Deep Thought

On Tuesday night we held the first of a new gathering at our church under the general title of ‘Deep Thought’. The name comes from the computer in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Deep Thought) that was built to come up with the answer to “life, the universe and everything.” Our new gathering is a safe space in which we can ask the big questions of life, the universe and everything.

We have a couple of ground rules: there are no daft questions and we must respect everyone’s perspective and understanding that they bring to the group, even if we disagree with them. On the first evening it felt that everyone kept to the ground rules, even when opposing, deeply-held, convictions were expressed.

We decided to start with the easy questions first so looked at evil and suffering. We went off on interesting tangents at times (which was fine so long as we did not go too far away) and explored some deep thoughts. The general response from those at the gathering was that it was good to do and we will do it again (once the Christmas rush is over).

I am very happy with the way the gathering went. I am also very happy with the premise of the group – that we can ask deep questions of God without offending him. It’s not that he does not mind us asking this big questions, expressing doubts, admitting that we don’t know all the answers (or even all the questions), and having differing opinions about some of the answers to some of the questions. I think he actively encourages it. Why else would he make himself known to us humans? Why else would he become incarnate and live among us? Why else would he provide us with the ability to ask ‘why’?

I believe that, far from undermining my faith in God, asking big questions of him and our experience of life can help to strengthen it. I can reason, discuss, debate (in the correct sense of the word, not argue), discern, discover and explore God and his world and the more I do so the more I experience of him, and the more I realise I don’t know or understand. The more I know, the more I realise I know less than I thought I did and the less I know the greater my appreciation of the One who made, sustains and is involved in life. [Sir Humphrey Appleby is alive and well!]

In the words of the desperate father who brought his sick son to Jesus: “I do believe. Help my unbelief.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

A college student was in a philosophy class, where there was a class discussion about whether or not God exists, The professor had the following logic:

“Has anyone in this class heard God?” Nobody spoke.

“Has anyone in this class touched God?” Again, nobody spoke.

“Has anyone in this class seen God?” When nobody spoke for the third time, he simply stated, “Then there is no God.”

The student did not like the sound of this at all, and asked for permission to speak. The professor granted it, and the student stood up and asked the following questions of his classmates:

“Has anyone in this class heard our professor’s brain?” Silence.

“Has anyone in this class touched our professor’s brain?” Absolute silence.

“Has anyone in this class seen our professor’s brain?” When nobody in the class dared to speak, the student concluded, “Then, according to our professor’s logic, it must be true that our professor has no brain!”

The student received an “A” in the class.

when in doubt…

I think my favourite Old Testament personality is Elijah. I’m not sure what made me think of that, but he is. It’s because he is so… human.

One minute he is on a spiritual high – confronting false gods and royalty, the next he is running for his life. He is even petulant with God.

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1Ki 19:3-4)

“I have had enough, LORD.” The two halves of that sentence are incompatible.

When God ministered to him on Mount Horeb he told Elijah to go out of the cave and stand on the mountain because he was about to allow Elijah to witness his incredible presence. But Elijah stayed in the cave! It was only when the maelstrom outside had calmed to the ‘sound of sheer silence’ that Elijah ventured to the mouth of the cave.

And even that failed to shake Elijah from his misery. It was not so much that he saw the glass as half-empty, he felt like the glass had been smashed to smithereens.

But God offered him a new task (which he failed to do) and a companion (Elisha).

There are difficult and dark times for all of us in life. There are times when we doubt our faith, when we question whether God is in control, when we wonder if it is worth it, when we have had enough, LORD.

On those occasions I find Elijah strangely comforting. God dealt gently with him when he was fragile. He did not yell at him and tell him to pull himself together. He understood what Elijah needed to carry on and offered it to him.

If in doubt, look at 1 Kings 19 

>speaking conversationally

>Sundial 1It’s been a busy day. It’s the first day I was in the church office since the op and it has been fruitful and tiring. I have had some God-inspired conversations with people (where I was in the right place at the right time and had the courage to ask the right question). But I have also not had time (until now) to write anything blogworthy. I did sit down just before 1015 this morning to write something but got interrupted and have not had a chance until now.

The God-inspired conversations and travelling to and from town on the bus got me thinking about how poor I am at small-talk. Some people naturally start up a conversation with everyone they meet. I am more often an observer rather than a participant. 

I struggle to know what to say to people I don’t know. I hate to ask ‘what do you do for a living?’ for four reasons. One is that it is so unoriginal. The second is that I do not define people by what they do. The third is that I realise that some people do a lot that is unpaid or do not have jobs. The fourth is that it may inspire them to ask me what I do and that is often a conversation killer!

Gelly Cartoon balloon 2

So what to ask people? I have been trying to come up with a stock of good questions:

“What things inspire you?”

“What are your hopes and aspirations for the next year?”

“Who are your heroes / heroines?”

“What makes you smile?”

“What is important in your life?”

These seem like good questions, but they also seem a little, well, dry. A little bit ‘Blue Peter’. (Here’s one I prepared earlier). I think better questions may be along the lines of:

“How are you?”

That sort of question is personal (and perhaps not a good ‘opener’) but is also an opportunity for people to share about themselves on their terms.

In a conversation I was having earlier today I remembered that Jesus asked a fantastic question:

“What would you like me to do for you?”

That’s the sort of question that should be on the lips of all his followers. But we need to be ready for some surprising answers!

More questions:

Have you ever imagined a world with no hypothetical situations?
Have you ever seen a toad on a toadstool?
How can there be self-help “groups”?
How do you get off a nonstop flight?
If a jogger runs at the speed of sound, can he still hear his walkman?
If peanut butter cookies are made from peanut butter, then what are Girl Scout cookies made out of?
If space is a vacuum, who changes the bags?
If swimming is good for your shape, then why do the whales look the way they do?
If tin whistles are made out of tin, what do they make fog horns out of?
If white wine goes with fish, do white grapes go with sushi?
If you jog backwards, will you gain weight?
Why do they call it ‘chili’ if it’s hot?