I once had the following experience: There was a certain coffee shop where, pious man that I am, I would often read my Bible. After a few months of this a young lady who worked at the coffee shop introduced herself and asked me if I was a Christian and where I went to church. We discovered that her grandfather went to my church and she said that she was interested in going. Great! I said. I would look for her next time at church. I left the coffee shop feeling pretty good about myself. The Holy Spirit was clearly working through act of the word being read in mere proximity to someone! Like spiritual Bluetooth. But then it occurred to me that I do have Ryan Gosling level good-looks… and had she noticed my wedding ring or not? In a moment I went from spiritual smugness to panic. In the end, I hid from her at church (This was when I went to a big church and you can always hide in one of those.) and never went back to the coffee shop, which was a bummer because the coffee was really good there. Bah! The curse of Hollywood good-looks.

I tell this rather dumb story only to point out that it’s been like my relationship with Calvinism. There are times when Calvinism and I get along great and I feel like it’s the beginning of a long, beautiful friendship. Then some Calvinist goes and says something and in a moment everything changes and I’m left looking for the quickest exit.

Here’s one of those statements: “God loves his Glory”. I’ve heard this said many times. Here’s a few more samplings of this line of thinking:

  • “God did not open our eyes to see the glory of the gospel. He opened our eyes to see the gospel of the glory.”
  • “God loves His glory more than He loves us and that this is the foundation of His love for us”

Now, just to be clear, this may be a totally valid point. I disagree but I’m not going to make my case right now. I just want to ask, really, Calvinists? Really?

There’s so much talk about being “Gospel Centered” these days from Calvinist camps. The Calvinist elites are pushing this like there’s no tomorrow: Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition,  etc. But then when prominent Calvinists come out with statements like this, it makes me wonder: is The Gospel or God’s Glory the material principle driving y’all? Because those are two pretty different things when you get down to it.

Which is it?

  • Does the Gospel stand on its own as a complete revelation of God? I.E. You have the Gospel so you have everything. There is nothing beyond that.
  • Or is the Gospel merely something God did to bring us to ever deeper revelations? I.E. You have the Gospel so you can live to savor and spread God’s glory.

In the first statement, the Gospel is the point. You get to the Gospel you stop, do not go any further, you’ve arrived. In the second, the Gospel is an action of God to return us to our central action of glorifying him. In both circumstances, we may preach the same Gospel in regards to the atonement for sin but we understand the further implications of the Gospel very differently.

So, Calvinists, what is the center? Glory or Gospel? I’d rather you just tell me because Calvin’s Institutes are really long.


Calvinism is so hot these days I heard Bruno Mars has been wearing a “Piper is my Homeboy” T-Shirt. It seems like you can’t listen to a sermon without someone talking about the “Glory of God”. I’m pretty certain that if you haven’t “struggled with God’s sovereignty”, you’re not allowed in the hip Christian clubs.

Part of me is enormously thankful for the growing Reformed impact on the church, but after trying to join the movement for a number of years, some things have left me scratching my head. Calvinist friends, (you know you’re out there) can you help answer these questions, please?

Do you really believe in Justification by Faith alone?

It seems like nothing gets the conservative Calvinist hackles up like Roman Catholic soteriology. Yet when the Calvinist begins to explain their view of justification, I’m left scratching my head wondering why.

Here’s how R.C. Sproul (hardly a fringe Calvinist) breaks down Calvinist soteriology versus Roman Catholic soteriology:

  • Calvinism: faith = justification + works
  • Rome: faith + works = justification

Is it just me, or does the Calvinist equation make your head explode? I agree with Sproul that Rome is wrong but the more I look at his alternative, the less I’m sure that this isn’t all a big joke and Calvin and the Pope aren’t behind a curtain somewhere laughing at us. Seriously, just think through that equation.

Is the Calvinist definition of faith really “justification + good works”? If so, can you really say that you’re justified by faith alone? I guess they would explain it as: “faith is a combination of knowing you’re justified plus doing good works”. But how do I know I’m justified if I can only gain that knowledge through good works? Gah! This hurts my brain but play along with me for a bit.

I, a poor, miserable, frightened, sinner ask the Calvinist, what must I do to stand before God on the day of Judgement?

“All you need is faith that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died on the cross for your sins,” answers the Calvinist. “If you have faith, you can be sure that you’re righteous in God’s eyes, as if you’ve never sinned. All it takes is simple faith without any works.”

Yay! I think I do believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for my sins. I can feel relief washing over me and my fear fading.

“But hold on!” says the Calvinist. “How do you know that your faith is real faith?”

Uh oh. I didn’t realize that there was such a thing as fake faith but apparently there is.

“The only way you can know that you have saving faith is by doing good works,” says the Calvinist.

I scratch my head. So am I saved from God’s wrath or not?

The Calvinist shrugs. “Who knows! Go lead a life of good works out of gratitude for the fact that you’re saved and after that we’ll know if you’re really saved.”

Suddenly Roman Catholicism sounds awfully appealing.

I’ll ask it again, Dear Calvinists

I’m not writing this to mock you Calvinists but you seem very passionate about Justification by Faith Alone and yet your definition of faith appears contradict the “alone” part. If you look at your components of salvation versus Rome’s, they’re identical with the only difference being that yours is impossible. Is Sproul just wrong or am I just stupid? (Please disregard the fact that Sproul has two doctorate degrees and I have only graduated high school.)

One of the more controversial decisions Suzanne and I have made in our lives was to baptize our babies (controversial for us at least). I’m posting this as a bit of explanation as to why we made the decision. This is certainly not an exhaustive argument but it gets to the heart of why we decided the way we did. Little Charlie Dean, is only four months old and someday, perhaps, he’s going to wonder why we made this decision to baptize him when he had no say in the matter. Here’s how I’m going to explain it to him if he asks.

Charlie, we live in a culture that loves to have a choice. Just watch our movies, read our books, listen to our music; our freedom to choose is something we prize. But here’s the problem, it’s easy to choose what kind of clothes we wear, our career path, what cereal we’ll eat for breakfast: but have you ever tried to choose to be good? Can you choose to stop fighting with your brothers and sisters? Can you choose to stop lusting? Can you choose to stop being angry when you don’t get what you want? We may try to choose to be good but again and again something within us vetoes that choice and we find ourselves repeating the things that we’re ashamed of. And what about our choice when it comes to the big things in life? Can you choose not to have debilitating illnesses? Can you choose to not die when you get old? In the things that truly matter, our choices are pretty limited.

Some Christians will tell you, Charlie, that your baptism doesn’t mean anything because you didn’t confess faith when you were baptized. They might tell you that you need to get baptized again. They might tell you that baptism is your outward proclamation of the faith that you have inside.

A lot of Christians have this idea that what makes them Christians is that they went forward at Church, maybe they raised their hands and said a prayer. Maybe they asked Jesus to come into their heart. Maybe they made a decision for Christ. Maybe they repented of their sins. They think that God is out there, just waiting for them to say some magic words, to make a decision; and then he’ll come and take away their sins and change their lives. God will come into the house but they’ve got to unlock the door. This act of unlocking the door, that’s what makes them a Christian. God is a gentleman, they say, he won’t come where he’s not wanted. He’s waiting for our invitation.

God is not like this.

When your ancestors first sinned against God in Eden they hid from him. They were scared of God; they didn’t want to see him anymore. They didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Your ancestors had sinned and they were naked and ashamed; they tried to cover themselves up by making clothes out of leaves. Can you picture how scared they were, how desperate and horrible they felt, as they tore down leaves to cover themselves? They knew that God had warned them that if they sinned they would die. To meet God was death. No wonder they ran and hid.

Sure enough God came looking and found them. This should have been their end; God had every right to kill them right there. But instead God threw away their pitiful clothes and dressed them himself. Covering their shame was his job, only he could do it. He sent them away but not before he clothed them. This was his promise. He would cover their sin. They ran from him but he would bring them back.

Charlie, like your ancestors, you will always be running from God. Over and over, you will decide against him. You will try to cover your sin like your ancestors tried to cover up their nakedness with fig leaves. None of this matters to God. He will chase you and find you, and when he does, he will make you clean. He will wash away your sin. He is not a gentlemen, wringing his hands, waiting for an invitation; he is a father hunting for his child. He will break down any door that you lock and double-lock. When God choses to save, no choice we make can stop him.

I’ve been a Christian for many years now; there have been days when my faith is strong and God has felt so close that I could almost touch him. There have been days, extending into years, where my faith was hardly there and I doubted that God even existed. I imagine that your life will be similar. So on those days when you hardly believe, when your doubt and fear are rising like a tidal wave, what should you do?

Say to yourself, “I have been baptized,” and remember it was not because you chose to be.

Remind yourself that God has been pursuing you from the moment your ancestors fled from him. God the Son came and died on a cross, taking the punishment that you deserve for every bad thing you’ve ever done. He rose from the grave to blaze a trail out of death, into eternal life. Remember that you were saved, not the moment you decided to say a prayer or confess a creed, but at the cross, two thousand years ago. You were saved because God decided to save you, not because you decided to follow God.

God gave you to me and your Mom and you had no choice in the matter. Your survival didn’t depend on your choice, it depended on our love and work to keep you alive. In the same way, when we brought you to be baptized, you had no choice in the matter. Your salvation doesn’t depend on your choice, it depends on the love and work of the Triune God.

So when you remember your baptism, remember that from your earliest days God was pouring grace over you; remember that from before you could choose or comprehend anything, God was promising you salvation. Remember that your life will likely end in much the same way; you will probably be confused, drugged, unable to choose God, or believe anything in those final moments. But God has chosen you, he washed you in baptism, and he will reach deep into your grave and raise you to eternal life. This is all his work not yours.

God made you a promise in your baptism, before you could promise him anything. Trust in that promise. We are faithless, he is faithful. We are weak, he is strong. You are a Christian because God chose you. A baby, weak, helpless, uncomprehending, nevertheless being washed in baptism is the perfect picture of a Christian.

Love Wins

Hell is a curious belief to hold in this age. It’s sort of the red-headed-stepchild of evangelicalism. When I was a kid I remember adults observing that one never hears “Fire and Brimstone” sermons anymore. Very true, Mom and Dad. Our church certainly never did any lengthy sermons on it. When somebody did mention it they spoke in hushed tones and looked at the floor; like the wizards in Harry Potter talking about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Hell was for sweaty-faced, shouting preachers somewhere in the south. Certainly not for us–the rational, the graceful. Sure we believed in Hell.

We just didn’t like it.

Whoops, Jesus just died of a broken heart

I remember specifically one evangelistic sermon I heard at a youth rally: In this sermon Jesus became little puppy out in the cold, scratching at the door. Let him in, won’t you? This little puppy will be your best friend. He will make you happy when you’re sad. You’ll never be alone again. The evangelist began to describe the crucifixion. He described how they pierced Christ’s side and blood and water poured forth. He said how this showed that his heart had burst while on the cross. And then with his arms spread wide he said, with thousands of teenagers looking on, “Jesus died… of a broken heart. He loved you so much that he died of a broken heart.” Poor Jesus.

I had a hard time swallowing this line. Jesus died of a broken heart? Lame. Was Jesus really like an overdramatic teenage girl who dies if rejected? The creator of the universe is a bit fragile, eh? I’m sure this evangelist was well-intentioned but his picture of Christ was wimpy and unmanly. Aslan had become a kitten.

But what about Hell? This evangelist probably believed in Hell but, like so many Christians, he didn’t like it. He preferred to think of the heart-broken, love-stricken Christ. And that was okay with the rest of us; he could ignore Hell as long as he officially believed in it. Doubting Hell equaled herecy. Ignoring it was fine.

What was the result of this? Sitting at the feet of that evangelist, the result in 13-year-old Levi was apathy and a bit of skepticism mixed with embarrassment. The invitation to the alter was like someone asking you to “go steady”. Why should I follow Jesus? Because he loves me so much that he died of a broken heart? Gosh, it seems kind of mean to say “no” when you put it that way.

That is the culture of evangelicalism that I grew up in.

Houston, we lack conviction

Fast forward fifteen years and I’m reading the preface to “Love Wins” by Rob Bell. Most people paying attention to Evangelicalism will know that this book is controversial. Rob Bell seems to have crossed a line somewhere in the pages ahead. But this should hardly come as a shock to those of us raised on the current diet of Evangelicalism. Listen to what Bell has to say in the preface:

First, I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us. It is a stunning, beautiful, expansive love, and it is for everybody, everywhere.

This is less saccharin than “Jesus died of a broken heart” but it’s essentially the same. And here’s why Bell has an audience for this book.

If I believe Jesus is nothing more than a kitten lost in the cold, and I open the door to find a lion, I’m going to have a problem. “This isn’t what I signed up for,” may cross my mind. We may feel panic starting to boil somewhere deep down.

A friend of mine once confessed that he didn’t like the Old Testament. All the accounts of God’s judgement, all the violence was hard to reconcile with “God made you special and he loves you very much.” He had opened the Bible and found something different than what was advertised. Rob Bell wrote Love Wins for my friend and people like him. Bell says so himself:

I’ve written this book for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused this pulse rate to rise, their stomach to churn, and their heart to utter those resolute words, “I would never be a part of that.”

This is the fruit of an evangelical culture who lacked conviction. We printed “God: Safe for the Whole Family” in big bold letters and wrote that you should tremble in fear of him in microscopic print. We weren’t prepared for what we would find in the Bible and Rob Bell is here salve our wounds.

Who is this guy in crimsoned garments, anyway?

In the book of Isaiah, Chapter 63, the prophet sees a man coming from Edom with a red-stained robe. This man is the Messiah. Christ. He answers the prophet:

“I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come.”

That’s Jesus? Many of us would not recognize him. We can’t reconcile this blood-stained warrior with a servant dying on cross for the sake of love. So we ignore him. We Photoshop the picture of Jesus into something that we like, removing the bloodstains and red eyes. And, ah, much better. I can already feel my pulse slowing and my stomach settling. Here is a Jesus that I want to “be a part of”.

But will we truly know him? Can we really say that our faith is not a refuge for weakness if we’ve made a religion where our pulse never pounds, and our stomach’s never flutter? Truth that never challenges us smacks of fantasy. Truth that always agrees with our inclinations feels like delusion.

So Jesus doesn’t love us?

The danger of books like Love Wins is they do the opposite of what they set out to do. They claim to enlarge our conception of God when, in truth, they narrow it. They claim to be open-minded but they act more like censors, cutting out the scary parts and claiming that “it’s just as good without them”.

Rob Bell is right when he says that Jesus’s story is about God’s amazing, scandalous love for us. But it is a love that can only be truly understood in the light of God’s terrifying hatred of sin. This is a God that gives demons nightmares. This is a God that will make mighty kings crawl like terrified dogs.

Like it or not Hell is a key part of God’s story. We can “believe it” and yet ignore it, like so many Evangelicals have done. Or we can redefine it and declaw the lion like Rob Bell is attempting to do. We do both at our own peril. Paradoxically, God’s hatred of sin is part of his love for us. When we erase Hell we may have a God who is comfortable, agreeable, modern, but we won’t have Christ. His love will no longer be scandalous and amazing; instead it will be hallow and, as I once felt, a little bit weird.

Should we just stop here?

My goal by reading Love Wins is to solidify my conviction in God’s love and justice. I don’t just want to feel obligated to believe in something like Hell so I can be a part of the Christian club. I believe Rob Bell is asking questions that many Christians need to ask. I believe that Hell needs to be redefined away from some popular conceptions. I think that by asking these questions and submitting to the scripture, we will know God’s love story better. And I believe with all my heart it’s a dangerous, heartbreaking, desperate, infinitely wonderful story.

Non-Fiction Snobs?

So, hey! seeing as Everyone In The World has an opinion on Rob Bell’s latest book, I figured I should have one too. As tempting as it is to have my opinion without actually reading the book, I felt that it might degrade said opinion if I’d only read the dust jacket. Along the way I’ll be reading Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will and G.K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Thomas Aquinas, The Dumb Ox. I’ll post my thoughts here as I go. You’re welcome to join me.

Love wins, and so do paragraphs

The first thing I notice when I open Rob Bell’s Love Wins is that he is very generous with his use of the “return” key. In Postmodern Writing 101 did a professor take Bell aside and say, “Rob Baby, one word: Paragraphs! Lots of em.”?

And there it is,

my first observation of Love Wins

is shallow.

C.S. Lewis to a young author

Here’s a letter that C.S. Lewis wrote to a first-time author. It’s pretty funny in how blunt it is. It also has a wealth of good-advice that I wish more modern fantasy authors would take. Still how would you feel if you got this letter from C.S. Lewis?

My wife and I have just been reading you book and I to tell you that I think it a quite amazing achievement — incomparably beyond anything I could have done at that age. The story run, on the whole, very well and there is some real imagination in it. The idea of the gigantic spoiled brat (had you a horrid baby brother once?) is really excellent: perhaps even profound. Unlike most modern fantasies your book also has a firm core of civilized ethics. On all these grounds, hearty congratulations.

On the other hand there is no reason at all why your next should not be at least twice as good. I hope you will not think it impertinent if I mention (this is only one man’s opinion of course) some mistakes you can avoid in the future.

1. In all stories which take one to another world, the difficulty (as you and I know) is to make something happen when we’ve got there. In face, one needs “filling”. Yours is quite sufficient in quantity (almost too much) but not quite, I think, of the right sort. Aren’t all these economic problems and religious differences too like the politics of our own world? Why go to faerie for what we already have? Surely the wars of faerie should be high, reckless, heroical, romantic wars — concerned with the possession of a beautiful queen or an enchanted treasure? Surely the diplomatic phase of them should be represented not by conferences (which, on your showing, are as dull as ours) but by ringing words of gay taunt, stern defiance, or Quixotic generosity, interchanged by great warriors with sword in hand before the battle joins?

2. This is closely connected with the preceding. In a fantasy every precaution must be taken never to break the spell, to nothing which will wake the reader and bring him back with a bump to the common earth. But this is what you sometimes do. The moving van on which they travel is a dull invention at best, because we can’t help conceiving it as mechanical. But when you add upholstered seats, lavatories, and restaurants, I can’t go on believing in faerie for a moment. It has all turned into commonplace. Similarly even a half-fairy ought not climb a fairy hill carrying a suitcase full of new nighties. (Notice too, the disenchanting implication that the faeries can’t make for themselves lingerie as good as they can get — not even in Paris, which would be bad enough — but, of all places, in London.)

3. Never use adjectives or adverbs which are mere appeals to the reader to feel as you want him to feel. He won’t do it just because you ask him: you got to MAKE him. No good TELLING us a battle was “Exciting”. If you succeeded in exciting us the adjective will be unnecessary: if you don’t, it will be useless. Don’t tell us the jewels had an “emotional” glitter; make us feel the emotion. I can hardly tell you how important this is.

4. You are too fond of long adverbs like “dignifiedly”, which are not nice to pronounce. I hope, by the way, you always write by ear not by eye. Every sentence should be tested on the tongue. to make sure that the sound of it has the hardness or softness the swiftness or languor, which the meaning of it calls for.

5. Far less about clothes, please! I mean, ordinary clothes. If you had given your fairies strange and beautiful clothes and described THEM, there might be something in it. But your heroine’s tangerine skirt! For whom do you write? No man wants to hear how she was dressed, and the sort of women who does seldom reads fantasy: if she reads anything it is more like to be the Women’s Magazines. By the way, these are a baneful influence on your mind and imagination. Beware! they may kill your talent. If you can’t keep off them, at least, after each debauch, give your imagination a good mouth-wash by a reading (or would it be a re-reading) of the the Odyssey, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, the romantics of Stephens, and all the early mythical plays of W.B. years. Perhaps a touch of Lord Dunsany too.

6. Names not too good. They ought to be beautiful and suggestive as well as strange: not merely odd like Enaj (which sounds as if it came out of Butler’s Erewhom).

I hope all this does not enrage you. You’ll get so much bad advice that I felt I must give you some of what I think good.

C.S. Lewis
2. September 1957

Dear Jack, Hope.

Today we lost our kitten, Emily Whitefoot Nunnink.

Lily gave her the name Emily and the rest of us tacked on “Whitefoot” to make things more interesting. Pet names should be a little on the weird side.

We only had her for two weeks but she managed to work her way into our hearts in that short amount of time. She was an amazingly playful little ball of fluff. She couldn’t resist attacking anything that moved. To get her to come out from under the couch, all you had to do was make your hand look like a wounded wildebeest (or just jerk it around a bit) and she’d pounce. She was also something of a Spider Man/Cat. This was a regular sight: Emily, spread-eagle, six feet up our screen door, staring at you with a grim I-mean-business expression that only a cat can have. She also liked to be cradled like a baby. I would pick her up and hold her close to my chest–her little pink paws almost up to her chin–and she would purr and close her eyes.

Early this morning Suzanne woke me out of a dead sleep with a voice that nobody wants to hear. It’s that awful something-is-seriously-wrong voice. She had come back from her early morning walk and found Emily in the driveway. “I think she’s dead,” she said and wanted me to go look. Sure enough, as I stumbled out into the driveway in my bathrobe, there was our little kitten. She didn’t look very bad, for a second I could’ve fooled myself into thinking she was asleep, but then I touched her. I’d held Emily countless times–a playful, warm, busy thing–but this thing was cold and stiff. There was no doubt.

(Ironically, as we pieced together the circumstances of the death, it became clear that this was the second of our kittens that my mom has indirectly killed. Another story for another time.)

Jack was the only other family member who was awake to see this scene in our driveway. Honestly, I wish it had been anybody but him. Lily, when she eventually heard the news, had a moment of finger-sucking remorse but quickly got philosophical about the situation and was ready to eat her cereal. Jack, on the other hand, was crushed. Me and Suzanne sat on the couch holding our sobbing boy. This is where things got interesting.

“Pray that God will make her alive again,” he asked me, between sobs.

My first instinct was to blow it off and give some theological explanation on why we just needed to except our kitty’s death. But I couldn’t do that. My entire life, my eternity, is staked on the belief that God raised a man from the dead. If he raised one man, why not a kitten? It certainly wouldn’t be too hard for the one who breathed life into the cosmos to breathe life back into a kitten. But, of course, God wouldn’t raise our kitten from the dead. It was stupid to even ask, right… Right?

But if Jack had the faith to ask, why wouldn’t I?

So we went out onto the porch. I had placed Emily’s body in a paper bag next to the door. I put my arm around Jack and knelt and I put my other shaking hand on the bag (I wasn’t brave enough to reach in and touch the dead cat). I think that might have been the most faithless prayer that ever came before the throne of God. But I had to ask him. I don’t even remember the words but you can picture them. Something along the lines of: “Uh, God, if you could maybe heal Emily and bring her back. We still trust you if you don’t.” Etc. Mostly trying to hedge so I didn’t look like a complete idiot when nothing happened. I sure wasn’t about to shout: “Emily Whitefoot, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, LIVE!” But still, a very small part of me hoped for a miracle: to feel that bag stir and hear a sound of life from inside.

But nothing happened.

“Does it take a long time?” Jack asked, still crying.

That was a bad moment. I hugged Jack and told him that God wasn’t going to bring Emily back and we needed to bury her.

Maybe someone reading this is thinking that the reason Emily didn’t come back was because I didn’t have faith. You’re wrong. I would swear on the Bible that you’re wrong. And what’s more, you’re mean. Sure, I made Doubting Thomas look good on that porch, but don’t tell me Jack’s faith wasn’t up to snuff. He has more faith in his pinkie than any faith healer. If God worked up miracles based off of our faith then Emily and every dead cat within 100 miles would have been raised this morning. Instead, God looked at that little boy’s broken heart, heard his faithful prayer and said, “No”.

Or did he say, “Wait”? Wait, Jack. Just wait.

“Does it take a long time?” Jack asked. Yes, buddy, it does. It takes a very long time. But just wait until you see how this thing ends. Then you’ll get it. You’ll understand why God said no. And it will all be worth it.

We buried Emily under a big oak in our yard. We made a little cross to mark her grave and wrote this on the cross: “Emily Whitefoot, Romans 8:19-22”. Here’s what Romans 8:19-21 says:

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Emily, along with the rest of nature, got a bad deal. Because of our sin, she died and didn’t get much of a life. But in the end Jack (and Emily, I think) will know, “it was worth it”.

Just a little bit down the page, Romans says: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good…” Even a dead kitten? Yes, “all things.” And the good that comes from the death of that kitten will be all the better because of the sadness.

Jack, this story isn’t over. God is answering your prayer in a better way then you can imagine.

Oddly enough, one year ago today, my Aunt Tracie died. Thinking about her makes all this cat stuff seem silly. How many times did God say “No” to our repeated prayers for her? And why did he do that? Was it just too hard to heal her? Not enough faith on our part? Or is something better in store?

So often in this life, we think we’re attending a funeral. Especially when we’re attending a funeral. We look at the death and sadness around us and think this is what life is all about. Dress up in black, visit the casket, cry, and go home because there’s nothing else to see, no more stories to tell. All the pain and suffering that preceded the casket only adds up to a casket. The end.

But we’re wrong.

Here’s a scene: It’s dark and you can almost taste pain in the air. You hear screaming and straining and blood is on the floor. Someone is writhing in a bed and people are shouting and weeping. If you were thrown into this scene, you might think you were in a torture chamber. But now listen to what they’re shouting: “Here it comes! Just a little more! I can see the head! Almost there! Good job!” You realize those tears are tears of joy. This is no torture chamber, this is a birth! In a moment the scene changes from horror to joy.

This life is no torture chamber, it’s no funeral, although it would be so easy to mistake it so. All this present pain and suffering is building up to a glorious, joyful, eternal birth.

One last picture: Jesus, in the garden. He asks God to take away the pain that lies before him. God says, “No”. Jesus is taken, tortured, crucified, and dies. Stop there.

What a story! It’s almost a nihilist fairy tale, no? A good man, a perfect man, begs God to spare him and God shakes his head. What a fool to hope in God to the end! What a horrible world, where this Galilean is murdered in such a way!

And yet Christians adore that day and remember it with tears of joy. Why? Because the story did not end at the cross and in the tomb. The culmination of the cross overshadowed and made glorious its pain.

I cannot imagine how the death of an angel like Aunt Tracie or even a kitten that will not rise from the dead is somehow laying a foundation of eternal joy; just how the terrified disciples on Good Friday could not comprehend how their master on a cross would become the Good News that would change the world.

But I have so much hope.

If all this pain and death will be transformed by the birth that is coming, then what a birth we should expect! What a day is in store for us!

For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Jack, just wait and hope. You won’t be disappointed.