Honesty Pays!

Flipping through the cable channels Sunday afternoon, I caught the last moments of the playoff between PGA pros Jim Furyk and Brian Davis at the Verizon Heritage tournament in Hilton Head, SC (See it on YouTube at http://tinyurl.com/y5zwkns). Davis apparently hit an approach shot that ended up in a marshy hazard surrounded by boulders just below the green. I said to my wife, "You gotta watch this." It was an impossible shot. He'd have to chop through the weeds into damp sand, loft the ball up and over the boulders and land it onto the green. Most of us would've missed the ball entirely or ricocheted it off the rocks. Not Davis. After much careful planning, he hit the shot, gently deposited it onto the green, and remained in contention. Then the strangest thing happened. He called a course official over and confessed to the possibility that, during his backswing, his club might've grazed a reed. If so, that's against the Rules of Golf, and it would merit a penalty, costing him the tournament. Yet he still reported himself. Within one second of making the shot. The infraction was real, but only viewable by TV slow-motion replay. It would've been so, so very easy for Davis not to have said anything. The shot was tough enough, after all. But he did report it, and in doing so, Davis showed us something well beyond the game of golf. Englishman Brian Davis gave golf something to celebrate in its post-scandal Tiger Woods funk. In that split-second decision, Davis got second place place and lost $409,000. Just in that infinitesimal grazing of a reed. But in that moment Davis gained so much more than money. To onlookers everywhere, he showed the enduring worth of honesty. It was an amazing, redemptive moment in sports. It was quiet, but its message was clear: In a world so often motivated by winning and winnings, Davis showed us something money can't buy. Integrity.

The challenge for the rest of us? If we were in Davis's golf shoes, what would we have done?!

The Gospel According to Google?

I recently read a book about the founding of Google. Their goal, I learned, is to provide access to information freely and universally. It's Google's quest, their mission, their driving passion. They're doing quite well at this, too: Google's given us fast, intuitive search engines, free email, Google Earth, Google Maps, YouTube, free document storage, free applications, Google Reader, Google Scholar, Google Shopping--etc, etc, etc. It's pretty amazing, really. And all of this undergirded by their motto, "Don't be evil."

Reading the book, I couldn't shake the biblical image of humankind's impressive construction of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). This was another bold assertion of god-like technologies over human surroundings, leveraging creativity and culture to unify humankind and to reach upward to the heavens. However, the project was doomed from the beginning: humankind's penchant for sin and evil corrupted their designs, making them drip with destructive potential. The text tells us God graciously confounded their speech and stopped their hubristic aspirations.

The takeaway for me?

Whether it's the advanced attempts of Babel or Google, such reliance on technology to perfect, unify, or otherwise save humankind is doomed to fail. We can't jump over our shadows, no matter how sophisticated our techniques. And, while it's intoxicating to see how fast and universally we can access information, we need to ask ourselves: is such abundant information actually making us better people? Can more information really improve us? I thought we all awoke last century from the liberal Enlightenment dream that such "progress" could perfect us. Such giddy optimism was choked by mustard gas and trench warfare, two world wars and a holocaust, genocide and the possibility of nuclear Armaggedon. Technology and progress are very alluring; it's easy to become intoxicated by advancement and innovation. Beware.

Don't get me wrong: instant access to information is great. I love it. I really do. My growing gaggle of iPhone apps proves it. But I'm not going to buy the lie that universal access to information will in any way improve us morally. It might actually make us worse. More informed, but more arrogant. More powerful, but not a whit more compassionate.

Timeless values of loving relationship, face-to-face quality time, forgiveness, patience, long-suffering, grace--these are what will ultimately transform and improve us as people. These can't be souped-up or supercharged. They're not fast or optimized for efficiency. They're often slow and frustratingly painful. In the end, it's intimacy, not information, that wins the day. It's the intimate knowledge of God's grace in Christ, not the informational knowledge of Google's facts on the Web, that transforms us.

What Good is Suffering?

I just finished teaching a five-week adult class entitled "Making Sense of Suffering" (http://tinyurl.com/ygyka5z). It wasn't an easy class to prepare for, let alone teach. If you're like me, you'd just as soon not focus on suffering. You'd prefer to deny it, avoid it, or otherwise postpone it. Teaching the class made me realize that suffering is universally relevant: far from being esoteric or academic or theoretical, suffering is a very real and painful part of everyone's life. It has immediate application to each person, regardless of their background, belief, or lack thereof. People pay attention when you teach on suffering.

My class began with a general philosophical introduction to the problem of pain. The classic conundrum goes something like this: if there's a God, and this God is good, and this God is all powerful, how can there be suffering? Drop one of these three conditions and there's not much of a problem. The first class then looked at the Bible's explanation of suffering. The Book of Genesis, chapters 1 through 3, tells the story. In creating human beings as free moral agents, able to choose good or evil, God allowed for the possibility of evil, sin, and death. In response to our poor choices, the Bible tells of God's grand rescue story to love back into relationship a wayward people.

We then looked at Suffering and Job (not suffering and your job; that's a different story). This classic biblical book gave us many insights into the spiritual dimensions of suffering, the freedom we have to get angry with God, and some painful mistakes we can easily make in trying to help those who suffer.

Next, we looked at Suffering and Hope, how God responds to our sin and suffering in the death of Jesus Christ. In his life among us and his death for us, Jesus embraces and experiences every dimension of our human pain. His resurrection gives us the assurance that there will be an end to suffering and a glorious new life to come. Amidst our suffering, God is shaping us into the image of Jesus, teaching us how to endure in hope, and offering us a platform to bear witness to the world of God's love in Christ.

Finally, we looked at Suffering and Help. I outlined several do's and don'ts in how we might give comfort to the suffering. We followed up the class with a two-part video series by Louie Giglio, "Hope--When Life Hurts Most" (available here: http://tinyurl.com/yk83q85). It's been a powerful season for studying suffering...and an exhausting one. As I mentioned tongue-in-cheek to the Sunday School class this week: "I'm done with suffering." As if.

Suffering dogs our heels. It's a sure thing. As Jesus said in John 16:33: "In this world you will have trouble." Affliction. Persecution. Suffering. Guaranteed. But on this week which leads to trouble, we also have this assurance: After guaranteeing trouble, Jesus adds: "But take heart, I have overcome the world." Christ is with us in suffering. Jesus knows it first-hand. But Jesus suffered to this good end: all who humbly trust in his sacrificial suffering for their sins will share in the power of his resurrection life to come. Death will not be final for us; we look forward to a new heaven and a new earth--where there will be no more weeping, pain, or death. Jesus suffers once and for all. Ultimately, that's what's good about suffering.