Monday, June 25, 2018

Lemmings, Cliffs, and Gravity

I’m of the belief that God is involved in everything. I don’t think he set up the laws of nature, such as gravity, momentum, and centrifugal force, and then let things go like a wind up toy. I think he upholds and maintains everything. 

He not only put the sun in the sky, but his power presses gravity inward on the sun’s core to continue the nuclear fusion that keeps the sun burning every hour every day. He not only made water, but he continually holds the oxygen and hydrogen bonds together to prevent their separating. He is always loading electrons with the power behind electricity. He is always propelling the celestial bodies. He is always pumping energy into every plant and animal cell. Without his hand upon every aspect of our world at every moment, the world’s natural laws would stop working.

However, God also made mankind with a power somewhat like his own to influence and change the world. This means that God causes our choices in the natural world to be effective. He actualizes our choices, so to speak. For example, when we lie, God respects our choice and instead of silencing our words, he sees to it that the sound waves travel to those who are listening. When we raise our hands to strike someone, God contracts our muscles to operate according to our ill intent. And when we decide to turn away from the Lord, God continues to fire the neurons in our brains that make this rebellion possible. He both made us and makes our refusal of him possible. That’s what it means to have freewill.

This doesn’t mean that God causes our evil to happen. Evil is our decision to operate contrary to God’s laws. The results of our choices—broken bones and broken relationships—are how God causes our choices to have effect. It’s like God saying, “I will not change my gravitational laws if you choose to jump off a cliff. I will respect your choice and continue to be the force behind gravity even if that means killing you.”

I think that’s why God says things in the bible like: “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39 ESV). And “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6b ESV). And “The Lord of hosts has sworn, ‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand,’” (Isaiah 14:24 ESV).

Yes, I realize this means that God doesn’t just allow pain and suffering. He causes it. Pain and suffering are evidences that God continues to uphold his laws so that both our good choices and our bad choices have effect.

So when we eat too much, God expands our fat stores to accommodate for the excess. That’s how he made the human body. When we miscalculate the load factor on a bridge’s pylons, God maintains gravity’s pull on the bridge until the pylons crumbles.  And when people get caught on the bridge when it breaks, God bruises or breaks according to the strength that he set for our flesh.

This doesn’t mean that God enjoys our suffering or that he is out to get us. “For he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33 ESV). Rather, God causes the pain because he wants us to be beings with power instead of ineffective soft dolls.

Thus, things like cancer and plane crashes and volcanoes and bombs are not actually evil. To say these things are evil is like saying that the spankings or time-outs that we give our children are evil. No, the consequences are not evil; it’s the choices themselves that are evil. The consequences, horrific as they may seem, are evidence that God respects our choices. They’re also evidence that we aren’t using our power properly, and that, although we have power, we’re still under the ultimate power of God’s laws. We cannot escape the consequences of what we’ve chosen. 

Certainly, the world wouldn’t be this way if we’d respected God’s laws. For just as we—and by we I mean mankind—fail to respect gravity and thermodynamics and load factors, we also fail to respect the moral laws that God established. The first one being: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16 ESV).

When God told Adam and Eve this, he wasn’t testing them or threatening them or sharing his personal preferences. He was explaining to them how their inner machines operated. And the human machine operates best through relying on the Lord for our understanding of good and evil. The tree’s fruit, real or symbolical, was the choice to acquire a moral understanding with or without the Lord. We chose to acquire it on our own, and God respected our decision. It was like God said, “If you prefer your own good over mine, I will respect your choice and not force you to be on my side. Though it grieves me, I will let you feel the consequences of living without me.”

It would be nice if the Lord could just intervene against his own laws. But just like he doesn’t stop gravity to save us from death, he doesn’t stop the consequences of living a life apart from him. That would be robbing us of our choice. It would be like God saying, “I know you’ve chosen to have your own good, but I’m going to make you choose mine anyway.”

Unfortunately the solution isn’t as simple as changing our minds. See, we are all rather like lemmings that have thrown ourselves off a moral cliff. It doesn’t matter if we change our minds mid-fall. We can’t stop the plummet. Even for the one who decides he or she is going to be really good, they’ll find that they keep slipping up. They can neither act perfect nor be perfect. And by definition, that’s what God’s moral law asks of us. If we wish to be with God, we must be with him in all things.

Perhaps you wonder why God can’t just forgive us the little slip-ups we make everyday. But that is for the same reason that he doesn’t stop gravity whenever we disrespect it. To do this is to take away our power to influence the world. To just forgive us the slip-ups is to take away the consequences of our actions. Suddenly, our choices don’t matter anymore.

No, God cannot undo the laws of gravity to save us from our plummet. But he has inserted one more factor into the mix, and that is the option of falling upon his son who then absorbs the force of our poor choice. That is the only way to prevent moral death.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Hip-Hop Performance

The house is quiet except for the whir of the air conditioning. My mom has taken the children for the night, Phil is still at work, and Katie, our live-in help, has flown to Washington to find a wedding dress with her mom. It's one of those rare moments when the house is my own and I can play my Celtic music loudly. I'm not responsible to feed anyone but myself, and as Phil is going out with Mike Posey for dinner, I'm looking forward to the long evening alone.

There's rejuvenation brought about through the company of other women. And there's rejuvenation through good food and rest and stretching. But the rejuvenation in being alone is entirely different. It's why I set my alarm for six on Saturdays and Sundays. It's those sweet moments of silence in the house before I hear the toilet flush and our bedroom door open, before Mary Poppins starts to play in the living room or a squabble breaks out over what items may be brought to the upper bunk.

Quiet. Stillness. Solitude.

Perhaps it is all the more sweet because it is so rare. Even when both children were at school, I would buzz from one activity to the next, attempting to accomplish as much as I could in the short hours that I had. That was not rest. But this is. I've got to keep off my feet. I've got to keep the contractions from coming. At least until tomorrow when I'll be 37 weeks and the baby is no longer considered premature.

I will use the time to remember and record.

In the garden the corn is growing over our heads. I dust the silks with the tasseled tops every few days to pollinate the corn. We've also got green beans and sweet peas that the children snack on before meals. The other day the two cronies were sitting beneath the tall bush beans' canopy while seeking out the pods. They also graze on the baby fennel and the mint. I can smell them when they walk in the kitchen door.

The backyard has become a dust bowl thanks to Lee and Bigwig's activity. Bigwig pushes the dirt out from his burrow, and Lee clears it away to load his dump trucks or make mud slides or pile it on top of the cement pad. Phil helped me switch the compost and rabbit hutches' positions in the backyard so that the yellow slide can fit back there, making room for our summer pool in the courtyard. The slide, however, has become a new surface to pile dirt. That boy comes inside covered in a film of dust. He would much rather take hole digging classes than Hip-Hop/Jazz classes.

I had to tear him away from his digging project last Tuesday to wipe him down for his and Rose's first dance performance at the Whittier Community Center. The children were not too certain about being dropped off in a new place with no familiar faces in order to do something that they only partially understood. I suppose I don't blame them.

Rose was jazzed about her lipstick and princess ponytail and powdered face. In fact, she got ready an hour earlier only asking for my assistance when she blew baby powder in her eye thinking that's what I meant by "We're going to put powder on your face." Lee was another story. In true Latapie fashion, he wore a black shirt backwards to hide the graphic. Two safety pins held up his pants and I'd colored the rubber edges of his shoes black with a sharpie. I thought he wouldn't be able to tell the difference but he was definitely worried about taking off his red blazer in the humid backstage lest someone see the surfing macaroni graphic on the back.

Phil and I watched a few dozen dancers perform: tap, jazz, contemporary, ballet. Each time a teacher led a row of tiny dancers onto the stage under cover of the blue stage lights, I teared up. Must be the pregnancy hormones; however, an elderly lady in the restroom told me, "No, that's just being a mom."

Lee and Rose danced to "Move Your Feet" for not more than 5 minutes during which the audience was in stitches and I was in hysterical tears. Lee stood there like a deer in the headlights and Rose flapped her hands around until the lights went out and Rose convinced Lee to get into their final pose. The house lights came on one more time to show off their pose before the stage went dark again. Phil turned to me while the audience applauded, "Well, our kids are good at other things."

True. They're good at inventing games. They're good at playing together. They're good at helping each other clean up their spaces before dinner. They're good at identifying plants. They're good at sleeping all night. They're good at eating their vegetables. They're good at listening to long stories and sitting for longish car rides. They're good at holding their breath under freeway overpasses. They're good at quoting Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and The Boxcar Children and The Trumpet of the Swan. They're good at kissing my tummy and asking questions about the baby. They're good at folding their clothes and putting them in their drawers. They're good at buckling themselves into the car and climbing trees. They're good at hugging me goodbye, which is a new development of late, and they're good at forgiving after bickering.

We'll soon see how good they are at being the big kids in the house.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Problem of Pain

To the one who says, “I cannot reconcile a loving and merciful God with all the pain and suffering of this world. If there is a God, he is either wicked or weak.”

I wish to ask: Do you mean that a merciful God would intervene in painful circumstances, or do you mean that he would protect us from the consequences of our choices? Perhaps you mean that a just God would protect the innocent while allowing the wicked to suffer. Or do you mean that God should stop natural disasters from hurting innocent people?

If you mean that a merciful God should intervene in painful circumstances, such as preventing fire from burning our hands or falls from breaking our bones, then it sounds like you wish the laws of nature to be different. That this world should be incapable of hurting us. No sharp edges. No precipices. No blinding lights. No wild animals. Soft. Blurry. Tame.

But I don’t think we want a world without danger. I think we want a world where we know how to properly interact with danger. One without accidents. 

I don’t think we want a world without velocity. We want a world without miscalculations. We don’t want a world without problems but a world where we know how to solve the problems.

But perhaps that wasn’t what you meant. Perhaps you meant that God should protect us from the consequences of our choices. That if we drive impaired, our vehicles should turn into styrofoam. That when we try to gossip, soap bubbles come out of our mouths. That intercourse won’t work with multiple partners or if it does work, that it never passes on an STD or unwanted child. That bullets should evaporate when shot at humans, and that money spontaneously combusts when it’s exchanged greedily. 

But if our poor choices have no consequences, then we have lost the power to choose entirely. That's like saying you can eat cheese or you can eat beef, but the beef isn't beef at all. It's actually cheese made to look like beef. Can we really choose the beef at all? No. 

Similarly, if all our choices circle us back around to painless results, we are not really choosing to steal or kill or slander at all. We shall have no concept of right or wrong for we haven't the ability to choose. 

No. I don’t think we want a world without choices. We want a world where everyone makes the right choices.

Let us suppose then that you meant that God should only allow pain and suffering to happen to wicked people. Then, I must ask, who is wicked? Certainly not you. You’ve done nothing terribly wrong. And what you have done has been for good reason. The time you screamed at the children was because you hadn’t slept well. The rift in that relationship wouldn’t have happened if so-and-so wasn’t so hard to get along with. And what’s so wrong anyway with buying things that bring joy? You can’t be held responsible for the way those products affected the environment. 

I don’t mean to make anyone feel guilty. I mean to show that everyone has their excuses. The drunk driver just wanted to be accepted by his friends. The sex trader was sexually abused as a child. The gossiping diva was told she was worthless and ugly. The woman who drowned her children was locked in a closet for the first three years of her life. The ladder-climbing CEO was dominated by a controlling father. The school shooter was shown more hatred by his peers than a Jew by the Germans. 

We always have an excuse. Some excuses are more obvious than others. Some are wrapped up in generations of destructive patterns. And who is to say which excuses are valid and which are un-excusable? Only an omniscient being would know that. And his judgements might not look good to us because we can't see why he's making them.

I think that’s why so many people think this universe is meaningless. Not because there isn’t a reason for suffering, but because we don't know the reasons. A truly meaningless universe would look like cats raining from the sky, and gravity not working and flowers spilling from our mouths when we speak. No rules, no trends, no consequences, no relationships. That is meaningless.

This world is not like that. When we make poor choices, we see the results, great and terrible as they may be. And those choices have a ripple affect on all those around us. We have the ability to not only affect our children but our children's children's children. A dictator has the power to affect millions. There's no way to escape the influence of those around us, and to take away our power is to turn us into dolls.

And that brings me to the last thing that you might mean.

Perhaps when you say pain and suffering, you mean things like earthquakes and famine, things not caused by man’s choices. If God is good, why does he allow disasters to occur? 

While such natural phenomenas are violent and seemingly random, a study of weather, tectonic plates, and ocean currents might make sense of it all. In fact if we hadn't severed our relationship with God in the garden long ago, who's to say we couldn't understand and control the powerful forces of the earth? I think that is what we were meant to do. But because we gave up that power in the garden, we cannot tame it now.

I think I hear you saying, “That was their fault, not mine. Why should I be have to suffer for their poor choices?” 

But that’s like asking if we can be something other than human, or if we can have our power taken away from us. It's like asking if a branch of a tree can be unaffected by the rest of the tree. If the roots take in poison, the rest of the tree will suffer and continue to spread it. No, it wasn’t the branches fault that the roots took in poison, but the branches cannot be saved from the affects of the poison unless grafted into another tree. One with good roots.

And there I must stop because as long as we shake our fists at the only tree with good roots, we shall not want to be grafted into it.