By Norris Burkes Jan 24, 2016
In a recent email, a reader asked, “Why doesn’t God want me to have friends?” Shortly after that, another reader asked me why God allowed cancer to take his wife.
These are among the weekly questions I get through the 38 newspapers that carry this column. Since I can’t give personally prescribed answers to each reader, I thought I could perhaps combine four common themes from these questions into “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQs).
1. What should I do about my life?
Like those readers mentioned, this question is often accompanied with a heartbreaking story of personal tragedy or broken relationships.
Unfortunately, I can’t dispense individual remedies because it would be emotionally dishonest of me to tell strangers how they should live their lives. The best I can do is to encourage these folks to seek help from community clergy or counselors.
2. Why did God do that? Or allow that?
Not surprisingly, the religious reader asks this as often as the atheist reader. When I think the inquisitor can tolerate a playful response, I’ll often quip, “I don’t know. I’m in sales, not in service.”
However, in my job as a healthcare chaplain, I instinctively know their question is often about loss. Therefore, I endeavor to ping the depth of their pain by asking what they’ve lost in life. I invite them to tell me how God has disappointed them.
The last two FAQs are examples of ones that are confrontive or combative.
3. Why don’t you stick to religious topics?
This is more an assumption by people offended that a spiritual columnist would express an opinion about politics, racism and social issues. They infer I should stick to Bible verses and “Chicken Soup” stories.
However, my assumption is that there is a spiritual component to every facet of every problem. That means God’s available to walk beside us in the current events of our daily lives.
He concerns himself as much with the brutal circumcision of women in Africa as he does the killing of unarmed blacks. He’s as troubled over those countries that turn away refugees as he is those who execute people of faith.
The God I know doesn’t stick to religious topics, so neither do I.
4. Are you a Christian?
Some readers ask with sincerity, while others employ the stinging qualifier of “even,” – as in, “Are you EVEN a Christian?” The implication is that I’m either not a Christian or I’m not their brand.
But to answer the sincere reader, “Yes, I’m a Christian.” While I come from a “Born Again” tradition, I identify best with those calling themselves evangelical liberals.
But truthfully, I’m more fond of saying, “I follow the God whom Christ came to reveal.” Meaning, I’m not a fan of the “smite thee from the face of the Earth” kind of God or the God of the upcoming apocalypse.
It’s too bad there’s not a litmus test for Christians. Oh wait, maybe there is. Jesus said the real test was for us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…: (and) “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There’s nothing in Jesus’ test about what political party you belong to, or whether you own a gun or where you worship. So, yes, I’m a Christian.
The truth is that you won’t get all your religious questions answered by reading my column. That’s because I’m not a theologian, or a pastor or a biblical scholar. I’m a chaplain. That means that at the end of the day, I’m not here to help you finalize your answers. I’m here to help clarify your questions.
– Write Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain, or call 843-608-9715. Norris Burkes will be coming to Florida during the first ten days in March. During those weekends, he is available for public speeches, church retreats, marriage seminars, worship services, university or private high school chapels, in-service for healthcare and hospice, and veterans’ events. If you would like to host Norris at your event, please email email@example.com.