How does the Christian storyteller understand the mystery of evil?

Evil for the French novelist François Mauriac was necessary to tell stories of hope and love and redemption. Stories of childhood and innocence also required to be stories of evil and violence. But it is not the easy, cookie-cutter projection of evil prevalent among characters today (ie. bad guys in movies).

Evil is a mystery. How does the Christian storyteller understand this mystery? Mauriac wrestles with this question in his 1952 Nobel Prize in Literature speech:

For a Christian, evil remains the most anguishing of mysteries. The man who amidst the crimes of history perseveres in his faith will stumble over the permanent scandal: the apparent uselessness of the Redemption.

The well-reasoned explanations of the theologians regarding the presence of evil have never convinced me, reasonable as they may be, and precisely because they are reasonable. The answer that eludes us presupposes an order not of reason but of charity.

It is an answer that is fully found in the affirmation of St. John: God is Love.

Nothing is impossible to the living love, not even drawing everything to itself; and that, too, is written.

Creativity Series: Tyler Braun “The Blinking Cursor and My Rising Pulse”

The Bereshit Bara Creativity Series asks 13 Creatives to wrestle with how they make the first move, write the first word, fling the first brush stroke, peel back the first layer of clay? What inspires them, what moves them, what drives them? I’d also like to hear from YOU. Send me your thoughts or a link to your post wrestling with these questions at

If you comment on today’s post you will be entered into a drawing to win Tyler Braun’s debut book Why Holiness Matters. You have until Friday to enter and I’ll announce the winner over the weekend.

Download episodes or Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes by clicking here.

Listen to the podcast:

Those of us who write know the awful feeling of staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page. For those who paint, it’s the bristles of the paintbrush sitting in the paint while staring at a blank canvas. For those who write music, it’s the fingers resting on the keys of the piano waiting for inspiration to come.

I liken it to staring out into the empty expanse of the desert. We see seemingly no life. Everything around us is dead.

Something I can only describe as God-breathed or magical (depending on your worldview) happens between the blinking cursor, my rising pulse, and the finished product of beauty.

I could write about the four principles that drive me from beginning to end, but those principles won’t work for you. We love to create a formula for creating. The problem is each of us was made differently. We each have different passions, desires, and experiences. Why is it that we then try to formulate overcoming the blank page into tried and true principles and action steps? We should know better.

Here’s the reality I’ve come to know about creating out of emptiness: It takes humble submission.

Creatives don’t need more confidence or more inspiration to do the work. Nope, creatives need humility in order to create well.

Somewhere in the midst of the blinking cursor and my rising pulse I have a moment of clarity when I realize I’m incapable. I cannot do this creation on my own. I do not have the ability. My own worldview informs me that it is the God inside of me who begins His inspiring work once I’m able to get my own arrogant agenda out of the way. Why must I learn this lesson over and over I wonder?

In the creation account found in Genesis 1, God has created much of the world we see around us, even the cosmos our own eyes cannot see. He made it and called it good. But the work continued on as God created Adam and Eve.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)

Think of the implications of this as it relates to our own ability to create:

1) We are created in the “likeness” of the Creator.

2) The same creative power that breathed the universe into existence lives in us.

We could translate Genesis 1:26 by saying God created us to be His “icons” or reflections or windows. We were made to point to Him.

So what does any of this have to do with overcoming the blank page? Everything.

As we lay down our own agendas and our own creative arrogance for the sake of serving the Creator we have an opportunity for Him to work through us. We were made by Him, with His creative imprint, to go about our lives creating for the sake of our Creator.

Between the blinking cursor and the finished product is the place where we humbly sacrifice ourselves for the sake of becoming people the Creator can use in order to create through us.

True creation comes through no other way.

Creatives need to humbly submit themselves to the Master Artist.

Tyler Braun is a 27-year-old INTJ living in Portland, Oregon with his wife Rose. He works full time as a worship leader, while also finding time to study at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in pursuit of a masters degree. Tyler’s first book releases in August of this year through Moody Publishers and is available for pre-order now. You can find Tyler on TwitterFacebook, or his blog.

Beauty Will Save the World

This kind of beauty won’t be saving anything but women from marriage.

The one year anniversary of Gregory Wolfe’s Beauty Will Save the World is almost one week away. If you are a writer or an artist wrestling with the significance of faith and art then you need to read this book.

Wolfe lays out history showing us from where we came in order to guide the direction we move toward, but equally as important his book is “about making connections that draw us together,” rather than “restoring a past order.”

Wolfe examines the Catholic voice in literature and art while stitching together the polemics between left and right, liberal and conservative. He doesn’t hide the chasm, but proposes a unifying vision of hope of beauty that he draws from literature and art.

In any case, public discourse has increasingly come to be dominated by warring academic elites; there are fewer and fewer men and women of “letters”—non-academic artists and writers who balance a passion for truth and goodness with the concreteness that beauty demands—involved in the conversation…

I’ve been drawn to the ways that prophetic culture can be placed in tension with the imaginative cultures, precisely because they need each other so much. What happens when prophecy meets art, heaven meets earth—when divine imperatives meet the tangled human condition? When two cultures meet, they challenge one another, preventing them from the excesses particular to their own natures. Faith asks art to be about something more than formal virtuosity and to consider that meaning itself is already inherently metaphysical, even religious. Art asks faith to become incarnate in the human condition without compromise—or evasion—and remain compelling.

Indignation by Philip Roth

Indignation by Philip Roth is set in the early 50’s with the Korean War waging across the sea and the threat of the draft looming over young men like Marcus Messner, the son of the kosher-buthcher in Newark, New Jersey, who attends the city college across town and plays on the baseball team and works for his father. But his father’s paranoia forces him to move out to Winesburg, Ohio and the respectable college with brick buildings and mid-American values. But Marcus doesn’t fit in well with his new surroundings and falls in love with a Olivia Hutton, the girl with a scarred wrist.

Roth boils indignation with each of Marcus’ mis-steps and produces a seething illustration of a young liberal idealist opposing the strong arm of traditional American conservatism and failing miserably. It’s a bitter tragedy of another Newark Jew that Roth is so masterfully known for.

NPR has an interview with Roth discussing the novel that you can listen to (here).

Mark Sarvas isn’t impressed in his review (here).

Here’s an interview with Roth by Oregonian’s Jeff Baker.

Elsewhere, Perhaps by Amoz Oz

Amoz Oz wrote Elsewhere, Perhaps when he was 27. It was his second novel. Set in the fictional town of Metsudat Ram, an Israeli Kibbutz, in a valley near a disputed border. If the desert heat doesn’t threaten their way of life than the enemies in the mountains do. The people of the kibbutz believe in the secular-humanistic principals of a collective society, spending their days working in the fields and their evenings eating in the dining hall or arguing politics in their homes. In Metsudat Ram gossip moves faster than the hot wind. Rueven Harishman’s wife has left him for the business partner of Ezra Berger’s brother. When Rueven is rumored to be finding his way into Ezra’s wife’s bed at night, Reuven’s sixteen year old daughter is seen visiting Ezra on his return trips from the city. 

Written in the collective first-person point-of-view of the people in the kibbutz while playing an omniscient narrator and often shifting into first person. The novel is an examination of the kibbutz life, of love even among sadness and betrayal, where family and belonging and love are greater than our sins.

Home by Marilynne Robinson

Home by Marilynne Robinson is the same setting from her Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead, but told from a different perspective. This time from John Ames’ good friend the Reverend Boughton’s daughter Glory. A woman who has returned to Gilead, Iowa to take care of her ailing father. Her delinquent older brother Jack soon returns home for the first time in over twenty years, to the joy as well as the sorrow of his father.

With a pace that resonates with Robinson’s first novel Housekeeping and a firm delicacy that balances hope and desolation, religion and hypocrisy, holiness and grace, Home is about a family’s search for rest and life.

Read the Newsweek interview with Marilynne Robinson here. Read the Blogcritics’ review here and the Oregonian’s review here.

Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris

The disciples, (as Rob Bell points out in this NOOMA video) at least some of them, were young, maybe 15, 16 years old. And yet God used teenagers to change the world.

The Harris brothers are rebelling against low expectations set for teens and encourage others as well. The book breaks down the myth of teenagers and what they can do to challenge themselves and to really undertake difficult circumstances that will help them to grow and mature.

Read the first chapter here. Read a review here and here. Download the book’s study guide here.  Check out their popular website and blog here. Listen, read, and/or watch a sermon by John Piper on the subject of teenagers here. Buy the book here.

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse — Part 3

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Part 3: Post-Abuse Recovery

Chapter 17: How to Escape a Spiritual Trap

• It’s easy to get into a spiritually abusive system, but it’s very hard to get out. The further we move away from normal the more trapped we are in our thinking. We can become delusional about the situation and at some point even addicted to religion.

Chapter 18: Renewing the Mind & Chapter 19: Recovering the Right Focus

• To begin seeing the abusive system clearly and not through the unhealthy lens that the abusive system wants you to look through you must return to the true gospel, not the performance gospel an abusive system can preach, but a gospel where there is freedom in Christ, where there is rest and hope and love.

Chapter 20: One Response: Flight

• Here are some questions the authors ask when thinking about whether or not to leave or to stay: Does grace really have a chance? Are you supporting what you hate? Do you need to be right? Can you stay, and stay healthy, both at the same time? Can you decide your own limits and stick with them? Do you believe God cares more about the church than you do? Is it possible the system might need to die? Are you trying to help the system even though you are exhausted? Are you able to listen to the voice of sanity? Do you really know where to sow? If you came today for the first time, knowing what you know now about the system, would you stay?

Chapter 19: One Response: Fight

• The authors give some helpful advice for those who choose to fight the spiritually abusive system. Decide whom you serve, whether Christ or yourself. Be ready for resistance. Keep telling the truth. Know who your enemy is. Satan is the enemy, our battle is not against flesh and blood. Hang on to the Shepherd. Know how a healthy spiritual system functions. 

The book ends with a message to perpetrators of spiritual abuse.

An interview with one of the authors here.

Another review here.

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse — Part 2

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderan

Read summary of Part 1 here

Part 2: Abusive Leaders and Why They Are Trapped

CHAPTER 9 — “Because I’m the Pastor That’s Why”

• “Leadership that demands authority because it’s in an authorial position rests upon a false basis of authority.”

• “Anyone who suggests that something is wrong quickly becomes ‘the problem.'”

“Instead of ones authority being based on the fact that they are wise, discerning and true. It’s based on the fact that one is solely in charge.”

• “Authority is in the truth one speaks, not the position one holds. Whenever or wherever we see a system or a person posturing or assuming a position of authority based solely on role, office, or position, we are dealing with a false basis of authority. If a person’s spiritual authority rests on the sole fact that “I am the pastor,” there is a good chance they have taken that posture because they have no real authority.”

CHAPTER 10 — “You Can Trust Me”

• Leaders can often lead double lives gaining trust by acting one way and then spiritually abusing after they’ve gained the trust. Acting in a way opposite of what they preach can also happen as well as double-talk where straight answers are never given.

CHAPTER 11 — “Image is Everything”

• How things look is more important than what is real.

• False leaders turn to people’s opinions and outward appearance as the sources of their validation and real needs are not met.

• If a spiritually abusive leader is not given a place of honor–is not publicly acknowledged–he or she will be sure that no one else is either. What prevails is jealousy and competition.

• The way you can spot an abusive system is that the leaders require the place of honor.

CHAPTER 12 — “Straining Gnats, Swallowing Camels”

• “You’re out of order!” declared the elder leading the meeting. The church’s young pastor had just told the assembly that he and his family were spiritually starving and financially dying. “We have important business to deal with here. You’re not on the agenda.”

• When ministry becomes more important than people, when following rules and laws are more important than people’s hurts and pains there is an inverted spirituality that is abusive and unhealthy. “The insignificant is made significant and the significant is made insignificant.” “The real needs of people are neglected for the agenda.”

CHAPTER 13 — “The Weight of Religion”

• When religion gives a set of rules to follow we immediately are burdened by the weight of never living up to the standard, of always falling short. But God’s grace isn’t about being burdened, it’s about freedom and living through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not a list of dos and don’ts.

CHAPTER 14 — “No Admittance”

• Where there is no life-giving reign of God, only a substitute God who suddenly demands a great deal of activity from us to “prove” we are “worthy servants.”

• “There are people longing for God, and they hope that the logical place to discover the truth about God is in a place that claims to have it–the church. But when they go, all too often what they discover is a system that gives them more work to do in order to be “close” to God.

CHAPTER 15 — Spreading “the Gospel”

• If the message does not lift weights off people, set them free, and reconnect the people to their true source of life then it is not the authentic good news but something that is harmful.

CHAPTER 16 — The People Get Devoured

• “It is the unsatisfied hungers–mentally, egotistically, emotionally–that cause a shepherd to devour his own. You follow, you trust, and you think it is completely safe.”

• “Abusive systems don’t serve and equip people, they use people. Worse, they use people up.”

• “Unless I stay rightly connected with God, my entire sense of value as a person will come from how I perform as a person and how others reward and applaud my behavior.”

• “I may encourage you to come and serve and give to the glory of God, but the real reason I’m encouraging you to do that is because I will look like a success if you do. I will use you to make me look good. At this point, my ego has begun to feed upon you.” (emphasis mine)

Next we’ll look at Part 3: Post Abuse Recovery

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen

Part 1: Spiritual Abuse and Its Victims

Chapters 1-3 attempts to clarify what spiritual abuse is and what it is not. 

The authors say that, “Spiritual abuse is the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment. (20)”

This of course is a very broad view so we’ll try to narrow it down some more.

“When your words or actions tear down another, or attack or weaken a person’s standing as a Christian–to gratify you, your position or your beliefs while at the same time weakening or harming another–that is spiritual abuse. (23)”

“There are spiritual systems in which what people think, how they feel and what they need or want does not matter. People’s needs go unmet. In these systems, the members are there to meet the needs of the leaders: needs for power, importance, intimacy, value–really, self-related needs. These leaders attempt to find the fulfillment through the religious performance of the very people whom they are there to serve and build. This is an inversion in the body of Christ. It is spiritual abuse. (23)”

“First, there is the neglect of real needs in favor of the “needs” of authority; then legalism replaces rest in God with demands for spiritual performance. Abuse is perpetrated by people in positions of power…Not all Christian leaders are abusive, nor are all spiritual systems abusive. It’s also possible that healthy leaders and spiritual systems can sometimes, unintentionally, treat people in hurtful ways. There is no such thing as a perfect family or church where people don’t ever get hurt. But the difference between an abusive and a non-absuive system is that while hurtful behaviors might happen in both, it is not permissible to talk about problems, hurts and abuses in the abusive system. Hence there is no healing and restoration after the wound has occurred, and the victim is made to feel at fault for questioning or pointing out the problem. (32)”

Chapter 4 details ten characteristics of shame based relationships.

 • Out-loud shaming: This is the “shame on you” that comes from name calling, belittling, put-downs, comparing one person to another or asking, “What’s wrong with you?”

• Focus on performance: How people act is more important than who they are or what is happening to them on the inside.

• Manipulation: Relationships and behaviors are manipulated by very powerful unspoken rules.

• Idolatry: The “god” served by the shame-based system is an impossible-to-please judge, obsessing on people’s behaviors from a distance.

• Preoccupation with fault and blame: Since performance has so much power in these systems, much is brought to bear in order to control it. Reaction is swift and furious toward the one who fails to perform the way the system deems fit.

• Obscured reality: Members of shame bases systems have to deny any thought, opinion or feeling that is different than those of people in authority.

• Unbalanced interrelatedness: Member of shame-based systems are either under-involved or over-involved with each other. 

Chapter 5 describes the relationships between people in spiritually abusive systems. 

• Power-posturing: Where leaders spend a lot of time focused on their own authority and reminding others of it as well.

• Performance preoccupation:  Where power is postured and authority is legislated. Obedience and submission are common used words.

• Unspoken rules: Where people’s lives are controlled from the outside by rules, spoken, and unspoken.

• Lack of balance: The first unbalanced approach is “Extreme Objectivism” which elevates objective truth to the exclusion of valid subjective experience. And “Extreme Subjectivism” where there is an extreme subjective approach to the Christian life.

Chapter 6 explains the characteristics of an abusive spiritual system that’s difficult to escape.

• Paranoia: A persecution sensitivity builds a case for keeping everything within the system.

• Misplaced Loyalty: Members must remain in the system if they want to be safe or stay on good terms with God. Scare tactics and humiliation are used to keep them within the system. 

• Secretive: People don’t hide what is appropriate; they hide what is inappropriate.

Chapters 7 and 8 discuss the way Scripture is used to abuse people or keep people in abusive situations. Pastors can do it from the pulpit when trying to advance their agenda and through proof-texting, the church community can do it when trying to keep truce instead of peace. Abused women often hear the verse that they’re supposed to submit to their husband, or people who are abused that they should turn the other cheek and not defend themselves, or endure the race and forget about the past even if there’s been abuse. 


Our next posts on this book will include:

Part 2: “Abusive Leaders and Why They Are Trapped” read here

Part 3: “Post-Abuse Recovery”