Why I am ending this blog and walking away from the church

I didn’t expect my fellow southerners to applaud when I decided to support Obama’s campaign.  The South has a long history of both racial discord and xenophobia, after all.  So I knew that mine would be a lonely voice crying in the Republican wilderness.

I was not at all prepared, however, for the flood of vitriol that accompanied the election, or for the venom directed at me for my choice of candidates.  The hostility would have been bad enough had it come from all quarters.  But, overwhelmingly, those who wallowed the most in irrational hatred were the same people who call themselves followers of Christ.

I wish I could say that these feelings on their part have abated since 2008.  But, if anything, they have worsened.  Adding to the pain I feel is the vicious refusal on the part of Christians to tolerate another point of view.  They are lightning-quick to condemn anyone who dissents from their poisonous, paranoid beliefs.

Yet, at the same time, they joyfully embrace any lie that supports their malignant mindset.  Not only are democrats, liberals and homosexuals wrong in their opinion, they are enemies of God bent on turning America into a Socialist dictatorship.

When challenged to provide proof for their accusations, however, these same “Christians” resort to vile insults and screaming matches.

The reason for all this unfounded fury is that these good Christian souls have no proof for their claims.  They have only fear and anger.

I could endure all of the affronts to decency I have mentioned thus far, were they coming from average, everyday “sinners.”  But the same people who spout this cancerous babble are those who claim to worship a man who said things like these:

“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Jesus made no exceptions to the above rules – not for Barack Obama, not for Hillary Clinton, and not for Ellen DeGeneres.  He meant them to apply to everyone.

Yes, even Muslim terrorists.

Yes, even Hitler.

I wish I were half as creative as the Christians who bend facts and logic into pretzel-like configurations to escape the clear meaning of the Savior’s words.  The truth is, however, that all their rationalizations will not help them when the Man whom they claim to follow says, “I never knew you. Depart from me, ye cursed ones, into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.”

It gives me no joy to think of these people paying with either eternal torment or everlasting annihilation for their vicious hypocrisy.  Rather, it breaks my heart.  But they refuse to listen to reason or to scripture.  All that matters to them is their lust for power.  And for money.  And for blood.

When one cannot cure those suffering from a contagious illness, then the only rational thing to do is to get as far from the sick ones as possible, lest the would-be physician fall victim to the same disease.  Thus, it is with boundless sorrow that I say I am walking away from the Church.  I wish I had another choice.

Will Facebook Kill Us All?

The specter of a technology-driven apocalypse has haunted human minds for well over a century. Since 1945, many have thought that nuclear weapons would be the cause of our self-destruction. Others have proposed viruses, ecological catastrophes, or zombies as the agents of humanity’s annihilation.

But what if the reason for our demise was subtle rather than dramatic? What if, instead of going out with a bang, we vanish in a whisper?

That is the scenario created by gaming technology. It enables users to create worlds of their own, in which they can be warriors, kings, sex gods, or whatever they fancy. Who needs reality when you’ve got fantasies that you can see, smell, hear, and taste? This is what awaits us in the near future.

Even more pernicious is social media, which offers the ability to erase others with a click of a mouse. Making the wrong comment, or posting an annoying video, can result in being “defriended,” or even blocked, by the god that rules a particular micro-universe.

The shunned individual has the same ability, of course; and within that power is where the potential for Doomsday lies. When people are no longer forced to see, talk to, or put up with each other, then the foundations of civilization will begin to break down.

A world that is becoming a global community could be transformed into billions of disconnected individuals. Each will be so engrossed in her own Nirvana that discussion is impossible and consensus unheard of. Instead of mass extinction, humanity may be consumed on a piecemeal basis. Everyone will be God, but no one will matter.

Will this blog stay up? You decide.

I recently closed this site to public view because of the lack of discussion on the posts. I assumed that meant no one was reading.  I was soon pleasantly surprised, however, by the input I got from those who missed it.  Apparently, there are people who actually read my words.

If you are one of them, then i would enjoy hearing from you.  My email address is wordsmith321@hotmail.com.  Please drop me a note there if you would like me to continue posting.

if I don’t hear from anyone, then i will assume that I am talking to myself when I post my thoughts, and I will shut this little blog down.  If you’re out there, then i look forward to hearing from you.

How to Help the South Become more Progressive: Some Tips from a Real Live Southerner

lincolnWe live in challenging times.  Our federal government is about as useful as one of those herbal baldness cures sold on Nigerian websites.  That situation is unlikely to change any time soon.  Meanwhile, the hate merchants on both the left and the right (you know who they are) continue to rake in obscene profits by telling people what they want to hear, not what they need to hear.

 Then there is the wholesale flight from reason into paranoid conspiracy theories, a plague that afflicts both ends of the political spectrum.  Hence the conservatives who think Obama was born in Kenya and the liberals who believe George W, Bush masterminded 9/11.  And, while some scoff at global warming, others would die before getting their kids vaccinated.  Then there are the religious fundamentalists who think all Muslims are terrorists, not to mention the atheist fundamentalists who claim that Hitler was a Christian.

 If advanced aliens ever do discover our planet, then they will probably write us off as hopelessly unevolved.  Or maybe they will just wipe us out and let a more enlightened species take over the planet – mold, for example.  (I realize that mold probably doesn’t qualify as a “species,” but allow me some room for poetic license).

 This problem of our nation’s political stalemate has been explored by a host of people with more education and training than I will ever have.  However, there’s nothing like a view from the trenches to add a fresh perspective to what has become a gloomy and protracted struggle.  So please indulge me for the time being.

 I have lived in the south for all of my 48 years, except for a 10-month stint in New Jersey; why it’s nickname is the “Garden State” is anyone’s guess.  I understand Dixie about as well as anyone can.  More important, I don’t consider myself to be better than the other children of the region, unlike those who spread xenophobia in the name of promoting tolerance.

 I was taught in Georgia public schools, went to college in that same state, and understand what the term “scattered, smothered, and covered” means.  And I don’t refer to the excellent album by Hootie and the Blowfish.

 I voted for President Obama twice and campaigned for him in North Carolina.  I have little regard for Sarah Palin and none for Michelle Bachman.  I believe in God and Capitalism, go to church, and have taught Sunday school many times.  I own guns.  I also believe in stricter laws governing their use.

 I favor letting consenting adults marry, regardless of how their plumbing is arranged.  I oppose the death penalty.  This is not because I think it’s inherently wrong, but because our legal system seems to have trouble separating the guilty from the merely poor.  And, once you kill innocent people, it’s hard to make it up the them.

Despite holding these views, I have never been lynched, had a cross burned on my lawn, or been called a godless Socialist.

 I understand just how much southerners have to gain from the programs most of them oppose; Obamacare, for example.  Unfortunately, my people have a tendency to work against their own best interests.  This must change before they can enjoy benefits many Americans take for granted, like higher wages, better schools, and an improved standard of living.  But that will never happen until progressives figure out how to talk to the folks below the Mason-Dixon line.  With that in mind, here are some ways that Democrats can make real inroads in the South.

 Warning: these are real-world solutions, ones that will require people to accept facts they would rather not face.  Implementing them will require open-mindedness and pragmatism on their parts, just as it will from southerners.

 Step One: Admit that You Don’t Know Today’s South

 The biggest stumbling block to achieving enlightenment is admitting that your currents notions are wrong.  So here’s the lowdown on the state of 21st century Dixie:


  • Most southerners are not racists.  In the modern South, African-Americans have little fear of being lynched or enslaved.  Blacks occupy significant roles in business, government, and educational settings.  Many southerners have openly disavowed the racist policies of the past and seek to make amends for them.
  • Are there exceptions to this rule?  Of course.  The point is that those incidents are exceptions and not the rule.  For example, if an African-American is stopped by a racist lunkhead with a badge, then the incident makes national news – and rightfully so.  However, the fact that thousands of blacks may drive that same stretch of road every day without being harassed is left unmentioned.  The additional fact that further investigation often leads either to the officer being disciplined, or to the original account of the event being discredited, also goes unreported.
  • The fact that so many non-southerners are quick to believe the worst about the region says more about their own prejudices than those of its residents.  Bigotry based on geography or accent is as wrong-headed as any other kind.  Yet many of these xenophobes would rather point a finger than look in the mirror.  In other words, they’re hypocrites.

 Step Two: Admit your Real Nature

 Stupidity, hatred, and violence are the common heritage of humanity; we all have blood on our hands, collectively speaking.  Each of us is capable of listening to our worst instincts.  This applies as much to atheists as it does to Christians.  It describes people whose ancestors hail from Europe and those who descended from Native groups.  Every human being who has ever walked the earth is a killer by nature, you and I included.  We differ only in the degree to which we suppress that instinct.

 One area in which this is often ignored is in popular accounts of America’s civil war.  Was slavery a chief cause of that conflict?  Yes.  Was slaveholding horribly, inexcusably evil?  Yes.  Were the Southern states on the wrong side of history?  Again, yes.

 Were the northern soldiers that crushed the revolt fighting for the liberation of the slaves?  No.  In fact, one reason President Lincoln delayed issuing the Emancipation Proclamation was his fear that Northerners would abandon their support for the war.  Many of them did.  They had no desire to shed their blood for what they openly referred to as “nigger freedom.”

 Another unsavory fact is that most of the northern military leaders were avowed racists.  A prime example is William Tecumseh Sherman, who headed out West after the war to slaughter American Indians.  He was an SOB.  But so was Robert E. Lee, so was Stonewall Jackson, and so are all of us, no matter what state we live in.  Like the Good Book says, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Keep that in mind the next time you put down someone who speaks with a drawl.

 Step Three: Don’t Argue about Who the “True Mountain Climbers” are

 Once upon a time there was a group of people who were united in a single goal: to climb the mountain that blocked the way from their village to the rest of the world.  So they called a public meeting to discuss the best way to accomplish their shared purpose.

 At first everything was going well.  There was an active exchange of ideas and a broad consensus about how to conquer the summit that stood in their way.  But after a time a division emerged among them.  Some favored taking a route that would lead them directly over the highest part of the peak.  Other preferred a path that would take them along its edges.  Tempers grew heated as discussion turned to dissension and finally to outright division.  The coalition splintered into warring factions, each convinced that it alone had the right idea.  As for the other groups, they were dismissed as heretics or compromisers.  Any hope of climbing the mountain was lost in the sea of bickering voices.

 This story is of course a parable intended to illustrate certain truths.  In this case, the villagers represent progress-minded people who would rather fight among themselves than unite in common purpose.  Some of the issues they quarrel about incessantly include the following:


  • What is the best way to ensure that every child is planned and wanted?  Assuming we all agree that abortion is never the best option, how do we reduce the number that occur to the smallest possible amount?
  • How can we best accomplish the goal of allowing same-sex couples the benefits of marriage?  Is legislative action the best tactic?  Or should we try to build a public consensus on a state-by-state basis?
  • What is the most realistic plan for helping more Americans have access to quality, affordable health care?  Is a one-payer structure the optimal route to this purpose?  Or is it better to have an alliance of government agencies, private businesses, and charitable organizations?

 These are all bones of contention, not only within the Progressive camp but also between those who lean left and equally well-intentioned people on the right.  The South is filled with good folks who are perfectly willing to listen to other points of view, so long as their own opinions receive a fair hearing.

 Let me put this in plain language:

Most people who identify as pro-life are not out to oppress women or deny them health care.  They sincerely believe that the procedure is murder, and they are motivated by a desire to protect the weak and vulnerable.

  • Most of those who oppose gay marriage don’t want to round up homosexuals and send them to death camps.  They have moral objections to same-sex activity that are founded on millennia of moral teachings, ones which have only come into question in the last few years.  Sticking your finger in their eyes and screaming at them will not win them to your way of thinking.
  • Most people who are against President Obama’s healthcare reforms don’t want the poor and sick to crawl under a rock and die.  In fact, many of them support private efforts that provide medical services to thousands.  Acting like bastards towards these people may give you a smug feeling of moral superiority, but it won’t advance the cause which you claim is your sole motivation.

A Lesson from Lincoln

I didn’t write this post to lay out a detailed plan for winning the south to the progressive cause.  My goal is merely to focus on the elements that such a strategy must include in order to be successful.  Without them, efforts towards this aim are doomed to failure.  That isn’t “my” truth, it’s just true.

I conclude with a scene from my favorite motion picture, Steven Spielberg’s outstanding 2012 film Lincoln.  Out of respect for copyrights i will paraphrase the events I describe:

President Lincoln is debating with arch-abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens about the best way to end slavery and rebuild the South after the Civil War.  Stevens, ever the uncompromising zealot, takes Lincoln to task for his willingness to time the pace of reforms to the current state of public thinking.  He alludes to a “moral compass” that guides him unerringly towards what is right, a compass which he says is lacking in most other Americans.

Lincoln’s reply is a splendid example of realism and common sense.  It goes something like this:

“I know compasses.  I used them when I was working as a surveyor.  They will guide you flawlessly towards true north every time.  But they can’t advise you about the hills, forests, or bogs you may encounter along the way.  If, in your fever to accomplish your goal, you rush ahead ignoring reality only to drown in a swamp, then what’s the point of knowing true north?”

Lincoln was a wise man.  I think we can all learn something from his insights.  Whether we have the courage to apply them remains to be seen.





Why the Israelis are Butchering the Palestinians; or, How History’s Oppressed Become the Oppressors

I am a member of an oppressed people group, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at me. I’m as white as an eggshell and have the coordination to prove it.  But, still, my people have a long history of being persecuted, exploited, and otherwise crapped upon.  And many of them are still suffering at the hands of their tormentors.

You see, I’m Scotch-Irish by descent; and the atrocities committed against my people are too great to number.  First came the Romans, with their legions and their banners and their lust to dominate others.  Then, centuries later, the bloody English showed up on our native lands, and anyone who has seen Braveheart knows what happened then.  Our proud warriors fought bravely with their primitive weapons, but it was futile against the superior numbers of our persecutors.

One would think that any people as abused and marginalized as mine would know all too well how utterly inexcusable it is to oppress others.  But that lesson somehow escaped us.  In fact, we proved just how quickly we could forget, once millions of us immigrated to the New World.  Here we met the Indians; and we promptly began proved how cultured and civilized we were by slaughtering them.

Not too much later, many of us discovered the long growing seasons and fertile lands of the American South.  We also found that we could get others to do our work for us, simply by purchasing them off the trading blocks in Savannah and Charleston.  And so we treated the blacks every bit as atrociously as we had the Indians.

I can’t begin to comprehend what the children of Africa endured for all those centuries.  But I can relate to the suffering of the red man, because a small slice of my family tree is from the Cherokee tribe.  Cherokees are known for their beautiful jewelry and rich folklore.  They’re also distinguished by how they oppressed other tribes that inhabited the area now known as the Appalachians.

These kinds of antics weren’t limited to the Cherokee, of course.  Abundant evidence proves that Indians in the Southwest were wiping each other out with gusto, long before white folks appeared on these shores. They also practiced human sacrifice and slavery.

All that ended when Europeans arrived and realized the Native Americans didn’t have gunpowder or steel swords.  After that it was one long murder-fest all the way to the West Coast.  Of course, we Americans took a few years out from our westward push to kill hundreds of thousands of each other, in a little conflict known as the Civil War. My ancestors butchered the Yankees, the Yankees butchered us, and along the way we both pissed on the Africans.  To be fair, though, the northerners were a bit more restrained in their hatred of black people than us good Christians from Dixie.

There are counter-examples to all these facts, of course.  Native people greeted the Pilgrims with kindness when the Puritans crossed the Big Pond.  White abolitionists risked life and limb to wipe out slavery in the United States.  And people of all races marched with Martin Luther King in the 1960s.

As inspiring as these examples are, however, they are exceptions to the rule.  As a whole, the human animal finds it remarkably easy to prey on the weak and excuse its worst behavior.  This was seen in what the Nazis did to the 12 million victims of the Holocaust, six million of whom were Jews.  And, fitting the pattern outlined in this post, Jewish people have visited much the same types of horrors on the Palestinians over the last several decades.

Time and again, the oppressed have turned into the oppressors when given a chance, using the evils they suffered as an excuse; “we must never let it happen to us again!”  So said the Romans.  So said the Irish.  So said the Puritans.  So said the Germans; and so say Israeli militants.  If we ever colonize another planet, then God help any poor bastards we run into, especially if we have an edge over them technologically.  They’re toast.  Might they do the same thing to us?  it’s very likely, especially if their history resembles ours in any way.

Reminding folks of these facts is risky.  In fact, it might get you labeled as one of the following kinds of people:


  • Racists.
  • Homophobes.
  • Anti-Semites.
  • Islamophobes.
  • Fat shamers.
  • Japan bashers.
  • etc., etc., ad nauseum.

Quite often, it’s the most virulent bigots who are quick to use these terms against others.  To see this, one has only to peruse the Internet long enough to read the nasty things those on the Left call people who deviate from the dogmas of political correctness.  It’s amazing how anyone can be so tolerant yet so downright mean.

Of course, the PC crowd has a quick response to anyone who points out its hypocrisy: “it’s perfectly fine to be intolerant of intolerance!”  Of course, they are the only ones who get to decide who is intolerant.  The hatred spewed by the Left is matched only by the drivel shoveled out every day by Fox News.

So what’s really going on in human hearts and minds?  Nothing new; it’s really the same old thing pointed out time and again by troublemakers like Jesus.  He was known for saying things like these:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:3-5

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – Luke 14:11

But forget isolated verses; just read the parable of the Good Samaritan.  While you do, keep in mind what kind of human scum Samaritans were considered to be in the first century AD.  To understand what I mean, Imagine what right-wingers would think of a gay, hybrid-driving Socialist who eats tofu.  To the Left, on the other hand, a Samaritan would be as bad as an NRA member who shops at Wal-Mart.

Jesus wasn’t out to win friends and influence people.  That’s what got him killed, along with his tendency to point out a nasty truth about us human beings.  What is that uncomfortable fact?  Simply this:


  • We are all racists.
  • We are all anti-Semites.
  • We are all homophobes.
  • We are all Indian killers.
  • We are all slave owners.
  • We are all street thugs.
  • We are all monsters.

This explains why Israelis are slaughtering Palestinians; it explains why the Nazis butchered Jews.  It shows why Europeans enslaved Africans and murdered Indians.  It reveals why the Romans wiped out hundreds of thousands of people building their empire.  And it tells us why the world is the vicious, brutal, hateful place it is today.

People will say or do anything to avoid admitting these truths about themselves.  But, until they’re willing to do so, nothing will change except the faces of the oppressed and those of their oppressors.  Of course, I’m just a dirty mick; so what do I know?



Do I exist? Do you?

Buddhism teaches that there is no such thing as an “I,” at least not as the term is traditionally understood. Rather, the self is a collection of passions, impulses, and habits that cannot hold together over time.

Sadly, I’m beginning to think that this belief is often true. I have met countless people who never reason things out for themselves or engage in self-examination. Instead, they just absorb slogans that match their preferred worldview. Then they spit them back out like a machine, reacting with hostility to anyone who holds a different opinion. I’m really not sure they are human, not in the fullest and best sense of the term anyway.  Maybe they’re like the shades in Greek mythology that inhabited Hades.

You may say that this sort of thinking could lead to atrocities like the Holocaust, since it regards some people as less than human.  That might be true.  It might also be true that those who commit such horrible acts do so because they are sub-human themselves.  The world might be inhabited, or even controlled, by creatures that are nothing more than hideous compilations of ego, greed, and a desire to dominate others.  It’s a scary thought.

Even scarier, I fear that I may be a lot like them. Am I a unique individual with my own thoughts, goals and insights? Or am I just a collection of effects with a multitude of causes? Or is the truth somewhere in between? What do you say? Or is there really a “you” that can offer a response?

Why Does God Allow Suffering?  A Question Reconsidered

Without a doubt, the greatest challenge to Christian spirituality is the question, “why does God allow suffering?”  Cancer; earthquakes; car wrecks; heart attacks; strokes; shootings; home invasions; broken bones – the number of evils that occur moment by moment on this troubled planet is too high to add up.

Given that the world is immersed in suffering and tragedy, how can any rational person believe in an all-good, all-powerful God?  Believers have struggled to answer that question for thousands of years.  They have failed to come up with anything truly satisfying, thought they have developed some thought-provoking responses.  Here are a few:

  • God allows evil because the only way to prevent it would be to deny human beings free will.  In a world where people are allowed to think and act for themselves, it’s always possible that they will choose evil over good.
  • God allows evil in order to build our moral character.  How could we learn to be compassionate in a world with no suffering?  How could we practice bravery in the absence of danger?  How could we understand how truly precious life is, except in the face of sickness and death?  Evil is essential if we are to be truly moral beings.
  • God operates on a scale that is impossible for humans to understand.  Because of this, we misunderstand much of what occurs in the world.  Though many of these events seem pointless to us, in reality they are part of a greater mission that God is working out in God’s own time.  We simply need to accept this and trust that everything happens for a reason.

As I said before, these are cogent, thoughtful responses.  Yet, as powerful as they are, they share a common weakness: they treat evil as a thorny philosophical question that has a rational answer. In the real world, however, evil is never so abstract or so reasonable.  On the contrary, it’s deeply personal and very, very ugly.  It shatters our faith and drives us to ask questions like these:

  • Why did God let that bastard murder my little girl?  Even if she’s in heaven now, why was she taken from me so early?  Why was her life so short and her death so painful?
  • Why do I have incurable cancer?  I’ve always been a good person.  All over the world, there are horrible people who are in the best of health.  Why did God let me get this disease instead of them?  How is that fair?
  • That lady from church says that God miraculously healed her heart disease.  But my condition is far worse than hers ever was, and so far God has ignored my prayers.  Does he love her more than me?
  • I know God must allow some evil in order to work out his purposes.  But that doesn’t explain why he let our dog get hit by that car.  Would sending an angel to watch over our little pup have ruined his glorious master plan? 
  • I pray every day for God to heal my mom, but she just keeps getting worse.  Am I just talking to myself?  Does God even exist?  And, if he does, how could he turn a deaf ear to the cries of his children?  What kind of father does that?

When faced with questions like these, all of the neat philosophical answers to the problem of evil come up short.  They simply don’t have the kind of explanatory power needed to deal with the soul-crushing despair that torments millions of human beings daily.  They may provide a small measure of comfort, but they’re too detached and logical to “work” in the real world.

There are alternative answers, of course.  Most of them are disturbing, to say the least.  Here are a few:

  • There is no God.  The world is meaningless and humanity is an accident.  We are nothing but dust, and to dust we shall return.
  • We are such evil, vile creatures that we only get what we deserve.  Even the so-called “innocent” are disgusting in God’s sight.  It’s a wonder that he doesn’t wipe us out entirely.
  • God created us to watch us suffer.  He is an all-powerful sadist, and we are his deluded, helpless victims.  We tell ourselves otherwise because we’re too weak to face the truth.  Jesus’ “loving father” is the greatest lie ever told to the human race.

From a logical, objective point of view, each of these answers is every bit as good as the ones offered by believers.  In the same way, they fail to offer any comfort or guidance to those who suffer.  In many ways they’re worse than no answer at all.

But there’s another way to look at the question “why does God allow suffering,” one that gains insight by reconsidering the nature of the question at hand.  Here’s what I mean.

There’s Something about Mary

In the early 1980s a philosopher named Frank Jackson published a thought experiment.  In it, a young lady named Mary lived in a room that she was never allowed to leave.  It was furnished completely in black and white, like scenes from old photographs.  She even wore special glasses that made everything appear gray.  One of the most basic of all human experiences, the ability to see the world in color, was denied to her.

Despite this sad condition, Mary was a brilliant scientist.  Her academic specialty was understanding how human beings perceive color.  She knew all the facts about the subject: how light waves effect the eyes; how the optic nerve transfers those impulses to the brain; and how the brain assembles that data to form mental images.

In short, Mary knew all about color, except for one thing: what it actually looked like.

Then, one day, Mary was able to outwit her jailers and escape the black-and-white room.  Running outside, she tore the goggles from her face, and for the first time saw the colors she had studied her entire life as they truly are.

At that moment she gained a special kind of insight, a type that can only be gained by direct experience.  All of us have this kind of knowledge; in fact, we could not be the people who we are without it.  It answers questions like these:

  • What does chocolate taste like?
  • What do flowers smell like?
  • How does it feel to be in love?

Books can’t tell us the answers to these questions.  Neither can scientific experiments or logical arguments.  Some truths can only be known by having a subjective, intensely personal experience.

Perhaps the answer to the problem of evil is like the taste of chocolate or the appearance of colors.  If so, then this would explain the way that some people react to suffering.  Here are two examples of what I mean.

Calm in the Midst of the Storm

There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.

Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who helped to hide Jewish people from the Nazis in the 1940s.  Her and her family set up a secret room in their home in which they hid refugees from the Holocaust.   They called this clandestine shelter the “hiding place,” which is also the title of Ten Boom’s best-selling book.

She and her family were discovered after a neighbor turned them in.  Her and her sister Betsie were sent to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for political dissenters.  Betsie died during their internment, leaving Corrie to face the horrors of Hell alone.

If anyone had reason to question God, it was Corrie Ten Boom.  But she didn’t.  She was able to maintain her faith in the face of overwhelming heartbreak and suffering.  After her release she set up a rehabilitation center to help others who had survived the camps.

In 1947 she was approached by a man she recognized very well.  He had been one of the guards at Ravensbruck; in fact, he was one of the cruelest of them all.  He begged her to forgive him for the atrocities he had committed.  She records her response to him in her book Tramp for the Lord:

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.

Corrie Ten Boom forgave the man who had visited such evil and suffering upon her and her sister.  Writing about these events years later, she recounted something her sister Betsie said to her before she died: “there is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.”

“We Forgive.”

The Amish are a group of pacifist Christians who live primarily in rural areas of Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio, though they also have settlements scattered throughout the United States and other nations.  Completely non-violent and shunning much of modern technology, they live simple lives centered on family and community.  They’re also known for their prodigious work ethic and devotion to craftsmanship.  Amish-made furnishings, for example, are prized for their quality and simple beauty.

Most of my readers probably already know these facts.  But I mention them here to set the proper context for the incident I’m about to discuss.

On October 2, 2006, a group of Amish children was attending classes at a church-run school in Lancaster, PA, when a gunman burst into the building.  He shot 10 of the children, all of them girls, before taking his own life.  Five survived their wounds; the rest did not.

Any community would recoil in horror at such news.  For the Amish, whose lives revolve around faith in God and devotion to family, the tragedy was painful beyond words.  Given this, their response to these events was almost unbelievable.  Shortly after the shooting they paid a visit to the gunman’s family members, who lived nearby.  They offered their complete, unconditional forgiveness to the wife and relatives of the man who butchered their children.

Like Corrie Ten Boom, the Amish had every right to denounce God as a fantasy or a monster; who wouldn’t do so after such a horrific event?  But they did just the opposite.  What might have destroyed their faith instead affirmed it.

Some answers can’t be Put into Words

It would seem that both Corrie Ten Boom and the Amish know  answer to the question, “why does God allow suffering.”  But that knowledge is like what Mary discovered when she looked upon the world of color for the first time.  It can’t be wrapped up into a neat, logical response.  Like the taste of chocolate, it can only be understood through having an experience that goes beyond words.

This doesn’t answer the problem of why God lets bad things happen.  But it does reframe the nature of the question, allowing those who suffer to find answers for themselves.  I admit this is all very fuzzy and subjective.  But, then again, so is life, even though we pretend otherwise.  The real answers to the world’s mysteries can only come from the same place they originate: within the human heart and mind.  If that doesn’t make sense to you, then I know how you feel.