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God's goodness and the problem of evil

Nov 06, 2005

Could the answer to the problem of pain and suffering be this simple? This morning, as I was standing off to the side of the stage, about to do the preaching thing, I watched a young toddler run to his dad and grab onto his leg; he just stood there, holding on like little kids do. The image was beautiful, and it sparked another in my mind; that of a child being held in her father’s comforting arms in that moment that immediately follows a tragic event in that young girl’s life. You know the moment I mean? It’s that time where all that matters is being held. No words are yet required. No logical explanations or rationalizations necessary. Being in that place is all you need... a presence is enough of an answer.

It made me wonder if, when God is involved as that loving parent figure... if that moment is big enough to be the answer to all of the suffering and pain in all of human history? Could an omnipotent, all powerful, all loving Presence, offer an embrace of this proportion? Might it be enough?

I wonder if this is all the answer we’re going to get when it comes to reconciling the fact of evil/suffering with the belief in a loving God. Not to downplay the place of thoughtful theologizing or philosophizing, or to minimize people’s very real pain, but might the only answer to the mystery of suffering be relational and not rational?

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.

God's goodness and the problem of evil
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, November 07 2005 @ 09:22 AM PST

John - my feeling from your words is that tragedy and evil are one in the same? I personally see them very differently... though perhaps God's presence to each is the same (my puny mind can't ...or maybe just doesn't want to grasp that!) To me they seem to rob the soul in vastly different ways and so I wonder if the path to (and experience of) that embrace is also very different? Would be interested in your thoughts. ce

God's goodness and the problem of evil
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, November 07 2005 @ 11:30 AM PST

I see what you're getting at. Tragedy does not have intent, whereas evil (where wilfull volition is at play in it's perpetuation) does. Does this make a difference in terms of God's Presence being the only discernable answer to their reality/existence. Probably not (like you say). But does their difference make a difference in terms of how one gets to and engages God's presence? Hmm....

In one sense, tragedy that comes upon us, like say an accident or natural disaster, seems more easily blameable on God... an act of God. While something we bring upon ourselves might be interpreted as something we deserve... no God blaming required (apart from blaming him for giving me the ability to "choose poorly") . Would this second circumstance make our path to God's (forgiving) Presence easier or harder? Easier because He's still OK in our eyes??

And would our experience of that Presence differ depending on the path. (My head is now starting to hurt!!!) I'm not sure. At it's core, sin and evil are the primary agents at work in creating the problem; at whatever level. So I'm thinking our expereince would be the same. God certainly doesn't change.

Is this adding more confusion to your query CE? what do you think?

God's goodness and the problem of evil
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, November 07 2005 @ 12:51 PM PST

Ok - now my head hurts too :) I think what I wonder is if it's easier to find your way to God in light of things He perhaps 'made' happen (illness/accident/tragedy) than it is when it feels like God 'let' something happen (intentional harm/brutality at the hand of another)...this makes less sense in print than it does in my head, but bear with me :) The reality is that both situations leave one feeling like God could have done something to stop it and I suppose the end question is the same, right...WHY God???(except in asking that question I tend to add a few too many expletives!) When I try to put myself in the shoes of the victim of evil, it's harder to imagine seeing God's care because there is often no human care... no face to God's love...and so His presence seems more impossible or implausible?
I suppose a part of me wants God to be logical (at least 'logical' as I would want it to be)...big mistake, right?

Maybe what it comes down to at the end of all of my wallowing and wondering and getting bogged down in the mire of my own questions is what this is saying to me personally... what am I going to do with the beautiful safe comfortable life God (for some reason) has blessed me with thus far?

anyways...didn't mean to hijack your 'space' but i do appreciate the dialogue :)


Pedestian Roulette

Oct 30, 2005

Protecting Pedestrians to Death
for the Calgary Herald

Lately I’ve been wondering if Calgarians have it all wrong when it comes to understanding the intersection of human beings and cars. It seems to me that our generally accepted wisdom is far too pedestrian.

Think about it, what other city in the world does it the way we do? In most places small, slow moving, soft things get out of the way of large, fast moving, hard things. It’s the rule of the urban jungle (ask any Calgarian who’s almost lost a leg stepping off a curb in downtown New York, Vancouver or Toronto.) And yet in our fine city we do the reverse; from a very young age we teach our pedestrians that they can stop traffic with a single glance; leap over large intersections with the mere extension of the arm. And what’s really bizarre about it all is the fact that most drivers are letting them get away with it. It’s almost landed me in several rear-enders, and I think it’s crazy.

A couple of weeks back, I’m driving to work, and a teenager diagonally crosses 26th Ave S.W. right in front of my car. He doesn’t even lift his head. Part of me chalks it up to a worldview of indestructibility that often thrives in youthful psyches, and another part wonders if the kid really doesn’t see a problem with what he’s doing. After all, he was trained up well; he knows that the pedestrian rules. From a very young age he played in playgrounds that were artificially buffered from reality by 30 kph zones. He was told that the bipedal commuter had unalienable rights and this worldview created a very dangerous and false sense of security. Soon the boundaries became blurred and he came to believe that he ruled the road and that cars were merely a subservient nuisance. Nothing could stop him now.

Ok, Ok… a bit over the top! The radical pedestrian movement is probably just a figment of my imagination (I suppose). And a city dominated by the automobile is certainly not the preferred option; that would be crazy. But is there a point where our attempts to respect and protect the pedestrian go too far? In our increasingly busy city, should we not be creating a culture where people are just a bit more afraid of cars? Might this change in pedestrian consciousness result in fewer tragedies? There’s nothing like an acute awareness of life and death to sharpen one’s curbside decision making.

Really, what in the world is going through the head of some of these pedestrians as they stand there, look at your approaching vehicle, and then step out anyway?

“Must be wearing an IPOD,” I think; “She’s just not concentrating on what she’s doing.” Or maybe it has more to do with our city’s history... Calgary is this small prairie town that’s finally growing up... in the past this kind of approach may have worked, but for the future... Maybe this is just an illogical extension of genuine western hospitality; ‘being nice’ gone too far? We’ve all had those merging moments when cars already in the stream of traffic slow down to let us in; confusing everyone. A more cynical part of me postulates that the real problem is a city that’s too cheap to install enough properly lit cross walks and traffic lights. Pedestrians have no other option but to take their lives into their own hands. Or maybe it’s just the altitude... making us all just a little bit crazy.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Two days ago the tables were turned. This time I was walking through a retail parking lot, in a bit of a hurry, and found myself, quite intentionally, stepping right in front of a slow moving vehicle, insisting it stop (which it did). You see, I had places to go, I didn’t want to wait, I figured I had the right to go first, and that I...

This tendency had resided in me for a long time now; as it has in all of us. If I’m brutally honest, there’s a childish part of me that always wants to go first. I’m impatient. I’m more worried about myself than I am about my fellow commuter. My heart is often way too ego centric. I’m selfish. I’m also incredibly independent (a bit of a western, cowboy kind of spirit I guess). I’ll do what I want to do when I want to do it, and no one’s going to tell me where or when to cross the street. Individualism, it sucks at intersections.

Yeah, maybe the problem is me. Maybe this is where the solution needs to start.

This morning an older gentleman, rather forthrightly, stepped off the curb in front of my oncoming car. Once again I hit the brakes, but this time I graciously smiled to a stop. He must have somewhere to go.

Link to PDF of same editorial


God's Creation book

Oct 30, 2005

Why in the world are we ignoring half of what God is saying to us? Our church, historically, has always believed that God reveals himself through two books; the bible and creation; the ‘word’ and ‘world’. If you look at the contents of the bible you can see this worldview at play all over the place. I won’t quote chapter and verse, but the text is filled with examples of writers seeing God in the created order. The Apostle Paul had this to say,

"We don't make God; he makes us, and all of this--sky, earth, sea, and everything in them. "In the generations before us, God let all the different nations go their own way. But even then he didn't leave them without a clue, for he made a good creation, poured down rain and gave bumper crops. When your bellies were full and your hearts happy, there was evidence of good beyond your doing."
The Apostle Paul in Acts 14:15-17, MSG

A leading contemporary theologian says this,

“...A slice of bread or a game of soccer may tell us of God’s goodness as sure, even if not as directly, as a tract, and this is true even if the baker and the player do not realize that their activity has been sponsored by God.”

Dr. Neal Plantinga, page 38, Engaging God’s World

An Old Testament poet wrote these words,

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1-3, NIV, The Bible

Elizabeth Barrett Browning penned this thought,

“Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire from God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes—
The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries”

Aurora Leigh, Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I’ll stop... even though I could easily assemble hundreds of biblical, theological, poetic quotes supporting the premise, I’m not sure its necessary. There should be no surprise in the fact that a Creator leaves his mark on all that he creates.

So then why does most of the church ignore God’s book of creation? Why in the world have we put that book down? Why is this text not given the place of ‘revelatory importance’ that is due? Why in the world would a Christian, or a church, take what God has to say in the created order and relegate it to mere illustration (instead of seeing it as revelation)? Why are we not taking God’s truths, as we encounter them in these places, at face value?

John Calvin’s thoughts on the matter haunt me...

"Whenever we come upon these matters (God's truths) in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God's excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of all truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonour the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself."

John Calvin... Institites II.ii.15


God's Creation book
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 04 2005 @ 01:59 PM PST
I so get this and know this and love this...but at the same time struggle immensely with it. Sometimes it seems impossible to see a revelation of God at all...particularly when I bring in the human element of His creation. When I think of atrocities and injustices that go on every minute of every day... I don’t know, maybe it's in those times that the greatest revelation of the beauty and reality of God is in the resilience of the human spirit, in a heart that can still hope? Still hard to take… to accept that God really is in all that He has created, even when what He has created has wandered so far from any semblance of who He is.

God's Creation book
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 04 2005 @ 04:43 PM PST
I hear you. I just finished reading a review of a documentary/film called Scared Sacred (in Beyond Magazine). The director travelled the world to places of suffering (Hiroshima, Sarajevo, Phnom Penh, Bhopal) in search of "possibility in the darkness." In every place that he visited he found hope; people who were dedicated to remembering and renewing life.

This reminded me of a core creational truth; that even though everything is infected by this spiritual dis-ease theologians call sin, nothing is totally destroyed by it. Sin corrupts, pollutes, warps and twists things, but it never completely obliterates. There is nothing that does not still possess some good (God's originally intended good). I guess this latent good, no matter how small, is what hope hangs onto.... what hope grows out of.


God's Creation book
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 04 2005 @ 08:37 PM PST
I like those words, that notion... that sin infects but doesn't obliterate...that it messes us up but doesn't leave us hopeless that it isn't the end of who we are and that it isn't the only thing that defines us. Now that's what I call 'amazing grace' :)



A paradoxical faith

Oct 23, 2005

The way I see it, anyone who claims to fully understand the Christian faith is either delusional, naive or lying. The whole endeavour, it seems, is cloaked in mystery, and filled with paradox. Pick any major element of the faith, think it through to its illogical conclusion, and you’ll find yourself there; throwing your hands in the air, and exasperatingly exclaiming, “What the...?”
For example, we believe that God is sovereign over all things and in control of everything; and that humanity has free will. Jesus is fully God; Jesus is fully human. God is three in one; Father, Son and Holy Spirit (a tri-odox I guess) God is perfect and completely good; evil exists. Prayer’s a mystery. The bible contradicts itself all over the place. Jesus dies on a cross and it’s the best thing to ever happen to humanity. I could go on.

What’s this all about? Does God do it this way just to keep us from boxing him in? Is incomprehensibility the best way to keep us knowing our place? Limited... Finite... Human, merely, beings. Isn’t there something very right when the things of God can’t even begin to fit into my puny little mind?

But then why give me glimmers God? Why would you even think to plant eternity in my heart? Part of me thinks that the mystery is there on purpose... to prepare me for an even greater Mystery. It forces me to give up control, to yield. And I wonder if that place of abandon, a place that is free enough, humble enough, open enough to grasp the beyond, is exactly the best place to know and understand God more.

After all, on the other side of the equation, God is managing to deal with all the mystery and paradox.

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.

A paradoxical faith
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, October 24 2005 @ 08:18 PM PDT
I wonder if we just need the paradox... maybe without our messed up human side, God's grace wouldn't be quite so amazing…without our questions, His answers would be meaningless. I think that mystery is unavoidable...that we are created beings who are simply incapable of living fully in the light...we catch glimpses, but we will never completely 'get' what God is all about... He's way too much for us to take in. Maybe the reality is that if we simply ‘got’ it all, we would fall even harder into that state of inertia called complacency Brennan Manning writes "when I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer." Maybe it's those paradoxes that help us find our way... without the doubts we can't know faith, without discouragement there would be no need for hope, without hate we'd never fully understand love, without turmoil we wouldn't appreciate peace…this could be an endless list! Maybe paradox…crazy as it seems, aggravating as it is sometimes… is more of a gift than we realize? But... that's just my take on it :)


A paradoxical faith
Authored by: rob_b on Monday, October 24 2005 @ 09:19 PM PDT
I wonder sometimes if our rational minds create the paradoxes by trying to put everything into boxes. The “Jesus is God” box is put up against the “Jesus is human” box. When we say Jesus is both we try to empty the two boxes into a bigger one. I think the contents of this bigger box are pretty messy.

Instead of rationally separating ideas we should probably try harder to understand them being interwoven or maybe layered somehow.

McLaren in a Generous Orthodoxy uses the analogy of tree rings to describe what he calls emergent thinking. The new growth (idea) emerges from the old and is dependent on the old. Ideas are nested into larger ideas.

When we fail to see the connection between ideas it is because of dis-integration or dis-ease. It's not too big of a jump to call this sin.

So, I'm not so sure that all these paradoxes really exist. Perhaps it’s more of a case we've been conditioned to see them that way.

A paradoxical faith
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, October 24 2005 @ 10:15 PM PDT
Cool differentiation. Maybe we do try to integrate where we ought not. Reminded me of an old dutch theologian (can't recall the name) who talked about all the different theories that people have postulated regarding the meaning of Christ's death on a cross (atonement theories). He said that we needn't see them necessarily in opposition to each other, but rather as different voices in the choir. Together, and at the same time, they make the song. A Scottish theologian named Jeremy Begbie likens it to the way musical notes work together; isolated each is distinct, together they form a chord... harmony. :)


A paradoxical faith
Authored by: rob_b on Tuesday, October 25 2005 @ 08:10 PM PDT
If we don't get this paradox thing it turns out we're in good company. Many think that the apostle Paul messed up on one of the most famous paradoxes of all times?

EPIMENIDES the Cretan, a philosopher of the 6th century BC, is said to have uttered the sentence, “All Cretans are liars”. As he himself was a Cretan, this gave rise to a paradox—if he were telling the truth, then he would be a liar.

In Titus 1:10-14 (New International Version) Paul writes:

10For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. 11They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." 13This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.

Some say that Paul missed the paradoxical point and quickly agreed that Cretons are liars. Others say that Paul was apparently aware of the fact that the statement is not really a paradox, since he explicitly clarifies "Such testimony is true."

It seems there's intrigue even in the paradoxes.

A paradoxical faith
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 26 2005 @ 07:54 AM PDT
You guys are hurting my mind.


A paradoxical faith
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, October 27 2005 @ 08:07 AM PDT
That is why we have to become like little children and accept by
faith, you make it too complecated.

A paradoxical faith
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, October 27 2005 @ 10:52 AM PDT
I agree that we need to be like kids if we want to do the faith thing. Very true indeed.

But this too is a bit of a paradox. To accept the things of God with child-like simplicity and not be thinking at all, would be a travesty (maybe even sinful?) Faith requires doubt (or it wouldn't be faith), and doubt requires thinking.

The way I see it, I prefer simplicity on the other side of thinking. After doing all the hard work of trying to figure things out, then reverting to simply trusting God. Deep thinking will usually drive us to the end of ourselves pretty quick anyway!

Karl Barth (real 'big dog' theologian/thinker who wrote 'inches and inches" of books on the nature of God, faith, and Christianity) was once asked what the most profound truth he ever came across was. He responded with a child's hymn, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."


A paradoxical faith
Authored by: JeremyL on Monday, November 07 2005 @ 10:37 AM PST
I think alot of the time we get lost in the details or we try and look at things in black and white, instead of looking at things, for lack of a better work "in context". So when looking at the difficult questions, take a step back, simplify. God, when I think God, the first thing that always comes to mind is Love. God is love, the greatest, strongest love there ever has and ever will be. Using this as the context or code key (i've been watching too much alias lately), re-evaluate. Now hopefully, the problem will look different, and we may be able to wrap our minds around it.

A paradoxical faith
Authored by: JeremyL on Monday, November 07 2005 @ 10:56 AM PST
Now for fun and because I've had too much coffee for monday morning lets look at one of the paradox's. God is perfect and completely good; evil exists. Using love as a key, two things come to mind. One is the old saying, if you love something let it go, if it comes back its yours forever. God gave us free choice because he is our friend as well as a creator. If we're going to spend eternity with him, he wants us to make that choice, he's not going to make it for us. Second was an Albert Einstein physics analogy of God ( I had an email about it sometime), he looked at it like good/evil compared to light/dark. Darkness is the absence of light, thus evil is the absence of good, therefore the absence of God. Hence evil does not exist exactly, it was not something that was created, it is the result of a choice. So that is our choice God or the absence of....

A paradoxical faith
Authored by: johnvs on Monday, November 07 2005 @ 08:35 PM PST
good thoughts Jeremy



A church with no Answers…

Oct 19, 2005

The longer I’m in this business the more I realize that I do not have any easy answers. As I grey I’m discovering that black and white don’t even really exist. Every issue, it seems, has another side. Clarity is fading. Certainty lost. I may as well admit it; the more I know, the more I then realize I don’t know. I agree with the dude who wrote Ecclesiastes,

“I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1:17-18

Some of the wisest people I know often suffer from depression. They think way too much; they grievously bump into their own ignorance way too often. It’s enough to sadden anyone.

Sometimes I wish I had the straight answers. When I was young I always envied those who did and thought myself not all that bright. I see things differently now, but sometime… just sometime I’d like to have it all figured out, give some people what they want. Some people.

In a post modern world, it seems that increasingly, people don’t want answers. Maybe it’s because they too wisely realize those answers just aren't out there. Or maybe they’ve just had it with people telling them what to do, what to believe. Or maybe it’s both. As I think about my job, at New Hope Church, I’m realizing that our ‘we don’t have all the answers’ approach is palatable for both groups.
A good thing I guess.


CJ92 Crash Interview

Oct 14, 2005

John had a fun interview with "Forbes & Friends" from CJ92 FM Calgary this morning.

Stream mp3 high speed connection

Stream mp3 low speed connection

Further links to "Crash" at New Hope.
CJ92 Crash Interview
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, October 20 2005 @ 12:45 PM PDT

Hi John!
I agree with you completely on your take on "Crash" - its the most thought-provoking movie I've seen in a long time (to be cliche about it), and have had some great conversations with others who have seen it. Another good conversation starter? "Now 17% less judgemental" t-shirt at the gym...
Miss you!
Angela (C2C)

CJ92 Crash Interview
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, October 20 2005 @ 04:27 PM PDT

great to hear from you... did you listen to the message yet? I'd love to hear what you think about the interpretation taken.

btw... did 250k last week :)


Cycling toward Contentment

Oct 10, 2005

for the Calgary Herald

Oct. 10, 2005

Cycling across Canada this past summer was a life changing experience. One of the greatest takeaways from that adventure was a deep and profound sense of gratitude. Who’d have known there was so much to be thankful for! Tops on my list were…
1. Breathing – It happened all summer long; every single moment of every single day, rhythmically playing out. Climbing Rogers Pass, enduring a headwind into the Peg, restfully riding the Rideau Canal, steaming along the St. Lawrence Valley, dipping a tire into the Atlantic ocean; the whole way I was breathing. I must have said it to myself a hundred times over the course of the summer, “I’m alive… I’m alive!” You’re alive.

2. Indoor plumbing – Forget about the Jones’ and quit looking over at that neighbour’s yard, they’ve got nothing on you. After a summer of tenting, you gain a huge appreciation for the, not so small, things in life. I can still remember how it felt that first night when I got back to our home here in Calgary. Getting up to go to the washroom at night and realizing how privileged I was… the bathroom was only 10 feet away… all under one roof… no need to put on a jacket… indoor freaking plumbing! Wow.

3. Canada – Despite all of our habitual complaining, we live in one of the most desirable and free countries in the world! How many Canadian cities in the Economist Magazine’s recent ‘desirability’ poll made the top ten again? (in the world!) Uh, three! – Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. Face it; billions would give anything to live in a country like ours. And we’re already here! Who do we thank for that? And, on top of that, we live in Alberta; economic powerhouse, home of the natural gas rebate, a province where one of our biggest struggles is deciding exactly how to divvy up our prosperity.

4. Legs – I’ve got legs… and I know how to use them! Last Sunday, standing around talking to some friends, all of sudden it hits me that we’re standing! “Can you believe how amazing this is,” I say. “Our sense of balance, billions of muscle fibroids at work, the amazing structural system that’s now at play? Our bodies are physiological miracles!” They looked at me kind of weird. All I could think of was the 1.5 million pedal strokes my legs had just undertaken… and of a fellow tour cylist who, after a tragic accident this summer, will now spend the rest of her days in a wheelchair; sitting.

5. Yellow – Van Gogh once said that when he painted yellow, he was painting the presence of the Divine, and when he painted the sun he was painting Christ. Cycling from coast to coast, all I could say was, “Thank God for yellow!” Like Vincent I could see it everywhere; in a morning sunrise waking the Rocky Mountains; on field after field of prairie canola; via the midday glistenings artfully painted onto Superior’s waves; through Nova Scotia’s smiling sunflowers. Yellow’s beauty was overwhelming, a perfect compliment to Canada’s true blue dream of a sky. And it was only one colour.

6. Community – Ok, picture the scene, 5:30 pm. in a hamlet called Massey, in the middle of nowhere northern Ontario, 100 cyclists and their tents being pummeled by a powerful Lake Huron thunderstorm, tornado warnings included. Suddenly everything rips loose and tents are rolling all over the place; sleeping bags soaked, gear drenched, desperately tired riders needing sleep for the next day’s 135k. Then the calls start coming in to the local community centre; local residents offering us dry sleeping bags, their homes with a bed for the night, their dryers. What is that about? Human kindness. Loving your neighbour. Total strangers helping total strangers. Man you’ve got to love this country!

7. Slowing - There came a point in peddling Canada where I wondered whether cycling was too fast a mode of transportation. Flying along at 25kph, you find yourself missing so much. The lesson was analogous of life and probably the most profound truth I came to know on this journey. Slow down, look around, there’s so much to see! So much beauty; in people, in nature, in the God given gift of cycling. While my type A, get there first, ride hard or go home, kind of personality bristles at the thought of it; it’s true. What the heck am I racing for? What’s the rush? Life is way too short, why exacerbate the fact? For this lesson I am eternally grateful.

John Van Sloten

Cyclist and Pastor, New Hope Christian Reformed Church

Calgary, Canada

Link to PDF of same article



Oct 09, 2005

That is what a cyclist pays for crossing a single yellow line on a ‘semi-major’ highway in Southern Alberta on a beautiful clear blue thanksgiving Sunday afternoon. “I could nail you with 3 moving violations for what you just did buddy, and then you’d lose your driver’s license,” said the visibly irate RCMP officer (yeah he got his man!). I guess that means I should be real happy with only getting the one ticket. Somehow that wasn’t the primary emotion that was running through my head at the time; or through the head of the guy who was cycling with me.
Well, he wasn’t exactly cycling with me, he was just following behind me; for about 20 kilometers he was about 500m behind me, and I wouldn’t let him catch up. But as I approached the intersection where I was about to commit my crime, being the nice guy that I am, I let him catch me. Then I crossed the street, committing my 3 moving violations, and he followed me. As we stood together, straddling our bikes, behind the RCMP vehicle, I apologized for leading him astray. Resigned to his fate, he said, “Well I followed you… I just hope I don’t lose any points.” “Points,” I’m thinking, “I could lose points! Yikes.”

Waiting for the inevitable, we started to talk about where we were headed and, -- yes, thank you God for some salvation in this entire thing! – how much cycling we did this summer. I told him I biked from Vancouver to Halifax and spend about 3 minutes watching him be duly impressed with my feat… let’s see that $57.66 per minute of bragging rights.

Then the police officer steps out of the car with his paper verdict. I was still hoping that he might let us off, but to no avail. “Can I have your full name and address sir?” With as much ‘please don’t do this to me officer tone’ that I could muster, I gave him the info. As he is writing it down I notice that he copied one number of my address down wrong. “An out!” I thought, “I’ll go to court and say that I don’t live there and beat this thing.” That victorious feeling lasted about 3 seconds, then I corrected him.

I couldn’t help but notice the address the other guy recited to the officer;
Stone Pine Way – the subdivision 25k back with all the huge monster homes in it. “At least he can afford this,” I thought.

After we got our tickets we both headed out on our way. He continued on his journey to Bragg Creek (where I was headed as well) and I turned around and cycled home. For some reason I figured that my pricey escapade ought not be rewarded with a full afternoon’s ride. I was getting a bit ticked with myself by this point, and decided that I didn’t feel much like riding any more; all I wanted to do was get home. I couldn’t avoid getting the ticket, so now it was time to beat myself up for it. Yeah.

Starting down that road I came to realize that self flagellation was probably not the best way to handle things. Besides, nothing good can come of it, right? I phoned Fran and told her about my mistake, as usual she was very gracious (more than, I'm sure, I would be in return). Talking to her helped, but still I found myself wanting to exact a pound of flesh from myself. “Don’t let it ruin your weekend… don’t let it ruin another minute,” she said. I know that she’s right, but still, there is this propensity in me. I’m getting better at not letting mistakes bug me for that long, but still, at times – times where I do something costly and totally unnecessary – I can go there.

So how do I stop myself from going there? Well, usually it just takes a bit of time… a few hours and things calm down. So I think, "Can’t I do some kind of mental gymnastic and put myself in the place where time was going to eventually land me; speed up what time would eventually do?" It wasn’t working.

Finally I decided to practice what I had just preached this morning. Gratitude. Not for the ticket, but for all the other amazingly good things in life. As I mentally generated the list, the weight of the infraction dissipated. I actually got to the point of even thanking God for the warning. The officer was pretty graphic in describing other cyclists he’s peeled off the road in the past. At least I wasn’t one of them.


Death of a 16 year old...

Oct 04, 2005

Last Tuesday afternoon I was dying inside. I’d just received a phone call telling me that my 16 year old ‘nephew’ Brendan was killed in a car accident in Edmonton. Immediately I pulled over onto a side street and wept… a convulsing kind of grief. Then the internal dying began. Trying to make sense of it all; attempting to process this huge emotional download. What was most immediately difficult was the realization that I had to tell my 16 and 18 year old kids the news later that day; much later that day it seemed. All afternoon I had to carry this tragedy in my heart, knowing that the news would steal away their innocence (they played with Brendon as kids); that it would shock them deeply.
It’s an awful thing to have to carry news like that, knowing that something very tough is about to happen; to be the bearer of that terrible report; to feel the weight of its imminence. Looming, burdensome, sickening. Sitting on the couch in our living room, my heart racing, they listened…so much more serious than any of us wanted to be that ordinary, sunny autumn day.

Talking with my wife about it, I wondered how God is able to handle it, knowing what’s about to happen… watching Brendon drive down 18th Street in his new car… 50 metres… so in love with this boy that he’d given life to… 25 metres… so cognizant of the upheaval; the grief that the family would be encountering… 0 metres… crash!

At the funeral, the pastor reminded us of some of the traditional ‘theodicies’ (ways to explain God’s justness in suffering/tragedy) that we invoke in times such as these. For me, some of them seemed rather empty… “God will work something good out of this…” (I’m sure he will, and is, but why this way God?) “God will bring glory to himself through this mystery…” (Again, it trust that this is right, and that mysteriously God has a plan in it all, but why a 16 year old?). The one pastoral point that did make sense was that, “God weeps in this.” Jesus wept at this friend Lazarus’ funeral, God weeps at his friend Brendon’s. I don’t know why it helps, but it does. Weeping with someone who has experienced severe loss is often the only effective way of ‘being there’ for them; words rarely suffice, often mess things up more. God was there… is there.

Perfect omniscience… overwhelming grief. God must be crying all the time.


Image explained

Sept 29, 2005

Last spring a local artist (Marcia Harris) painted a huge 2 X 3m. work during a three week sermon series on seeing God in your world. She actually did the painting up on stage while I did the preaching. It was very cool.

And what she ended up creating was a beautiful piece of art that perfectly encapsulated the vision of our church. She started by taking excerpts from a few creation psalms (Psalms 8, 19, 104 – poetic words on seeing God in his created world), enlarging them and pasting them onto her blank canvas. Then she painted this beautiful, day to night, landscape/skyscape over them, leaving portions of the words readable beneath the translucent paint. At first glance you can’t even see the words, but if you looked carefully they were clearly there.

That photo that I posted yesterday did the same thing and I didn’t even see it when I first took the pic. If you look carefully at the image with the reflected trees, you’ll notice that where the trees are in the shade, they reflect as expected, green conifers with needles. But when that same tree’s reflection is in the light, it looks like the tree is made up of rocks instead. Same image, two different realities, two different yet similar messages.

When Jesus was once incredulously chided by the religious establishment for allowing a bunch of cheering kids to call him the Messiah, he said, "I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

Sometimes I wonder if that’s exactly what’s happening today. The artists, the poets, the children and the stones know more than we Christians often do. They see things that the rest of us miss. They see that God is speaking out all over the place; and if we would just move out of the shade a bit, and into the light we’d see too.

Here’s the painting and a faint closeup… you can see more of her art at


Canmore pictures

Sept 28, 2005

Some pics from a weekend getaway in Canmore. One of them is a perfect visual image of the vision of our church... more on that tomorrow...


Caught in the act

Sept 21, 2005

Over the past few months there have been several break-ins at our church offices. They've created all kinds of stress on all kinds of levels; you worry about the safety of your stuff/money, you look (with a tinge of guilt) at people differently, "Could she be the one?," and you spend way too much time and resource on trying to better protect yourself in the future... new locks, new policies, new itsy bitsy, teeny weeny spy cameras.
Well, sadly, it looks like the little lens has done the job. This morning I overheard two staff members talk about the details of yet another B & E... yikes. Minutes later our 'chief of security' comes into the office and checks out the surveillance tapes. Sure enough we caught the culprit… red handed… actually wearing white gloves. First, the office lights are turned on, then the safe is surveyed, then my desk is pilfered… MY DESK!... then our administrators desk is searched (off camera)… then the safe is revisited with keys from the one of the desks… no luck… then he (or she) decides to leave… politely turning off the lights.

Watching it all play out was very weird. This incredulous sense of, “I can’t believe we caught the person,” and “How could anyone do this kind of thing?” and “Boy is this person going to be in trouble,” washes over you. And the adrenaline rush that you feel as you take it all in… it’s like you’re voyeuristically seeing something you shouldn’t… reality TV at its most captivating. Totally weird… wide awake… all senses alive.
We had to phone the cops and they’re now taking care of things. We’re already talking about how we can help this person out as the rest of this story plays out.

I’ve been thinking about this all day long now. How in the world can I entertain the thoughts I sometimes do, and act the way I sometimes act, knowing that God sees it all; is fully present, all the time; knows perfectly everything that’s going on in my warped little mind? I need to cultivate more of a divine awareness, in a healthy way learn to check over my shoulder a bit more. Wake up, liven up a bit more in this regard.


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