Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: god
Wednesday, 09 June 2010 17:21

“Where sin abounded, Grace abounded all the more”

Growing up in a South Suburb of Chicago in the late 1980s, I first learned about the death penalty when the American serial killer, Ted Bundy, was put to death by the electric chair. Despite being young, his name and his awful crimes were something that I have always remembered.

Hours before his execution, a Christian Evangelist named Dr. James Dobson spoke with Bundy in a taped interview. Since the content was adult and dealt a lot with Bundy’s addiction to pornography, I never heard or saw anything from this interview, I just knew that a very sick and bad person was no longer around.

From this, my very impressionable mind was made up and I do believe my opinion on the death penalty was established. Since Dr. Dobson was a Christian and was not, from my memory, speaking out against Bundy’s execution, I took the event to mean that those who truly commit heinous crimes have to be put to death to ensure the safety of others. My young mind could wrap itself around the notion of eradicating evil, in the name of death. And it did so for the next twenty years.

It seemed logical that you end the life of one who showed no respect for others and who graphically and brutally could take the lives of innocent, young and defenseless people. It made sense to use death – in certain cases – to amend for death.

I felt this way until only this year.

When you think about it, the public rarely hears about criminals who are executed – unless terrible stories accompany their killing spree. Since the start of 2010, fifteen men and women have been put to death across the United States, mostly through lethal injection. These criminals face their due while the rest of the country is none the wiser let alone made to feel safer, except for - maybe - the victim’s family.

In March, one news headline caused me to take notice when I learned that a man in Virginia was executed by the electric chair. I had no idea the electric chair was still an option. The man had brutally killed two women, and I felt a sense of relief and safety knowing he was no longer a threat. His crimes made me sick to my stomach.

I shared this bit of news with a friend, not realizing he took an entirely different stance when it came to the death penalty. He explained how he felt killing for killing was wrong, no matter how heinous, evil and despicable the crime was.

I was flabbergasted.

Didn’t justice have to be done?

My friend agreed, but contended that locking someone away for life seemed like a good way to punish and to ensure that society would be safe from someone so dangerous and immoral.

For me, a lifetime in prison just didn’t seem enough.

Prison means you still get food and shelter. Your life goes on, albeit behind bars.

In contrast, how does that rectify the innocent ones who lost their lives and should still be alive?

Our discussion shook me to the core, because I realized how much I wanted to fight for what I considered justice. For what I thought was fair.

But in talking about justice and the dignity of life, I thought of how Christ came to love and die for all. Yes, we’re all sinners, but we’re not all killers. And yet, God sent Jesus to die for the good and the bad - those who would try to live uprightly, and those who would willfully choose the path of evil. It’s a radical love that makes no sense, and is anything but fair.

It stopped me in my thoughts, because I suddenly felt a release. By demanding a life for a life, I was trying to create justice on my terms. By releasing the need to see fairness this way, I found that God gave me peace to leave punishments to Him. In place of anger, I had remorse over our fallen human existence that tries and fails at every turn. Without Christ’s goodness, we are all capable of allowing ourselves to fall so deeply into sin that we lash out in the most brutal of ways.

Without true light, we are all in darkness. While we won’t all act out to the degree of killing another human - our depravity leads us down other roads of lust, anger, malice, etc.

Two examples that further clarified this realization, deal with responses of love brought about after incredible pain and loss.

Elisabeth Elliot is a Christian writer who shares her grief experience in “Through Gates of Splendor.” In the book, she recounts how her husband and four other men felt a call to reach the "lost" people of Ecuador in the early 1950s. After months of earning the tribe’s trust, the men were attacked and speared to death. Elliot’s husband left her as a widow and her daughter fatherless. While her grief was severe, Elliot eventually went with her daughter to Ecuador and spent two years as a missionary with the tribe that killed her husband. She wrote “God is God. I dethrone Him in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice.”

To go back a bit further to the turn of the twentieth century, we have the devoted Italian Catholic martyr, Maria Goretti. At the age of 11, she barely survived an attack and stabbing by an attempted rapist. While in the hospital, she expressed forgiveness for her attacker and the desire to see him in Heaven. She died hours later. Her attacker was caught and put in jail, and eventually had a dream where Maria gave him flowers. When he was released, he went to Maria’s home and begged her mother for forgiveness. She forgave him and he changed his life, later becoming a laybrother.

Both families could have turned their back on these killers. With God’s help, they did not. They chose to let the killers live. And going one incredible step further, they forgave.

Will everyone repent their crime while being locked away? Only God knows. But they have a choice. As long as they breathe, they have that choice to turn from sin.

Taking another’s life as a way to bring justice is playing God, and it strips those on death row of another chance to choose God. And it strips us of the powerful freedom that comes from choosing to forgive.

While it is difficult and painful, if we lack the ability to forgive, we lack the ability to obey the words of Jesus in His prayer - “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.”

Should evil be dealt with?

Absolutely.

Those who sin great should be greatly disciplined.

But our anger and emotion toward their actions should not result in more death.

As St. Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us: “Where sin abounded, Grace abounded all the more.”

(Photo: C.P.)


Monday, 11 August 2008 22:38

Do I really have to pray for my enemies?

I feel sorry for God. In any war the believers on both sides flood his ears begging for victory. God either has to please the side who wins and disappoint the side that loses or come up with some way that they both can win. What would happen if instead of praying for their side and against the other side both sides began to pray for each other? Praying for your enemy doesn’t mean praying that he will win but that he will no longer be your enemy, that there will be some peaceful solution without bloodshed or injustice.

Even the terrorists who are plaguing the world are men who pray, but their prayer seems to be for the annihilation of their enemies. If we too pray for their annihilation, there is sure to be bloodshed. Far better to pray for a change of heart, so the aim will no longer be injury and death, but some settlement that will bring us together in peace and toleration.

That would be a good beginning. But there won’t be real peace until we can all sit, stand or kneel and pray together, even if each one prays in his or her own words and gestures. The problem is that often our Gods themselves are enemies or they are the same God but with different names envisioned and reverenced quite differently. If we don’t have tolerance for one another’s Gods, how can we ever have peace and tolerance with one another?

Here is a fable I wrote about what happened on one particular World Prayer Day.
The World Prayer Day

Once upon a time there was a big international event. Its slogan was “the world that prays together stays together.” It was called “World Prayer Day” and at a single signal heard around the world, every citizen of the world began to pray.

Some people as a sign of reverence removed their shoes or hats. Others put on robes or covered their heads. Some knelt. Others prostrated themselves. Some stood motionless. Others rocked back and forth. Some extended or raised their arms. Others folded their arms or beat their breasts. Some closed their eyes. Others opened them wide. Some were perfectly silent. Others cried aloud. Some sang. Others wept. Some made petitions. Others dared say nothing. Some prayed for everybody. Others prayed only for themselves or prayed only for others. Some prayed that their enemies would live in peace. Others prayed that their enemies would die in defeat.

Thus, this act of common prayer that was intended to signify unity, in a sense, mocked unity by revealing all the practices and beliefs that keep men apart.

And yet the very diversities occurring simultaneously side by side in a moment of cooperative effort were the most powerful sign that there is really only one mankind and one divinity, a single humanity of a thousand tongues and a thousand cultures worshipping a single god of a billion sides and a billion faces.

There was no end to the variety of opinions voiced about the Prayer Day.

“For one day at least,” proclaimed one commentator, “the world is not talking about wars or violence or poverty or epidemics or even sports or the weather. But what does it all mean?”

“See,” someone said with a tone of despair, “how hopeless it is to expect peace when we can’t even agree on a common name for God.”

“See,” said others with a tone of triumph, “what hope there is since for five minutes at least even the bitterest of enemies were able to put down their arms to join their foes in a common effort.”

“God wins,” screamed one headline. “The event shows that nearly everyone believes in some sort of super-human, supernatural power that we revere as divine.”

“God loses,” claimed another. “What is left to believe? How can one God be so many things to so many people? There seem to be as many gods as there are individuals on earth. If every person is god, there is no god.”

“How wonderful,” declared others. “God is so infinite and omnipotent, no one can see the whole of him or her. Everyone sees only what is visible from his or her perspective.”

“There is no universal God who created mankind,” some complained. “Today’s exercise only showed that is we who create God to justify our existence or give us hope. The event shows that god is no more than a self-portrait of what we imagine we would look like if we had the qualities we are attributing to him or her. We either give God glorified quantities of the characteristics we most esteem in ourselves or we imagine what it would be like to enjoy the attributes we wish we had but know we don’t.”

“What nonsense,” someone else retorted, “If I had created myself, I would surely have done a better job.”

“You have it all wrong,” came the response, “If it was God who created you, He would certainly have done a better job.”

“No,” someone said in defense, “that just means that in God’s eyes, you are better than you think you are. If God created you the way you are, then things must not be as bad as they seem and there is a bright future for you after all, if you try your best to live as you believe He wants you to live.”

“It all just goes to show that we cannot understand God,” someone added. “This is a blessing, because if we could thoroughly understand God with our limited brain power, then God would be a pretty far from perfect creature.”

“Poor God,” some commiserated. “Today He had to listen to billions of people making billions of petitions, so many of which are impossible to grant. They request contradictory solutions to the same problems or for solutions that would not be good in the long run or solutions that infringe on the rights or welfare of others.”

“Poor mankind,” some commiserated. “They want God to be only what they want Him to be, afraid to look around the corner to see His other sides. God is in the calm and God is in the storm. God is in the fire. He is in the smoke that identifies the fire. He is in the water that extinguishes the fire. There is a time for justice and a time for mercy, a time for punishment and a time for pardon, time for hurting and a time for healing.”

There are lessons hidden here.

So long as everyone creates his or her own image of God,
there will be conflicts in the name of God.

So long as everyone wants God to do only what they themselves want,
there will be disappointment and ingratitude.

So long as everyone wants everyone else to be like himself or herself,
there will never be peace.

If you believe your religion is true,
then you needn’t be afraid to explore what others may see in it.

If God is omnipotent and infinite and provident and wise,
then there must be more to God and religion than meets your eyes.

“One flock and one shepherd” is a vision of hope for the future
only if it means we will one day all be united in one faith
that recognizes and respects the reality
that God created each one as a unique reflection of the divine.

Heaven is the ultimate adventure that takes us on a journey
to the sides of God now hidden from our eyes.
Heaven is the place where we will finally embrace and accept
the visions of God seen by others.

In the meantime, if men and women are to live in harmony,
there must be harmony between their gods.

If ever we can come to see the oneness of all gods,
then we will not have to renounce our own god.
We just need to see God reflected in the images of others.

It isn’t necessary to pray with the same words or bow the same way
in order to homage the one god of a billion sides and a billion faces.

God doesn’t require us to be men and women identical to each other,
only to be men and women united for each other.


(Photo: Liang Zhun)

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