Good Vs. Evil

You may not believe it but I’m not actually a big Disney buff. Our family does Disneyland well, it’s become an important place in our story, but I’m not actually into Disney as a whole. But regardless of everything, regardless of their business practices, regardless of their enormous piles of sweatshirts and bling, regardless of all of that there is one thing that Disney has always done well and got right: good vs. evil.

From early on Walt Disney had a keen ability to capture the whole good vs. evil narrative. Maleficent, Ursula, the evil queen from Snow White, Scar, Jafar, dragons, evil step mothers…Disney knows how to personify evil and they know how to capture that battle between the two. Last night, for the first time since high school, I was able to watch Fantasmic (thanks to John and Dawnette who saved us amazing spots!) which is essentially a water show that captures this good vs. evil narrative. (I don’t want to ruin it for you…but Mickey wins). It’s an awesome show and I was so glad that not only was I able to see it but my kids were too…and they loved it!

But it got me thinking–do you buy into this reality? Do you buy into a world that is defined by a massive good vs. evil battle? For most of my life I think I would have answered “yes”

But I’m not sure that I do. I think that the framework of “good vs. evil” is too simplistic and makes it too easy to compartmentalize the world as I experience it. If I only have two categories to place things in “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “evil”, “my team” or “the other team” then I always know where I stand, I always know where you stand, and I’m always at a vantage point to make that judgement call. I mean, what person is not able to easily observe that Scar is evil to the core? It’s simple! It’s easy. But is it accurate?

Life is just not that simple! Is It? Is cancer evil? Clearly! But at the same time I’m seeing the story of me getting cancer literally transform the world around me. So does it go in the ‘evil’ box? If it does belong in the ‘evil’ box then I have to at least observe that God is willing to dip his hand into the ‘evil’ box, pull things out, squeeze some goodness out of them, and then drop them back in. Which then begs the question: how totally evil was it in the first place? (I still tend to think it’s pretty evil-as evil as you can get-but I also feel compelled to recognize the messiness of even this stance)

And what about people? I can’t place people into the evil box because that defeats my whole foundational belief that each person is originally created in the image of God. People are not evil–they’re beautiful. Tarnished maybe. Broken maybe. Making terrible choices maybe. But not evil. There’s got to be hope even for Ursula right?

What about in the spirit world? What about this idea of Satan, of demonic forces, of spiritual beings that are opposed to God and to who He is and what He represents (goodness, et al.)? At the very least we’ve got to concede that these things/beings are evil in every way right? Well, to be perfectly honest I don’t think I’m up for the task of fleshing out this topic while sitting in the Disneyland hotel with my family asleep around me. I’m certain I’d have to think too hard and it’d require way too much of it. I can say that my understanding of the spirit world is not as cut and dry and clear as I once thought it was. At one point in my life I could have explained everything to you as if it was obvious, cut and dry, clear information that God, the Bible, and your mom had spelled out in black and white letters. I no longer see things that simply…nor do I claim to have a mastery on the topic as I once probably ignorantly would have claimed! Is the Devil and idea or a literal being? Is hell a tangible location or more of an absence of realty? Metaphors or plain speech? I’m not sure!! But let me at least see if I can’t rip off a few ideas that I think I’d defend in my Disneyland bed:

  • The world is broken. I mean, come on, we can’t look around and not recognize that things are not as they should be. We may disagree as to why or how (is it ’cause Satan and his minions are actively fighting to hurt and destroy? Maybe.) but I’d press hard to find someone that wouldn’t recognize that things are broken.
  • God fights for you. The idea of the incarnation (big awkward word to say that Jesus became a person with all of its messiness–he went to the bathroom, had to shower, ate olives, etc.) if it says anything it tells us that God is willing to do whatever it takes to bring us hope in the midst of a broken world.
  • God gives his Spirit. Whether or not one believes in a whole system of spiritual forces, of angels, demons, etc. I think it’s pretty clear and makes a lot of sense that God has promised His Spirit to the world–that Jesus made the claim that he needed to go, to be done with his activity on our behalf SO THAT his Spirit could come and work from within his people. There are huge implications to all this that I don’t claim to understand, but I think it’s a promise worth holding on to and I think they’re some implications that are worth pursuing!
  • God wins. Again, I’m not claiming I fully understand what he’s fighting against, but I do know that there’s no question, beyond a shadow of a doubt, without hesitation–God’s got this one in the bag. That’s what this whole idea of “the kingdom of God” that you’ll often see me write about is referring to. The kingdom of God is that ultimate reality where God wins and where everything is finally as he intended it. It’s the reality that we are invited to live into today while knowing that it won’t be fully realized until God chooses to restore all things to their original purpose and intended beauty. But he does win. Brokenness isn’t our ultimate reality.

So what if instead of holding onto a “Good vs. Evil” framework we instead cling to a much more messy and undefinable best vs. better view? Or one that invites us to view things between a life vs. death framework? Does that work? Does Disney have space for that? If we began to make our decisions and to view our existence through lens of good vs. best or best vs. better will we just fall into a sea of nothingness with no rudder to guide us? (I’m seriously wondering here. I’m not asking a rhetorical question that I’m now going to answer) I’m confident that good vs. evil is often and usually too black and white and simplistic to provide us a framework for healthy living that is marked by a way of love because the God that I’m coming to know too often takes ‘evil’ and turns it into something amazing. I think that there are things that lead to death, or said better, there are things that do not produce life–and I think those things are worth opposing and fighting against. We could call those things evil if that’s necessary.

I wish everything were as simple as Fantasmic. The dragon is obviously evil–he has no dreams of one day raising a family, he wasn’t abused as a child thus leading to his destructive lifestyle. Mickey is obviously completely good. Mickey doesn’t have a backstory of sometimes yelling at his wife, he’s never clocked in early at Disneyland before he was supposed to. And in the end everything in Fantasmic is as it should be: Mickey wins by doing an awkward dance with his wand and a few sparklers. It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s good vs. evil and good wins.

I wish life were that simple. Trust me. I’d be doing an awkward sparkler dance right now and rid me of this cancer! I’d zap it on those evil people who clearly were not created in God’s image. It’d be easy. Simple. Black and white. Good vs. Evil…

If only…

Blaming God for Cancer

One of the questions I often get is “do you blame God for making you sick?” My quick and easy (for me) response is “no, not at all.” I don’t blame God for making me sick, I don’t think he made me sick, and as a matter of fact I think he’s equally sad as I am that I’m sick.

Hold on.

Before I dig deeper here let me make sure you’re fully aware that in no way am I going to make an argument defending God, defending the idea that if God has the ability to heal me and does not he is somehow culpable and guilty of killing me, etc. Some of you are raising your hands, shaking your fists, and demanding that God be put on trial (rightfully so maybe). Others of you are standing up, shaking your fists, and are making a list of bullet points to absolutely prove why God is just in killing me ’cause he’s teaching me a lesson (or disciplining me or what have you). Well let me say that I’m not going to please any of you because first off I don’t want to attempt to articulately figure all this out. Secondly I don’t believe that it’s my job to defend God. He can do that himself if he so desires. Thirdly, I don’t know if I’m able to make an adequate argument.


I don’t believe that God made me sick. One of my most foundational beliefs, something that everything else builds off of is that God is good. The clearest picture I have of who God is, is in Jesus. My belief is that when I see Jesus I am seeing God. Therefore if I want to know how God feels about sickness I look at Jesus. If I want to know what God thinks about humanity I look at Jesus. If I want to know what God would do at a party I look at Jesus. If I want to know about God one of the most clear ways is to look at Jesus…’cause they’re kinda one and the same. When I look at Jesus I see a guy who grieved over the brokenness of the world, who wept over death (to the point that he occasionally reversed it), and who didn’t seem to be satisfied with sickness (and healed accordingly).

Cancer is a reminder that this world is utterly broken. Things have spiraled out of control and continue to do so. War, hatred, sickness, disease, addiction, abuse, lust, and greed (among so many other things) fight to control our world and transform it into what it was never intended to be. These things, as we experience them, remind us that things are not as they should be, things are not right! And in no way do I have space to believe that God is the culprit. Nope. Instead, my belief is that God is the source of all things good, of love, of hope, of peace, of beauty, of sex, of joy, of kindness, of generosity, of gentleness, and of fresh organic strawberries. Those things come from God because that is who God is–he is good. Cancer is not one of those things. It does not come from God. Cancer is in opposition to God–hell on earth, if you will. God hates cancer because it is in opposition to what he is all about: life.

So do I blame God for my cancer? Absolutely not.

The question, though, that we’re all obviously stuck asking is “But God, why don’t you heal me of it?” If he is able to heal me and does not isn’t he still equally culpable? Let me throw out some random thoughts here. This isn’t an attempt to defend things fully, but rather a random collection of my own musings about this question that obviously plagues me from time to time…

  • At some point every single person is going to not be healed. What I mean is that even if I get healed now, at some point I won’t be…’cause at some point I’m going to be deader than dead. Whether it’s now or later it’s gonna happen. Healing is the ultimate bandaid, it’s only temporary.
  • I have absolutely no idea why one person gets healed and another doesn’t. I want to know why my friends eight year old daughter didn’t get healed from the same cancer that I have. Of all people little Hadley deserved to be healed–more than me and more than you. She was innocent and beautiful in every single way; she deserved healing. But she didn’t get it. And I don’t know why. If Hadley wasn’t healed why should I think that I deserve to be healed? Most likely…it has nothing to do with deserving it…right?
  • I feel complete freedom to be pissed at God, to tell him what I think. I’m pretty sure God can handle my anger. Just because I don’t blame doesn’t mean that I’m not mad that I haven’t been healed yet. There are certain things where anger is a completely appropriate response…and I think cancer can be one of them. And in no way whatsoever do I think that God gets mad if I express anger. Actually, as a matter of fact, I tend to think that God is pleased (maybe not the best word choice) when I am angry about things that he’s also probably angry about!
  • I try to realize and remember that I don’t know jack. I mean, seriously, what kind of perspective do I have in the big scheme of things? I think about my kids at Disneyland. They kept wanting to buy those big giant suckers that look really cool. But the thing is, they taste like crap and my kids hate them. Every time they buy one of them they regret it and wish they had bought something else. I know better than them. I do. I’ve got more perspective, I’ve got a better memory, I have more information…I just know better. I’m the dad. Ok, maybe that’s not the best illustration, but the idea that God knows better is important to me because if he truly is good (as my foundational assumption tells me he is) then I can trust that he’s not trying to screw me or those I love over. All of his activity is first and foremost motivated by love. always. (more than I can say for myself as a father or any other dads I know).
  • In his time on earth Jesus didn’t heal everybody. We read some of the spectacular stories of him healing somebody while ignoring the fact that he stepped over one cripple to get to another who then walked away on his own two feet. At times it had to do with the request made by the individual–but the reality is that there were many in Jerusalem and the surrounding area who remained sick, who stayed dead, and who Jesus did not heal. I don’t know why. But it’s true. And don’t tell me that it’s just a matter of faith. Don’t tell me that the only reason some were not healed was because they lacked faith–try reading the rest of the Bible and tell me that Stephen, James, and every single other apostle and leader and follower of Jesus lacked faith ’cause guess what? They all died! Some of them even brutally and tragically!
No, God never made a promise to heal me. I hope he does and I’m going to bug the hell out of him asking him to do so. But he didn’t make that promise. He promised me that I’ll always be loved. He promised me a new body that doesn’t suck. He promised me a restored world that isn’t broken. He promised me that I’m created in his perfect image. And he promised me that he’s faithful and will keep his promises. And he chose to let himself die to prove it.
Why do I not blame God? I guess it’s because over the years I’ve come to trust him. If you’re new to faith or the idea of faith I wouldn’t expect you to trust him like that necessarily. Trust is earned right? But I hope that my story, as your seeing it lived out, is inviting you to give him a chance. Let Jesus grow on you a bit and see if he doesn’t earn your trust eventually. It’s a scary thing to open yourself up like that, but it just might be worth it.

Jesus Doesn’t Belong in an Egg…that’d be awkward.

Did you do it? Did you practice Lent this year? Did you give up something that you value or enjoy for 40 days (remember that Sundays don’t count)? There should be a large cloud of people who will finally eat a piece of meat today, who will order a beer with lunch, or who will sign back into Facebook. The idea, right?, is that for 40 days you’ve been living in the reality of a dead God. God died for three days and during Lent we honor/grieve that reality through our own small attempt at giving up a piece of life. All throughout Lent Sundays are a break from that because Sundays are resurrection days, they’re the days that we celebrate the good news that God is no longer dead and that we have no fear of death.

So today, on Easter Sunday, the final piece to the lenten puzzle, all you fast-ers finally are set free from the grief of a dead God (and the loss of your TV time…or whatever you gave up). Congratulations! You did it! God’s not dead anymore and neither is your apetite!

Let me be honest and say that I didn’t give up a single thing for Lent. It just seemed foolish to give up one more thing when I’m already struggling with so much being taken from me. I know that’s not a very spiritual approach…but it is what it is. (insert lots of jokes here about giving up cancer for lent, giving up chemo for lent, etc. Those jokes are always funny…seriously) But the celebration that happens on Easter Sunday is becoming more core to my heart and my identity than ever before: resurrection.

If we don’t have hope in resurrection then what do we have? Because of Easter I’m freed to anticipate a new body that doesn’t suck, a restored world that is no longer broken, a continued life that isn’t marred or marked by death, an invitation to live this life free from the fear of death, an invitation to bring to this world what I know will be true in the resurrection: peace, harmony, love, community, beauty, etc. If I know its going to be true then than I have no reason not to invite that reality into today’s world–to live into that reality today. For example, if I know that in God’s intended and promised future that ALL peoples will be gathered around one table (a metaphor) then I know that if I live into that today there is no space for prejudice, racism, and exclusivism. What I know to be true later I can try to make true today. It’s an invitation to live differently, to live into the future in the way that Marty McFly did in Back to the Future (sorry, bad illustration).

Anyway, it is important that those who are following Jesus don’t get caught up in trying to make Easter a Christian holiday. It’s not. Easter (as a holiday) is about family coming together, candy, bunnies, and eggs. It takes too much work to try to find a way to spiritualize eggs, bunnies, and candies. Dont’ do it. You look funny when you do. Easter is an awesome time for our families and neighbors to come together and have fun, don’t ruin it by attempting to argue and push Jesus into those little plastic eggs. Jesus doesn’t belong in an egg. Candy does (everyone knows that right?).

Instead we need to embrace and celebrate the end of Lent. Call it Easter Sunday if you want, call it whatever you want, but today (for those who are following the Jesus way) is a day to remember as fully as you can that you’ve been given the greatest dual invitation ever:

  1. Freedom from death through the promise of resurrection
  2. Living into that, as of yet, only partially realized promise today through “resurrection living” (i.e. showing hospitality, impartiality, a commitment to peace, etc.)

So don’t miss the Easter egg hunts: they’re too much fun and of too much value.

But also do not miss the end of Lent: it’s too beautiful to waste.

Why Adam and Eve are Ruining my Children

I think I’ve written this blog before but I’m constantly amazed at what I’ve determined is some kind of naturally born, innate, passed-through-our-genetic-makeup set of behaviors that every kid knows. I tend to credit nurture over nature for most of my children’s habits. But there are some that I know I never taught them and I’m certain that they are not teaching them in school.

I mean seriously when do kids get taught “neener neener neener” or some variation of the same? “Nah, nah, nah, nah, na na”…sticks and stones…I know you are but what am I…

It’s got to be that they’re born with it ’cause I watch my kids on the playground vigilantly and while they learn bad habits from other kids (and also graciously pass them on to even more) I’ve never heard them learn those ones. Even still, even if they did hear some of those classic childhood phrases it’s not as if they’re all sitting down together listening, reciting, and repeating together. If I know anything it’s that children do not teach children these idiotic phrases. And that’s a scientific fact! Yet here I am in life listening to my kids use them to appropriately taunt others. No, there’s got to be a better answer…and I think I’ve found it.

It’s got to be that when God created Adam and Eve he gave them two gifts that they had not eared: belly buttons and a set of childish phrases to use toward each other and their animal friends. I’m fairly certain that when Eve ate the apple from the serpent she was like “Hey Adam check out this apple I just ate from this talking snake.” And Adam was like “No thanks. I’m on the Atkins diet and I only eat our animal friends.” and Eve was like “seriously Adam? Riiiight….neener neener neener I bet you can’t eat one! Nah nah nah nah poo poo I ate more apple than you” and Adam was like “Whatever Eve. I know you are but what am I?” and Eve was like “Oh, good one Adam. I’m rubber you’re glue” and Adam was like “Rubber? Glue? Those don’t even exist in our garden utopia…hmm…maybe there is something to those whole apple thing” and Eve was like “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you” and Adam was like “Hmm…fruit, talking serpent, naked lady, childhood taunting…how could I say no?”

and the rest is history.

Tattling in the Bible?

I’m sorry, but I’m just not a good enough Christian to be into this. There’s just something offensive to me when we work so hard to make sure that our kids understand their own depravity. I also find it offensive when the greatest story ever told is used instead as some kind of controllable tool to manipulate others behavior.

Don’t get me wrong I’m sure that the people who put this together (in addition to those who use this product) are good people with good intentions. We just see things very differently. They would be equally grossed out by many of my views on theology and childrearing and I’m comfortable to just ‘agree to disagree’.

And don’t get me wrong, using the aforementioned child raising tactics probably means that their children are more ‘appropriately’ behaved than mine–but isn’t it time that we stop defining “well behaved” as “you operate according to my rules when I want you to or else…” and instead think in terms of children learning to make good choices not out of fear of punishment (getting hit over the head with a Bible is definitely punishment) but out of experiences that validate the worth of a health and good choice? If a child makes a bad choice he shouldn’t fear getting lectured to death but should instead experience the consequence that fits that unhealthy decision.

And regardless of parenting preferences, do I really want my children growing up understanding the Bible as a tool used to make them feel bad? Because I should clarify that this blog isn’t (shouldn’t be) about parenting styles or preference in discipline, etc.. No, to me the greater offense is the way in which people are invited to wield the Bible. The Bible is the greatest love story ever told, it is a narrative that gives us a glimpse into God’s overtures of love to his created humanity! Wouldn’t you much rather your children understand the Bible as a grand love story than a rule book? Which one fits better with the life and words of Jesus? And isn’t the point that we want our children to live like, with, and for Jesus? We want them to learn what it means to die to self, to love their neighbor, to know that they are completely loved, to know that they are created perfectly in the image of God, and to know that God does indeed desire them to live free of destructive things such as deceit and laziness (but its not because they’re doing it wrong but because God cares for them and wants them to live free!!!)

While I am intrigued to read the scriptures associated with “tattling” I don’t think I’ll be buying this Bible. I think its important for my children to interact with the story of the Bible–but not this way. I want them to see the life that oozes and drips from its pages, I want them to see the whole of Scripture through the lens of Jesus (’cause he is the perfect image of God himself and therefore the best paradigm we have of understanding God’s activity both past and present), I want them to see the Bible as more than a set of quotable verse to be used to prove your point, and I want them to understand that the Bible’s not about being right but about showing love.

Being right can sometimes be wrong.