Five Years of Blogging

May 24, 2013

I have been blogging for over five years.  My purpose in blogging has been basically two-fold:  (1) to provide resources for Stone-Campbell history and biblical study that are connected to what I am researching at the time (or teaching in my Bible classes at Woodmont Hills) and (2) to reflect our common journey of faith through the various trials we all experience (pastoral theology).

I have never thought of my blog as one where I engage contemporary controversies, debates or “hot topics” (though I have occasionally ventured there only to confirm that I need to stay focused on my original purposes).

Given my five years of blogging that so many have encouraged (and I thank you!), here are the top five blogs since February 2008.

5.  A Reflection on Psalm 84 for those Grieving Loss

4.  The Egyptian Hallel and the Lord’s Supper (Psalm 113-118)

3. “I Will Change Your Name”

2.  Women in the Assembly: 1  Corinthians 14:34-35

1. Psalm Lines that Comfort Me

Thank you for reading, but most often I write for my own benefit rather than others.  I’m kind of selfish in that way.  :-)


Return to Blogging; Top Blogs of 2012.

January 2, 2013

I have spent the past four months resting from blogging and (generally) from list discussions.  It was refreshing but I also missed blogging. Fasting helps me focus on why I blog. I blog as a way of occasionally commenting on current events, but mostly as an outlet for ongoing research and sharing my bible class materials.

I will soon begin a series on Amos as well as the Letters of John as I will begin teaching these texts or have taught them previously in my church bible classes.

For those interested, here are my top five blogs from 2012.

5.  “Heaven on Earth” — A Stone-Campbell Tradition

4.  The Egyptian Hallel and the Lord’s Supper (Psalms 113-118)

3.  Lament Prayer at Woodmont Family of God 03/04/12

2.  Mark 7:24-27 — Crumbs for the Dogs, Dignity for Humanity

1.  Tim Tebow and the Gift of Success


God and Evil: Can God Be Justified?

May 21, 2012

May 21 is a dark day in my own history. Joshua died eleven years ago today at the age of sixteen. I offer this chapter out of my ebook on The Shack and spiritual recovery in his honor.

********

Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”

Romans 11:33-34 (NIV)

The death of a child, especially the brutal murder of Missy, raises passionate questions about God’s handling of the world. Mack’s “last comment” to the Triune God around the breakfast table on that first morning was something we have all thought at one time or another: “I just can’t imagine any final outcome that would justify all this” (p. 127).

There it is. Bold. In God’s face. It is almost a gauntlet challenging God’s own imagination, his own resources—his wisdom and knowledge. Can anything justify the evil in the world?

This is the problem of theodicy, that is, the justification of God. Why does God create a world in which evil is so pervasive, strong and unruly? Why does he give evil this space to grow? When a cyclone kills over 130,000 in Myanmar, an earthquake snuffs out the lives of 80,000 more in China, and a tsunami kills about 20,000 in Japan, I have little interest in defending or justifying God.

When my son dies of a genetic disorder after watching him slowly degenerate over ten years and I learn of the tragic death of a friend’s son (John Robert Dobbs)—both dying on the same date, May 21—I have little interest in defending or justifying God.

How could I possibly defend any of that? I suppose I could remove God from responsibility by disconnecting him from his creation but I would then still have a God who decided to be a Deist. That’s no comfort—it renders God malevolent or at least disinterested. I prefer to say God is involved and he decides to permit (even cause–though I would have no way of knowing which is the case in any particular circumstance) suffering. I would prefer to hold God responsible for the world he created and how the world proceeds.

I’m tired of defending him. Does God really need my feeble, finite, and fallible arguments in his defense? Perhaps some need to hear a defense—maybe it would help, but I also know it is woefully inadequate at many levels. God does not need my defense as much as God needs to encounter people in their crises. My arguments will not make the difference; only God’s presence will.

I know the theodices and I have attempted them myself. Young utilizes a few of them. A free-will theodicy that roots evil in the free choices of human beings does not help me with earthquakes, genetics and cyclones. It certainly does not explain why God does not answer the prayers of his people with compassionate protection from such. A soul-making theodicy that says God permits evil to develop our characters does not explain the quantity and quality of suffering in the world. Suffering sometimes breaks souls rather than making them. There are other theodicies and combinations, but I find them all pastorally inadequate and rationally unsatisfying.

My rationalizations have all shipwrecked on the rocks of experience in a hurting and painful world. The way I most often approach God in the midst of suffering is now protest, a form of lament.

Does God have a good reason for the pervasive and seemingly gratuitous nature of suffering in the world? I hope he does—I even believe he does, but I don’t know what the reasons are nor do I know anyone who does. My hope is not the conclusion of a well-reasoned, solid inductive/deductive argument but is rather the desperate cry of the sufferer who trusts that the Creator has good intentions and purposes for his creation. I believe there is a Grand Purpose that overcomes the Great Sadness.

Lament is not exactly a theodicy, but it is my response to suffering. It contains my complaint that God is not doing more (Psalm 74:11), my questions about “how long?” (Psalm 13:1), my demand to have my “Why?” questions answered (Psalm 44:24), and my disillusionment with God’s handling of the world (Job 21, 23-24). It is what I feel; it is my only “rational” response to suffering.

I realize that I am a lowly creature whose limitations should relativize my protest (as when God came to Job). But, as with Job and the Psalmists, I continue to lament—I continue because I have divine permission to do so! Of all “people,” I must be honest with God, right? I recognize that my feeble laments cannot grasp the transcendent glory of the one who created the world and I realize that were God to speak he would say to me something of what he told Job. But until he speaks….until he comforts…until he transforms the world, I will continue to speak, lament and protest.

But that response is itself insufficient. I protest, but I must also act.

As one who believes the story of Jesus, I trust that God intends to redeem, heal and renew this world. As a disciple of Jesus, I am committed to imitate his compassion for the hurting, participate in the healing, and sacrifice for redemption. I am, however, at this point an impatient disciple.

Does this mean that there are no comforting “words” for the sufferer? No, I think the story itself is a comfort; we have a story to tell but we must tell it without rationalizing or minimizing creation’s pain. We have a story to tell about God, Israel and Jesus. God loves us despite the seeming evidence to the contrary. God listens to our protests despite our anger and disillusionment. God empathizes with our suffering through the incarnation despite our sense that no one has suffered like we have. God reigns over his world despite the seeming chaos. God will defeat suffering and renew his creation despite its current tragic condition. The story carries hope in its bosom and it is with hope that we grieve.

Mack could not “imagine any final outcome that would justify” all the evil in the world. This is something that Mack says before he sits on the judgment seat before Sophia, but it is a function of the judgment seat to decide what would justify evil and would not. If humans can’t imagine it, then it can’t be possible, right? And that is the crux of the problem—human imagination has become the norm rather than trusting God’s wisdom and knowledge that is beyond searching out, plotting or understanding.

Human imagination or trust in divine wisdom? Which shall we choose? The former, as a criterion, excludes the latter. The latter is patient with the former’s limitations.

But trust is the fundamental problem. At the root of distrust is the suspicion, as Papa tells Mack, “that you don’t think that I am good” (p. 126). We humans tend to trust our own imagination (or rationality) more than we trust God’s goodness. We doubt that “everything—the means, the ends, and all the processes of individual lives—is all covered by [God’s] goodness” (p. 126).

In one of the most powerful scenes in The Shack Papa acknowledges that he could “have prevented what happened to Missy.” He “could have chosen to actively interfere in her circumstance,” but he decided not to do it (p. 222). Only love enabled Mack to trust God with that decision.

We can’t imagine what could possibly justify evil? But, at one level, that is the wrong question. God’s purpose is not to justify it, but to redeem it (p. 127).

My favorite scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ is when Jesus, carrying the cross, falls to his knees under its weight. His mother runs to him and their eyes lock. With blood streaming down his cheeks and holding the symbol of Roman power and violence, Jesus says, “Behold, mother, I make all things new.”

This is the promise of God—a new creation, new heavens and a new earth in a new Jerusalem. There the old order will pass away and the voice of God will declare: “I am making everything new” (Revelation 21:5a).

A day is coming when there will be “no more curse” (Revelation 22:3). There will be no more darkness–the glory of God will fill the earth with light. There will be no more violence–the nations will receive healing and walk by its light. There will be no more death, mourning or tears–the Tree of Life and the Water of Life will nourish the people of God forever.

That renewal, however, is not simply future but is already present. Hope saves us even now. As the Father pours out his love into our hearts by his Spirit, includes us in the Triune fellowship at his breakfast table, and walks with us in our suffering, we can experience the joy of relationship, the peace of love and the hope of renewal.

Mack discovered it when he learned to trust. We will too.


Summer Travels Now Complete

August 15, 2011

It has been a whirlwind summer but a satisfying one.  Only now have I been able to make time to offer a summary. In later posts I hope to tell more about each of our trips.

It began teaching a course on the historical geography of Israel which climaxed in a two-week tour of Israel where archeological, topographical and historical sites were emphasized.

Jennifer, Lacey and I then went on an almost three-week teaching tour in Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia (Brisbane). Jennifer and Lacey taught children while I led some discussions among adults.

After Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration, Jennifer and I participated in the VBS of the Pitman Church of Christ in NJ. We always enjoy visiting that congregation whose long time minister is Dan Cooper…and more on that later.

Saturday we returned from Guatemala where we participated in one of the surgical weeks of Health Talents International at Clinica Ezell. Jennifer served as a nurse and I served as Chaplain.

We are grateful to be safe, healthy and home.  And we are grateful for new friends, renewal of friendship with old friends, and the opportunity to serve in the Kingdom this summer.

I plan to say more in the future, but now I must prepare for the coming semester which begins next week.


Two Years of Regular Blogging

April 1, 2010

The beginning of April marks the conclusion of my second year of “regular” blogging. I appreciate all your kindnesses, interactions and encouragement. For those who are interested in such things, here some of the more popular posts.

The Top Three Posts Over the Two Years are:

3.  Meeting God at the Shack V: Forgiving Others, Self and…God?

2.  Women in the Assembly: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

1.  Divorced People: What Do They Feel?

The Top Five Posts This Year (excluding those above) are:

5.  A Reflection on Psalm 84 for Those Grieving Loss

4.  The Baptism of Jesus: A Fuller Picture

3.  Breaking Bread in Luke-Acts II: Narratival Context

2.  “I Will Change Your Name”

1.  Psalm Lines that Comfort Me

Thank you for your patronage. I am grateful that you find this blog worthy of your attention on occasion.

Shalom,

John Mark


Morris Pettit

July 15, 2009

Morris Pettit, Sheila’s father (my first wife who died in 1980), passed from this life into the next this past Tuesday, July 14.

I am sad today. Morris, even 29 years after Sheila’s death, called me “son.” I have experienced the joy of family, the model of a good father, and the grace of sonship from this good man. He will be sorely missed.

I leave tomorrow for Ellijay, GA. I had promised Morris that I would speak at this funeral–he called me his “favorite preacher” (well, of course, though he had not heard me preach in years). Friday evening I will keep my promise.

This, I anticipate, will be a difficult moment for me. The visitation will be in the same funeral home where I sat with Sheila’s body for hours. The funeral will be in the same building where we remembered Sheila’s life. The burial will be in the same cemetery where Sheila lies. He will be laid next to her.

I have blogged previously how certain feelings surround that funeral experience in 1980. Uncontrolled grief. Embarrassment. Hurt. But….I have recently begun to see that experience with different eyes.

For years when I thought of Sheila’s funeral I could only see the embarrassment, tears, grief and pain. The fog of the great sadness colored everything grey so that I could not see the love present there. I could not see the love of the children from Potter Children’s Home who came to sing at the funeral, I could not see the love of my parents and siblings, I could not see the love the Pettit family (my in-laws) had for me as if I were their own son (and to this day they still call me “son”), I could not see the love of my best man who came at great expense from Oklahoma to stand beside me at the grave (thanks Bruce!), I could not see…. The list could go on.

Great sadness distorts the goodness and love of God. It blinds us to love. The fog creates distrust and fear. But the love of God is nevertheless present in the great sadness. God was present at Sheila’s funeral. God wept with me. God was present through the love that others showered on me–all love flows from God. I can see that love now.

Surrounded by love, God spoke a word into my heart that day that I can only now begin to hear: “You are my beloved.”

Now I go to whisper those same words into the ears of Laura and Morris’ sons (and their wives) and grandchildren. Thanks for your love, my family and friends.


Taking a Sabbath from Posting

May 26, 2009

Readers,

I appreciate your continued interest in my posts. I have enjoyed posting on my course in “Systematic Biblical Doctrine.” But, unfortunately, I must pause that series for a time.

I have encountered some sickness in the family, begun to grade papers, finishing an online course as well, and preparing for a two week vacation (May 29-June 14).

Consequently, I have found it necessary to “rest” from blogging for a while. I will return sometime after June 15 and complete the systematic series. I have four more to write: (1) soteriology; (2) ecclesiology; (3) sacraments; and (4) eschatology. After that, I want to return to more historical interests within the Stone-Campbell Movement.

Until then, my friends, enjoy your vacation from John Mark Hicks–or at least your vacation from any new posts! :-)


May 21 – A Shared Day of Pain with John and Maggy Dobbs

May 21, 2009

May 21, 2001 and May 21, 2008 have something in common. Those are the days on which our children died–my son Joshua and John & Maggy Dobbs’ son John Robert. The memories are painful and today we will each remember, commemorate and reflect.

I pray for peace for John & Maggy today, but I know it will come with great difficulty if at all. They will remember as they determine. I will remember today by going to the grave of my son, sitting in my chair and writing in my journal. It is a beautiful day today. While I usually resist visiting the grave, today I am drawn to it and see the blue skys as hopeful, life-giving and calming.

In memory of Joshua Mark Hicks and John Robert Dobbs, I am republishing a post from May 24, 2008 which expresses my own protest, pain and disillusionment after I learned of John Robert’s accident. It still rings true for me.

May the God of peace and comfort be with you all–the world is much too broken to live in it alone.

John Mark Hicks

Defending God

When a cyclone kills over 130,000 in Myanmar and an earthquake snuffs out the lives of 80,000 more in China, I have little interest in defending or justifying God.

When my son (Joshua Mark Hicks) dies of a genetic disorder after watching him slowly degenerate over ten years and I learn of the tragic death of a friend’s son (John Robert Dobbs)–both dying on the same date, May 21–I have little interest in defending or justifying God.

How could I possibly defend any of that? I suppose I could remove God from responsibility by disconnecting him from creation but I would then still have a God who decided to be a Deist. That’s no comfort–it renders God malevolent or at least disinterested. I would prefer to say God is involved and decides to permit (even cause–though I would have no way of knowing which is the case in any particular event) suffering. I would prefer to hold God responsible for the world he created and how the world proceeds.

I’m tired of defending God. Does God really need my feeble, finite, and fallible defensive arguments? Perhaps some need to hear a defense–maybe it would help, but I also know it is woefully inadequate at many levels. God does not need my defense as much as God needs to encounter people in their existential crises. My arguments will not make the difference; only God’s presence will.

I know the theodices and I have attempted them myself (see my old “rational” attempt which is on my General Articles page; I have also uploaded the companion piece on the Providence of God). A free-will theodicy does not help me with earthquakes, genetics and cyclones; it certainly does not explain why God does not answer the prayers of people with compassionate protection from such. A soul-making theodicy does not explain the quantity and quality of suffering in the world; suffering sometimes breaks souls rather than making them. There are other theodicies and combinations, but I find them all existentially inadequate (which is an academic understatement!) and rationally unsatisfying.

My theodic rationalizations have all shipwrecked on the rocks of experience in a hurting and painful world. My theodic mode of encounter with God in the midst of suffering is now protest.

Does God have a good reason for the pervasive and seemingly gratutious nature of suffering in the world? I hope God does–I even believe God does, but I don’t know what the reasons are nor do I know anyone who does. My hope is not the conclusion of a well-reasoned, solid inductive/deductive argument but is rather the desparate cry of the sufferer who trusts that the Creator has good intentions and purposes for creation.

Lament is not exactly a theodicy, but it is my response to suffering. It contains my complaint that God is not doing more (Psalm 74:11), my questions about “how long?” (Psalm 13:1), my demand to have my “Why?” questions answered (Psalm 44:24), and my disillusionment with God’s handling of the world (Job 21, 23-24). It is what I feel; it is my only “rational” response to suffering.

I realize that I am a lowly creature whose limitations should relativize my protest (as when God came to Job) though not minimize it. But, as with Job and the Psalmists, I continue to lament–I continue because I have divine permission to do so! Of all “people,” I must be honest with God, right? I recognize that my feeble laments cannot grasp the transcendent glory of the one who created the world and I realize that were God to speak God would say to me something of what he said to Job. But until God speaks….until God comforts…until God transforms the world, I will continue to speak, lament and protest.

But that response is itself insufficient. I protest, but I must also act.

As one who believes the story of Jesus, I trust that God intends to redeem, heal and renew the world. As a disciple of Jesus, I am committed to imitate his compassion for the hurting, participate in the healing, and sacrifice for redemption. I am, however, at this point an impatient disciple.

Does this mean that there are no comforting “words” for the sufferer? No, I think the story itself is a comfort; we have a story to tell but we must tell it without rationalizing or minimizing creation’s pain. We have a story to tell about God, Israel and Jesus. God loves us despite the seeming evidence to the contrary. God listens to our protests despite our anger and disillusionment. God empathizes with our suffering through the incarnation despite our sense that no one has suffered like we have. God reigns over his world despite the seeming chaos. God will defeat suffering and renew creation despite its current tragic reality. The story carries hope in its bosom and it is with hope that we grieve.

My love-hate relationship with God continues…I love (trust) him despite my unbelief. God, I believe-I trust; help my unbelief–heal my doubts. Give light to my eyes in the midst of the darkness.

May God have mercy.


Yesterday–A Testimony

May 1, 2009

Yesterday I drove to Ellijay, Georgia–the city of my wife’s birth, upbringing, marriage, death and burial. She died around 2:00am on April 30, 1980 while convalescing in her parent’s home from back surgery twenty days before.

Yesterday I drove to her graveside alone. I had not been there alone in some years, perhaps decades. It was time for me to sit with her, pray, reflect, and meditate.

When I arrived, I sat my portable chair near her grave.  Praying, I began journaling as my counselor suggested.  Journaling is often difficult for me, but this time I wrote for almost two hours.

The cemetery is a small one; it is nestled in a small depression with a country white Methodist church building rising above it. The church sits on Highway 52 which rides a blue ridge in north Georgia.  One road makes a short circle within the graveyard–so short that you have to keep your hand turning the wheels as the car moves among the gravestones. The graves are well-kept. It is a serene atmosphere as the cemetery is surrounded by trees and one large fir tree rises near the center.  All of this in sight of the surrounding ridges of the north Georgia mountains. It is a calm, peaceful setting.

Sheila was the first to be buried outside of the circle but today she is accompanied by aunts and uncles on her north and south side.  As yet she has no immediate family lying beside her.

When I sat down, the clouds were ominous. They were dark and brooding.  I anticipated rain and the forecast called for it. I wondered whether I would have to sit in the car and journal.  As I began journaling I wrote that the dark clouds were a metaphor for how I felt sitting next to her. Sadness filled my soul and tears flowed.

As I was writing and thinking about that metaphor–feeling my way through it, the sky changed. The clouds were still there, but a hole had opened up among them. The hole was situated directly above the cemetery and the sun lit Sheila’s grave. It was as if the whole cemetery was engulfed by the blue sky and its bright sun.  At the same time I felt a gentle, cool breeze flowing over me–a calm wind, a peaceful breath.

“God,” I wrote, “is this for me?”

The dark clouds began moving to the northeast, but the blue sky stayed directly over head. The sun was so bright at times that I could barely write. I needed sunglasses but had none. There were still plenty of clouds, but not over Sheila’s grave. The bright sunlight continued unabated.

“God,” I wrote, “are you telling me something?”

As I was driving down Highway 52 to turn into the parking lot of the Methodist church, I noticed how dark the clouds were and I thought to myself “how fitting.” It was how I always anticipated coming here–sad, depressing, upsetting. Consequently, I tended to avoid the grave.

“God,” I wrote, “are you telling me my life has been dark too long? that it is time to see the light?”

The trees whistled with a pleasant wind. The sun dispelled the darkness. The warmth of the sun and refreshing breeze renewed me. The sun’s warmth sent my heart to God’s love and the breeze felt like the breath (Spirit) of God. My father was blowing fresh grace on me–a fresh joy in that painful place with such painful memories.

“God,” I wrote, “you are here now–you are with me. There is peace. The dark clouds are moving away.”

I know not whether you believe in such experiences. But that was mine yesterday. It was as real to me as typing this sentence.  I’ve had them before and this one was simply amazing, wondrous and beautiful.

Is my grieving over?  I doubt it. But I think it reached a new stage yesterday. It was a moment of grace and joy when all I expected was fear and sadness.

“Is this God’s grace?” I wrote with tear-filled eyes.  Yes, indeed, it was.  Thank you, God.

I then visited with Sheila’s parents for a couple of hours. They are godly, good folk. They still love me and I love them.


Bent and Broken but Better For It?

April 29, 2009

Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but–I hope–into a better shape.

Estella to Pip, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, chap. 59

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.

Job to Eliphaz, Job 23:10

Estella, “bent and broken” by an abusive marriage, is transformed into something “better.” Now she hopes for the love she once rebuffed and Pip sees her as part of his own redemption. Their suffering prepared them for each other. [Interestingly, the first ending to Great Expectations is not so happy.]

Job began his response to Eliphaz with a declaration that “Today also my complaint is bitter” and God’s “hand is heavy despite my groaning” (Job 23:1). But he knows his suffering is a test of some sort–a bitter one, but one which he will endure though he also protests it.

Estella and Pip can stand on the other side of suffering and value it though they did not enjoy it. Job can sit in the midst of his suffering and recognize it as a refining process though painful and seemingly unjust.

But it takes time to get there, if we ever do. Even Job, in his first response to Eliphaz, protested that “his days have no meaning” in the light of God’s testing (Job 7:16, 18). He boldly declared that he would “speak in the anguish of [his] spirit” and “complain in the bitterness of [his] soul” (Job 7:11).

Yet, somewhere in the process, Job saw something more in his experience than mere injustice. He seems to have always thought it was unfair (cf. Job 27:2) but he did come to see that there was more involved than just that. It had a purpose. Whatever meaning he saw, however, did not deter him from protesting (cf. Job 30).

But all sufferers do not come to terms with some kind of “meaning” in their suffering and neither does their suffering always end up “rosy.”  Sometimes sufferers die in the darkness unaware that their suffering has any meaning whatsover….if, in fact, it does.

Does Sheila’s death have meaning? Does Joshua’s? I think they do, but I am at a loss to tell exactly what it is. Did their losses test and refine me? Surely they did. Did I learn something through the fire? Yes, of course.  Am I better for having been “bent and broken”? Yes, today I am.

Was it worth it?  Honestly, No!  It is difficult to value my “betterment” (even transformation!) as more important than their lives. Here is where my protest arises–my complaint that is sometimes bitter and sometimes angry.

But I recognize that I do not see the whole picture. I don’t know all that God is doing; I could not begin to imagine his mysterious and hidden ways.  All I can do is sit where I sit at the bottom of the bowl, experience my little world, feel my feelings and trust that God knows what he is doing….trust that there is meaning in my suffering….that somehow, someway it is–in God’s grand wisdom–worth it.

Trust. That is the key word.  Trust enables acceptance and dispels fear…but it is a process and it takes time, sometimes lots of time. God is patient. I am his beloved. Let us be patient with each other.