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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Words of Comfort

There is a reason why ministers take courses on death & dying. Comforting someone who has experienced a loss or who is experiencing a personal tribulation is so difficult it often leaves us speechless.

A comfort that I understand is "s/he is in a better place." I understand you're not supposed to say that, but I get it. If after death we go to a happy place to live for all eternity, that is comforting. Also, the promise of joining them is surely a comforting thought.

Another forbidden comfort, but one that I do not understand is, "everything happens for a reason." [FYI, when I hear this I take it as, "I'm sorry you're suffering, and while all I have is this platitude, I do in fact grieve with you."] How is that comforting? I feel like I've probably posted about this before, but it really boggles my mind. Let's say you believe God passes out cancer to certain people, why would you think those struck by it would enjoying hearing that?

I find the idea that when we suffer, God suffers with us comforting in the same way it is comforting to know that my friends and family are with me. It is comforting to not be alone. I also find comfort from my faith to the extent it allows me to appreciate the deeper, cosmic beauty of life, including the life of another.

I wonder how others find their faith or the faiths of others comforting. Suffering is often cited as a reason for inventing religion. What does our modern religion have to offer those who suffer?

Note: This post was motivated by some difficult medical news about my dad. I have really appreciated comments of support from people, many of whom read this blog, but today, I'm not trying to solicit more. I'm really interested in exploring (1) what Christianity has to offer in the way of comfort and (2) why we find things comforting. So, I suppose for me, retreat to intellectual inquiry is another source of comfort.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Government's Role in Christian Charity

Political conservatives who are Christian often claim that caring for the poor does not mean supporting government programs that provide for the poor. (Political conservatives who are not Christian make the same claim, but this post doesn't have anything to do with them.) That has always been tough for me to swallow. I agree that caring for the poor by way of voluntary charity would be better in the sense that both giver and receiver would benefit; but I also recognize that the government does it much more effectively, and in modern society is the only way to get the job done. Consider the following parable from church this Sunday:

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'

"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'

"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'

"Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'

" 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'

"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "
Luke 16:19-31. First off, it is not exactly subtle is it? I mean, you don't have to take many logical steps here to get what Jesus thought about people who don't care for the poor.

But here's the thing that relates to the earlier posts about polygamy, slavery, and homosexuality. Giving money to beggars is different now. If I see a guy lying in the street with a can in front him, should I put a dollar in the can, that is, help the poor man without the government? The answer is no, right? Because in our culture, there are government programs to help people. By giving money to a guy on the street, I could in fact be hurting him by giving him money to keep his addiction alive while allowing him to stay out of real treatment programs.

It is only because of the government programs that such behavior is in line with the mandates of Christ. I'm sorry, but opposing taxes going to the poor? I would need a lot of convincing to see how that is in practice a Christian position to hold.