Saturday, May 25, 2013

God's Catch 22

Exodus 32. The Israelites are in the desert. While Moses is on the mountain with Yahweh, they fashion a golden calf, calling it "the god who brought them up out of Egypt." Yahweh is understandably incensed, and he is ready to destroy them & get a fresh start with a different group of people (he proposes Moses' descendants).

Moses tactfully intervenes: "Oh Yahweh, why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'?" Yahweh sees his point, and he backs down from his threat.

There are many intriguing questions this story raises. Today I'd like to focus on one angle in particular: God is caught in a pickle. Whatever he chooses to do, he can't win in the court of public opinion. Human sin makes it such that any decision he makes is open to misinterpretation. If he brings down the gavel, the Egyptians are likely to see him as an evil tyrant. If he mercifully does not, he could look soft or impotent. Any middle ground is likely to be seen by some as too harsh and by others as too light.

It's easy to see how many conversations about theodicy can quickly devolve into a matter of each person's preference for how they think God should act in given situations. There is an existential, self-defined desire for a certain outcome, and without an appreciation for the fact that the situation might be more complex than any one of us can understand, God is judged to be _______ based on what occurs.

I've nothing else to add on the matter at the moment. This is certainly not meant to be a full theodicy, as we haven't touched on many of the deeper philosophical questions of ultimate cause and effect. It's just an observation that we should be slow to jump to grand anti-theistic conclusions based on how we see any sampling of life situations.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Psalm 18: presumptuous David?

[David] sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.

"The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight."

Psalm 18 is a celebratory anthem, filled with David's excitement at what God has done in his life. Surrounded by psalms of five to fifteen verses, it's 50 verses of David just really not being able to shut up about how awed he is by what God has done. "I mean, have you seen my enemies??? These are impressive dudes! And I'm still alive! What's more, they're dead! Is it because of my skills of flight and fight? No chance. Luck? Definitely not. Random happenstance? I tell you, NO - God did this."

"Yahweh protected me and cared for me, because I have kept his decrees blamelessly."


Forgive me for questioning the Lord's anointed one, but I am, after all, a 21st-century Westerner, and we don't exactly believe in the Divine Right of Kings anymore. David sounds really confident that God has caused his unexpected military success. What's more, David knows why: God has done this because David is righteous and his foes are not.

Here's where I stumble, perhaps along with many of you reading this. I don't think that way. When something good happens to me, I usually don't think it's because I've been a good boy. When I defeat my "enemies," I don't see God favoring me over them. Like the prophet Habakkuk, I've lived through too many occasions where it seems like God is silent "while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves" (Hab 1:13). No, God doesn't merely visit good on the good, visit bad on the bad, and call it a day. The world is more complex than that.

What's more, I don't take the Bible at face-value anymore. Once upon a time, I might have read this psalm & said to myself, "I need to think more like David. Lord, help me to see Your hand when things go well for me." Now that I'm a few years older, perhaps a few years more cynical, I allow myself the potentially dangerous freedom of questioning the sacred text. Even King David is fair game.

First, I think to myself, it's a pity David went in this direction with his reasoning. He had an out: he could have said that Yahweh gave him victory because of the special place he held in the divine plan for Israel. The good king David was a type, forerunner, and ancestor of the King of kings, Jesus. If David had said, "God protected me, because he has a plan to bless the world through his people Israel," we wouldn't be having this conversation - I would have accepted that reasoning. It fits my theological system. David does pay brief homage to that reality, in v. 50:
"[Yahweh] gives his king great victories;
    he shows unfailing love to his anointed,
    to David and to his descendants forever."

But, this comes across as an afterthought. The heart of the psalm is an eleven-verse reflection on that darn idea mentioned earlier: God rewards good girls & boys and punishes bad girls & boys.

So what do we make of this? Was David's faith really that shallow? Was he stuck in an underdeveloped stage of moral reasoning? Did he write this as a young man & grow up into a more mature view of how God works in this world, such that we should just ignore this psalm and move on to Psalm 22?

There's at least one more option. Perhaps this was David's deep personal conviction regarding the reality of his situation in this particular case.

"I know this is why things went the way they did, and I want to tell you why, so that you can glorify God with me. I fully acknowledge that it doesn't always turn out this way, but it did this time around. No, I can't prove it; I can say that this turn of events is statistically improbable without an underlying cause, and I can affirm that the logic of my conclusion is internally consistent. I can also tell you one more thing: I know in my bones that God did this. I believe this conviction has come from the Spirit of God. I can't control whether you find that convincing or not, and I don't expect it would hold up in a court of law. But that's what I know, and that's how I know it. Nothing more, nothing less."

What do you think? Would you believe David? Have you ever experienced God in such a way that you cannot prove to another human being that it was God who showed up, but you're still certain it was him with every fiber of your being?1

I have. An experience from this April stands out in my memory. I was in Dulles Airport, on my way from Madrid to Chicago for Rick & Anne's wedding. In the midst of a moment of deep doubt and despair, I experienced an irrational level of calm when my suitcase didn't show up on the carousel at customs. I knew it was the Holy Spirit's work. God used that peace to make me a blessing to the people around me - airline employees, fellow passengers, another guy whose bags were lost, the folks working the counter at Potbelly... and it blessed me deeply on a personal level as well. I felt the presence of God in a way I hadn't in some time, perhaps years.

Could you explain the entire chain of events naturalistically? Yup; it would be a statistical outlier, but you could still explain it. Does that dent my confidence that it was truly God who was active in that whole situation? Not particularly.

So, King David, for what it's worth, I believe you.

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
    Exalted be God my Savior!
He is the God who avenges me,
    who subdues nations under me,
    who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
    from a violent man you rescued me.
Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
    I will sing the praises of your name.

1. Obligatory evangelical caveat: Good, orthodox followers of Christ recognize the limits to this kind of reasoning. We can't use these subjective experiences of God to force others to do anything. In the absence of common reasoning, "God told me you need to..." is religious manipulation, not prophetic clarity. Human interpretation of personal experience also should not be a basis for bending one's theology out of line with orthodoxy. As the Wesleyan Quadrilateral rightly points out, Scripture is the measure by which experience is tested.)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Giving Thanks Step By Step

It's been quite a week for the Knox family.  Okay, maybe just a few days.

Andy's EEG
At 10am on August 30th, Andy, Ben, and I drove to an international hospital in Madrid for Andy's first test (an EEG) to hopefully shed some light on his speech delay.  We walked into our room, met the nurse who'd be taking care of us for the day, and she started marking Andy's head with a sharpie.

Andy absolutely hates having his hair touched.  We've resolved to let his hair grow out since he's been terrorized the last few times we've taken him to get it cut (even and those cute kiddo places where he can sit in a little car and watch cartoons).  He was a bit squirmy in my arms during the process of measuring and marking his head, and later gluing 26 electrodes, but all in all, he did great!  By 12:30pm, he was all "electroded-up" and connected to the machine that would read his brain waves.

Ben clearly remembers the neurologist saying we'd be in and out of the hospital in about 5 hours, so that's what we'd planned for.  We didn't bring a laptop or work to do as we thought we'd be devoted to keeping Andy in the sight-line of the 2 cameras that were video-taping him the entire time.  Well, 8 hours later, we finally got to leave the hospital!  Andy was an angel the entire time.  He played really calmly on the bed for about an hour, then took a 3 hour nap!  Ben and I ate lunch (wow, hospital food is good there), then woke Andy up at about 4pm.  By 6:30pm, we were going stir crazy, so we took turns sneaking out for a little air, but again, Andy was great, which is what mattered most.

Andy's First Day of Preschool
I have been dreading today for quite a few months, though the scheduling of Andy's tests has made the first day of school for him sort of pale in comparison.  We all woke up at 7:30am, and by 8:45am were walking out the house to Andy's school, named Sweden Garden (pretty cool as my mom's dad was 100% Swedish).  Last night, I had terrible dreams of being in school myself, finding overdue library books, trying to find my classes, being late, etc.  Nerves I guess.  When do these dreams end, right?

We walked in, handed Andy over to his teacher, Vanessa, and collected his uniform and little backpack while hearing him cry.  It was a tough few minutes!  Ben and I left to get a coffee and a little breakfast a few blocks away.  I tried pan con tomate, a typical Spanish breakfast, for the first time.  A baguette is cut length-wise, toasted, and topped with olive oil, tomato puree, and salt.  Pretty yummy.  We bought Andy a mini sugar doughnut and headed back to his school after an hour.

The director opened the door, and we saw Andy happily playing with the other kids.  Unfortunately, another kid had just thrown up (in another room) - I guess we'll have to get used to Andy catching some bugs there.  But, Andy hardly wanted to leave!  He was having a great time!  He sat outside and licked all the sugar off the doughnut before eating it, then walked around the neighborhood a bit.  It was a great morning.

Giving Thanks
Thank you for your prayers.  We couldn't have gotten through the last few days without you.  Please keep praying!  Andy will have blood drawn on Wednesday, Sept. 5, as well as an MRI on Sept. 12.  On the 12th, he has to fast from noon until 6pm, which could be tough for him to understand.

Thank you, Lord, for being faithful to us as we take steps through transitions.  

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Loving the French Life

Yup, France is awesome.  We are in the Dordogne region, staying in a beautifully renovated barn, on the grounds of a lovely private, country area.  I am so happy to be here.
I hadn't realized how exhausting living in a big city could be.  We like Madrid, certainly.  It has a lot of great things:the metro, Retiro park, amazing museums...  But, living in such a busy place is very tiring for people from Wisconsin.  The simple act of driving through the countryside was the beginning of what I'm calling my rural therapy.  Add French cooking, cooler weather, the Olympics, crafting time, more French cooking, and time with friends ...well, the rural therapy continues.
We have had duck twice, an amazing gluten-free dessert at a bed and breakfast along the way driving to our destination, and discovered why creme-fraiche makes anything better.
The best part of our time so far, however, is how happy Andy is here.  Sure, he's had some meltdowns, but he is so happy to have a few little friends to play with all the time, and more so to be in a really safe place around which he can wander freely.  No metro.  No cars.  No stop lights.  Lots of grass.  a big front porch.  even a pony, though we haven't taken him for a ride quite yet. All in all, we love France and are glad that we have many days left on vacation here.

Update on Andy

We have some news on Andy.  Last time I wrote, we'd just met with the speech therapist to set up his assessment.  We went again the following week for that assessment, then, with Ben away at camp, I went for the follow-up report.  Long story short, she had some serious concerns about Andy's lack of receptive language, limited gesturing, and general state of development, putting aside his basically non-existent speaking.
We have followed her advice and already had an appointment with a pediatric neurologist.  In late August, early September, Andy will have bloodwork, an EEG, and an MRI.  Yikes, right?  It's a little scary.  But, we're doing what we think is best for him.  We are still planning to try preschool for him in the mornings starting in September.  If it doesn't go well, we can bail.  We have also had a few speech therapy sessions as well, focusing on eye contact with Andy and interactive play.
Please keep Andy in your prayers, and we will keep you updated on how he is doing.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ben Away at Camp!

At about 11:30 this morning, Ben left for 9 days of camp at a place called Pinos Reales (Royal Pines).  It was really tough to say goodbye, even though I know that Andy and I are going to be just fine.  We have lots of supportive teammates and friends here.  But, it's hard being without an extra set of hands around the house with Andy, not to mention my best friend and source of conversation.

This morning, I also noticed a stain on one of our walls...right in front of the bathroom.  Yikes.  We have a very slow leak from the tube that connects the toilet to the plumbing inside the wall.  I have a bucket there now, catching the slow drip, but it's just another thing to take care of by myself tomorrow. Our lifeguard's dad is a plumber, so I'll ask him to come over if he can.

Well, Andy's almost done eating Cheetos and yogurt for lunch, so I'd better go.  Prayers for patience for me, a sweet temperament for Andy, and safety and blessing for Ben while he serves at camp are greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Speech Therapy

Ben and I went for an initial session with a British speech therapist today.  The center was in a really lovely, upscale area of the city.  We walked in to the waiting room and were pleasantly surprised to find English magazines there.  After reading Time for a few minutes, we met Cathy.

We spoke for about 45 minutes, filling her in on Andy (who was at home, hanging out with a few teammates who graciously watched him so we could be at this appointment).  She asked about his birth, his early speech habits, etc.

Near the end, she confirmed that she would like to assess Andy and definitely felt that he could benefit from some treatment sessions with her.  It was a bittersweet moment.  Bitter because hearing that your child does in fact have a need for help is tough.  I didn't cry, but my heart was sad.  Had we done something wrong?  Did we take too long to come here?  However, it was sweet as well.  Here is someone that can potentially really help Andy to communicate!  And she speaks English as her first language.

Next Thursday, we'll take Andy in for his evaluation with Cathy.  Please join us in prayer that Andy would be calm and comfortable with her (we won't be in the room).  A crying Andy would be very hard to evaluate.  Step by step, we're still learning how to parent, love, and care for Andy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Return of the Gudes - airport photos

Andrea, Miriam, and Meggan

Manuel, Julie, and Chad

The youngest of the welcoming committee! (Later we entertained ourselves at the escalators.)

Génesis and Aarón hold the sign Meggan made for Niki

Here they come!!!

These are a few of "our kids." Life in ministry has its perks.

Meggan, Julie, Niki, and Chad

Ben, Ed, and Manuel

Angel opens a gift from the youth group (a poster of photos)

Friday, June 22, 2012


Tomorrow is a special day for our church - Baptism Sunday  Saturday!  Every year, the congregation heads up to a camp called Aguas Vivas (Living Waters) to have an outdoor baptism celebration.  Last year, several members of the youth group were baptized, and this year there are several as well, though they are from our sister church (with which La Elipa just merged), so we don't know them too well yet.

Aguas Vivas is a special place for Ben and me because during our vision trip to Spain in 2008, we were counselors for the annual week-long kids' camp there.  It was by far the best week of that summer.  It is incredible to me when I think about Ben not speaking any Spanish, and how much he still engaged with the kids that week.  Baptisms are also really special to Ben and me.  We usually attended the baptism services at Blackhawk (our church while in college and raising support), even if we didn't know anyone.  It's a really moving experience to listen as people publicly devote their lives to Christ.  I always get teary, in a good way.

Ben went up to Aguas Vivas today to help set up the portable pool for the event.  I will follow tomorrow with Andy.  I'm so happy that our teammates/bosses/friends the Gudemans are back from a year in the US.  I get to ride to the camp with Sheryl.  It will be great to get out of the city, have a picnic, enjoy the scenery, and be a witness to lives being dedicated to the Lord.  The Lord is at work in Spain, completely apart from the small part that we are playing here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

He's Never Failed Me Yet

It's been a rough few weeks in Madrid.

About two weeks ago, I really hurt my back.  Sort of a long story.  Short version: I'm on a quest to be a healthier, more active person.  After about 2 months of diet and exercise, I decided to kick it up a notch and went too far.  I sneezed while changing the sheets on the bed and suddenly fell to my knees in pain.  For the next 72 hours, I could barely walk, went to have 2 massages, and made a new best friend (the ice pack).  Thankfully, I am about 95% back (ha!) to normal.

On Monday, it was Ben's day off.  We decided to go to a park in the afternoon.  On the way there, our car failed (again!) on an off-ramp.  Praise the Lord, we were in an okay position to set out the orange triangles and wait a few minutes before starting the car again (Safety precautions in Spain are actually  You even have to wear a reflective vest before setting out the triangles).  Called our car dealer (again!) to report the accident.  On the way home, our car failed while we were accelerating in the midst of a highway transfer.  Very scary, unlike any of the other times our car has done this.  Again, praise the Lord we were okay, but this car thing... Yikes.  Needless to say, we are having conversations of a different nature with our car dealer.

We've been taking care of a team member's car in their absence.  For their return, we took the car to be washed and vacuumed.  When we came back to pick it up, the person working on it had broken off the interior rearview mirror by accident.  He assured us that it was fixable.  Nope.  Went on a wild-goose chase to buy a new one, but we did find one.

Andy's been tough lately, really testing the boundaries with us, not wanting to nap or sleep at night.  He's also moved from slapping me to punching me when he's having a tantrum and can't express what he's feeling (P.S. We have our first appointment with a British speech therapist next week).  I'm trying to convince Ben to get some contacts so that his glasses don't get destroyed by Andy during a tantrum.  I've been wearing contacts exclusively lately because of this pattern.  Last night, Andy started crying really loudly (every parent's nightmare when you live in an apartment).  I jumped out of bed and flipped on the light to the bathroom in the hallway...

And KNOCKED the power out in the entire apartment.  Tried the breakers.  Nada.  So, we called an emergency-after-hours electrician, this really nice Bulgarian guy who spoke rather broken Spanish.  A few hours (and many many euros) later, we had power again (meaning all the food I'd bought for our friends returning to Spain TODAY didn't spoil).  And it looks like our insurance will cover this.

So, I'm thinking of all these incidents while washing the dishes.  Part of me just wanted to sit down and cry and say "Okay, Spain, you've won!  What else do you want from me?"  But, immediately, I felt the Lord reminding me that He was there in every circumstance, providing and protecting us.

So, glory to God, He is here with us!  To Him be the glory in EVERY circumstance.  Help me, Lord, to fix my eyes on You and praise you in everything.