I’m not smart enough to reconcile the problem of Evil, but I offer this to you as some form of exhortation, my brothers and sisters in the Struggle. No olivides, somos en la guerra.
Perhaps we have forgotten half of the equation as we ask “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Somehow, we’ve begun to say “What is God doing to us?” I think we need to look a little further into it to understand why bad things really do happen to good people. I think struggles are a clear sign of something quite encouraging. The classic example which everyone turns to on the problem of evil is Job (side note, read Job, it’s chock full of deep, deep stuff). It’ll probably help if you have the book of Job open while you read this. We will mainly stick around the first Chapter. - CT
The Bible makes it clear that Job was a “good person” in Job 1:1. In fact, he is considered a great man. He was a man of substantial power and wealth.
God boasts about Job to Satan (that alone is pretty interesting to think about).
It’s important to note the exchange between God and Satan which precedes any of the “bad things” that happen to Job. God gives Satan permission to act as he choses, BUT He is clear that Job is not to be touched.
So Satan goes out and does his dirty work. One by one the cards begin to fall. The world around Job is essentially burned to the ground, metaphorically and literally. Bad things happen to a good man.
Now, let’s pause and think about what it means to be a “good man.” In my personal understanding of the Bible, I believe that a “good man” is one who is moving for the Kingdom. A “good man” is someone who is going to seek after the heart of God and who is going to make every effort to reflect that heart to a broken world. A good man is someone who scares Satan out of his mind.
I think that’s it. I think that’s exactly what we need to know about suffering and pain.
Satan does “bad things” to Job in hopes that Job will stop pursuing the Truth. The afflictions which are poured over Job’s head have a specific aim: for Job to “curse God and die” (2:9). We know this, because the end of Chapter 1 says, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”
Bad things happen to good people because Satan knows that good people have the power to bring about the Kingdom of God.
Our initial response to this is often, “Well, why does God even allow Satan to cause such destruction? Why does God allow me to feel pain? Doesn’t He LOVE me!?”
But the Holy Spirit has a different message for us that starts with this blatant Truth: we don’t really understand pain very well.
Maybe, in a weird way, pain is a good thing.
Don’t take that as a call to masochism. I don’t think I’m supposed to go about my day thinking “How can I hurt myself today?”
But what about the New Testament? What about James 1:2? Why should we “consider it pure joy” whenever we face “trials and sufferings of many kinds?”
I might be just talking crazy, but here’s what I think.
Trials and sufferings should be the most encouraging thing you ever face in your entire life. The reason you should feel joy of an unparalleled purity in times of immense struggle is because these moments should let you know that Satan is absolutely terrified of what you might do for the Kingdom of Heaven. Ironically, the times in which you feel the weakest should actually be the times that you are reminded of the utter power and authority you have been given in the Holy Spirit. I think Satan roams the earth and looks at people. Take that literally or metaphorically, I’m not sure it really matters. He sees people pursuing God. He sees people with the potential to reconcile the world back to the Truth. As he sees these good people working for the Kingdom, he wants to do everything in his power to stop them. He wants to lie to them and tell them “You are so weak. You are so worthless. You are so unloved. Curse God and die.” He will throw every trick out of hell in your direction, because he knows that if you realize your true power, heritage, and dignity the mind of God will advance in sweeping fashion.
The irony of suffering is that we too often succumb to the Devil’s lies that we are powerless and unloved when in fact the Liar comes to us because he is absolutely terrified of our power and love.
We bet the farm on this Jesus thing. If the barn burns down, that’s a sure sign that our bet was a smart one.
If you feel broken hearted. If you feel like you’re just not good enough. If you feel like God has forsaken you. If you feel like you are unworthy of love. If you feel like you’ve messed up just too many times. If you feel weak. If you feel stupid. If you feel ugly. If you feel purposeless.
If you feel like the Kingdom of Heaven is a long way off.
Remember the Deceiver and take up arms against him.
You are the agent of reconciliation, you are the bringer of the Kingdom of Heaven. You are loved beyond all understanding.
This is the Truth; let no Liar tell you otherwise.
I’m not smart enough to reconcile the problem of Evil, but I offer this to you as some form of exhortation, my brothers and sisters in the Struggle. No olivides, somos en la guerra.
Ah yes, Sir Christian Tenbrook the manic voice of my head. The inspiration for the name has become two-fold. Really, it started with the thought “Hmm, I think I want a pen name,” because of a Shakespearean influence that doesn’t really make sense. A few Google searches later, and I settled on the name. It’s a Dutch surname mixed with a common first name. The literal meaning of the entire name is something to the effect of, “Follower of Christ at the place of a stream or flowing body of water,” which I suppose is the aim of my identity.
As I mentioned, there are two main reasons as to why I wanted a pen name. It is both for myself and for you.
For myself, Christian Tenbrook represents the ambassador of my identity. I think of him as a sort of “speaker of the house.” I think that our sense of self is a sort of general statement which blankets over a lot of different aspects. The question “Who are you?” is most often answered with a name. The whole of my being is an incredibly diverse and complex hodge-podge of smaller identities that a “name” probably doesn’t cover too well. If anything, I’m TOTALLY that insane guy with too many voices in his head, and this was my way of overcoming that in a sense.
For me, Christian Tenbrook represents the part of my being that chooses to speak. He’s the lone bird I set free from my rib-cage in the most often and consisten manner. He’s the curator of my soul as it exits my “self” and enters the world. I guess I felt he needed a name of his own.
That’s all quite strange, but I hope you understand.
The more important reason my penname exists is that I wanted it to serve as a sort of veil of anonymity (similar to the one you have chosen, faceless questioner!). Perhaps it is just me who does this, but every time I read something from someone I have interacted with,their voice inevitably arises in my mind. I read their work and attach it to their name, their voice, their body, their flaws, their prestige. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s not the aim of this forum for me. I don’t want anyone to read what is written here and think, “Justin Potesta is saying this.” I don’t want them to add anything that I post on here to my actual identity; not because I fear what it might do to their idea of me, but because I want my audience to confront what I write within themselves without my voice cluttering the process up. I want them to read this and think “This is being said, and I don’t even know who is saying it, but I know it’s True or I know it’s a lie.” I want people to consider the Truth in the context of their life, not mine. I understand that people will obviously construct some sort of image of “Christian Tenbrook”, whether they know me or not, but I think that the anonymous nature of these ramblings might give them an easier pathway to true, thoughtful, personal encounters with Life.
Thanks for the question, it was a good one!
Grace and Peace,
P.S. your Dad is going to be okay, you need to know that.
These words caught me on the chin harder than you might imagine. They were delivered at precisely the right time. The holiday season is a strange one for me. Somehow the “meaning of Christmas” has been dismissed as a cliche ill-repeated and lost somewhere between death and garland…and I think I would have to tell you too many personal stories for that metaphor to make actual sense. I often thank people for their words of praise they extend me, but for you I will not do so. I hope that you will pardon my rudeness on that matter, but will participate with me in a far greater act of decorum. Tonight, I thanked God Himself for these words, as I truly believe them to be a small manifestation of a Man who once laid in a manger long ago. They surely are a manifestation of the very mind of our common Creator. With that, your question of Spiritual gifts must be addressed. I have considered long and hard how to word this next phrase, and I believe the plainest form of it to be necessary: I am a prophet who speaks in tongues. Now, I’m sure that some will read this phrase and think me to be deceived in some form or another (I would bet many people shot a quick glance up to the “unfollow this maniac” button), because I have said this statement with such certainty. They will point and say, “This man thinks far too highly of himself. This man is a liar.” I would humbly offer that I am utterly convinced of the opposite state of my being. I am a stupid, stupid man. I am a base villan. Alas, I have tasted the rotting fruits of debauchery in deadly amounts, and I believe there is no earthly power, conversation, or teaching which could reconcile me from my treacherous state. What’s more! How incredibly profound is this! For certainly in my state of wretchedness I deserve not the slightest glimpse of the majesty of the Kingdom; yet, without reservation I say to you I have stood at the very gates of Heaven and seen the Lord’s hands commission the reconciliation of this place. I have seen the on-coming redemption of the world. That fact alone will surely inspire awe within me for eternity-full. Beyond the privilege of being able to see, I have been given the responsibility to say. Perhaps that is the best way to describe this gift which far surpasses my own flesh. For me, the gift of tongues is a topic I’d normally rather steer clear of. I have never been quite charismatic in my beliefs, though I have come to recognize the fact that the Spirit works in mysterious ways that are far beyond the grasp of my withering consciousness. The idea that one might speak in a heavenly tongue seems too brilliant; but let me say this: I have said things, though only in English or occasionally in my father’s tongue of Spanish, which have carried the weight of a language which transcends the syllables recognized in the ear or the eye. By the sheer Grace of the Most High, I have been allowed to communicate the Truth. I would offer that this Truth is a language of its own. I would submit that this Truth is the honest aim of our lesser languages. Perhaps there are those who may flow forth with unrecognizable syllables of an unknown tongue that are interpreted into our known languages so that we might comprehend the Truth. I am certainly not that man. I speak Spanish, English, and I’m learning Latin. That’s it. That’s all I’ve ever spoken. However, I am one who has been struck by the undeniable existence of God and His Kingdom as described in the Scriptures. Though I am completely unqualified to even possess these things, I have been given the means to communicate it to whomever the Spirit chooses. I am merely a mouthpiece. I am merely a poorly polished trumpet who has been taken up by the Creator. That sound which you hear in these pages, in these words, in this written language, that sound of perfection, is merely his breath flowing through me. That note is the Truth, and I assure you I do not have the means to make it. With that in mind, I would say that I speak a language which is not my own, and the Spirit interprets it to whomever should hear it. Acts 2 is one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture. I’m sure I don’t understand most of it, but when I read it, I see this: the Truth of the Holy Spirit transcends human language. In my life, that happens here. That happens between my bone and the page. English is the means by which I am able to speak in a language which is well beyond the grasps of my comprehension. This practice is my embodiment of the incarnation of Christ. To steal a line from Anis Mojgani’s “Shake the Dust,” it is my total desire to speak “half English and half God” but fully Truth. I’m a prophet who speaks in tongues in that I have been charged with the means to express that which God cares deeply about, which is a language of its own. Your prayers…they are powerful. Never forget that. Never. Grace and Peace to you, my friend. - CT
Well, my given name is Justin Potesta. I feel like I’m much more boring in real-life than I am here, though just as insane (so I’m told). I’d try to explain to you something more specific about me, but I feel that might ruin this place. Essentially, I’m nobody, and I hope dearly that makes me everybody. Thanks for the kind words. Let’s be friends. Facebook/coffee shop/phone-call/pen pals. Let’s make it happen. -CT
I wrote a new one-act. It’s quite strange, and might not make a lot of sense, and it ends paced like a train-wreck, but I assume that’s what I was going for. It’s a pretty profane piece, so if that will offend you, I would encourage you not to read it (no hard feelings). The actual script is about 12 pages long, but it’s a really quick read. As always, my deepest thanks if you choose to check it out. Much love. - CT
Yes! I have two responses I’m still working on, but if you have any suggestions hit up my ask box!
Did you see what I did there? The trinity, inexplicable in my mind has been exposed!! Well done, madam.
Wrote a short piece. It really is quite boring, but if you’d like to read it click HERE. Much love.
Generally speaking, when I commit something to paper and submit it to the public arena, I am quite certain of my words. This is not to say that I am so arrogant to believe that the whole of my public body of work has obtained some perfection, but there comes a point which I feel comfortable to surrender a piece to the eyes of another. This is not one of those works. This is surrendered far too early; yet, I fear any further participation I may have with it would destroy it all together.
Sin is a baffling thing. I’ve been spending recent months in riddled thought on the matter. In short, this is the conclusion I have come to: Sin is death.
Profound, I know. Very creative and not cliche at all. You’ve never heard that before, huh?
Inevitably, you have, but I hope to work out this idea further with those of you brave enough to continue with me the length of this overly wordy rambling. I hope you will not regret it.
I love boxing. I mean I absolutely love the sport. I used to watch it with my grandfather when I was little when my mother wasn’t looking (she wasn’t a big fan of her kids watching boxing). Those are some of my most cherished memories as a kid. My grandfather taught me how to make a fist. He always told me, “Kids these days don’t get in fights because they’re too afraid they’ll kill the other guy. I’ve got news for you, you ain’t going to kill anybody, Buddy. If you’re gonna swing, you better swing hard.” I never forgot that.
I’ve been in a handful of fights, and I’m sure that doesn’t sit well with many of you. I grew up in the mid-west, and that sort of thing just happened. I can’t really explain it to you, but I’d bet that if any of you (especially men) spent your middle and high-school years in the that part of the country you get what I’m saying.
I got into a fight one time at a party I was at a couple of years ago. In all honesty, I wasn’t afraid I was going to kill the other guy. I wanted to kill the other guy. Long story short, I ended on top of a dude I had never met before raining punch after punch into him. He had hit the girl he was with; smacked her right across the mouth. A bunch of people got in his face and started pushing and shoving and yelling. Before I really thought about it, I grabbed him and took him down in the front yard and kept swinging until they dragged me off of him. I got thrown in the backseat of my friends car and never saw that guy again. My fatal flaw is that I don’t think very well in emotional situations. I just act.
For thirty seconds, I literally wanted to kill the kid. I’m not saying I wished he was dead. I’m not saying I just wanted to hurt him. I’m saying every time my knuckles struck him, I hoped that they had broken something in his head and he would take his last breath then and there on that lawn. I figured he deserved to die. I figured he deserved to suffer and die.
What is the ultimate justification for someone’s actions?
In human terms, the answer is simple: their life; thus, capital punishment.
I think life is a spectrum. I think that there are actions which pursue Life, and there are actions which move us closer to death.
The actions that lead us closer to death we’ve labeled as “sin.” That’s the great Cosmic Joke. That’s the irony of the whole damn cosmos. Our punishment for the stupid things we do is really just the full weight of those things carried out to the extreme degree.
Let’s think about this practically.
Let’s say there’s a person who does drugs. No Christian with decent theology would look at someone doing drugs and say that it isn’t sinful. The action of doing drugs is clearly a sin. If carried to the extreme degree, drugs will kill you. In essence, that sin will literally take your life. So, logically, sin pulls you closer to the end of the “life-spectrum” labelled death.
“But, Jay,” you might inquire, “what about petty sins? What about thievery? What about pride? Surely these sins do not literally kill you!” I would argue that, if taken to the full degree, these things very well may kill you, but there is also a more practical assessment of them. The motivation of theft and pride is the “self.” The reason you steal something is because you want it. The reason you’re prideful is because you like you a whole lot. Unfortunately, you are human, and the great bond that connects all humans is the inevitability of physical death. So, by deduction, if you live in such a way which pursues the desires of your physical body (the one that is going to die) you are pursuing death (the irony in that literally just made me laugh out loud). So we can assume that theft, pride, and other such petty sins whose aim is the appeasement of your self also pull you closer to the deadly end of the spectrum.
I think all sin is really just a retreat into ourselves. We crash wildly into the determinations of our own skin. I think we chose to do terrible things because we want to. Maybe this is what the Bible is talking about when it says you’re a slave to death. You’re a slave to your flesh which is going to die. You can’t deny that.
That’s why I wanted to kill that guy. That’s why we believe bad people deserve to die. Their sins sit on the “death” end of the spectrum, if you will, so why don’t we just do the deed for them.
How, then, may we live?
Ah, this is the Truth my friends. I’m literally shaking as I begin this section. This is where the power of the Gospel resides.
Death is inescapable for all of us; however, there is One who has escaped death. There is one who has run the full length of the spectrum. There is One who has truly Lived.
By definition I, a human, cannot sustain life. If you have followed my logic this far, you have seen that we will do everything in our power to pursue death. We will do everything we can to appease our bodies, the ones that are going to die. This is human nature. The mark of your humanity is that you’ve been branded by the burden of this slavery.
Then surely Life cannot be achieved within the bonds of our personage. I am literally incapable of life. That end of the spectrum is a completely foreign idea to me. I don’t even want that end of the spectrum because I am still so consumed within myself. Regardless of my “fears” of death, I’m doing everything in my power to die as quickly as I can.
Here it is:
Someone must set us free of our wretched condition so that we might truly Live, as He did. Someone must free us from the bonds of death. You see, the pursuit of Life is not in anything you do. There is no “what should I and shouldn’t I be doing to live” question; rather, Life is given freely to you by the only Being who was able to completely serve a Master other than the flesh.
In order to Live, we must pursue that which is unscathed by the unavoidable clutches of death.
We must pursue Christ.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Love you guys more than you can imagine.
Grace and Peace,
I’m not sure I would recommend committing that crime. If a situation like this comes up…you know…where anonymous murder is a necessary requirement for me to take up a hand in courtship…you’re my first call. For real though, appreciate the love.
There aren’t words for that. Standing fifteen yards apart in Kyle Pilcher’s front yard one night in August. I’ll never forget that. One love, my brother. Stay up.
I truly appreciate this act. That you would take the time to send me these kind words, it means a lot to me. To God alone be the Glory.
Grace and Peace,
I was consumed with fear as I began to write this, but I assume that means I should do just that. I’ve been having conversations with my mentor about the Church, and I can’t shake this idea. As I offer my humble criticism of the Church, I submit to the idea that it is the very Bride of Christ. As a romantic, this carries more weight in my heart than I assume many of you may understand; however, I would consider myself a coward if I did not express to you these convictions in their barest form. Should my words fill you with righteous anger, rebuke me without hesitation; yet, should they convict you, let us take up arms together. I stand next to you in this pursuit. I have made this grave error which I hope to address countless times. Sumus in fossa.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
- Matthew 5:13
I don’t think Jesus made mistakes. I don’t think He was careless with the words He chose. As a writer, I’ve spent hours upon days upon weeks choosing words. I’ve laid in my bed unable to sleep being driven to the brink of insanity simply trying to map out a single phrase. The idea that one man spoke every word in his entire lexicon in perfect harmony with the Truth utterly baffles me. This is how I approach this passage.
Salt is a specific metaphor. Jesus doesn’t say “you’re kind of like salt” or “you have similar properties to salt.” He says “you are salt.” I would guess this means I need to think about what salt is like to understand what the hell He was saying.
Salt isn’t a real nice thing. If you don’t believe me, get up right now and go dip your finger in a pile of salt and put it in your mouth. Better yet, cut yourself somewhere and dab a little salt on the wound (oh, sorry…don’t do that). My initial question to Jesus was, “Why did you compare me to something that sucks so bad for people to interact with?”
Then He slapped me across the face and said, “You just don’t get it. That’s the point.”
You see, the Gospel is an offensive thing. It basically tells people, “You need something.” That’s not a fun message to hear. I spent twenty-one years knowing that to the point that it literally almost killed me more times than I can remember. Having someone reiterate that point to me that sucks to hear. It’s kind of like…well…salt on an open wound.
I go to a Christian University, and that’s a topic that has enough pros and cons to kill someone. Everyone says “I love the community at Biola.” To an extent, I love it to. I really appreciate that I go to a place where people deeply care about one another. I think it’s awesome that I have been given the privilege of living in fellowship with believers.
But here’s where I think I’ve been missing the mark.
I’ve made the Church to be a body of people that ask me “How is your life going?” and I can tell them what’s going on, good and bad, and expect encouragement.
But that’s only half the puzzle.
My generation of believers has fallen into the snare of fear. We are scared out of our minds of offending people. Somewhere along the course of my life, being a Christian has been turned into the age old catch phrase “People will notice that something is different about me.” While this idea may be rooted in good intentions, let us not forget what the full depth of this idea entails.
I’m so tired of Christianity being about being nice. The idea that a follower of Christ is simply just a well-mannered man with a smile and a “thank you” makes me want to vomit.
You are the SALT of the EARTH.
I would argue that this doesn’t just mean I’m “different” than the world. I would argue that this doesn’t just mean I tip well and hold doors open for strangers. The Bible uses battle language. The Scriptures tell me I have a war to wage against the King of Lies.
Look at the life of Jesus. How many people absolutely hated Jesus? How many people wanted to kill Jesus? How many of Jesus’s actions made people feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Maybe I’m out of line here, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t many of them. Basically everyone thought He was utterly insane. The very names He called Himself by made people want to slit his throat.
So, you’re not Jesus. I get that. Maybe He had a different role to play. Then let’s look at the disciples. The ones who were beaten. The ones who were thrown into prison. The ones who were chased out of town because of the message they were preaching. The ones who died brutal deaths. Did they live in a different culture? Kind of. They lived in a culture that wasn’t so open to Christianity. They lived in a culture that had other gods and didn’t want a bunch of fishermen coming in and telling them they were wrong.
Sounds a lot like the world I live in.
Jesus tells us we’re going to be persecuted and hated (John 15:18-21). That convicts me more than anything in my life. As I sit here I wonder, “When was the last time someone hated me because I was a Christian?” I feel like this is a typical Sunday school question. I feel like this question is answered in Biola classrooms like this: “Well, I have a lot of friends who aren’t saved, and they drink and smoke, and they don’t understand why I’m a Christian. Sometimes they make fun of me.” I’ve answered that question that way.
Are you kidding me, Tenbrook?
The persecution of your faith is contained in a few backhanded remarks by a bunch of drunk people?
I’m doing something wrong, and I think I know what it is. I made Christianity about me (thus be it with the ego of the human). Plain and simple, I kept asking myself, “How can I be better? How can I stop sinning? What shouldn’t I be doing?” You see, that’s how Satan gets us. He centers the conversations between two Christians around what’s going on in those two people’s lives.
I’m going to say something right now that is going to piss you off.
Who the hell cares?
Friends, stop talking about your problems so damn much. Stop living your life to be a better person. I have some painful news for you: you suck. Hate me or love me that’s the bare truth. I suck. I’m going to suck for a very long, sucky time. The Gospel tells us, flat out that we are unrighteous. Every, single one of us. But righteousness has been given to us freely. It was given to us based on absolutely nothing we did. Come at me with, “Then you’re just giving yourself an excuse to sin” and I will kick your teeth in.
I’m going to say something right now that is really going to piss you off even more than that did.
You’re going to get to Heaven one day, and God isn’t going to care how much porn you looked at. He isn’t going to care how many times you got drunk. He isn’t going to care how much gossip you spread. Quite frankly, He isn’t going to care about your sin. He sent His Son to take care of that, and He will take care of those things in your life if You would only let Him. He has already taken care of those things, so stop trying to do that on your own.
You’re going to get to Heaven one day, and God’s going to ask you what you did to this world. He’s going to look at your sword and see how much blood you got on it. He’s going to ask you how many times you turned over temple tables in His name. He’s going to ask you how many times you were shot at for the sake of His Kingdom. He’s going to let you tell the stories about the times you waged war for His Glory. This is what He cares about. God cares about His Kingdom. God cares that the world is broken, and He’s given you the power to reconcile it. God wants to know what you care about.
Here’s my point: we care too much about what the world thinks of us. Hell, we just care too much about ourselves.
You are the SALT of the EARTH.
That’s not an easy task. Quite frankly, it’s humanly impossible; however, a Spirit has been given to us to wage this war. We have been given the authority to grab the world by the shirt collar and say “What the hell are you doing?” Do not forget the power of the Truth! I have friends who are literally killing themselves in slow, painful deaths. I’m going to get to Heaven and God’s going to look at me and ask, “Did you let them die because you wanted to be nice? Did you let them die because you were afraid to tell them the Truth, My Truth? Did you let them die because you were so concerned with your own righteousness?”
Is the gift of Life in another not worth the embarrassment you might feel?
There’s a freedom in the Gospel that transcends fear. There’s a freedom in the Gospel that transcends the “I need to be better” mindset. If you want to take this freedom as license to live a shitty lifestyle, go to hell.
Let us take this freedom and care about what God cares about. Let us acknowledge the power of the Holy Spirit and wage war.
Let us love enough to speak the words of Life regardless of the damage to our ego.
Salt makes your mouth dry, and makes you desperate for a drink of Water. Salt makes you thirsty. Jesus chose His words deliberately. He said he is the source of the living water (John 4:13-14).
We are salt, and He is Water. Let us make the world thirsty.
If you hate me after this, if you think I’m just a sad, little man who swears too much, if this post pisses you off: come at me.
I love you.