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What If God Ruled the World?

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As a child in elementary school I already had a reputation among my peers as a Christian. Other kids called me a goody two shoes. Boys would try to get me to swear. One day a boy asked me if I believed God could do absolutely anything.”

“Of course,” I replied.

“Can he make a stone so big he can’t lift it?” he responded.

I was speechless. I saw in a flash that if I said he could then I would be admitting there was a stone God couldn’t lift, and if I said no, then I was admitting that he couldn’t make such a stone. Either way, I had to admit God was not omnipotent. I thought long and hard about this conundrum.

I finally decided that what I was being asked to admit was that God could not do what was logically impossible. There can’t exist both an unliftable stone and an omnipotent being who can lift any stone.

Christians tend to take God’s omnipotence for granted. Yet it raises a lot of questions. How can God stand by and allow horrors like the Holocaust or the Cambodian killing fields or the Rwandan genocide to occur unchecked? And if God allows such things because they fall under the free will of human actors, then how can he stand by and allow natural disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Maria, or the tsunami that claimed so many lives in southeast Asia or the earthquake in Haiti? Some Christians propose that such catastrophes are punishment for sin. Yet what kind of punishment sweeps away the innocent with the guilty and visits the worst disasters on the poor while sparing the rich?

There are only two possible conclusions. Either there is no God, or God is not omnipotent. Many of my friends on Facebook have opted for the former explanation. Some of them were raised in Christian homes, and their disappointment with God has fueled their disbelief. I have come to conclude that God is not omnipotent, at least not in the way we commonly think of omnipotence. In fact, I think that belief in God’s omnipotence is one of the most successful lies of the devil. There are things God cannot do, not because he lacks the power or will to do them, but because he lacks the authority. To act without the authority to act would call into question his goodness.

The New Testament is very clear about who the ruler of this present world is, and it is not God. It is the devil, Satan, the serpent who beguiled our original parents into giving up their authority over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the beasts of the field. It is the devil, along with those deceived by him, who are responsible for the evil in the world.

Jesus revealed God as a loving Father who cares for his children and wants them to love as he loves—without condition or favoritism. Jesus demonstrated that love by healing the sick, curing those who suffered from inner demons, and by eating and drinking with the outcasts of his society. He touched the untouchable, forgave the unforgivable, and esteemed the worthless. What he did is what God does, and it is in this context of putting forth extraordinary effort to find ways to be kind that we must understand that with God all things are possible. You can be kind to those who hate you. You can love those who say awful things about you. You can contribute your hard-earned income to help those unfortunate enough to have been born in poverty in a place where upward mobility is all but impossible. You can use your own influence, however small, to bring God’s rule into the world ruled by the devil. This means war. It is inevitable when kingdoms are in conflict.

There will be casualties. Don’t give up.

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about me family fighting war

Once a Marine

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My dad had no choice about enlisting in the Marines. When he responded to his draft notice and presented himself at the induction center at Fort Hayes in Columbus, he found out that everyone who showed up that day would be going to the Marines. He and my mom were both young. They had been married about four years when he was drafted. My dad worked at a factory that made plastic tableware. The Korean War had started recently, and the country, as it too often does, needed young men to go to the other side of the world and fight. Dad traveled by train to Camp Pendleton near San Diego, California. He arrived on New Years Day 1952. My mom followed after he finished boot camp.

My mom, still very young at the time, told her kids about waiting for my dad in a parked car outside one of the barracks one day. It was early morning, and she could see through the windows into the barracks. One young man, plainly just arisen, stood up and stretched and yawned in front of the window, stark naked.

My dad’s first deployment was to Japan. After he got orders but before he left, my mom discovered she was pregnant with their first child, my sister, Marsha. My mom returned to her family in Ohio for the birth. My dad headed to Japan. While he was on the way aboard a troop transport, an armistice was signed, and the conflict was over. No one was sure it would last, so the US kept troops at ready in Japan in case the war started up again. My dad joined a church in Japan and watched at least one atomic bomb test on some remote island in the South Pacific. He brought back a children’s hymn in Japanese which we all learned growing up. Whether any actual Japanese speakers would recognize the words, I do not know.

Dad was also stationed in Hawaii for three years shortly after I was born. His original tour was shorter, but on arrival he learned that his posting had been made permanent, and his tour was automatically extended to two years. He urged my mom to use any means necessary to join him, and she did, making the trip when I was just a few weeks old. My next two sisters, Lani and Kathy, were born in Hawaii. Lani has a Hawaiian name, and Kathy was born a minute after midnight on January first, so she got mentioned in the local paper as the first baby of the new year. Just weeks after Kathy came along, we all moved back to California. My brother Mark was born in Ohio one year and one day after Kathy, and Robin was born in California. She was an infant when my dad left the Marines and returned with my mom and his six kids to Ohio. Two more children, Michelle and Lane, both born in Ohio, completed our family.

I was proud of my dad’s Marine duty. He had awards for sharpshooting and lots of ribbons and medals whose meaning I never knew or have long since forgotten. He had slides of the atomic bomb test he supported. I remember visiting him on post one time in California and being allowed to clamber up on a tank. He worked on heavy road machinery. Maybe he worked on tanks, too.

As I grew older, however, I found that the public image of the Marines did not jibe well with what I knew of my dad. He was certainly tough enough, and he had a never-say-die stubbornness which I believe is a heritable hillbilly trait. But he avoided conflict whenever possible, and he never exhibited that gung-ho ooh-rah commitment to honor and righteousness so characteristic of the popular image of the Marines. He did not have the starched, ramrod-straight bearing. He was stoic enough, but it was a laid-back stoicism that accepted misery with patient endurance rather confronting and overcoming it. He was not a fighter except in the most metaphorical senses. I have never in my life heard him use any of the seven vulgar words George Carlin made famous. I also have never heard him say anything disrespectful of women, which is amazing considering his history and generation.

I do not mean to imply that the Marines are made up of profane misogynists. Rather, there is a certain type of hypermasculine man, given to profanity and misogyny, who fits easily into Marine culture, despite official claims to the contrary. My dad was and is the antithesis of that kind of man. He spent nine years in the Marines, but the Marines were not for him. He realized that he could be deployed anywhere in the world at any time leaving behind a wife and six kids who would not know when or even if he was coming back. He did not want to raise a family that way. So he got out. Had he stayed in, he would have almost certainly gone to Vietnam. Despite wanting to stay in California, he did not see any job prospects there. Ohio did not look especially promising either, but he and my mom both had family there, so they moved back to Ohio.

They moved into a tiny house in Five Points, Ohio, with no hot water, a hand pump in the kitchen, and an outhouse. It was little more than a shack. My dad, despite his military experience (or perhaps because of it), had a hard time finding work. His first job was door-to-door salesman for Filter Queen, a position for which he was in almost every way unsuited. I still remember him demonstrating the vacuum for us. He put a few drops of some essential oil on the exhaust filter and filled our tiny living space with a pleasant scent while the vacuum ran. He also connected the hose to the exhaust side of the vacuum, turning it into a blower, and suspended a ping-pong ball in the flow of air from the crevice attachment. I was too young to know about the Bernoulli principle. The higher air pressure surrounding the air stream kept the ping-pong ball from leaving the stream. The floating ball looked like magic. It still does.

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fear kindness leadership love magic strength struggle suffering theology violence war weakness

The Strength You Have

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The story of Gideon found in Judges 6–8 is one of my favorites from the bible. Gideon is not handsome or charismatic like David. He doesn’t have superhuman strength like Samson. He’s not chosen from birth like Jeremiah or Samuel. He’s just a regular guy, frightened like everyone else by the Midianite marauders who roll into town on their Harley camels. Like the banditos in The Magnificent Seven, they take whatever they want and leave so little for the Israelites that the people are doomed to perpetual poverty and hide their families and belongings in caves.

Gideon, too, is hiding from the Midianites when the angel of the Lord first approaches him. He is threshing grain in a wine press. Grain is usually threshed on a threshing floor—a wide, open space where the wind can carry away the chaff as the grain is tossed in the air. A wine press is an especially poor place for threshing. It was usually a large pit lined with bricks with a smaller hole in the center. The grapes were dumped in around the center hole and crushed by stomping on them. The juice would flow into the center hole. During threshing, the walls of the press would block the wind, making it harder to separate the chaff from the grain, but they would also block the view of any passing Midianites who might come and seize the grain as soon as Gideon was done with the threshing.

I can imagine Gideon suddenly being hailed by the angel, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” He freezes with fear but relaxes when he realizes the angel is not a Midianite. His fear turns to anger.

“Excuse me,” he says. “If the Lord is with us, why has it been decades since we saw any evidence of it? We hear stories about God’s wonders, but we never see them, and right now we are being savagely oppressed, and God does nothing.”

Then the angel of the Lord gives him a most extraordinary command. “Go in the strength you have and save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Am I not sending you?”

Gideon is dumbfounded. “Me? You want me to save Israel? I’m the least influential guy from the weakest clan in Manasseh.”

“Oh, that,” says the Lord. “Not to worry. You’ll have me with you.”

As the story unfolds, however, God shows Gideon that he means exactly what he says. Gideon does save Israel using only the strength he has. The only wonders God performs are signs to reassure Gideon that he is really hearing from God rather than hallucinating or going mad. His military strategy is insane. He attacks with 300 men armed with—swords? no—trumpets and torches hidden in clay jars. The plan is to scare the Midianites into killing each other, and amazingly it works. Once the Israelites see the Midianites are on the run, then they are emboldened to pursue them until there are none left. Then peace and prosperity return to Israel for the rest of Gideon’s life.

God didn’t equip Gideon with special powers or abilities. He didn’t provide him with overwhelming force, an army to match the size of Midian’s invasion. He called Gideon to use the strength he had to relieve the suffering of the Israelites. The Apostle Paul makes it explicit:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.

1 Corinthians 1:26-2

God can call you and give you a mission now, where you are, with the strength you have. You can begin where you are to express his love. You can join with others to oppose injustice. You can alleviate the suffering of those in pain. You can be kind. Kindness requires no preparation or training or special talents or gifts.

Here are three things to keep in mind if you feel God is calling you to do something.

  1. Check your motives. God didn’t call Gideon to make him rich or famous or powerful. He called him to relieve the oppression of his people, to correct an injustice, to right a wrong. Gideon did become rich and famous and powerful, but that was a by-product of God’s mission, not the main event.
  2. Make sure it’s God. God provided signs that he was one speaking to Gideon, signs that made sense to Gideon. He burned up the meal Gideon brought to the angel. He did the thing with the fleece, wet with no dew all around one day and dry when the surrounding ground was wet with dew the next. He also gave him intelligence about his enemy in advance of his attack. All of these things served to reassure Gideon that he was acting as God intended.
  3. God isn’t magic. God’s presence with Gideon did not make Gideon’s task easier. It made it possible. Gideon still had to deal with smashing idols, raising an army, selecting an elite force, planning his military strategy, pursuing the enemy, and cleaning up after all the slaughter. He had to deal with self-doubt and fear. None of those things were easy. Easy would have been staying in the wine press threshing.

God may have a special mission for you, a unique calling to a particular task, but if he does not, he still expects all who belong to him to follow his commands to love others, to do good and act with kindness even toward those who scoff at your beliefs or persecute you, and to pray for the coming of his kingdom. These things are a general call to all his followers. Go in the strength you have and do them.

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