Category Archives: Hello from Bedford

Hello from Bedford — e-mail 7

Hello from Bedford!

You want to know more about the woman I told about in my last letter. Her name is Jane, and she’s dying of cancer. She has a strong faith in God and is absolutely confident God can heal her. She isn’t being healed.

Your question is a valid one. I don’t think I can give you a completely adequate answer as to why bad things happen to good people. I do know that it has a lot to do with the freedom God has built into His universe. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, clues us in to the amazing fact that God created human beings in His own image so that we could have a relationship with Him. He also gave people the gift of freedom because you need free will if you’re to enter into a meaningful relationship.

I’ve always had an interest in puppets and ventriloquism. I regularly entertain and attempt to teach the children of our church with my vent figure, Ricky. I’m no professional, but I do a fair job at keeping my lips from moving and at giving Ricky a personality. I try to create the illusion that he’s an alive, independent person. But I know better. When I’m in need of some praise or affirmation I don’t get Ricky out of the suitcase where I have him stored and make him say nice things to me. Because I’m putting words into his mouth, what he says would be meaningless to me. God didn’t make people to be His puppets. He doesn’t put words in our mouths or jerk our string so we do His thing. He gave us the freedom to be our independent selves.

Without freedom you can’t have any of the great virtues such as love, courage, obedience, sacrifice, or faith. Love only is meaningful if a person also has the option not to love, or even to hate. Courage has meaning when there’s the choice to be cowardly. Obedience is admired because the person could have been disobedient. Sacrifice means something because selfishness is always an option. Possessing faith has value only when one’s dealing with doubt.

The book of beginnings, the book of Genesis, tells of how the first people used their freedom to make wrong choices. The result is that we live in a less than perfect, fallen world.

In a few brief sentences I know I can’t solve the age-old problem of suffering, death, and evil in the world, but maybe I can at least put it into some kind of perspective. First of all, a great deal of our suffering in this life is the result of our inhumane actions toward each other. Crime and war are obvious examples, but you also have to include such ordinary issues as conflicts in the home and at work. Famines frequently are the result of mismanagement of land or result from wars that displace people or drain natural resources. Natural disasters often involve people making poor choices by building houses on earthquake faults, steep hillsides, on river flood plains, or on ocean shorelines frequently hit by hurricanes.

I also don’t think we can blame God for accidents involving machines we’ve built that take us down the highway at 65 miles an hour and through the air five miles up and at 365 miles an hour. Such activity has an assumed risk factor.

When it comes to diseases, we’re just beginning to understand how many of them may be the result of tampering with our environment and pushing our lifestyles beyond natural and moral limits. I know you’re thinking, “But what about those diseases and disasters that seem to have no known connection to people’s misbehavior?” There’s the implication throughout the Bible that the reality of mankind’s sin has resulted in a fallen cosmos that no longer operates the perfect way God originally intended. An imperfect world seems to be the price we’re paying for the misuse of God’s gift of free choice.

Still, our world is filled with examples of good things happening. I believe that God is at work in countless ways. Many times I’ve seen good even come out of disaster and tragedy, and I suspect you have, too. God’s power to do good seems to be exceeded only by His power to have good result from evil.

I don’t know about you, but this is enough deep thinking for now. I’ve got to refill the bird feeders. I think I’ve created “Dave’s Diner” for the neighborhood birds.

A fellow seeker after truth,

Dave

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Hello from Bedford — e-mail 6

Hello from Bedford!

I didn’t wait for a response from you to my last e-mail because I promised you I’d write more on the question as to why God doesn’t show Himself more than He does. I’ve come to believe that God’s less than obvious presence actually can motivate us to seek Him. It’s our seeking Him that can actually deepen our relationship with Him. Let me give you an analogy.

I raise chickens for a hobby and sometimes one of the ladies gets broody, sets on her eggs for three weeks and hatches several little chicks. Those chicks follow their mother wherever she goes. Sometimes it seems the mother hen is a little hard-hearted in how she moves ahead of her brood of chicks, forcing them to run after her.

But I read once that the more the chicks have to work at keeping up with their mother, the greater the imprinting. (Imprinting, by the way, is the intensity of attachment the chicks have for their mother.) In other words, the more they have to chase after their mother the greater their attachment to their mother. Maybe the fact that God seems to be at a distance and almost hidden from us, and that we have to go seeking Him, actually can deepen our relationship with Him! His distance can motivate us to draw nearer.

I feel uncomfortable pushing this point too far, though. I don’t want to leave the impression that I think God is always running and hiding and we’re always trying to find Him. The experience of many people of faith, and the Bible itself, make it clear that God also pursues us! In fact, the mother hen does this, too.

On many occasions I’ve seen the mother hen anxiously go after a wandering chick, clucking with greater intensity in an effort to get the chick to stay close. And just try to pick up one of her irresistible little chicks to cuddle in your hand, and you’ll find out how mean a hen can be!

It has been said that we live forward but understand backward. I believe it. The experience of some who “discover” God is the surprising sense that God was there all the time, working in their lives, pursuing them, even though they neither recognized His presence nor responded to it.

So which is it in this game of hide and seek with God? Is He hiding or seeking? I think both. He yearns for us to seek Him even as He pursues us so that He can be found.

I need to start on the rest of my day. There’s a woman in our church who’s terminally ill and needs a visit. It’s strange. I go to encourage her, but I come away being encouraged. She’s quite a woman of faith.

A fellow seeker after truth,

Dave

Hello from Bedford — e-mail 5

Hello from Bedford!

Yes, the aquarium is clean, but with one less fish to enjoy the better environment. It seems that before I had a chance to get the cover in place one of the fish took a leap and landed on the carpet below. By the time I got to him he was a goner. I wonder — if people drown in water, could we say that fish drown in air? Inquiring minds want to know!

I’m with you. I also wish that God would make Himself more obvious. A great deal of His creative effort in the universe had been done before there were human eyes to watch. What He continues to do today seems to be done in such a way that He keeps Himself out of the spotlight and very much behind the scenes.

Why is God less than obvious? Good question. I’ve given it considerable thought. There must be some significant benefits for God to remain largely hidden from us; otherwise I assume He would do it differently.

Could it be that if God were more obvious about His existence He would be too imposing a presence for us to have the freedom to be ourselves? For instance, it’s difficult to measure the working habits and dedication of an employee as long as the boss is looking over the person’s shoulder. Let the boss be out of sight for awhile and you get a far more accurate picture of what the worker is really like.

The same principle holds true with a couple who are deeply in love with each other but who must be apart for awhile. Either one of two old adages will prove true: “absence makes the heart grow fonder” or “out of sight, out of mind.” Perhaps God has backed off just enough to give us mere mortals the freedom to ignore Him or to draw nearer to Him. Love can’t be forced. My understanding of God is that He deeply loves us but that He has given us our “space” so that a relationship with Him is by our choice and not by His coercion.

The challenge is to keep from forgetting about God in the middle of our busy and challenging lives, for He rarely imposes Himself on us. He tends to be a God who whispers His presence instead of shouting it.

I have another thought on this subject of God’s less than obvious presence, but I’m out of time for now. I need to get out to my chicken coop and gather what few eggs there may be. I’ll write again soon.

A fellow seeker after truth,
Dave


Hello from Bedford — e-mail 4

Hello from Bedford!

You were surprised that not every one of my chickens lays an egg each day? Not my chickens! I have what are called bantam chickens; they’re miniature fancy chickens. They happen to be a breed with different colored feathers and such “extras” as feathers covering their feet. The plain white laying hens that produce most of the eggs we buy lay an egg a day. I guess you could say I’ve traded productivity for looks in my chickens.

In response to your asking whether I really believe the arguments for the existence of God are compelling enough to convince someone to believe, I’d have to say the answer is no.

I do believe, however, that the arguments are convincing enough and the evidence more than adequate to make belief a realistic option. For me, the arguments for God’s existence are much more convincing than the arguments against His existence.

I see what you mean when you suggest that a belief in God could be wishful thinking, a projection of what we’d like to believe. Certainly a belief in God can make life more bearable and provide hope of living beyond death. But I would suggest the opposite could as easily be true: people might deny the existence of God because if He truly exists, that should have profound implications for how we live our lives!

If God exists, that means we are His creation and He undoubtedly has an opinion of how we should live. A creator usually has a purpose in creating. This makes the created accountable to the creator. Our belief as to whether or not God exists has far-reaching ramifications on how we view life and live it out. Yes, belief in God can make life more bearable, but a belief in God also calls for living differently, often more sacrificially, than if we didn’t believe He exists.  So your suggestion that people believe because it’s to their advantage to do so can be countered by the argument that there are costs to believing as well.

I believe that people can have serious questions about God that need to be answered before belief can be a valid option for them. I suspect this is probably the case with you. On the other hand, I believe that some people’s questions are smokescreens and they really don’t want to hear the answers. The questions themselves provide a pseudo-intellectual buffer zone that keeps any serious thoughts of God at a safe distance. People can live less responsibly if they don’t believe there’s a God. Belief in God has a cost.

Don’t misunderstand; my intention is not to inhibit your honest questions. You hinted you had more. I don’t promise to offer answers that come with satisfaction guaranteed, but I’ll do my best. I’m curious about what else is on your mind.

I have to go. There’s the nasty job of cleaning out my aquarium awaiting me. I’d probably let it go another few weeks; after all, the fish can’t complain. However, they have quite a vocal advocate in my wife!

A fellow seeker after truth,

Dave

Hello from Bedford — e-mail 2

Hello from Bedford!

I was pleased to see an e-mail from you when I booted up my computer this morning. I wasn’t sure you wanted to carry on a conversation via e-mail. I’ve heard of people playing chess over the internet, though I’ve always found that a little strange. But I suppose it gives each player plenty of time to think about the next possible move. Maybe the time delay between our responses can give us the same advantage: time to ponder which direction our thoughts should move.

I agree with you; having faith that God exists is a little different from having faith that your refrigerator is still working or that your car will start. At least you can see your refrigerator and your car! But you can’t see God, or experience Him with any of the other four senses.

Still, it’s possible to establish that something exists even though you never see it. We do it all the time. I remember visiting the Effigy Mounds on the eastern edge of Iowa overlooking the Mississippi River. The mounds are the burial sites of Native Americans who lived long ago. Historians (and tourists!) are absolutely convinced that Indians lived in that location centuries before any historian was alive to record their existence. Why? Because of the mounds and excavated artifacts they created. You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

We see evidence all around us that makes belief in God a valid option. Creation could mean the existence of a creator. I know, I know; what about the theory of evolution? I realize that a great many people believe that the known universe came into being without any divine involvement, evolving on its own. Note that I used the word “believe,” for no one was there to see how things happened. It seems to me that evolutionists have to take some kind of leap of faith as much (and maybe more) as do those of us who believe God made things happen.

I think one of the best arguments for believing God created everything is the famous watch in the woods argument. It was proposed back in the 18th century by a guy named William Paley. It goes something like this: Imagine that you’re walking through the woods and you discover a watch lying on the ground ticking away. Would you believe that some different metals happened to be clustered reasonably close together and were hit by lightning that melted them into a watch with all of its gears in place and the spring wound tightly to make it run?

Hardly.

If you find a watch in the woods you know that somewhere at some time someone made that watch, and someone left it there. It shows complex design, and where there’s design there’s a designer.

Life’s just too complex to have simply come into existence by accident. I read somewhere that a mathematical astrophysicist named Sir Fred Hoyle argued that the chance of a single replicating molecule (some kind of basic building block of life) being formed has about the same odds of happening as a Boeing 747 jet being assembled by a tornado sweeping through a junkyard.

Evolutionary theory depends heavily on allowing lots of time for the dice of chance to be tossed often enough until something is created. But some scientists are convinced that there’s just not been enough time since the creation of the known universe for this to happen. In fact, they believe there could never be enough time, that the odds are not just slim but impossible. After all, how many tornadoes would have to go through how many junkyards before a 747 jet were created?

I think it makes a lot more sense to believe that all of creation was made by a Creator than to see it as a result of a mindless accident. I know the evolutionary process of creation is pretty much assumed in our schools all the way from the elementary grades through graduate school and is the working assumption on educational TV nature programs. But I also know you’re a thinking person. Just give it some thought.

A fellow seeker after truth,

Dave

Hello from Bedford — e-mail 1

Hello from Bedford is a series of 40 fictional e-mails between myself and an imaginary friend. I think I’ll consider him to be the same imaginary friend I had as a little boy. In these letters I hope there is a clear and logical progression from serious doubts concerning the Christian faith to serious faith in Christ. Enjoy! Dave Claassen

Hello from Bedford!

So you were surprised to get an e-mail from me after all these years! Thanks to search engines and the internet, you weren’t all that difficult to locate!

We’ve lived here in Bedford Township since 1978. Where’s that? We Michiganders like to remind people that our state is shaped like a hand. We just hold up our left hand and use the right one to point out any location. (With such a handy reference always at arm’s length I’ll bet we buy fewer state maps per capita than the citizens of any other state.) At any rate, Bedford Township is in Monroe County, and Monroe County is in the very southeast corner of the state. Extend your hand and we’re located about where you get carpal tunnel problems.

Both our children are long ago grown and gone. We tried to give them both roots and wings, and I think we overdid the wings part. We’re not exactly alone, however. We have a parakeet named Sparky who apparently has a mental block against learning foreign languages, especially the human language called English. We also have a rock garden with a decorative pond that’s home to some goldfish and an aquarium in the house with tropical fish. Then there’s a small flock of seven chickens and one rooster out back in a chicken coop. Growing up on an Iowa farm I have found the old adage true that you can take the boy from the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.

Yes, we’re still pastoring a church across the state line in Toledo, Ohio. I like to tell people I preach my sermon and then run for the border! I’m glad that my being a minister didn’t keep you from e-mailing back and writing honestly concerning your reservations about the Christian faith, and of religion in general. People sometimes think that we ministers never have any questions, only quick answers, and that we wouldn’t know what a doubt was if it was staring us in the face. Wrong!

I’ve come to realize that doubts are important. A strong faith is usually built on the foundation of serious doubts. On the other hand, a weak faith has usually been built on gullible and thoughtless assumptions. The fact that you have honest questions and want honest answers has my enthusiastic support.

You’ve said that it’s not easy for you to be a person of faith. Can I be honest with you? I think you express faith many times every day. You had faith this morning that when you opened your refrigerator door you would be met with a blast of cold air and shelves of well-preserved food. You assumed your refrigerator had kept its contents cold through the night. Isn’t that assumption a form of faith?

You had faith that your car would start when you grabbed your keys and headed out the door, allowing just enough time to make your appointment. But, you argue, there have been times when that faith in the car was let down by a dead battery and you were late for an appointment. True, but you got a new battery and were soon back to trusting your car to start.

You have faith that the food you purchase is free from harmful bacteria. You have faith that the chair you’re sitting in will hold you up.

The fact is, you are a person of faith. I am, too. We simply can’t exist if we question and doubt at every turn. Living takes lots of faith.

Do I ever question my faith in God? Sure. I’ve taken a walk, praying to God, and then paused and asked, “God, are you even there? Are you real? Am I talking to someone or not?” I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit to you that I yearned for a 3-D image of God in full technicolor who would speak with a big, booming voice in Dolby Surround Sound that would have confirmed my faith.

Yes, I occasionally entertain doubts about God. But I’ve come to see that you can only have faith when there’s room for doubt. That’s why I see no threat to faith in your serious questions and doubts concerning God.

It was good to have heard from you. E-mail me again when you get the chance, OK?

A fellow seeker after truth,
Dave