The Petersen Page


Water Under The Bridge-Jason Gray
October 4, 2007, 6:00 am
Filed under: Blogs That Have Inspired Me

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It was a little over a week ago that the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis fell into the Mississippi river tragically taking the lives of at least 9 people and sparking a national furor about the state of America’s infrastructure. I wonder if this issue will become the new political currency for candidates in their bid for election.

We drove over the bridge about three hours earlier that day. We couldn’t believe our eyes as we got home and images started coming in of the fallen bridge that just a short time earlier we drove over without a care or thought. Equally surprising as the collapse itself was how quickly it became international news. When I played in Memphis the following weekend, I was introduced as the guy “who was on the bridge just hours before it fell”. In my hotel room after the show it was surreal to see a number of TV specials dedicated to our local tragedy featuring talking heads and “experts” engaging in the first round of finger pointing.

With the dust now settling, some want to blame inspectors, some politicians, and yet others wonder where God was in all this. As the search begins for whose doorstep to lay the blame of this misfortune on I suppose it was only a matter of time before God’s name was added to the list of the usual suspects.

Like all calamities, this one’s got people asking big questions: Did God actively cause the bridge to fall? Did he just passively allow it to fall? Why didn’t he step in to prevent the collapse? Does God even care? Questions like these have dogged us for centuries. In fact, Jesus was faced with similar questions in his own day. In Luke 13, Jesus is told of the Galileans that Pilate had killed while they were worshipping at the altar. Jesus responds:

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

His answer belies what he knew was on everyone’s mind: did those who died in these terrible events deserve it? Did God bring the tower down like a hammer to punish the sinners who fell beneath its crushing weight? Was this an unfortunate accident or an act of God’s retributive justice?

I think we apply the same kind of logic to the headlines of our day, perhaps as a way of protecting ourselves from the horror of it all we attribute the worst that we see to divine justice. The beggar on the street corner is living with the consequences of his failure to make good decisions. Those impacted by the AIDs virus in Africa are paying the price for their sins (never mind that it’s the innocent children left behind who are the real victims here). Those who suffer probably brought it on themselves, right?

Not necessarily. In the case of the victims in Luke 13, Jesus answers emphatically: “I tell you, no!”

The other logic I often hear in the face of disaster is: “God’s in control, it’s all a part of his plan that we in our smallness cannot comprehend.” And this is always the statement that concerns me most. At it’s worst, it gives us permission to not engage the tension between what we know of God’s will, the worst we see in the world, and our call to respond to it. Though I do believe that God is in control and is never caught off guard, I’m not as austere in my Calvinism as some. I am small, to be sure, but it still seems improbable that God wills 2 million girls worldwide the average age of 14 to be sold into the sex trade. Or that God wills half a million children to be forced to kill as child soldiers. Or that God would will any of the darkest, most horrific of CNN’s headlines, including the collapse of the I-35 bridge.

I do believe, however, that all these things are within sure reach of his redemption, and I’m increasingly impassioned and grateful for the part that I get to play in his redemptive plan.

Philip Yancey tells the story of a class reunion where a fellow chess club alumni invited him to play a game. Yancey agreed and soon learned that while he had casually continued to play chess over the years, his friend had worked hard at perfecting his game. Yancey watched in amazement as his opponent dominated the board for the entire game. A master chess player, his opponent was able to incorporate Yancey’s every move into his own winning strategy. The experience left him with a way of understanding how God’s sovereignty might work – God as the master chess player who is able to incorporate every move we make into his winning plan.

Or as Roman’s 8:28 says: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose…” (NASB)

This image of God as master chess player reconciles both the mystery of man’s free will and God’s sovereignty. To me this means that we live in a fallen world where things go terribly wrong and men’s wickedness knows no limits, and yet there is hope that God can redeem all of it and use it in service to His redemptive plan. Could I be so blessed as to play a part? To me it means that whether God willed the bridge to fall into the Mississippi or not, one thing is for certain – it’s all material and God can use even this random misfortune to build his Kingdom.

Of course, I could have it all wrong and be misguided in my assumptions of God’s role in any of this, but maybe in the end this question isn’t as important as I would like to think. In Luke 13 Jesus didn’t concern himself with clearing this issue up for us. Instead he seized upon the moment to address the bigger issue: as certain as taxes, death will come to each of us in time, and Jesus reminds us that unless we repent, we too will perish.

Relationship is Jesus’ chief concern – that we get our business right with God. Relationships require us to regularly come with our hat in hand and repent of the ways we fall short. But sure as repentance, honesty is just as important since it is our real self that God wants a relationship with, warts and all. I think we dishonor him when we refuse to be honest about our doubts, fears, and even the anger we might feel in the confusion and aftermath of tragedy.

I heard a Jewish rabbi on NPR fielding questions about the part God may have played in the collapse of I-35. A kind and winsome man, one of the things he did was give listeners permission to feel and express anger – even anger with God if they had any – to lay it at his feet and trust him with it. He can take it, the rabbi reminded us. He prefers our honesty over our piety. And even in an election year God’s not intimidated by our anger – he’s not running for re-election.

In the meantime, I look to the day when our darkest tragedies and brightest attempts of apprehending God will be washed away like water beneath the great bridge of Christ spanning the gap between fallen man and a holy God.

Until then, I know God is above all things good.-Jason Gray

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Faith Is The Art Of Holding On-Gabe Martinez (Circleslide)
October 4, 2007, 5:53 am
Filed under: Blogs That Have Inspired Me

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We live in a cynical world. It’s the easiest thing to slip into. When you live in an age of terror, crooked politicians, dashed hopes and dreams, cancer, miracle diet pills, rehab specialist celebrities, gay bashing then outed televangelists, outsourced jobs, and scripted reality shows…how in the world is anyone in their right mind not supposed to become jaded?

And then there’s the music business…and that’s the business I’m in…

This business is habitually eating you up and spitting you out…the landscape in Nashville is littered with the souls of dreamers who had their dreams shot down and trampled upon. Nothing is easier than slipping into the ‘woe is me’ camp…gossiping about those who have betrayed you, whining about the opportunities you lost, railing against those with whom you were too trusting and who taught you the bitter lessons of life, and you wind up having to ask the toughest question of all… ‘Where is God in all of this?’

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

I don’t know about you…but that scripture seems more like a dare than anything else.

CS Lewis puts it this way, “Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, despite your changing moods.”

In a world where dreams are daily cheapened…the true Dreamers cling to faith. Faith that mountains can still be moved with just a whimper of a prayer. Faith that the road isn’t leading to a dead end, it’s a glorious detour that leads to the sights you just have to write home about. Faith that there are some pretty decent, no…some pretty great people out there…and so what if they are hurt and broken…and so what if they wind up hurting you beyond belief…Love is so much better an alternative than hate. Faith that a song can still stir someone’s soul…Faith that at the end of the day, after you’ve been shut up, knocked down, locked in, dragged out, spit on, passed over, walked upon and trampled under…there’s still a hope that can give you the strength and the courage to sing,

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”-Gabe Martinez (Circleslide)