Google and the problem of evil

I was reading this story about Google — and how it is the most important company in the world — when I came across this little discussion about the problem of identifying evil:

[W]e don’t have a book that defines evil in terms of how we should specifically behave. I think we understand as a culture what is good and what is evil. You need some mechanism to judge that. So I welcome the criticism that “this is evil” but it’s also possible that the critic is wrong, right? In other words, the critic doesn’t understand the trade off, doesn’t understand the consequence. I spend lots of time with people criticizing Google on this or that and I sit there and I think, “I just don’t agree.”

Of course, as a Christian, the “we don’t have a book” bit made me smile. He is correct, though, that there are times when even our book does not tell us specifically how to behave in every moment. It does give us some pretty good landmarks, though. Many of them are problematic for a global corporation bent on making profits as its reason to exist, but that is an issue for another day. What struck me more about the quote is how it captures wonderfully the contemporary mind.

Part of the truth about the culture we live in is that everything is contested. Everything is justified based on competing human perceptions. It can’t be evil, the Google executive says to himself, because I’ve looked at the data and I don’t agree. It is all he said, she said.

This is one way that Christianity simply does not fit the world in which we live. It is something else entirely, a kingdom breaking in and hidden in the shadows of this world, a place where evil has a name.

Some hope of truth

Christian Century has published a number of responses to the 25th anniversary of the publication of Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon. I skimmed a couple of the responses, but what I found most interesting was Hauerwas and Willimon’s response to the responses. (Warning: You can only read a handful of Christian Century articles without having to sign up, so I’d start with the Hauerwas and Willimon piece. But that is me.)

These two paragraphs were particularly nice:

Again we say: when Christians are asked to say something political, we say church. The reason we say church is that the church for all its limits is where we have some hope of being a people who do not lie to one another.

If Resident Aliens has a bottom line, it is that the hidden violence intrinsic to our manipulative relations with one another that are so often identified as “love” can only be named and transformed by a people capable of telling one another the truth. Of all people, Christians should be capable of truth-telling, trained as we are Sunday after Sunday to confess we were there when they crucified the One who is truth itself.

Let no one separate

God’s plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage. The church must be on the forefront of premarital and postmarital counseling in order to create and preserve strong marriages. However, when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness. We grieve over the devastating emotional, spiritual, and economic consequences of divorce for all involved and are concerned about high divorce rates.

– UMC Social Principles

I never noticed how sterile the language in this paragraph sounded until I was in the midst of this kind of crisis.

My marriage has been struggling for some time. Earlier this week, my wife gave me copies of the papers her lawyer has filed with the court. Today, the summons to the first court hearing arrived. By this time next week, I may be legally separated, although it is not my choice or wish to be in such a circumstance.

I’ve talked with family. I’ve talked with my boss. I’ve talked to my DS and the leadership of the local congregations I serve. I’ve talked quite a bit with God. In the days ahead, I’m sure I’ll talk with lawyers and therapists.

As I have shared my story, one of the weirdest parts of this is the way people suddenly find themselves being careful in your presence. They watch what they say and apologize for saying things that require no apology. “I’m sorry I talked about how great it is to have a wife to go home to, John. I hope that did not upset you.” No. But thank you for caring.

At least right now, the hardest part is looking back over 26 years at all the decisions you made because this was a union meant to last for a lifetime.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that we only discover we have faith when we are obedient to the point that all we have to rely upon is faith. In the last few weeks, I’ve discovered that trusting in God can feel like falling into a dark tunnel that does not appear to end. You trust because the only other choice is to fall.

I don’t know what shape my blogging will take in the days and weeks ahead. This has never been a blog about my personal life. I don’t want it to become a self-indulgent cry for digital pity. Perhaps I am entering a season of less public writing. Perhaps the writing will be a calm in the midst of a storm. Perhaps I will write about what it is like to go through this process.

I’m not sure. For the moment, I simply trust that God is working in the midst of my mess. In the belly of the fish, trust is all you have.

In the shadow of the cross

How early did Jesus know?

One conventional answer is that he was born to die, and as God incarnate he knew this all along. Even if we wait for explicit biblical references, though, it is clear that Jesus saw the cross looming up a long time before he got there.

And yet he kept walking forward. He kept teaching. He kept healing. He kept praying. He kept on doing what he was here to do.

This is the way life responds to death and fear.

A word to myself today.

That Wesley guy wasn’t kidding around

Say not then in your heart, “I was once baptized, therefore I am now a child of God.” Alas, that consequence will by no means hold. How many are the baptized gluttons and drunkards, the baptized liars and common swearers, the baptized railers and evil-speakers, the baptized whoremongers, thieves, extortioners? What think you? Are these now the children of God? Verily, I say unto you, whosoever you are, unto whom any one of the preceding characters belongs, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the works of your father ye do.” Unto you I call, in the name of Him whom you crucify afresh, and in his words to your circumcised predecessors, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”

– John Wesley, The Marks of the New Birth

It was one of the first things that hit me between the eyes when reading John Wesley’s works the first time: The man was not playing around. His faith was not a nice little thing he kept off to the side. It was all consuming and it was serious. He also was not out to win friends.

Whitefield: Feeling the Spirit

George Whitefield defending the doctrine that all Christians can experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in his sermon “The Common Privilege of All Believers.”

Indeed, I will not say our letter-learned preachers deny this doctrine in express words. But, however, they do it in effect. For they talk professedly against inward feelings and say we may have God’s Spirit without feeling it, which is in reality to deny the thing itself. And had I a mind to hinder the progress of the gospel and establish the kingdom of darkness, I would go about telling people they might have the Spirit of God and yet not feel it.