meses desde el temblor.

Terra y yo estábamos en una Mega, un supermercado grande. Mis memorias del evento son un poco caóticas: sentí que algo andaba mal, y de repente me di cuenta que era un terremoto; vi una botella de refresco que había explotado volando por el aire; traté de jalar a Terra por la mano para salir más rápido – ella estaba tratando de colocar la comida en un lugar seguro; traté de saltar un poco de líquido en el piso (de una botella rota), pero era difícil porque tanto el líquido como el piso estaba moviendo; miré hacia arriba y vi las luces meciéndose y me pregunté se algo – ¡como el techo! – iba a caer sobre nosotros; vi dos empleos de la Mega guiando a una compañera que estaba llorando y obviamente atterada. Y ya, había terminado, y estábamos parados fuera de la Mega, tratando de procesar lo que había pasado y decidir qué debemos hacer ahora.

No quiero dramatizar la situación demaciado. No tenía miedo en el momento – solo sabía que tuvimos que salir de la tienda y me enfoqué en eso. Y los momentos iniciales después del evento eran tranquilos también. Nos enteramos muy pronto (dentro de 10 minutos) que los niños y sus escuelas estaban bien, y íbamos en esa dirección para recogerlos. Nos comunicamos con familia y amigos para decirles que estábamos bien. No había daño muy obvio donde estábamos, ni en el camino hacia la escuela, entonces el temblor parecía grande, pero nada muy serio. Fue más interesante que espantoso, ¡aunque nos dio una inyección de adrenalina!

Fue solamente después de llegar a la casa que empezamos a entender la severidad. Se derrumbaron más de 30 edificios, había entre 3000-4000 más con daño, y más de 350 personas murieron – aunque no sabíamos esas cifras por unas semanas. A decir verdad, en una ciudad de más de 20 millones de personas, no era mucho daño. Lo que era más impactante es que había tres edificios derrumbados a solo unos cuadros de nosotros (la foto arriba es de uno de ellos), y las casas de algunos de nuestros compañeros de trabajo habían sufrido tanto daño que tenían que pasarse a otras casas (la nuestra salió bien). Al descubrir eso la situación se hacía más surreal.

Durante la siguiente semana, nos acostumbramos a calles cerradas, una multitud de gente trabajando para quitar escombro y rescatar personas (o recobrar cuerpos, tristemente) y el ruido constante de ambulancias. Parecía que la ciudad estaba en un trance por las primeras semanas, y ha ido recobrándose poco a poco desde entonces. Por la mayoría de la gente, las cosas son normales, aunque definitivamente no por los que perdieron familia, amigos, bienes o casa. Tampoco por los que perdieron la seguridad de vivir cada día sin preocuparse sobre cuando la tierra va a temblar otra vez, una pérdida mental y emocional que puede durar mucho. Yo sé que esa preocupación me toca a veces, cuando estoy caminando o manejando, y de repente tengo la necesidad de identificar el lugar más seguro por si acaso otro temblor llegue. Busco a mi alrededor para encontrar el edificio más corto que es menos probable caer en un terremoto.

Pero para mi, hay una realización que me impactó más que cualquier otra:

La vida es preciosa, pero también es muy corta.

Había dos cosas que me hicieron reflexionar en esta idea. La primera fue la reacción de todos a los edificios derrumbados. En una manera impresionante, que pasa cada vez que hay un desastre, todos se unificaron para hacer todo lo posible para ayudar a los en necesidad – sobre todo los que estaban atrapados bajo el escombro. Era increíble ver todos ayudando. Llegaron a los sitios de los derrumbes un montón de recursos (medicamentos, agua, comida, etc.). Gente se ponía en fila por horas para tomar su turno en cavar y quitar escombro. Toda la ciudad, por unos días, se enfocaba en salvar vidas. La vida es algo que se puede dar por supuesto – ¡hasta que hay una amenaza a ella! En ese momento, uno da cuenta en cuál preciosa es la vida.

La segunda cosa que me hizo reflexionar fue escuchar de las personas atrapadas que eventualmente murieron porque los rescatadores no pudieron llegar a tiempo. Hay pocas cosas que me han hecho meditar profundamente sobre el valor y la fragilidad de la vida como este pensamiento: ¿Qué haces cuando estás atrapado y sabes que tal vez no vas a escapar con vida?

Este pensamiento, obviamente, es atemorizando por muchos. Fue así para mi. Uno no puede pensar demasiado en este tema sin sentir un poco de miedo y ansiedad. Vivimos en una sociedad que está relativamente segura, donde podemos empujar la idea de la muerte a los márgenes de nuestros pensamientos. Pero después de vivir por un terremoto donde gente viviendo muy cerca a ti ha muerto hace que uno reflexione sobre temas de este tipo. Por un lado, hace que me sienta muy feliz por estar vivo, sobrecogido por cuan valiosa y preciosa es la vida, y cuán fuerte es el deseo seguir viviendo. Por el otro lado, me hace pensar – ¿Estoy yo listo para morir?

Y por aquí llegamos al asunto que mencioné en mi último post – ¿qué nos pasa después de la muerte? Este temblor otra vez me hace reflexionar sobre cuán misteriosa es esa pregunta. No tenemos nada de videos de la vida después de la muerte, ninguna manera de estudiarla objetivamente o cuantificarla, y ninguna cuenta confiable sobre lo que nos pasa después de la muerte. Las cuentas que tenemos varian mucho y son muy sospechosas, por decir lo menos. Tenemos que tomar las mejores decisiones posibles utilizando implicaciones y cualquier evidencia circunstancial que podamos encontrar. La verdad es que para muchos, esta no es una realidad muy cómoda. Sin embargo, creo que vale la pena considerar las opciones y la evidencia, porque algún día, vamos a morir todos, nos guste o no. Entonces, por lo que vale, aquí son mis pensamientos sobre el asunto.

Como lo veo yo, hay tres ideas principales que nuestra cultura propone como opciones por lo que nos pasa después de la muerte. Estas tres son el nihilismo, la reencarnación, y Dios (el cielo o algún tipo de vida después de la muerte). Creo que cada una de estas ideas tiene evidencia en favor y en contra, y también implicaciones importantes por nuestra vida cotidiana. Pero en vez de solamente escribir sobre ellas, me gustaría imaginarlas.

El nihilismo

Primero el nihilismo. Ponte en el lugar de alguien atrapado en un edificio derrumbado. Tu celular ya ha muerto. Puedes escuchar a la gente, pero no tienes fuerza para contestar. Tu garganta está completamente seca, y tu panza muy vacía. Ya han pasado unos días – por lo menos, crees que es así. Atrapado en la oscuridad, es difícil estar seguro. Nadie te ha llegado. Has reflexionado sobre tu vida, tu familia, tus queridos. La esperanza ha desaparecido y no puedes seguir más. Cierras tus ojos y luego…nada. No hay oscuridad. Tampoco paz, ni una luz, ni nada. Ya has desaparecido. Tu cuerpo ya está, pero “tú” no. Y junto con eso, todo lo que te era importante. Todo lo que has tratado de lograr y obtener – desaparecido. Tu familia – desaparecido. Las experiencias y la sabiduría que has luchado tanto para acumular – desaparecido. Es como si nunca hubiera existido.

Este punto de vista (el nihilismo) propone que la vida no tiene ningún significado, propósito o valor. Se encuentra muchas veces va junto con el naturalismo, que dice que este mundo surgió únicamente a través de procesos naturales, y que nada más existe aparte de este mundo.  El nihilismo tiene algunos aspectos que llaman la atención de varias personas. Primero, esta idea enfoca exclusivamente en este mundo que podemos ver y tocar, que para muchas personas (sobre todo en la cultura secular del occidente) es la totalidad de nuestra vida. No hay que preocuparse por las cosas espirituales que pueden parecer tan escurridizo y inseguro. Segundo, por lo menos en alguna manera, provee libertad de los requisitos y expectativas que la religion o creencia espiritual nos pone. Por los que quieren controlar su propia vida y destino, este punto de vista parece ideal.

Pero desde mi perspectiva, tiene un número de problemas importantes. Primero, niega nuestro deseo de vivir. He escuchado a diferentes ateos describir la muerte como un tiempo de paz, y libertad de los problemas de la vida, pero no creo que eso sea una manera apropiada para describirlo. No es la paz – es nada. Tú dejas de existir. Todas tus experiencias, todo lo que has aprendido, toda tu sabiduría (si de veras eras sabio) desaparecen. Tus anhelos, sueños, ambiciones, amores, familia, amigos – desaparecidos. Y de ahí surge la pregunta: ¿Qué es el punto de la vida? Este no es un nuevo pensamiento – varios ateos (muchos? la mayoría?) confiesan que la idea de no existir es un poco incómodo y desilusionado por ellos. Y me pregunto: ¿Si estamos tan enfocado en vivir, y si la vida es tan preciosa y nuestro deseo de vivir tan fuerte, porque escogeríamos creer en algo que niega esa parte de nosotros? ¿Por qué nos molesta la muerte de alguien importante a nosotros? Por qué tratamos de salvar las víctimas de un terremoto? Algo dentro de nosotros clama por la vida, y implica que la vida es más que lo que podemos ver ahorita. Esto parece caber en el patrón de deseo-cumplimiento que vemos en la vida: Tenemos hambre, y existe comida para llenar este deseo. Tenemos sed, y existe agua para satisfacernos. Deseamos el amor, y existe gente para llenar este deseo. Deseamos vivir – ¿no tendrá sentido que este anhelo muestra que existe una realidad para cumplir este deseo? Esta es una inferencia  y no evidencia directa (que no existe), pero es una inferencia fuerte.

Segundo, las implicaciones por nuestra vida cotidiana son grandes. Si no existe nada después de esta vida, si de veras no somos nada más que un accidente cósmico y que no somos mejores que cualquier otro animal, entonces no tenemos ningún valor intrínseco. No tenemos ningún motivo para vivir por algo más grande que obtener lo que podemos en esta vida y disfrutarlo al máximo. Les ha costado a muchos en nuestra sociedad esta falta de valor y propósito. Otros se han esforzado completamente en obtener lo más posible. Tal vez este estilo de vida es bueno si vives en el mundo rico del occidente, pero no si vives en una barriada en partes pobres del mundo.

Tercero, si no existe ningún Dios, entonces no hay un bueno y malo objetivo, y no tenemos ningún base por la justicia. Si la sociedad decide que el sacrificio de los niños o la eugenesia es lo correcto, entonces eso es tan válido como cualquier otro sistema. Pero decida lo que decida la sociedad, no tenemos ninguna razón para obedecerlo y ellos no tienen el derecho de castigarnos, porque es nada más una construcción social. ¡Pero la realidad es que todos clamamos por la justicia! Clamamos contra las maldades de este mundo al mismo tiempo que decimos que lo bueno y lo malo son completamente subjetivo. No tiene sentido, a decir verdad. Es interesante notar que mientras que nuestra sociedad afirma no creer en Dios, hemos pedido prestado muchos conceptos que fluyen mas naturalmente desde una perspectiva teísta que desde la perspectiva naturalista. La justicia, el amor, el valor de cada persona, la compasión – todos estos conceptos son al contrario a la perspectiva naturalista que cabe mejor con el nihilismo y el naturalismo.

Por fin, ¿dónde están la esperanza y la consolación dentro de esta creencia? Estoy refiriendo sobre todo a los que han experimentado una pérdida. ¿Puedes imaginar diciéndole a un padre que a penas ha perdido su hijo en le terremoto que su hijo ha dejado de existir, y que nunca lo van a ver de nuevo? ¿O que sus restos van a fertilizar la vida de otros en el planeta? ¿O a los pobres y oprimidos que la injusticia que se enfrentan es pura mala suerte, y que nunca vana a recibir nada mejor y sus opresores probablamente nunca van a ver la justicia que merecen?Para mi, esto no da nada de consolación.

Al final de cuentas, no entiendo por qué creen algunas personas esta idea. No está de acuerdo con nuestros sentimientos y deseos, no nos da esperanza ni consolación, y no está de acuerdo con las cosas que decimos tienen valor en nuestra sociedad. Si crees en estas ideas, me encantaría escuchar tus opiniones sobre cómo esta idea mejora la humanidad y nuestra experiencia de vida, porque yo no lo veo. Sí, puede ayudar a alguien que quiere justificar su manera de vivir y vivir sin restricciones ni guía, pero no creo que ayude a la sociedad por nada.

La reencarnación

¿Y qué de la reencarnación? Regresamos a nuestro escenario de estar atrapado. Sino que esta vez, cuando te mueres, ¡de repente te despiertas de nuevo! Ahora eres un pájaro, saliendo de tu huevo (quien sabe cuánto tiempo ha pasado). ¡Por fin sales! Comes tu primera cena – un gusano regurgitado. ¡El favorito de todos! Y por fin, después de semanas de comer y crecer, tu mamá te echa del nido y tomas tu primer vuelo. Pronto estás volando sobre cañones y montañas. ¡Qué euforia!

Excepto… eres un pájaro. No sientes la euforia. De hecho, no sientes nada de emociones. Ni reflexionas sobre cuan impresionante es ser un pájaro. En realidad, no tienes ningún pensamiento profundo. Comes. Duermes. A veces, dependiendo del tipo de pájaro y dónde vives, tú defecas en la gente. Ni siquiera disfrutas ese hecho. Tú nada más…vives. Y después, mueres. Tal vez la próxima vez regresas como una persona – pero esa persona no recuerda nada de su vida anterior. Tal vez el karma que ganaste en esta vida se pierde por el siguiente idiota que eres, que no se da cuenta que está perdiendo todo el karma y regresándote al estatus de un gusano (aunque, como siempre, no vas a estar consiente del hecho que eres un gusano). Tal vez – ¡que horrible! – vas a ser un cristiano o un ateo que ni siquiera cree en el karma y que les enseña a otros que la reencarnación es una idea ridícula. ¿Sería eso un paso adelante? ¿O hacia atrás? No importa – no vas a saber ni te va a importar, porque de todos modos no vas a saber como quién iniciaste este proceso de reencarnación. Tú, como una person, ya no existes más. Tú has desaparecido.

Hay variaciones de esta idea de la reencarnación, sobre todo en cuanto al propósito final. Algunos creen que la meta es lograr la unificación con una fuerza de vida impersonal. Otros creen que el resultado es nuestra aniquilación – que eventualmente nos escapamos de esta vida y el ciclo de renacimiento. Estoy seguro que otros creen que es algo que se repite, y que seguimos en el ciclo de reencarnación ad infinitum (para siempre). La vida sigue para siempre.

Puedo entender la atracción de este modo de pensar. Imaginar que después de esta vida podemos vivir otra es mucho mejor que desaparecer por completo. También provee por lo menos un poco de motivación para vivir una vida buena, o por lo menos se puede utilizar esta creencia en esa manera. Si vivo una vida buena, entonces obtendré una reencarnación como algo o alguien mejor y estar más cerca a la libertad/la perfección/el escape que estoy persiguiendo. Y si somos honestos, ¿quién no ha querido ser un águila volando sobre el Gran Cañon, o un dolfín, o algún otro tipo de animal o persona?

Pero otra vez, esta idea tiene algunos problemas. Primero, no puedo encontrar ninguna evidencia por ella. Sí, hay algunos que dicen que eran una persona o animal en una vida anterior, pero cuán creíble es eso? Hay muchas otras explicaciones posibles por estas “memorias” – la imaginación, trastornos psicológicos, experiencias o fuerzas espirituales, etc. Pero la falta de evidencia empírica se puede aplicar a cualquier de estas ideas sobre nuestro destino final, entonces, este problema no es muy notable.

Segundo, al final de cuentas, yo, como individuo, desaparezco. En este momento, sentado aquí escribiendo este post, no tengo ninguna memoria (si aceptáramos que la reencarnación fuera cierta), de lo que yo era antes. Cualquier persona, o animal, o cosa que yo era antes ha desaparecido. Que significa que yo también, y todo lo que soy ahorita, voy a desaparecer. Terminaré de existir, y todo lo que amo y hice no significará nada en mi vida siguiente. Ahora, algunos van a decir que todas nuestras vidas van a tener valor en la “vida intermedia” (entre vidas), pero, aparte del hecho que ni siquiera sé si eso existe, eso no me da nada de consolación. ¿Puedes imaginar el complejo de identidad que vamos a sufrir después de ser muchas personas diferentes en muchos tiempos diferentes? Pero con más seriedad, la meta de la reencarnación es o unirnos con algún tipo de fuerza de vida impersonal (en cual caso yo ceso de existir) o escaparnos completamente del ciclo de vida (en cual caso yo ceso de existir), o, en algunas variaciones más modernos, seguir para siempre en el proceso de renacimiento (en cual caso yo ceso de existir, porque ninguna existencia me impacta en esta vida). En cualquier caso, la persona que soy ahorita no importa, o no importará después de la muerte.

Tercero, como el nihilismo, esta creencia tiene implicaciones negativas para nuestra vida presente. Si mi meta es obtener una reencarnación mejor, entonces mi vida se convierte en algo intrínsecamente egoísta. Sí, tal vez hago cosas buenas, pero solamente porque me traen algún beneficio en el futuro. Si no me benefician, no los hago. ¿Y quién decide qué califica como algo bueno? Vemos ahorita que estamos menospreciando las ideas y costumbres de generaciones anteriores, aunque ellos pensaban (por lo menos en muchos casos) que ellos estaban mejorando el mundo o viviendo una vida buena. Seguramente en los años que vienen la gente va a mirar a nuestra generación y burlarse de nosotros y algunas de nuestras ideas de “lo bueno” y “lo malo”.

Pero yo creo que los que de veras buscan una reencarnación mejor son la minoría de los casos. La realidad es que la mayoría, creyendo que se van a reencarnar, pueden vivir en la manera que les conviene porque saben lo que terminé de explicar – sea que sea su “nivel” de reencarnación, no van a recordar esta vida, entonces es alguna otra persona que va a pagar cualquier reencarnación negativa que ellos han ganado. ¡Yo puedo hacer lo que quiero! Y también hay otras conclusiones que vienen de esta idea de reencarnación. Mira a la sociedad que desarrolló en la India con su sistema de castas – una sociedad basada primeramente en esta idea del karma y la reencarnación. Como lo entiendo yo (no lo he estudiado por unos años), el sistema de reencarnación en la India dio ocasión a la creencia que los que sufrían o nacían dentro de las castas más bajas estaban nada más recibiendo los resultados de su vida previa. De acuerdo con esta creencia, ayudar a una persona era interferir con el castigo que habían ganado y con su habilidad de obtener una reencarnación mejor en su siguiente vida. Por eso, Madre Teresa parecía tan extraña cuando ella trató de ayudar a la gente. Creer en la reencarnación resulta en una vida enfocado en si mismo, y nos suelta de la responsabilidad por nuestras acciones. Desde otra perspectiva, he hablado con personas que me dicen que la gente que comete hechos malos (desde el abuso hasta el asesinato) están solamente actuando de acuerdo con la vida que habían logrado por sus actos anteriores (en otras vidas), y que no merecían la culpa por sus acciones. Ni estaban equivocadas en sus acciones. Esta creencia me asusta y me preocupa.

Entonces otra vez, me cuesta creer que la reencarnación es algo positivo para mí como individuo (yo ceso de existir) o por la sociedad (es egoísta, excepto por los que quieren obtener una reencarnación mejor, quien todavía tienen motivos egoístas). La posibilidad de ser algo o alguien diferente suena muy padre, pero sin ninguna evidencia para sostenerla, creo que es nada más que una ilusión.


Por fin, ¿qué de la idea de Dios? Otra vez regresamos al scenario dado. Estás atrapado. No has tenido comida ni agua por días. Lentamente pierdes la lucha y te mueres, y de repente te encuentras en la presencia del Ser más increíble y incomprehensible que jamás hayas visto. ¿Cómo respondes?

Creo que tu reacción varia mucho dependiendo de tu vida y cómo la has vivido. Habrá mucha gente que se sorprenderá de una manera negativa. Tal vez aun estarán enojados o beligerantes. Por el otro lado, habrá muchos que darán un suspiro profundo y caerán en los brazos (si podemos decir eso) de ese ser divino que han deseado conocer. Sé que el concepto de Dios (sobre todo y específicamente en el sentido cristiano, que es el más común tanto en mi situación actual en Latinoamérica como en Canadá) es ridículo o perturbador a muchos. Pero creo que esta es la opción que mejor explica nuestros anhelos y realidad como seres vivos, y también que es el mejor guía por nuestra vida cotidiana.

Para mi, la fundación sobre que baso mi creencia en Dios es científica. Actualmente, casi se acepta por todo el mundo que el universo tenía un momento de inicio. No puedo convencerme que el universo saltó a la existencia desde nada, y todos los argumentos que tratan de proclamar que eso es lo que pasó (incluso los del famoso Stephen Hawking) me parecen muy inadecuados. “Nada” no puede producir todo. Por el otro lado, los budistas (el mejor ejemplo de las religiones que creen en la reencarnación) ven el principio del universo como algo irrelevante, y postulan que el universo mismo es parte de la naturaleza cíclica de la vida – cuando termina un universo, empieza otro. En su opinión, la pregunta de orígenes no tiene valor. Sin embargo, esta idea es pura especulación. El hecho es que sabemos que el universo tenía un principio. Un principio implica que algo o alguien lo inició. Junto con eso son las realidades muy complejas de la vida en la tierra (que muestran diseño, que implica un diseñador) y también la existencia de los humanos como seres racionales y contemplativos. Creo que la noción de Dios no solamente es creíble, sino también una posibilidad muy real que tiene una relevancia dramática por nuestra vida y cómo la vivimos.

Entonces, si existe la realidad muy posible de ponernos cara a cara con Dios después de la muerte, creo que tiene mucho sentido intentar a entender quién es ese Dios que vamos a conocer. Ya he dicho que voy a enfocarme en el Dios del cristianismo, pero no creo que sea necesario profundizarnos mucho en la teología cristiana para llegar a algunas conclusiones sobre este Dios. Tratar de explicar a Dios por completo sería un quehacer gigante y más allá del objetivo de este post. Aquí, solo quiero enfocar en tres aspectos de Dios que yo creo son muy obvios aun fuera de la teología cristiana. Estos tres son su grandeza, su “pequeñez”, y su personalidad. Aunque es el último en la lista, quiero enfocar primero en la idea de Dios como una persona, o su personalidad, porque creo que esta idea trae implicaciones a las otras ideas.

El mero concepto de Dios trae consigo la idea implícita de personalidad. Hay muchos debates sobre el carácter de Dios – si Él es lejos de nosotros o cerca, bondadoso o cruel, etc. Pero es muy difícil divorciar el concepto de Dios de la idea de personalidad. Y creo que esto ha sido muy obvio a través de la historia. Mientras que varias culturas han desarrollado conceptos de una fuerza de vida impersonal (como el budismo), ellos no piensan en esa fuerza como “Dios”. Es una fuerza impersonal. Dios (o, en muchas culturas, los dioses) siempre contiene el concepto de una personalidad. ¿Por qué es así?

Anteriormente, mencioné los conceptos de creación y el diseño del universo. Estos dos hechos se asocian con la mente, la planificación, y la creatividad. Son hechos de personas o personalidades, no de fuerzas impersonales. De manera similar, la presencia de una raza de gente capaz de la racionalidad y razonamiento implica fuertemente la presencia de un Dios racional. Aunque es muy común hoy en día mostrar todas las similitudes entre los primates y los humanos, hay que reconocer que las diferencias entre nosotros y ellos son mucho más fuerte que las similitudes. Aunque uno tal vez puede sostener la idea que biológicamente hemos descendido de los primates (una discusión por otra ocasión), hay una diferencia muy grande entre ellos y nosotros en cuanto al razonamiento, el conocimiento de sí mismo, y la moralidad. Mientras que la mayoría de la comunidad científica de hoy trata de decir que estas características surgían lentamente a través de procesos naturales (sin Dios), la mayoría del mundo ha reconocido estas habilidades como dones transcendentes de Dios o los dioses. Los humanos se ve como similar a los animales, pero a la vez completamente diferente y superior. Somos diferentes, y no creo que sea por desarrollo evolutivo. Es verdad que nuestras habilidades y conocimiento del mundo ha desarrollado a través de la historia, pero me cuesta creer que la naturaleza humana ha cambiado mucho. Como lo entiendo yo, los documentos escritos más antiguos que poseemos muestran que la humanidad antigua es casi igual a la de hoy en día. Y las extrapolaciones que hacemos de la historia más antigua (antes de archivos escritos) a menudo sufren de una presuposición que la falta de tecnología indica una falta de inteligencia, una presuposición que se puede mostrar falso a muchos niveles. Sea como sea este asunto, creo que es mucho más lógico creer que nuestra inteligencia, moralidad y la conciencia de sí mismo surgen de otra fuente, una que comparte todas estas características pero en una forma más amplia y completa. Para ponerlo en la lengua de la Biblia, que somos creados “en su imagen”, y que nuestra naturaleza viene desde arriba, y no desde abajo.

Ahora, algunos van a decir que estamos cayendo en la trampa de crear a Dios en nuestra imagen – que durante la evolución de los hombres, hemos creado dioses que nos parecen a nosotros, y que no existe ninguna realidad detrás de ellos. Ciertamente, por mirar a la historia humana, esta es una conclusión posible. Muchos de los dioses antiguos (de los Romanos, Griegos, y otros) parecen a humanos glorificados, y a menudos son tan depravados como los humanos (o aun más). Y aunque el Dios del cristianismo ha perfeccionado estas características en su concepto de Dios, no se puede negar que el Dios que se revela en la Biblia es muy similar a una persona – es una persona en el sentido perfecto (sobre todo cuando aparece en la forma de Jesús). Él es justo, cariñoso, lleno de ira (contra los malos), poderoso, bondadoso, etc. Sería muy difícil juzgar si hemos hecho Dios a nuestra imagen, o si él nos ha hecho en su imagen. Excepto… excepto por lo que mencioné al principio – que la tierra tiene un principio. No podemos haber creado Dios si él es el que creó todo. Dado esto, me parece mucho más probable que nosotros, como criaturas superiores a los de más del reino animal, fuéramos creados en su imagen y que a través de la historia, aunque muy imperfectamente, hemos sentido eso y tratado de explicar quien es este Ser por crear a unos dioses que son más allá de nosotros. Eventualmente, a través de la revelación de Dios (en el judaísmo y luego el cristianismo), hemos llegado al punto de reconocer que hay un sólo Dios que es sobre todo.

Creo que tengo que explicar una cosa más, y eso es ¿por qué, si Dios existe, es él tan escondido de nosotros? En mi mente, la respuesta es muy sencilla y se centra en el hecho que Dios es una personalidad. Hay solamente tres posibilidades por cómo se relaciona Dios con nosotros. La primera es que Dios se esconde completamente de nosotros. Pero la única manera en que pudiera hacer eso es cegarnos a la posibilidad que él existe, y para hacer eso, tendría que quitar mucho (o todo) de nuestra habilidad de pensar racionalmente – una parte gigante de lo que nos hace “en su imagen”. Si no nos quitara esta habilidad, siempre habría personas buscando respuestas sobre nuestra existencia – por qué los humanos son diferentes de los animales, por qué odiamos tanto la injusticia, por qué el amor es tan importante, etc. El hecho de que hacemos estas preguntas muestra que estamos consientes de algo más allá de nosotros (o por lo menos esa posibilidad), y implica que se puede encontrar a Dios. Pero si nos quitara la habilidad de razonar, estaríamos nada más que animales, sin la habilidad de relacionar con él excepto como una mascota obediente. Por el otro lado, Dios pudiera haberse revelado por completo. Pero esto también destruye nuestra libertad y elecciones. O sentiríamos mucho miedo de tomar una decisión incorrecta (porque estaríamos consientes de las consecuencias sin la habilidad de escondernos) o tendríamos que hacer lo que Dios quiere. De cualquier manera, el concepto de amor o una relación es completamente destruida. Si Dios es una “persona” o personalidad, entonces implica que él desea tener una relación con nosotros, y no se puede tener una relación cuando una de las personas la controla completamente. Y por eso quedamos con nuestra realidad actual – la habilidad de concluir que Dios existe, la posibilidad de tener una relación con él, pero también la habilidad de rechazar y ignorar eso. Aunque tal vez no amamos esa respuesta, parece ser la única manera de permitir tanto la libertad autentica como el amor a florecer.

Si, entonces, aceptamos que Dios existe y que él es una “persona” (no una fuerza), entonces podemos enfocar en el segundo aspecto de Dios que yo creo es muy obvio – su grandeza. El concepto de Dios, como está entendido por el cristiano y varias otras culturas y religiones, incluye el concepto de Dios como el creador del universo. Pero es muy fácil afirmar ese concepto sin pensar mucho en lo que significa. Significa que Dios es grande. No solamente “Él puede mover una montaña” grande, sino “Él puede formar el universo completo y hacer todas las leyes para gobernarlo además de sostenerlo en existencia en cada momento” grande. No solamente “Él puede estar en todos lugares al mismo tiempo” grande, sino “Él puede estar en cada lugar y momento en la historia a través del curso de miles, y tal vez billones de años” grande. Aun en nuestros momentos más contemplativos, no podemos entender la grandeza de Dios. Al aceptar eso – que es casi la única conclusión posible si aceptamos el concepto de Dios – trae a la vanguardia dos realidades que a menudo tratamos de ignorar.

La primera es el concepto de alabanza. No somos comparables a Dios. En este sentido, nuestra cultura occidente es muy lejos de casi cualquier otra cultura que haya existido. En nuestra prisa loca de felicitarnos por nuestros mejoramientos tecnológicos, no hemos reconocido que en el mejor de los casos estamos haciendo copias pobres de lo que Dios hizo bueno hace mucho. La ADN humana hace que una supercomputadora parezca como una pizarra y tiza. La capacidad de vuelo de una mariposa o un pájaro da vergüenza a nuestros mejores aviones. Movimientos sencillos, como doblar el codo o ir por una caminata hace que la robótica avanzada parezca muy torpe. Y aunque es verdad que algunas de nuestras innovaciones perecen como aumentos a la naturaleza, una examination minucioso muestra que esta no es realidad. Por ejemplo, es verdad que un pájaro nunca ha llegado a la velocidad de Mach 2, pero también es verdad que un avión nunca ha reproducido naturalmente. Por gratis. Y también sobrevivido en una dieta (también gratis) de gusanos y bichos. Tampoco parece un avión muy rápido cuando se lo compara con otras cosas “naturales” como los cometas (que logran una velocidad de entre 10-70 km/s, en comparación con Mach 2, que es aproximadamente 0.7 km/s). Y eso sin mencionar que aun nuestros logros más impresionantes empezaron con los materiales que hemos recibido, y no con la creación del material mismo. Atrevo a decir que si Dios existe, alabarlo – o por lo menos alguna muestra de reverencia o sobrecogimiento por su poder – es la única reacción adecuada.

La segunda realidad es que él es el que gobierna. Hemos construido una sociedad entera sobre el concepto de la independencia y nuestra habilidad de hacerlo por nuestra cuenta, sin reconocer cuan poco de veras podemos controlar. Ninguno de nosotros escogió la hora, la familia o la locación de nuestro nacimiento. Ninguno de nosotros conoce la hora de nuestra muerte. La mayoría de nosotros luchamos regularmente contra nuestra cólera, cuánto consumimos, nuestros deseos sexuales y nuestras emociones. Podemos escoger nuestra carrera, pero no si la compañía nos despide. Podemos “controlar” nuestra salud, pero fallar miserablemente en evitar aun una gripa común. Podemos tomar la decisión de tener una familia, pero tenemos poco control sobre nuestro sistema reproductivo, y control limitado sobre nuestros hijos después de su nacimiento. Buscamos el control, pero el ruedo donde debemos mostrar más evidencia de este control – el autocontrol – nos elude mucho más frecuentemente de lo que queremos confesar. Sin embargo, cada persona trata de establecerse como un reino pequeño, con confianza en nuestra habilidad de controlar la vida y nuestro alrededor, sin darnos cuenta que nuestra vida es un regalo de una fuente superior. No quiero decir que Dios nos controla, como un Puppet Master controla sus títeres, sino que todo lo que somos no viene de nosotros. Todo lo que tenemos, hemos recibido. Somos mayordomos, no dueños, responsables al que nos hizo. Si creemos en Dios, es inevitable que él está en control, y no nosotros.

Hasta ahora, la representación que tenemos de Dios es la de un ser poderoso, y casi aun tiránico. Entonces giramos de su grandeza a su pequeñez. Por este término, no quiero contradecirme a mí mismo y decir que Dios no es grande. Lo que quiero decir es que, justo como mirar a la infinitud del cielo o del universo revela la grandeza de Dios, también mirar a una hoja de hierba, una mariquita o nuestra ADN revela que Dios es un Dios a quien le importan los detalles, las cosas pequeñas. Mientras que reflexionar sobre las cosas grandes nos muestra su poder y grandeza y las características asociadas con este lado de él, mirar a las cosas pequeñas revela su cariño, su compasión, y su amor. Cuando miramos a la naturaleza a nuestro alrededor, su grandeza nos humilla. Cuando tomamos un minuto para examinar los detalles minuciosos de este mundo, nos abruma el amor que nos ha preparado un lugar tan intrincado y hermoso.

Tristemente, no inferimos este aspecto de Dios tanto como su grandeza. Una razón, por lo menos hoy en día, es que tenemos una noción equivocada de cómo debe ser el amor de Dios. En particular, imaginamos que él debe solucionar todos nuestros problemas o sacar todo el maldad del mundo. Vemos cosas terribles por todos lados, y le echamos la culpa a él y lo usa como un pretexto para negar su existencia en vez de aceptar responsabilidad por la situación y vivir en la libertad y con la responsabilidad que él nos ha dado. Luchamos entre nosotros, y luego le echamos la culpa a Dios por no detenernos. Ignoramos su provisión de vida, su sustento diario, la habilidad de disfrutar este mundo y la guía que nos ofrece, y luego decimos que a él no le importamos porque nuestra vida no es perfecta. Su “pequeñez” muestra que a él le importa este mundo, aun los detalles más pequeños, aun si no interfiere con nosotros en la manera en que deseamos.

Cuando juntamos estas tres ideas, descubrimos un Dios todopoderoso quien creó y sostiene el universo, pero quien se involucra con, y a quien le importa, este mundo – y también nosotros. En su pequeñez, descubrimos un Dios que nos ama y quien conoce cada detalle de nuestra vida y quiere una relación con nosotros. Por su grandeza, recordamos que su amor no niega su rol como rey. Tanto como existen leyes que gobiernan el mundo natural, así tiene Dios expectativas (morales) que deben gobernar nuestras vidas. Por lo tanto, él nos llama a amarnos el uno al otro, evitar algunas cosas y hacer otras, no para agradecerle a él, un Dios enojado, sino para que nuestro mundo y nuestras vidas sean satisfactorios y significativos. Creo que este Dios que podemos inferir del mundo a nuestro alrededor es revelado mejor y más completamente en la Biblia y la persona de Jesús, y que esta creencia (en Dios, en vez de reencarnación o nihilismo) encuentra el balance de darnos esperanza por el futuro, mientras que nos da guía y corrección por el presente. Y más importante por esta discusión sobre la muerte y la vida, Dios se revela como el creador y sostenedor de la vida, y él que nos ofrece esta vida a nosotros.

Y entonces, con las opciones del nihilismo, la reencarnación y Dios delante de nosotros, escojo creer en Dios. Para mi, Dios provee una respuesta mejor por nuestra existencia, nuestro deseo a vivir y implicaciones más fuertes por cómo vivir que las otras dos opciones. Si algún día estoy atrapado en un edificio y estoy cara a cara con la muerte, con todo lo que tengo y soy, desearé vivir y lucharé para conservar mi vida. Todavía existe la incertidumbre sobre lo que sigue esta vida – una incertidumbre que nunca podemos quitar a menos que Dios se nos revela personalmente algún día. Pero la evidencia circunstancial a mi alrededor me hace creer que existe más que esta vida y que Dios sí existe.

Todo esto me trae de vuelta a la realidad revelada por el temblor – el valor y la cortedad de la vida. Es un problema que todos tenemos que enfrentar, pero es un problema con una solución. Y por ahí surge mi fe cristiano muy claramente. Anhelamos la vida y la eternidad, y las encontramos en Cristo. Tememos la muerte, pero Cristo ha conquistado la muerte. No fueron sus milagros ni sus enseñanzas que cambiaron el mundo, aunque los dos eran muy impresionantes. Fue su resurrección. No me malinterpretes – no quiero morir por nada. Pensar en otro terremoto todavía hace que mi corazón se acelere. Pero al final del día, creo que mi vida – ahora y por la eternidad – es sostenido firmemente en las manos de Dios, y que pase lo que pase, estaré bien.

When the Earth Shook

When the Earth Shook

Versión Español

It’s been nearly three months since the earthquake hit.

Terra and I were in a Mega, which is a store kind of like a Superstore (in Canada) or a Walmart Super Center. My memories of the actual event are kind of chaotic: a feeling that something was a bit off, then realizing it was an earthquake; watching a pop bottle explode and fly over a shelf through the air; trying to pull Terra to move faster so we could get out while she paused to put down the groceries; attempting to step over a puddle from a broken bottle and being annoyed/amused because it wouldn’t stay still so I could step over it; looking up and seeing the lights sway and wondering if anything – like the roof! – was going to fall; and seeing two workers lead their coworker, who was crying and obviously terrified, out of the store. Then it was over, and we were standing outside trying to process what had just happened and what we should do next.

I don’t want to overdramatize the event. I can’t honestly say that I was afraid at the time – I simply knew we needed to get out and was focused on that. And the initial aftermath was pretty calm as well. We managed to get word from our kids’ schools fairly quickly (within about 10 minutes) that the boys were all fine and started heading that way to pick them up. We communicated with family that we were fine. There was no really obvious damage right where we were, and we didn’t see anything major on our way to get the kids, so it seemed like a good shake, but nothing too serious. It was more interesting and adrenaline-inducing than scary.

It was only after we arrived home that we began to understand the severity of it. A little over 30 buildings collapsed, about 3000-4000 were damaged, and over 350 people dead – although we wouldn’t know those numbers for a few weeks. To be honest, in a city of over 20 million, that’s not that much damage percentage-wise. What was more striking was the fact that there were three buildings just a few blocks from us that had collapsed, and some of our teammates whose houses had been so damaged that they had to move out (ours was fine). It was when we discovered that that things began to feel a little more surreal.

Over the following week, we got used to streets being blocked off, crowds of people working and digging through rubble, and constant sirens (the photo above is one of the buildings that collapsed a few blocks from us). The city seemed to be in a frantic trance for the first few weeks, and it has been in a slow recovery since then. For most people, things are back to normal – although definitely not for those who lost family, friends, possessions or homes. Or for those who lost the security of living each day without worrying when the ground will shake again, a mental and emotional loss that can be extremely long lasting. I know that it hits me at times. I notice it most when I’m out walking or driving and suddenly feel like I have to figure out the safest place to go if an earthquake were to hit – where is the shortest building that is least likely to collapse?

But for me, there has been one realization that has stood out above and beyond all the others:

Life is valuable – but it is also short.

This came home to me in two ways. First was the reaction of everyone to the collapsed buildings. In an impressive way that seems to be common in situations of disaster, everyone pulled together to do everything they could to help those in need. It was impressive to watch people jump in and help to save the lives of those trapped. Supplies poured in, helpers lined up for hours, and everyone’s attention focused on saving lives. Life is something that can be taken for granted – until it is threatened. Then it becomes incredibly valuable.

The second way was hearing about the people who were trapped, but who eventually died because nobody could reach them in time. There are few things that have made me reflect as deeply on the value and fragility of life as this thought: What do you do when you’re trapped and you know you might not make it out alive?

The thought, understandably, is a scary one for many. It was for me, and there is a limit to which one can reflect on it without feeling overwhelmed. We live in a relatively safe society where we can push death far to the margins of our thoughts, to be confronted only when disaster strikes, if at all. But living through an earthquake where people living near to you have suddenly and unexpectedly died forces one to reflect. On the one hand, it makes me grateful to still be alive, overwhelmed by how valuable and precious life is, and how much I want to hang on to it! On the other hand, it makes me wonder – am I ready to die?

This brings me back to the topic that I raised in my last post – what happens after death? This earthquake has made me once again profoundly aware of how much of a mystery that question is! We have no videos of life after death, no way to objectively study it or quantify it, and no reliable accounts of what happens after death. The accounts we do have vary widely and are highly suspect, to say the least. We are left to make the best decisions we can based on inferences and whatever circumstantial evidence we can find. Not exactly a comfortable place for many of us to be. And yet, I think it’s worthwhile to consider because eventually, we’re all going to face death, like it or not. So for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on the matter.

As I see it, there are three major categories that our society holds to as options after death. These three are nihilism, reincarnation, and God (heaven or a similar afterlife). I think that each of these provides evidences for or against, as well as implications for our daily life that are important. But rather than just talk about them, I’d like to imagine them.


First Nihilism. Put yourself in the position of someone trapped in a collapsed building. Your cell phone has died. You can hear people, but you’re too tired and weak to respond. Your throat is parched, your stomach is grumbling. It’s been days – you think. Trapped in the darkness, it’s hard to tell. Nobody has come. Or better put, nobody has been able to get to you. You have reflected on your life, your family, your loved ones. Hope has faded, and you can feel yourself fading too. You close your eyes and slowly drift off and then… nothing. Not blackness. Not peace, not a light, not anything. You just disappear. Your body is there, but “you” are gone. And along with you, everything that was important to you. All that you’ve worked for and dreamed about – gone. Your family – gone. Your experiences that you’ve worked so hard to accumulate – gone. For all intents and purposes, it’s as if you never existed.

This view basically states that life has no meaning, purpose or value. It often finds itself paired with naturalism, which holds that this world arose through natural means only and is all there is . Nihilism has a number of things that make it interesting to people. First, it focuses exclusively on this world that we can see and touch, which for many people (especially in the western secular culture) is the sum total of our life. No need to worry about any of that spiritual stuff that can seem so elusive and uncertain. Second, at least in a way, it provides freedom from all of the requirements and expectations that religious/spiritual belief seems to put on us. For those wanting to control their own life and destiny, it seems ideal.

But from my perspective, it has a number of significant problems. First, it denies our desire to live. I have heard of atheists describing death as a time of peace and freedom from life’s troubles, but I think that’s kind of a fake way to describe it. It’s not peace – it’s nothing. You cease to exist. All of your experiences, all of your learning, all of your wisdom (if indeed you were wise!), is gone. Your longings, dreams, aspirations, love, family, friends – all gone. Which ultimately brings up the huge question: What’s the point of it all? This isn’t a new thought – many atheists will admit that the thought of not existing is uncomfortable or disappointing for them. And I have to wonder: If we are so attuned to life, if life is so incredibly valuable and the instinct to live is so strong, why would we choose to believe something that fights against that? Why do we care when loved ones die? Why do we try to save victims of an earthquake? Something inside us cries out for life, and implies that life is more than just what we can presently see. This seems to fit in the desire-fulfillment pattern we see elsewhere in life: We get hungry, and food exists to fulfill this desire. We grow thirsty, and water exists to satisfy this desire. We desire love, and there are people around us to meet that need. We long to live – does it not make sense that this longing shows that there is a reality that could fulfill this longing? This is an inference, not direct evidence (which we don’t have), but it is a strong one.

Second, the implications for our daily life are significant. If there’s nothing after this life, if we’re just a cosmic accident who is really no better or different than an animal, then we have no intrinsic value. We have no reason to live for anything other than what we can get in this world and to enjoy life as much as we can. Many have struggled in this world for this very reason – a lack of value and purpose. Others live completely focused on getting as much as they can. It might be nice if you’re in the “rich” western world, but not if you’re living in the slums in a two-thirds world country.

Third, if there’s no God, then there is no objective right and wrong, and we have no basis for justice. If society decides so, child sacrifice or eugenics is just as valid as any other belief. But whatever society decides, we have no reason to obey it and they have no right to punish us for disobeying, because it’s just a social construct. And yet western society is one that cries out for justice! We rail against the evils of this world, all the while claiming that right and wrong is purely subjective. It makes no sense, to be honest. It’s interesting to note that while our society claims to not believe in God, we’ve borrowed a lot of concepts that flow much more naturally from a theistic view of the world than a naturalistic view. Justice, love, the value of people, compassion – all of these are contrary to the naturalistic, survival-of-the-fittest view that goes naturally with nihilism and naturalism.

Finally, where is the hope and comfort in this belief? I’m not just referring to our own hope but also for those who have experienced loss. Can you imagine telling a parent who has just lost a child in the earthquake that their child has ceased to exist and they’ll never see them again? Or that their remains will help fertilize life for others on the planet? Or that the injustice that the poor and oppressed face is nothing more than bad luck, and that they will never experience anything better, and their oppressors may never face justice? Talk about cold (or no) comfort!

All told, I can’t fathom why anyone believes that this view is viable. It doesn’t conform to our inner feelings, it doesn’t offer us hope or comfort, and it doesn’t agree with all the things that we claim are valuable in our society. If you hold to this view, I would love to hear your comments on how it improves humanity and our experience, because I can’t see it at all. It might help justify an individual who wants to live their life without any restrictions or guidance, but I don’t see it helping society as a whole.


How about reincarnation? Let’s jump back into our trapped scenario. Except this time, as you fade out, you suddenly awake again! Now you’re a bird, tapping your way out of an egg (who knows how much time has passed?). Finally you break free! You get your first meal – regurgitated worms! Everyone’s favourite! And finally, after weeks of feeding and growing, you get thrust out of the nest and take your first clumsy flight. Soon, you’re soaring over canyons and mountains (unless, of course, your first flight was unsuccessful and you got eaten or died right away). What exhilaration!! (The flying, not the getting eaten/dying).

Except… you’re a bird. You don’t really feel exhilaration. In fact, you don’t feel much of anything. Or reflect on how amazing it is to be a bird. Or have any deep thoughts at all. You eat. And sleep. Maybe, depending what kind of bird you are and where you live, you poop on people. Not that you get any joy out of that. You just sort of live. Then you die again. Maybe next time you’ll come back as another person – who doesn’t remember any of their previous life. Maybe all the good karma you earned in this life will be completely wasted by that next jerk of a person that you are, who doesn’t realize that they are earning bad karma and shoving you back to worm status (again, not that you’ll be aware that you’re a worm). Maybe – horror of horrors! – you’ll be a Christian or an atheist who doesn’t even believe in reincarnation and teaches others that it’s ridiculous! Would that be a step forward? Or backward? Doesn’t matter – you’ll neither know nor care, because you won’t know who you started as anyway. You, as a person, don’t actually exist anymore. You have disappeared.

There are variations on this idea of reincarnation, especially as regards the end purpose. Some hold that the goal is to eventually achieve oneness with an impersonal life force and be enveloped in it. Others hold that the end result is our annihilation – that we eventually escape from this world and cycle of rebirths. I’m sure others hold that it is a repeating thing, so that we keep reincarnating ad infinitum. Life just keeps going.

I can understand some of the appeal of this way of thinking. To imagine that after this life we get to live another one is vastly better than just disappearing altogether. It also provides at least some motivation to lead a good life, or at least it is open to be used that way. If I live a good life, then I’ll reincarnate as something (someone?) better and be closer to freedom/perfection/escape or whatever goal we’re pursuing. And let’s be honest, who hasn’t wanted to be an eagle flying over the Grand Canyon, or a dolphin, or some sort of other animal or person?

But again, I struggle with this view for a variety of reasons. First, I just can’t find any objective support for it. Yes, there are a few people who claim to have been a person in a previous life, but really, how credible is that? There are tons of other explanations for these “memories” – from making them up, to psychological disorders, to spiritual forces. But the lack of empirical evidence could apply to any of these post-death ideas, so that’s not particularly notable.

Second, I, as an individual, still end up disappearing. As I sit here writing, I have absolutely no memory (providing reincarnation is actually true) of what I was before. Whatever person, or animal, or thing that I used to be has disappeared. Which means that all that I am right now will also disappear. I will still cease to exist, and everything and everyone that I love will mean nothing to me in my next life. Now, some might argue that our lives are all meaningful in the “in-between” life, but, aside from not even knowing if that exists, that is small comfort. Can you imagine the type of identity complex we would have after being multiple different people in multiple different times? But more seriously, the goal of reincarnation is either to become part of the impersonal life force (in which case I cease to exist as an individual) or to escape the cycle of life entirely (in which case I cease to exist as an individual), or, in some more modern variations, to just keep being reborn (in which case all my previous existences don’t matter, and this one doesn’t either). In any case, the person that I am now doesn’t matter, or won’t matter after I die.

Thirdly, like nihilism, it has negative implications for our life at present. If my goal is to obtain a better reincarnation, then my life becomes inherently selfish. Sure, I might do good things, but only because they benefit me in the long run. And who decides what is a good thing? We see right now that we are scorning the ideas and customs of previous generations, even though they (in many cases) thought that they were improving the world. Surely in future years people will look back at us and mock many of our ideas about what was right and wrong.

But I think those seeking a better reincarnation is the minority of cases. The reality is that most people, believing they will be reincarnated, can live however they want because they know what I just explained – whatever reincarnation they obtain, they won’t remember this life anyway, and so it’s essentially somebody else who is paying for whatever negative reincarnation they’ve earned. I’m free to do whatever I want! And there are other variations. Look at the society that developed in India with the caste system – a society based primarily on this idea of karma and reincarnation. As I understand it (its been a while since I’ve studied it in depth), the reincarnation system in India led to a belief that those who were suffering or in lower castes were simply experiencing the results of their previous lives. In their belief, to help someone was to interfere with the punishment that they were experiencing and with their ability to earn a better reincarnation in their next life! This is why Mother Theresa stood out so much when she actually tried to help people. A belief in reincarnation ends up being self-focused, releasing us from accountability for our actions. From another angle, I have actually had people tell me that people who commit evil acts (from abuse to murder) are simply acting the way the had to act because of their previous lives, and that they were neither to blame, nor wrong in their actions. That’s kind of scary to me.

So again, I struggle to believe that reincarnation is a net positive for me as an individual (I cease to exist) or for our society (it is selfish, except for those who want to earn a better reincarnation, who still have purely selfish motives). The possibility of being something or someone else sounds cool, but with nothing to back it up, it’s just wishful thinking.


So what about a belief in God? Again, let’s go back to our scenario. You are trapped. You have had no food or water for days. You slowly fade away and awake to find yourself in the presence of the most amazing, incomprehensible, glorious being you’ve ever seen! What is your reaction?

I think your reaction varies a lot depending on your life and how you’ve lived it. There will be a lot of people who will be surprised, and mainly in a negative way. Perhaps angry or belligerent, even. On the other hand, there will be many who breathe a deep sigh of relief and collapse into the arms (if we can use that term) of this divine being that they have long desired to know. I know that the concept of God (especially and specifically in the Christian sense, which is the most common in both my Latin American and Canadian contexts) is ridiculous or disturbing to many people. Yet it is the option that I believe best explains both our longings and our reality as living beings, as well as being the best guide for our daily lives.

For me, the foundation that drives my belief in God is scientific. It is now pretty much universally accepted that the universe had a beginning. I cannot bring myself to believe that the universe sprang into existence from nothing, and all the arguments trying to proclaim that that is what actually happened (including those of the renowned Stephen Hawking) seem to fall desperately short of being believable or making any sense. Nothing simply cannot produce everything. On the other side of the equation, Buddhists (the strongest example of the reincarnation religions) view the origins of the universe as meaningless, and posit that the universe itself is part of the cyclical nature of life – one universe ends and another begins. In their view, this question has no relevance. However, this is pure philosophical speculation. The fact is, we know is that this universe had a beginning. A beginning implies that something or someone began it. Add to this beginning the incredibly complex realities of life on earth (design, which implies a designer), as well as the existence of humans as rational, reflective beings, and I think that there is solid reason to believe that the notion of God is not only credible, but a very real possibility that has dramatic relevance to our lives and how we live.

If, then, we face a very real possibility of standing face to face with God after our death, I think it makes ample sense to try to understand who this God is that we would be facing. I have already tipped my hand by saying that I would focus on the Christian God, but I think we don’t necessarily have to dip deeply into Christian theology to come to some conclusions about who this God might be. To try to fully explain God would be huge and far beyond the scope of this post. Instead, I want to focus on three aspects of God that I think are fairly obvious even outside of Christian theology. These are his greatness, his smallness, and his personality.

Although listed last, I want to focus on the idea of God as a person, or his personality, because I believe that it brings life to the other ideas.

The very idea of God implicitly carries with it the idea of personality. There may be many debates about the character of God, whether he is distant or close, kind or cruel, etc. But it is particularly difficult to divorce “God” from the concept of personality. And I think that this has been fairly obvious throughout time. While various cultures have developed concepts of an impersonal life force (such as buddhism), they would not consider this force to be “God”. It is impersonal. God (or, in many cultures, gods) always contain the concept of a personality. I think we can see the reason for this supported from a few different angles.

I previously mentioned the concepts of creation and the design of the universe. Both of these acts – creation and design – are associated with the mind, planning, creativity. These are acts of people or personalities, not impersonal forces. Similarly, the presence of a rational, reasoning race of people within this creation strongly implies the presence of a rational, reasoning God. Although it is all the rage at present to point out the many similarities between primates and humans, we must recognize that the differences between us and them are far more striking than the similarities. Indeed, while one might be able to make an argument stating that biologically we have developed from apes (an argument for another time), there is a huge gap in terms of reasoning, self-awareness, and morality. While much of the present scientific community tries to argue that these traits developed slowly and naturally, most of the rest of the world has viewed these as transcendent gifts, whether from a God or the gods. Humans are seen as similar to animals, yes, but still completely different. It is true that our skills and knowledge of the world have developed over time, but I am hard-pressed to believe that human nature has changed much at all. As I understand it, the ancient written records that we have show humanity then as being similar to humanity today. And the extrapolations from pre-written records (“early man”) often seem to suffer from an assumption that a lack of technology indicates a lack of intelligence, an assumption that can be logically shown false on many levels. Be that as it may, I think it far more logical to believe that our intelligence, morals, and self-awareness come from another source, one that shares all of these characteristics, but in a much fuller, more perfect form. To use biblical language, that we are created “in his image”, that our own personhood comes from the top down, not from the bottom up.

Now, some may argue that we are falling into the age-old pattern of creating God in our own image – that as humanity has evolved we have created gods that look like us, and there is no reality behind them. Certainly, looking at history, this is one possible conclusion. Many of the ancient gods (Greek, Roman, others) look very much like glorified humans, and often just as depraved. And although the Christian God has pushed many of these traits to a higher level and perfected them in their concept of God (all the good concepts, anyway), there is no denying that the God revealed in the Bible is very “human” like – He is a person in the best sense. He is just, loving, wrathful, powerful, caring, merciful, etc. It would be very difficult to show one way or another whether we have made God in our image, or whether he has made us in his. Except… except for what I mentioned at the beginning – that the earth began. We cannot have created God if he is the one who began everything. Given this, it is far more likely that we, as creatures superior to the rest of the animal kingdom, were created in his image, and that throughout time, however imperfectly, we have sensed and tried to explain who this

Being is by reference to gods or a God who is above and beyond us.

I feel that one other explanation is necessary, and that is why, if God exists, he is so hidden from us. In my mind, the core of the answer is actually quite simple, and it centres around his personhood. There are really only three possibilities for how God relates to us. The first is that God would completely hide himself. But the only way that he could do that is to make us completely blind to the possibility that he exists, and to do that, he would have to eliminate much (or all) of our ability to think rationally – a significant part of what makes us in his image. If he doesn’t, there will always be people asking the questions of where everything came from, and why we are different than the animals, and why we hate injustice so much, and why love is so important, and so on. The fact that we ask those questions shows that we are aware of something beyond us, and implies that God might be found. But once he takes away our ability to reason, we would essentially be back to the level of animals, unable to relate to him as anything but an obedient pet. On the other side, God could reveal himself completely. But again, this destroys our freedom and choices. We would be either terrified of making a wrong choice (because we know the consequences and would be completely unable to hide) or forced to do what God wanted. Either way, the concept of love or a relationship is completely obliviated. If God is a “person” or a personality, then it implies that he values relationships, and relationship is not possible when it is completely controlled by one party. And so we are left with our present reality – the ability to conclude that God exists, the possibility of having a relationship with him, but also the possibility to reject and ignore that. While we might not totally love that answer, it seems to be the only way to allow both genuine freedom and love to flourish.

If, then, we accept that God exists and that he is a “person”, then we turn to the second aspect of God that I believe is very obvious – His bigness. The concept of God, as understood by the Christian and various other cultures or religions includes the idea of God as the creator of the universe. It can be very easy to affirm that concept without really thinking about what it means. It means that God is big. Not just “He can move a mountain” big, but “form an entire universe plus make all the laws that govern it and keep it in existence at every moment” kind of big. Not just “be in all places at once” big, but “be at every moment in history throughout the course of at least thousands if not billions of years” big. Even in our most contemplative moments, we cannot grasp the bigness of God. To accept this – which is the only conclusion possible if we accept the concept of God – brings to the forefront two realities that we try to ignore.

The first is worship. We simply cannot compare to God. In this sense, we are dramatically behind virtually every other society that has ever existed. In our mad rush to pat ourselves on the back for our tremendous technological improvements, we have failed to recognize that at best we are making poor copies of what God long ago made good. Human DNA makes a supercomputer look like an Etch-a-Sketch. The flight ability of a butterfly or bird puts our best planes to shame. Simple motions like bending an elbow or going for a walk make our robotics look incredibly clumsy. And while it’s true that some of our innovations look like improvements on nature, a close look shows the reality to be false. For example, it’s true that a bird has never made it to mach 2, but it’s also true that a plane has never reproduced naturally. For free. And survived on an (also free) diet of worms and bugs. Nor does a jet look that fast when compared to other “natural” items, such as comets (between 10-70 km/s, compared to mach 2, which is approximately 0.7 km/s). Not to mention that even our best accomplishments begin with the material we have received, not the creation of the material itself. I dare say that if we believe that God exists, worship – or at least some form of reverence or awe for his power – is the only adequate response.

The second reality is that God is in charge. We have built an entire society based on the concept of independence and the ability to make it on our own, without recognizing how little we can actually control. None of us chose the time, family or location of our birth. None of us knows the moment of our death. Most of us struggle regularly with our temper, how much we eat, our sexual desires and our emotions. We can choose our career, but not whether we get laid off. We can “control” our health, yet fail miserably to avoid even a common cold. We can choose to have a family, but we have little control over our reproductive system, and limited control over our kids once they are born. We strive for control, and yet the very arena where we should see the most control – “self-control” – eludes us more often than we care to admit. And yet we set ourselves up as these little kingdoms, confident in our ability to control our lives and our surroundings, without recognizing that our very lives are gifts from a much higher source. I do not mean to say that God controls us, as a puppet-master controls his puppets, but rather that all that we are is not from us. All that we have, we have received. We are stewards rather than owners, responsible to the one who made us. If we believe in God, it is inevitable that he is in charge, not us.

So far, the picture we have of God is of a powerful being, possibly even a tyrant. So we turn from the bigness of God to his smallness. By this, I don’t mean to contradict myself by arguing that God is not big. What I mean is that just as looking at the expanse of the sky reveals God’s greatness, so looking at a blade of grass, a ladybug, or our very DNA reveals that God is a God who cares about the details, about the small stuff. While looking at the big stuff shows us God’s power and greatness and the characteristics that are associated with that side of him, so looking at the small stuff reveals his care, his compassion, his love. When we look at the whole of nature and the world around us, we are humbled by his greatness. When we pause and examine the minute details of this world, we are overwhelmed by a sense of care that would arrange something so intricate and beautiful. Sadly, this aspect of God has been less often inferred than God’s greatness. One reason, at least in the present, is that we have a skewed notion of what God’s love should look like. In particular, we tend to think that he should take care of all of our problems or eliminate all the evil in the world. We see the bad around us and blame him, using it as an excuse to deny that he exists, instead of taking the blame ourselves and living in the freedom and responsibility he’s given us. We beat each other up, then blame God for not stopping us. We ignore his provision of life, his daily sustenance, the ability to enjoy this world, and the guidance he’s willing to give us, then claim he doesn’t care because our life isn’t going perfectly. His smallness shows that he cares, down to the most minute detail, even if he doesn’t interfere the way we sometimes want him to.

When we put these three concepts together, we find a an all-powerful God who created and sustains the universe, yet who is personally involved with and cares about the world – and us. In his smallness, we discover a God who loves us and every detail of our life and who desires a relationship with us. In his greatness, we are reminded that his love does not negate his role as King. Just as there are laws that govern the natural world, so God has expectations (morals) that are intended to guide our lives. As such, we are called to love others, to avoid some things and to do others, not so that we might please an angry God, but so that our world and our lives as individuals are fulfilling and meaningful. I believe that this God we can infer from the world around us is best and most completely revealed in the Bible and the person of Jesus, and that this belief strikes the balance of giving us hope for the future, while still giving us guidance (and often correction) for the present. And most significantly for this discussion, he is revealed as the creator and sustainer of life who offers that life to us.


And so, with the options of nihilism, reincarnation and God before us, I choose to believe in God. To me, God provides a better answer for our existence, our desire for life, and stronger implications for how to live than either of the other two options. If I am trapped in a building facing death, I will still, with everything in me, long to live and fight to live. There is an uncertainty about what comes next that will never be fully answered unless God personally reveals himself to me at some point. But the circumstantial evidence around me leads me to believe that this life is not all there is, and that God does indeed exist.

Which brings me back to the reality revealed through the earthquake – the value and shortness of life. It is a problem that we must all face, but it is a problem with a solution (and here my Christianity shows clearly). We long for life and eternity, and we find that in Christ. We fear death, yet Christ has conquered death. It was not his miracles and his teaching that changed the world, as impressive as they were. It was his resurrection. Don’t get me wrong! I still don’t want to die. The thought of another earthquake can still get my heart racing. But at the end of the day, I believe my life – now and for eternity – is held firmly in the hands of God, and that no matter what happens, I will be okay.

I’m Losing My Son…

I’m Losing My Son…

Versión Español

I’m losing my son.

That’s what my thought was as I woke up in the middle of the night last night. No, it’s not that he’s dying (thank goodness). Nor is he being taken from me by anyone, or being rebellious and running away from us in any way. He is, after all, only 12. No, I’m afraid the problem is much worse than that.

He’s growing up.

Now before you accuse me of using “clickbait” to get you to read this, when you wake up at 4 in the morning, this thought can be (and was) nearly crushing. After years of anticipating being a dad, after 4 kids and 12 years of building a family, of sharing times together, of watching them grow and learn and struggle and mature, to suddenly realize that in 5 short years he’ll be gone and our family that we have invested so much love and effort into will begin to dismantle is a hard thought to swallow. And it’s not just him. I know that every two years after that, another one will graduate and be ready to head out. Yes, I know that they may move in and out for a while, and that they’ll still be around, but still… they’ll be going. And then they’ll be gone.

And right now, that thought kills me.

I know I’m not discovering anything new. Parents throughout history have been dealing with this reality. Maybe the situations or the feelings are different now, or stronger than they used to be because of our culture or something, but I’m not convinced about that. Maybe I’m just a super sentimental guy who’s overthinking the situation. There’s probably a lot of truth to that one. But still, the reality is, losing your kids – losing anybody! – whether it’s through death, or rebellion or just them leaving, sucks. We grieve the loss. I very much recognize that I’m getting hit with a wave of what they call “anticipatory grief”. The thought of losing him, or any of my sons, is deeply sorrowful for me, and might be amplified because we expect to be in Mexico when he graduates, and it’s entirely possible that he’ll head back to Canada for school or to work. So when he leaves, he could really leave. And I grieve how that will change the dynamics of our family, especially since right now, our four boys are each others’ best friends.

So what do to with this grief? I can suck it up, because it’s still 5 years away, but that doesn’t change that it will happen and that 5 years will fly by. I can be grateful that I still have him around, and that even after he moves out we anticipate being able to see him regularly, at least for a few years. And I am grateful for that. Or I can accept that this is just part of life, and I have to deal with it. Definitely some truth in that. But for me, this brings up a bigger question.

What happens when he, or I, or another of my sons, or Terra, leave permanently? What happens when one of us dies?

Ay, there’s the rub! All this loss, all this grieving, just anticipates the day when that loss becomes permanent, and these relationships that we’ve spent so much time investing in come to an end. How can that be? How can something so precious, so valuable, just end? Am I wrong for feeling gypped, for feeling like that answer (that it all just ends) doesn’t match with what we sense? Why, despite our culture’s claims that we believe in pure evolution and that man has to make his own fate and that there is no transcendent meaning, do we end up looking at a child asking about God and say, “One way or another we all end up back together in the end. That’s what you’re asking, right?” (quote from the movie Gifted, starring Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace – go see it!) While that particular one is a made up interaction, it highlights our desire to continue, to keep going, to not lose what we love and who we have become.

And so when I wake up in the middle of the night, grieving my loss-that-will-be, I turn to God – more specifically, to Jesus – believing that he exists, believing that life transcends this world, that all that we experience and the relationships we long to see continue will actually do so.

It’s true that I have many questions about what happens after death. We have no eyewitness accounts, after all (other than Jesus, who really didn’t give us many details about what comes next). But our options are rather limited – we either cease to exist, keep existing as the people we are, or somehow reincarnate/merge into some form of oneness. Sure, there are variations, but those are the three main ones. I hope to examine that concept next week.

It’s also true that I have lots of questions about Jesus and God, but I’m coming to realize that many of them come not from evidence or lack thereof, but rather from presuppositions that make it hard to believe. Hopefully I can get to that topic in a few weeks.

But in the meantime, I’ve got a son (or 4) to put to bed. 5 years are going to go by really fast, and I want to take advantage of them.