The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Family (Page 3 of 10)

The topic of suffering (and I use the word “suffering” as a shorthand for the well-known “problem of evil” as well as the existence of undeserved pain and suffering in the world) is one I think about a lot.

Though certainly not a new issue, it is one which I hadn’t thought about or studied much until it touched me personally. Which perhaps is a little selfish, but I guess also is human nature. I’ve written before about struggling with the grief of miscarriage, as well as the heartbreak of my daughter Kinsley being diagnosed with a devastating genetic condition.

In addition to these personal concerns, I also took a class on Providence and Suffering last fall, and as I did a lot of reading on the subject and reflected on those readings, some of my thoughts were further developed and refined.

So what I would like to do intermittently over the next several weeks and months (I’ll be posting other stuff too, unrelated to this topic) is to share some of those thoughts. It will in no way be a systematic coverage of suffering, but it will be a reflection of my efforts to work through some of the difficult questions surrounding this issue (How can a loving God allow pain and suffering? Why do tornados and tsunamis kill innocent people? What is God’s response to the pain and suffering which is present in the world?). I do not claim to have definitive answers to these questions, but I do want to share some ideas and resources which have been helpful to me and have aided my understanding to this point.

I’ll use the end of this post as a Table of Contents for the series:

Suffering and God’s Knowledge of the Future

Alexander Campbell and the Problem of Evil

Moral Evil and Natural Evil

Creation, Chaos, and Suffering

The Suffering Heart

Hurting With God: Faith and Lament, Part 1

Hurting With God: Faith and Lament, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, Caroline and I spent a week on vacation at St. Maarten. This was made possible by a church friend who generously gave us a great deal on a timeshare there, and Caroline’s mom and aunt who stayed with Kinsley for a week so the two of us could travel.

St. Maarten is a tiny island in the Caribbean, half owned by the Dutch (Sint Maarten) and half by the French (Saint Martin). It is a beautiful place, marked by great beaches, rugged hills, and beautiful waters of a variety of blues.

We had a great time together. My life can be pretty hectic at times, which means I don’t often get to relax, or to spend a lot of time with just Caroline. Both of those things happened in abundance while we were in St. Maarten, which made it a great week!

Below are some of the pictures I took.

I loved the different blues of the ocean. In this picture, you can see St. Barts (I think) off in the distance.

On the French side of the island, we went to a place called Loterie Farms, where we hiked through a tropical rain forest. It was a tough, rugged hike, but we saw some cool things including this interesting tree.

I always enjoy taking pictures of church buildings. This was the Grand Case Catholic Church, on the French side of the island.

Some pier steps at the beach in Grand Case (French side).

There weren’t too many differences between the Dutch and French sides of the island, but in the French capital of Marigot, I noticed that the power lines looked a little overloaded.

This was the view from the back balcony of our condo. I wasn’t prepared for how rugged the landscape was. We drove around a lot of steep mountain roads.

This is another view from near our condo. It really was a beautiful place.

Near our resort there was an old Dutch fort—Fort Amsterdam. This is a shot taken from atop the fort looking out onto the bay.

A view of a cruise ship farther out in the bay.

Another church building: this is the Methodist Church in Phillipsburg (the Dutch capital).

I started blogging almost eight years ago, in the summer of 2006, but it just about two years ago that I started sharing my blog publicly because I came to feel that my writings on Scripture and ministry could possibly be beneficial and/or encouraging to others.

If you know me well, you know that I am not really the type of person to like to be up in front of everyone drawing attention to myself—I prefer to work quietly from behind the scenes—and so even still, it makes me a little uncomfortable every single time I share a link to my blog.

Over the last several years, my life has also gotten considerably busier—I am now a father, I am a graduate student, and my ministry responsibilities have increased significantly. I don’t say any of that in a complaining way, but just to acknowledge that my time is limited, and that it is a struggle to blog as often as I would like at a level that I am happy with. And sometimes it is such a struggle that I wonder whether or not I should keep doing it at all…

But then I get so many kind, generous, and encouraging comments from you, my readers (here on the blog, on Facebook, in person), that it helps me to remember my purpose and keep things in perspective. So, thank you! Thanks for reading, for commenting, for being challenged by my blog and challenging me in return. I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you for the last couple of years, and hope to continue doing so for many more to come.

So there’s one of those chain things going around on Facebook right now where you post your favorite Bible verse(s) and then tag others to get them to do the same. I got tagged by someone the other day, but since I’m not generally a fan of such things I decided to refrain. Then, upon further reflection, I decided that this would be a worthwhile thing to do, but that I would blog about it instead of posting to Facebook. This allows me a little more space for commentary, and also frees me from having to tag other people.

At one point in my life, my favorite verses likely would have been some of the same as the ones I have seen repeated so often:

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength…”

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good…”

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability…”

Those are wonderful verses, and I still take comfort from them (though, in context, I don’t necessarily think they mean what a lot of people take them to mean).

But in this current season of my life, those aren’t my favorite verses. Verses about me overcoming all obstacles, conquering all challenges, and everything working out are not what seem most relevant to me right now.

Instead, my favorite verses are these:

“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

(Esther 4.16)

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him…”

(Job 13.15)

“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

(Daniel 3.17-18)

Some brief context:

The first verse is a quotation from Queen Esther. She has determined that she will use her position as queen in an attempt to save her people, but she realizes that she could very likely be put to death for doing so. And she does it anyway: if I perish, I perish.

The second verse is a quotation from Job. Job has lost all that he has: his children have been killed, his possessions are gone, he has lost his health, and even his wife has become a hindrance rather than an aid. For Job (who doesn’t know what is going on behind the scenes), it seems very possible that God will take his life too. But even so, Job trusts in God: though He slay me, I will hope in Him.

The third passage is a quotation from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, after they have disobeyed King Nebuchadnezzar’s command to fall down and worship a golden statue. Nebuchadnezzar threatens to have executed in a fiery furnace, but they stick to their guns. They hope that God will save them, but even if He does not, they are determined to honor Him.

It’s verses such as these that resonate deeply within me at this point in my life. To be honest, I don’t feel much like a conquering hero who has everything figured out and is eagerly anticipating his impending victories. I feel more like a worn-out soldier headed into what seems like a hopeless battle, but determined to go forward in service to my King.*

These are verses which exhibit a defiant faith, and that’s where I am at this point. And really, I’m okay with that. In different ways and to different degrees, we all experience the storms of life, and we need to have a faith that is equipped to survive those storms. For me, it’s a more mature version of my faith, a version which has been tempered by the realities of living in a broken world, and which is not (as) contingent upon external circumstances.

*To be sure, I know that it is not a hopeless battle; but this is a true reflection of the way I currently feel. Our feelings frequently deceive us.

Image Credit: Bob Gonzalez

A couple of weeks ago I published a review of the book Sticky Faith, and described how much I liked it and how influential it has been in my thoughts about youth ministry. In that post, I mentioned that I had been teaching a Bible class on that book, and I wanted to briefly share some thoughts and information about that class.

What We Did

For a quarter (roughly the beginning of January to the end of March), we had our teens and their parents combined in one class together. Each family received a copy of Sticky Faith, and was encouraged to read one chapter each week in preparation for class.

When we met together each week, the class would be divided into smaller groups—sometimes we had parent groups and student groups, and sometimes we grouped families together. Each week we would review that week’s chapter and try to cover the main points which the book had presented, and then give discussion question to our small groups to talk about.

Our small groups would then share what they had discussed with the entire class.

What Was Good About It

At times I felt that our class struggled with continuity and momentum because we missed a few weeks because of bad weather, but on the whole, I felt that the class was very beneficial for our youth group and our parents. I am glad that we did it for at least a few reasons.

First, it helped our parents become much more informed about what was going on in our youth ministry. I spend a significant amount of time trying to communicate and publicize the things we are doing as a youth group (trips, devotionals, youth rallies, etc.):

  • Every week I write an article in our church bulletin which announces and emphasizes these events.
  • A calendar of upcoming events is posted on our youth group bulletin board.
  • Events are announced publicly in our worship assemblies.
  • I tell the students over and over and over again about upcoming events.
  • On a fairly regular basis, I send out text reminders to students and parents about certain events.
  • Less regularly, I post information on our youth group Facebook page.

Despite all of these efforts, I routinely have students and parents act like they have no idea what is going on. It is a frustrating thing. But those concerns were largely eliminated, at least for one quarter. It was nice each week to be able to mention upcoming events directly to parents when I had their attention, and I noticed increased participation as a result.

This was certainly not the purpose of the class and it’s not something that I can do every week, but it was a nice side effect.

Secondly, it was good for our parents and teens to learn practical ways to build a lifelong faith. That is what Sticky Faith is all about—practical things that parents and families can do each day that help to build a faith that lasts for a lifetime instead of getting shelved after high school.

As I mentioned in my book review, there is a ton of helpful information in Sticky Faith, and a class like this was a very helpful way to ensure that our teens and especially their parents were exposed to this material.

Third, it was good for our parents to hear from their kids. It’s no secret that it can be hard for parents and their teenage children to communicate with one another. One of the nice things about this class was that it provided an environment for that to happen. As our student small groups reported out the results of their discussion, parents got to hear about things that were important to their kids and learn more about how they think.

Fourth, it was good for our kids to hear from their parents. The reverse was also true. Teens do get to hear from their parents, but a lot of times it is in the form of a lecture after they’ve messed up somehow. Getting to hear their parents publicly express their love, concern, faults, and ideas was a powerful thing for our students.

Overall, this was a class model that I enjoyed, and I plan on using it again. It won’t become our primary educational model (there’s a lot to be said for developmentally appropriate, age-based instruction), but having our students and their parents learning side by side and learning from one another is an important thing, and one that we want to continue to develop as part of our educational program.

One final, but important note: lest you think that I came up with all of this on my own, I want to give full credit to my friend Joseph, who taught a similar class at his church and was gracious enough to give me pointers and share his (excellent) class notes and resources with me. Joseph is a great youth minister, and his thoughts have been helpful and influential for me.

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