November 14


Once in a while, FaceBook challenges me. Some time back, someone posted asking if I had prayed for Satan. This opened up a lengthy internal debate about the nature of evil.

I never believed much in evil. I never thought much about it until I studied theology at Loyola Marymount University. There, I encountered theodicy: If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, how can evil exist? After reading a fair bit about how others answered this question, I came to the conclusion that evil cannot exist, and that any other answer is inconsistent with the Bible. Yes, there are things that happen that I don’t like. People make bad choices that cause suffering, sometimes for millions of people. I wouldn’t wish those things on my worst enemy (if I had an enemy). But, in my view, that didn’t make them evil.

I noted the book of Job, where Satan is described as God’s prosecutor. He can’t touch Job without God’s permission (Job 1-6-12). “Satan” is also a generic term in Hebrew, not a proper name. It literally means “adversary” or “one who opposes.” Clearly in this passage, the character identified as “Satan” opposes not God, but Job.”

When I was working hard to end the war in Sri Lanka, I was given a realization: While the work I was doing was both good and consistent with what God wanted from me, in some way beyond my understanding the war was also consistent with God’s plans. Yes, it was God’s will that we end that war, but the war could not exist if God didn’t allow it.

A wise man once said, “Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake.” After that realization, I no longer doubted that wisdom.

Then came my struggle with darkness and my eventual deliverance. I saw dark spirits and was tormented by them. I was asked to believe that they were minions of Satan, who is seen as the source of evil in this world. I accept what I experienced, but I have no theology to explain it.

Then came that fateful FaceBook post. It challenged me with this inevitable question: Is it possible for Satan to be redeemed? Could he turn his heart back to God and renounce evil? Or is he excluded from God’s promise that all who repent are forgiven?

I’m not saying that Satan (assuming he exists and that he opposes God) will repent. I’m just asking if he could.

I can see no basis on which to argue that he could not.

Then another analogy occurred to me: Suppose a wold is prowling my yard. That wolf is clearly dangerous, even deadly. But is it evil? It was made by God as a predator, and it is doing exactly what God created it to do. Predators fill an important role in God’s creation of nature. How can that be considered evil?

Likewise, these dark spirits I struggled with were doing what was in their nature to do. They are dangerous, perhaps deadly, and perhaps worse than deadly. But does that make them evil, or were they created (like the wolf) to do exactly what they are doing?

Was it consistent with God’s will that I be tormented by darkness in order to find a way to a stronger faith? Was it God’s will that Jesus be tempted in the desert? I think the answer to both questions is, “Yes.”

I don’t deny that there are events in this world that I dislike. The Holocaust is one, a dreadful loss of innocent lives that I would be tempted to call evil. (On the other hand, good things came out of it, like the philosophy of survivor Viktor Frankl, the awareness of genocide throughout the world, and (arguably) the restoration of Israel. Can evil produce good? I have serious doubts.) Surely the Israelites could say the same after first Israel was destroyed and its residents scattered, and then Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews taken into exile. Yet the Bible clearly tells us both were God’s will. And restoration followed.

Then there’s the issue of free choice. Surely a person can refuse to follow God’s wishes, and therefore cause evil, right?

Ask Jonah, who refused God’s command to go to Ninevah. God gave him a ride to Ninevah.

God tends to get what He wants.

So, is there really evil, or are these “evil” events merely things God ordains that I cannot understand?

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2)

I may never know. But I choose to believe that God can do anything, and nothing can happen if He wills it to not happen. Thus, everything that does happen is somehow consistent with his will. And despite this, I am called to love Him, his Creation, and all the creatures in it, both human and otherwise.

November 9

How Did This Happen?

As we wake up to a new reality, I see many of my Democrat friends asking, “How did this happen?” They seem to believe that our nation has become more than half bigots and racists. To be sure, bigots and racists exist. But a lot of people I know who supported Trump are neither. I think it’s important to recognize why they didn’t vote for Clinton.

Some are small business owners who got hosed by Obamacare. One family I know is forced to pay $14,000 a year, almost 20% of their income, for an HDHP plan with deductibles so high it doesn’t pay for anything. Their annual medical expense, including the insurance, more than doubled. Because small business income fluctuates, two years ago they qualified for premium tax credits, but last year they had to pay them all back– while still paying the outrageous monthly premiums for the current year.

Some are ranchers who face an increasingly hostile and militarized BLM that has been sued repeatedly for breach of contract for not taking care of the lands they oversee.

Some are organic farmers who are no longer allowed to call themselves that because the government trademarked the word “organic” and requires an expensive certification most small farmers can’t afford.

Some are small food producers facing an increasingly militarized and hostile regulatory structure, influenced by large producers, that is forcing them out of business. (Did you know that under Obama, the USDA bought hundreds of submachine guns? Did you know that we stopped making cheese because the State of Utah was making it impossible?)

Many live in parts of the country where the economy never really recovered after the financial crisis. Jobs are still scarce and wages are still low.

Some are veterans with serious medical problems who wait months for an appointment at the VA. They rightly resent that they who served our country can’t get the services while they see new immigrants getting services faster. (Yes, their anger is misplaced when they blame the immigrants, but that’s human nature.)

Some live in states that are mostly owned by the fed, preventing cities from expanding, driving real estate prices up, and eliminating farmland.

Some are farmers who work a full time job during the day and plant and harvest their crops all night. (Drive down I-15 through southern Utah during planting or harvest season and you’ll see plenty of tractors running all night.) They work hard and they don’t make much money, and they perceive that the government is paying some people to not work at all.

Some are farmers who own farms valued at millions of dollars because real estate prices have increased, and even though they squeak by on little income, they’re afraid inheritance taxes will prevent their children from keeping the farm when they die.

Some believe the government needs to change away from corporate-financed interests. They supported Bernie Sanders, but they would never vote for an insider like Hillary. (Yes, it’s true: Some former Bernie supporters would choose Trump instead of Clinton.)

Not all of these problems can be laid at the feet of the current president. But they can be attributed to a government that is woefully out of touch with huge segments of its constituents. Trump is not just a Republican, he’s an outsider.

And that’s the key: many people feel the government is so broken it can’t be fixed from within. Certainly Hillary Clinton, a perennial insider, is not the person they’d choose to fix it. Personally I agree, though I don’t think Trump is the one to fix it, either. But Trump gives them hope, which is something Hillary couldn’t do. Whether that hope is misplaced remains to be seen.

Which brings up the complicity of the Democratic Party structure in this election: Even when it was obvious the GOP was going to nominate Trump, the Democrats nominated one of the most controversial candidates in recent history. That’s not what you do if you want a sure win. At the time, Bernie Sanders was polling 11 points better. Sure, Bernie forced Clinton to include some of his planks in her platform. But few outside the Democratic faithful believe she’d follow through on them. And with her corporate ties, she’s surely not going to work against Citizens United.

But here’s my final point: Our nation is not homogeneous, either culturally or economically. Too many people living in urban America have no idea what’s going on in the vast rural regions that produce our food. And many of those people have no idea what city life is like, and why y’all think the way you do. Those folks used to be in the majority. But the population shift to urban and suburban areas has changed that. As the party system has continued business as usual in the past few election cycles, people have gotten more upset. (Many of them hated George W. Bush, but they were more afraid of Gore and Kerry.)

When we think about a Trump victory, we should think beyond the words bigot and racist. We should also think veterans services, government overreach, rural economy, farmers, small business people, and even raw milk.

Now we have a choice. All of us, no matter who we supported, can point the finger at the other side and call them crazy. That would be business as usual. Or we can try to understand why they did what they did, and see how we can bridge the gap to create a nation that works for all of us.



November 9

Reflection on the Election

At bedtime, Hillary was expected to win the election. The website 538, which uses statistical analysis models, gave her a 75% chance to win. I don’t support Hillary. I think she’s a warmonger and a corporatist with little respect for the rule of law as it applies to herself. But Trump’s rhetoric of hatred scares me. That doesn’t mean I voted for either one. I (and my wife also) struggled to the last minute about whether to cast a vote for Stein on principle, even though we don’t really think she’s the right choice either, or to simply not vote. We both chose the latter.

For months, I’ve expected a Clinton presidency and a new war within 18 months of her taking office. I went to bed believing that would be the case.

I woke about 1:00 am with a feeling of unease and anxiety, like something unbelievable had happened. My stomach bothered me all night. I chalked it up to something I ate, though I didn’t eat anything unusual.

This morning I woke up in a different world. Trump won the election.

Apparently many of those who told pollsters they were going to vote for a third party, didn’t. Back in 2008, Obama got 6% more of the vote in Utah than polls predicted. A significant number of people were going to vote for him, but wouldn’t admit it to a pollster. That seems to have happened again with Trump, because the election results contradicted both polls and statistical predictions. Even Utah, which was predicted to go with McMullin (giving a third party candidate an electoral college vote for the first time in modern history), voted for Trump instead.

It would be easy to panic. I was somewhat comforted by reports of Trump’s conciliatory language in his acceptance speech. So maybe it won’t be that bad.

Or maybe it will.

Already, I see my left-leaning friends calling for mobilization in terms that sound pretty hateful. They expect (perhaps rightly, perhaps not) an agenda of hate from the winners. But hating hate isn’t a solution for hate.

Instead, I find myself thinking about the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). I have one Lord, and it isn’t the government, and it isn’t the nation. I will serve Jesus however he sees fit. I will stand up for my neighbor, and I will stand against injustice. If God requires it, I will be a member of the persecuted church. I already have a CIA file because of my work in Sri Lanka, and probably for my consensus-challenging blog posts since, so I’m on the radar. But the foundation of my faith is Kingdom values, and I can’t turn my back on that no matter the risk.

And yet I have failed to embody those values in a sufficiently radical way. Reflecting on Revelation, I wrote this in my first novel, Ordinary World, five years ago:

Babylon.  The most luxurious nation on earth.  Every one of us benefits from the free market juggernaut, the control of oil fields by friendly dictators, and the expansion of American franchises into nearly every corner of the globe, sending a steady stream of money to our economy here at home.

Do I want to live in a less privileged nation?  I do not.  No matter my protests, no matter my awareness, I am of Babylon and I shall suffer its eventual fate.

As much as I want to protest, the Lord said, “Come out of her, my people,” and I didn’t. I am guilty. I stand convicted by my inaction. I deserve the judgment pronounced by the prophets as much as anyone else. Perhaps I deserve it more, because I’ve seen the reality. I’ve seen Sri Lankan garment workers living 30 to a flat, sleeping in shifts because there isn’t room for them all to lie down at the same time, yet I still buy clothing made in Sri Lanka. I’ve seen the desperation of Mexicans who get paid just a little less than a living wage by American companies in the maquilladora plants south of the border, and I’ve done nothing to identify who those companies are and avoid their products. I’ve seen what industrial farming does to animals, to the land, to the water, and to small farmers trying to compete, but I still eat industrial food sold at the grocery store. I know the difference between good cheese and industrial cheese, yet I still buy store brand cheese because it’s cheaper.

I stand convicted before my Lord.

I want to point my finger at the Democratic Party and scream, “You knew there was a danger of this and you ran one of the most controversial candidates available when you had a popular candidate available who polled a dozen points better and had a better record of bipartisanship?”

But that would be me playing God. I’ve already made that criticism, and it didn’t convince anyone.

I can’t read the prophets without thinking that as a nation we are due to sow what we have reaped. And I can’t read the Gospel and retain any thought that I should be exempt. I’m not an insider, but I still participate in the capitalist juggernaut.

I pray with all my heart for mercy on my people. I pray that they (we) will turn from our ways and ask forgiveness. But that doesn’t seem likely.

So I fall back on Jesus’ promise of forgiveness. I have fallen short. Lord, be merciful to my family and me. I don’t want to be a lone voice crying in the wilderness of what could look like Germany in 1933. I know what happened to those voices. I’m not suicidal.

But I will do it if called. Not without fear, and not without reluctance. But if I don’t follow God’s call, wherever it leads, who and what am I?

November 4

You (Yes, You) Can Help Defeat ISIS!

ISIS wants us to hate Muslims. In fact, ISIS needs us to hate Muslims. And it’s in our nature to want to blame all Muslims for ISIS and similar organizations. But there are important reasons we should resist that urge.

Lately I’ve attended a number of gatherings about “interfaith relations” – which seems to be code for “the Muslim question.” There have been parallels cited from WWI, in which aliens of German origin were forced to register and, in thousands of instances, were arrested. And of course, in WWII Japanese, German, and Italian aliens were expelled or subject to internment. Japanese resident aliens and Japanese-Americans were by far the most numerous, and are also the most publicized.

Many Christians argue that this was wrong, that thousands of innocents suffered based on the risk that a small number might be a security risk. There seems to be little evidence that internment actually did any good. And the question might be asked, did the ill-will generated actually harm our nation in the long run?

But there’s another, far more practical aspect of these actions: Did internment help or hinder the enemy nations from which these residents originated? Was the German or Japanese war effort affected in any meaningful way by our interment of their citizens? I don’t think so. The internment decision was a moral one based on fears that appear in hindsight to have been unfounded. Internment had no real effect on the war itself.

Times have changed. Our nation’s enemy combatants are no longer nations. They are terrorist groups, paramilitary organizations that seek influence rather than territory or resources. We can’t easily find them, but we need to react against someone. So we react against the people our enemies claim to represent. But what worked against Nazi Germany will not work against ISIS. In fact, it’s what they want us to do.

The majority of Muslims have no interest in supporting ISIS or any other extremist group, any more than the majority of Christians support the KKK or Timothy McVeigh. ISIS wants to change that. And the most powerful tool they have is making Muslims hated by everyone else.

Think about this: if ISIS can get us angry enough to turn on Muslims in general, where will those Muslims turn for support? If ISIS can get us to take actions that make Muslims hate us, ISIS’s message is going to sound more palatable. If we hate Muslims, we’re helping ISIS. It’s what they want. It’s what they need. It’s what every terrorist leader dreams of.

ISIS, and all organizations like it, have a strategy: They attack us. We get angry. We retaliate against Muslims. ISIS gains support.

The bad news is, there’s no military response to a war like this. (Unless we’re willing to commit genocide.) Any military action helps our enemy. Remember Al Queda? They used to be a few guys hiding in caves, planning attacks. After we attacked Iraq, Al Queda became one of the most powerful paramilitary groups in the world.

What eliminated Al Queda was not military action, but intelligence (in the broader governmental sense). Leaders were identified and eliminated. Unfortunately, our government often killed civilians in the process, which created more enemies just waiting for new leaders.

Whether a government can conduct surgical strikes precise enough to eliminate terrorist leaders without harming civilians is a question I can’t answer. But there’s an alternative (and necessary) approach we haven’t taken often enough.

Terrorists are disempowered when we refuse to hate the people they want us to hate. Yes, they’ll try again. Yes, there’s a price for that. But in war, there always is. Doesn’t it make sense to prevent new enemies rather than having to fight them?

ISIS needs us to hate Muslims.

Don’t fall for it.