Theodicy– The Questions Real People Ask

Here is a quote by Howard Stone from “The Word of God and Pastoral Care”

Over the years, while making pastoral carecaution2bagainst2bbad2badvice visits and especially hospital visits, I have sadly encountered many people whose well-meaning friends and acquaintances have responded to their why questions with theological answers that left them terribly upset and proved actually to be destructive: ‘This is God’s punishment on you and for your sins.’ ‘This is God’s will; you have to accept it.’ ‘This has happened to bring you to the Lord.’ ‘God wanted your dear one with him in heaven.’ ‘If you hadn’t skipped out on your wife, this wouldn’t have happened.’ ‘If you had stayed home with your children where God wants you to be, they wouldn’t have started taking drugs.’

More recently I have also come across another whole class of answers — more psychological than religious — to theodicy issues: ‘You are responsible for your illness.’ ‘You are sick because of your destructive thoughts.’ ‘The cancer inside you is pent up anger; you’ve got to release it to get well.’ ‘You are what you eat; if only you had cut out salt and exercised more.’ Some people are so eager to give their answers that they scarcely wait for the questions to be asked. The results are often quite grim.

When I first began pastoral care work, I would have thought such pronouncements were rare, or occurred only in the more conservative denominations. Not so! Things such as this happen everywhere, regardless of the conservative or liberal orientation. Simplistic and damaging answers flow from well-meaning people at a time when their hearers are in considerable distress, vulnerable, and unable to talk back. I raise the issue here because if ministers care only for people’s emotional pain and do not respond theologically to the issue of theodicy, parishioners will inevitably get their theological education elsewhere, and it may not be the kind we would have wished for them. In other words, if ministers will not respond, sooner or later, to the vital questions of theodicy, neighbors and friends are likely to do so, and not always in a helpful manner.                                       –page 165



A short post on the results of a couple of medical missions from over 10 years ago. Sometimes, one does not know the effect one has had until years later. Sometimes one never finds out.

Bob and Celia Munson

I have noted to our supporters that we have been involved, at least loosely, with two churchplants recently. We are joining with one churchplant that has met for three weeks now. In its third week had close to 40 attendees. That is a pretty nice initial growth. Additionally, Bob gave the dedication/commissioning prayer for another churchplant that is being led by one of his students. This is only their second formal service. Our involvement there is likely to be less direct.

Interestingly, during the last few days we discovered that we were involved indirectly with two other churchplants.

  1.  Back over 10 years ago, when we were involved in a medical mission organization that we helped found (Dakilang Pag-Ibig DIADEM Ministries). We went to Kalinga Province for a multi-site mission. On this one, Bob stayed home, but Celia joined. The mission trip was a bit messed up. The team showed up…

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Top Posts on Evangelism


I am far from an expert on Evangelism, but I have gained some perspectives of it as it is commonly practiced over time. Here are some of the Top Posts on this topic.

Critique of Evangelism (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).  These three posts summarize many of my views regarding Evangelism as it is commonly practiced. The posts were done back in 2010, so my views have evolved somewhat over time, but I think my critique is still generally sound.

Multi-Dimensional Evangelism.  Looks at 0-dimension (Simple Conversion), 1-dimension (Engel Scale), 2-dimension (Gray Scale), and 3-dimension (“Evangelism Cube”) regarding evangelism.

Evangelism 315.  A modified version of evangelism (more like permission-based) inspired by I Peter 3:15.

Salvation versus Conversion: Missiological Implications.  Perhaps a bit controversial, at least in its vocabulary. I suggest that Salvation (the process of God’s transformational work in the life of a person being conformed to Christ) should be valued more than Conversion (the one time salvific event of adoption into the family of God).

Evangelism Thoughts: “Savior Salvation” and “Fallen from Grace.”  More questions than answers. Brings up some questions regarding Lordship Salvation, Savior Salvation, and issues of Grace.  Definitely more questions than answers.

High Context Evangelism.  Short post noting the importance of contextualization of the message of the gospel.

New Evangelism.  A long quote from Alan Walker’s “A New Evangelism” with my own commentary. Some of it points to the fact that people’s attitude about death affects their resonance to salvation presentations. The question is, “Do many presentations ‘scratch where it does not itch’?”

The “Toolbox” and “Big Hammer” Theory.  Suggestions for a broader base of understanding and skills for Evangelists to be able to effectively reach a broader number of people. This is contrast to the one-size-fits-all idea for evangelism.


Missionary Orphanages

I don’t quote TWEETS very often… but I really like one from Craig Greenfield. (@craigawauros). He is the head of Alongsiders International.

“One of the reasons Western missionaries are so quick to start orphanages in the Non-Western world is that our own lock of community prevents us from seeing the importance of community and extended family in Asian and African countries.”

My wife and I are connected with one orphanage here in the Philippines, and have done some limited ministry work in a couple of others. Nothing wrong with that. Orphanages do have a clear function. But Craig does bring up a good point.

  • A healthy extended family can address care for orphans, widows, and others in need. When the extended family breaks down,
  • A healthy community can address these concerns. (See example of this HERE.) When the community support breaks down,
  • A healthy government will have mechanisms in place to ensure that the needy in society are cared for. When government fails, or lacks capacity,
  • A missionary orphanage provides the safety net for orphans (and others in need).

Since there are many children in toxic family systems, in dysfunctional communities, under corrupt or incompetent governments, missionary-run orphanages make sense.

BUT… why aren’t more missionaries focusing their attention on promoting healthy extended families, communities, and government? Most of us don’t feel competent to influence governance in our home countries, much less in our country of ministry. Communities and families, however, are more within the scope of missionary’s ability to minister towards transformation.

Many missionaries do get involved in community development, but commonly more involved with economics, education, and faith structures. Missionaries do also work with families, but not much as far as extended families. This is hardly surprising since most Western missionaries come from dysfunctional extended families.

There may be another reason. Evangelicals may not seek families, communities, or government solving the situation for orphans since they may see orphanages as a better place to share the gospel and educate Biblically than the other solutions. This may be true, but the advantage is countered by the fact that the children lose their future impact in their community and family.

For long-term Kingdom transformation, supporting families (both nuclear and extended), supporting communities, and supporting good governance should be prioritized, with orphanages being the back-up net when these fail.


Three Clean Fingers– A Mystery

This short story is based on a real event. But the mystery remains unanswered.


Ed went to Oliver’s house shortly after lunch. Both of them were dairy farmers, and Oliver asked for some help in cutting and splitting some locustwood for new posts to repair fencing in his cow pasture. They often helped each other as most people in their community did.

Ed called out, “Hey Ollie. You there?” Ollie responded by walking out of his barn slowly. His hands and clothes were covered with mud and manure. Hardly surprising — one can’t dairy farm without getting dirty. 

Oliver responded. “I was just going in to have a bitta lunch. You are welcome to come in and join me if ya want.” Ed had already had lunch, so he declined. Ed thought it best if he just got to work on the locust while Oliver had his lunch. Oliver shrugged and said he would be out soon to join him.

Ed got to work on the posts. It wasn’t long before Ollie was done and joined him. Ed stifled a bit of surprise. His friend came out of his house with two fingers and one thumb on his right hand perfectly clean while the rest of him was as filthy as ever.

There was no way Ed would consider asking his friend about this. They did not talk much while working. Their favorite talk was about weather and farming, not things that are particularly personal.

Still, as they worked Ed got thinking. Why would Ollie have three digits clean while the rest unchanged. He tried to imagine how this could be.

He pictured Ollie going into the house. He doesn’t clean up but immediately goes to the icebox to perhaps grab a sandwich put together by his wife before going off to a church function, and maybe an apple. As he ate, using his right hand, holding his food with his dirty thumb and two fingers, perhaps they became clean as he ate.

The thought made Ed sick.

But then Ed had a different thought. He pictured Ollie going into the house and walking over the kitchen sink and carefully washed his right hand so that only the thumb and two fingers were clean. At first that was a more comfortable thought.  But then he reconsidered. In the first scenario, Ollie is way too comfortable with mud and manure getting into his mouth. But in the second scenario, it would be so strange to clean his right hand in such a way to make sure that most of his right hand, and all of his left hand remained unclean. It would actually take more effort to do it that way than to simply wash both hands.

Upon further reflection, Ed realized it would have  bothered him less if Ollie came out of his house with fully dirty hands. At least then he could imagine that Ollie wore gloves while he ate, or maybe was especially skilled with using spoon and fork without defiling his food. Or maybe Ollie decided not to eat.

Ed could not figure out which story was correct, but he would never ask. It must remain a mystery.

I don’t know the answer, but the story does remind me of the passage in Matthew 23:23-25.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence…”

There are differences, but it occurs to me that there are similarities to the story. The pharisees and scribes were described as people who clean the trivial and missed what was more important.

It sounds a bit like the first scenario…. swallowing a camel as they drank, like Ollie being defiled by his dirty hands. In this sense, their “piety” actually defiles themselves.

It also sounds a bit like the second scenario. Picture the hyperbole– carefully cleaning the outside of a cup while a camel is overflowing the inside of the cup. The behavior is then obeying the details of the law while ignoring the spirit (true substance) of the law, One could argue that it may actually be hard to pick and choose one’s piety to address trivial matters while ignoring issues of true love and justice.

One might imagine Jesus being more comfortable with a person who lives without a fastidious hypocrisy much like Ed preferring that Ollie had come out with dirty hands.

So the mystery remains, but maybe the story is not as strange as it first seems.


What is Nationalism as it relates to Missions?

I have long been proudly anti-nationalistic. In my mind, nationalism is wholly inconsistent with international Christian missions. I have struggled, like many others to separate between nationalism and patriotism. Does51tdas57z5l being anti-nationalistic mean that I am unpatriotic? Good question.

Teddy Roosevelt on October 12, 1915 gave a speech on “hyphenated Americans” that seems to point towards a level of nationalistic thinking. One quote from the speech will here suffice:

For an American citizen to vote as a German-American, an Irish- American, or an English-American, is to be a traitor to American institutions; and those hyphenated Americans who terrorize American politicians by threats of the foreign vote are engaged in treason to the American Republic.

I never really have known what to make of the speech. It doesn’t appear to be a racist speech, or against immigrants. But it does point towards a certain nationalistic perspective where identification to anything other than one’s nation is treacherous. To me it fails to pass the “Why” test. That is, “Why would recognition of being a member of two social institutions or groupings demonstrate lack of faithfulness to one? That only makes sense if one institution is clearly to take priority over others. I am a member of many groups and I feel that they are quite reconcilable. I actually agree that there should be a prioritization, but what prioritization is correct? For me, Human (creation of God in His image) takes first place. Identification as a Christian takes second place. Some would reverse the order here. For me, it gets reversed in terms of citizenship.

As a missionary I see myself as a citizen of God’s Kingdom first, a citizen of humanity second, and a citizen of my country of birth no higher than 3rd place. If one had a spectrum of political positions from Traitor to Jingoist, I am not sure where I fit in (though certainly not at the extremes). However, churches that appear to confuse Biblical truths, symbols, and allegiances with nationalistic “truths,” symbols, and allegiances is flawed theologically and deeply problematic when tied to missions.

A great article was shared with me that clarifies the confusion in many ways between different types of nationalism and patriotism.

The article is here:

One quote that is rather strongly worded but but 41an2-1xq6l-_sx321_bo1204203200_points to the ultimate conclusion of the article is:

American conservatives and libertarians frequently, loudly, and rightly criticize Communists for their ideology’s legacy of slaughter. It’s time we all start criticizing nationalists for their ideology’s not-as-bad-but-still-evil legacy of brutality.

I feel like this article is a bit disorganized. I will have to make this a work in progress. I was given a book called “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church” by Gregory Boyd will help get some clarification.

A book that I have already finished and describes, humorously and painfully, the problem of short-term missionaries coming over and bringing their political loyalties with them (among other things) is I Planted the Seed (and Woody Squashed It), by Barry Phillips

Quote on Spiritual Disciplines (and the Great Commandment)

There is a quote that I like that I put on one of the other blogsites I manage– the one for our counseling center, Bukal Life Care. It is on Spiritual Disciplines, and the concern associated with two extremes (one I am calling “The Individualist” and the other, “The Activist”). They are associated with emphasis on one part of the Great Commandment over the other.

You can read the quote