GCI Update

Hope, despite evil

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Jesus and FranceLast Friday, it took just eight or nine gunmen to terrorize Paris and alarm the entire Western world, fueling debate about global terrorism and the growing refugee crisis. Though evil is ever-present in our world, and seems to grow more dramatic by the day, we have hope knowing that the day is coming when Jesus will have put down all remnants of evil. I pray that day comes soon, and I’m sure you do too. I also thank God that, as reported to me by Jean Philippe and Marie Angelique, none of our members in France were harmed. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured and all who mourn the death of their loved ones.

When terrible things like the Paris attacks occur, I remind myself that the fullness of God’s kingdom is yet to come. I also remind myself that we are blessed to experience God’s kingdom now in our relationship with Christ, by the Spirit, under the grace of God. But I’m also aware that we live as aliens in a tainted world where the kingdom’s fullness is not yet seen. As the apostle Paul tells us, we live in the present evil age while we hope for the age that is yet to come (Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 1:21).

It can be perplexing, even discouraging to know that before we fully experience that new age, we must continue through this time of evil with the pain it brings. But we are encouraged knowing that events like those in Paris are not outside God’s love for us. Though we face events we don’t understand, we have faith and hope knowing God is fully present and is suffering with us. We know this because he proved his willingness to suffer from evil and bear its pain on our behalf. Yes, we grieve (and we pray), but not as those who are without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

The problem of evil

Philosophers and theologians have wrestled with the problem of evil for centuries, struggling to define its nature and character, as well as to explain why evil continues to exist. A variety of explanations have emerged. Buddhists say evil isn’t something that exists; it’s an illusion (maya). Some atheists say evil is the natural result of a universe without design or a designer. Here is what atheist Richard Dawkins wrote:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music. (Out of Eden, p. 133)

This atheistic explanation is not persuasive, especially since most of us have had enough bad things happen in our lives that we are convinced that evil is real and ought not be. Although evil is regular (and thus “ordinary”), it’s not necessary nor, in that sense, natural. The proclamation of naturalism that, “What is, is,” does not serve as an explanation of why we sense that what is, ought not be.

The Stoics taught that evil is the corruption of reason and should simply be endured. They advocated indifference to pain, pleasure, grief, and joy. This stiff “grin-and-bear-it” approach to life may sound virtuous, but it quickly becomes empty when an innocent child is kidnapped or you are falsely accused of doing evil. Ignoring evil is not a way of recognizing the evil of evil, and actually dealing with evil is no small task. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”

Evil exists because God permits and gives humanity the possibility of choice. How we choose to use our wills is horrendous at times, as some misuse their wills in striving for evil. We see this every time there is a terrorist attack, including the one last week in Paris. God gives us the power to choose, to act. We can use our wills to do some good or to do some evil. But there is a strict limit on what we can do. What we cannot do is absolute good or absolute evil. Both our good acts and our evil acts are partial, provisional and temporary. We cannot and do not act as only God can act. We do not define reality, or good and evil for that matter. We act within limits, although those limits always seem to be too unrestrictive when great evils occur. But the fact that we cannot enact absolute good or absolute evil does not mean that there isn’t an absolute good that can and will conquer all evil, which is, in the end, not absolute, but relative to the goodness and power of God. Fortunately we know God in Jesus, who is absolute good, and who conquered evil absolutely so that evil has no future.

Despite this understanding, we still ask, Why doesn’t God stop (absolutely) all evil now? A good number of theologians and philosophers have answered this way: Try to imagine a world where God intervened to prevent carelessness and irresponsible behavior from occurring. There would be no criminal activity, no accidents, and no natural disasters. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Yes, until we realize that such a world would eliminate human choice and will. Whenever God saw something bad start to occur, he would intervene and suspend or modify our wills. This would lead to a world without moral meaning, for every time an evil action began to raise its ugly head, human willing would be overcome by external force and the deliberation to discern and choose the good would become morally meaningless. In such a world there would be no practical difference between a good and an evil action. In other words, we would not be living as human persons who could mirror their creator God in choosing and willing the good. We would, in effect, become non-moral beings, like animals or robots.

So what do we do with evil? A common Christian explanation is to combat and conquer it ourselves with whatever means are at hand. But this “fight fire with fire” approach poses a major problem—it can be a stumbling block to belief in God. It both grants too much to evil (as evil as evil is) and not enough to what God has done, is doing and will do through his and our doing good. What Paul tells us (in Romans 12:21) is that as God’s children, rather than being “overcome by evil” we are to “overcome evil with good.”

It is not uncommon for those struck by tragedy to question their faith, or even abandon it when facing the pain that evil brings. In those situations it can seem that evil is as real or more real than God and his goodness. If we attempt to combat evil and conquer it simply by sheer force of our own strength, “fighting fire with fire,” we get lost in our own efforts and can quickly spiral down a path of unbelief—believing that evil has the same or greater status as good. We also can be tempted to believe that good cannot overcome evil, not even God’s good! Conversely, when we focus on God’s sovereignty as displayed in Jesus Christ during a time of evil—in the midst of pain and grief—we can experience his comfort in the truth that he is with us in the midst of our suffering, and that evil has no future.

The trust that yields hope

Of course, when we face suffering as the result of evil, it can seem to us that God is at a distance, standing back from the evil that confronts us, or otherwise is uninvolved in our situation. But the opposite is true—God is always with us. As Phillip Yancey wrote in Disappointment with God, “All feelings of disappointment with God trace back to a breakdown in that relationship.” That breakdown always occurs on the human side as we are challenged to have faith in God—to trust that he is good and can and has overcome evil. That trust in God gives us hope and in hope we can act here and now on the basis of the truth concerning the ever-present God who accompanies us in our suffering.

To show his willingness to join us in our suffering, the eternal Son of God came in the flesh as Jesus and made his dwelling with us. And though he was rejected by many, Jesus made atonement for all through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. What Jesus has done for us shows clearly that God does care for us and is with us now in our suffering, and one day, in triumph, will bring in the fullness of his kingdom where there will be no more evil and the suffering it causes. God’s desire is to be in a loving relationship with each one of us—living in us, experiencing our suffering and our joys with us, all the while changing us from the inside out. We can meet and know Jesus in suffering and in hope.

Along with his mission to change us from the inside out, Jesus works to turn the world inside out. Yes, there is evil in this present age, but we live here not in fear and despair but with hope and confidence knowing that “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Most assuredly, one article like this cannot answer everything about evil and suffering. But I hope it brings you some comfort as we are reminded that, on a day and in an hour that no human knows, Jesus will bring an end to the actual nonsense that ought not be.

As we await that blessed hope, let’s join together in praying for the time when there will be no more terrorism, no more cancer victims, no more drive-by shootings, no more tears and sorrow. Right now, life is not fair, but God is, as we clearly see in the whole life of Jesus. He does not allow anything he cannot redeem. Fair and loving, he has made just and fair provision for all through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. In Jesus we see that God takes no pleasure in our suffering and has acted decisively to bring it to an end. We may not yet see this end clearly now, but we most certainly will see it and experience it fully in eternity.

Be encouraged dear sisters and brothers, God is faithful. He will finish what he has started.

Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus,
Joseph Tkach

Patrick Quinn

In August, a new cohort entered the GCI Intern Program (click here for details). We’re running a series here in “Up Close & Personal” to introduce you to some of these newest interns. This week we want you to meet Patrick Quinn, who is interning in Salem, Oregon. 

patrick quinnWith a degree in aeronautical engineering, Patrick could be pursuing a career in that lucrative field. Yet at the GenMin Converge conference last March, he sensed a call from God to vocational ministry. Here is his testimony:

While attending the Converge conference, my friend Anthony Mullins suggested I consider enrolling in the GCI Intern Program. I didn’t think too seriously about it at the time—I was still set on engineering. But the idea wouldn’t go away and after talking with Anthony again, I thought and prayed about it over the weekend of the conference.

The more I considered it, the more I felt called to the program and to youth ministry. I made the decision to put my life into God’s hands and join in the GCI Intern Program.

Giving up control is a strange feeling—more than a little terrifying, but it comes with profound feelings of peace and excitement. I’m thrilled to be following God’s plan for me in my life.

Patrick is now interning alongside Pastor Tim Sitterley in Salem, Oregon, where, thankfully, a couple in the congregation is remodeling their home to provide a studio apartment for Patrick to live in.

Big Sandy outreach

This update is from Jerome Ellard, lead pastor at GCI’s congregation in Big Sandy, Texas.

The rain didn’t douse the enthusiasm of the volunteers and attendees at this year’s Fun ‘N Fall celebration held on Saturday, October 31, from noon to 4:00 PM at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship in Big Sandy. The purpose of the event, which we’ve held annually for several years, was to provide a means to connect our congregation to the people who live in our community. By gathering information about our guests, we have the means to develop those connections by inviting them to future events, our small groups and to our church services.

Big Sandy

Due to the rain, we moved the event inside our church building. Fun games for the whole family filled our sanctuary and fellowship hall, as the building became an inside carnival. There were free hot dogs and drinks, popcorn and frozen chocolate yogurt for all, as well as many door prizes, drawings for two Wal-Mart gift cards and a cake walk. In addition, the Big Sandy police and fire departments each provided a vehicle for young participants to experience. Volunteers from the Lion’s Club provided free eye exams for 48 people. All had a good time.

We extend our thanks to several businesses in the community who provided their support to what has become a truly community-based event.

Bogota marriage seminar

This update is from Hector Barrero, lead pastor of GCI’s congregation in Bogota, Colombia.

seminarguestspeakersAbout 100 people gathered recently for our annual marriage seminar, which is a primary way we reach out to the unchurched community around us. The theme of the seminar was Renewed in His Love. Guest speakers (pictured at right) were Raymond Olson, pastor of our congregation in Juneau, Wisconsin, and Alvaro Palacio, pastor of one of our congregations in Toronto, Canada. Raymond’s daughter, Roberta Olson, who has been involved in missionary work in Mexico and Central America, also presented. We appreciate the willingness of these guests to help out!

The seminar was held at the Marianela Retreat Center, two hours drive from Bogota. As shown in the pictures below, during the seminar, eight couples renewed their marriage vows (they had been married for from 25 to 41 years), and one young man was baptized. Congratulations to them all!


Conference in Spain

This update is from Pedro Rufian, a GCI pastor in Spain.

Spain1Fifty-five people recently attended a GCI conference in Majorca, Spain, with the theme, “A celebration of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ.” Members attended from Barbados, Germany, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Spain, the U.S. and the U.K.

Santiago Lange

God blessed us with a variety of Christ-centered messages including “The dancing God,” “Christ, our Sabbath” (from Santiago Lange, pictured at left), “Debt and forgiveness, law and grace,” “How am I not going to love you?,” “God is love, what does that mean for you?,” and “Living as victorious in Christ.” The group enjoyed a talent show and family dance. Some hotel clients and staff attended some of the services and the talent show. God blessed us with his loving presence as we celebrated in harmony what he did, is doing, and will do for us all through Jesus Christ our Savior, Lord and Friend.

Revisiting the new physics

This article by GCI pastor and GCS faculty member Neil Earle, tells about Neil’s cousin, Davis Earle, who contributed to a team that won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for Physics.

This fall marked the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s releasing his General Theory of Relativity to the world. That was in a speech at the Prussian State Library in Berlin in November, 1915. Einstein’s theory was that gravity bends both space and time, and that therefore the classical physics based on Sir Isaac Newton’s assumptions of predictable “straight line geometry” needed revision.

Einstein was already famous for his Special Theory back in 1905, which showed that time did not work the same way all across the universe, a further undermining of the classical view. Indeed by the late 1800s the anomalies of nature (e.g. why Mercury’s orbit was shifting) kept raising more and more questions about Newtonianism. By then, scientists thought they had nailed down the structure of the atom (Greek for “that into which nothing further can be divided”). Yet as the century wore on Einstein and his generation investigated so many new subatomic phenomena that the term “The New Physics” came into view. Where Einstein had led, Niels Bohr and others followed. Bohr discovered the “quantum leap” where movements of the electron circling the nucleus of the atom were shown to be virtually impossible to predict. By the 1980s physicists were familiar with a whole realm of invisible particles with names, said one journalist, like those from Lord of the Rings: hadrons, leptons, muons and quarks.

I had been teaching teens in Bible class since the 1970s that—relative to God—we all believe in things we can’t see. I cited Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” But not being a scientist I had not realized how much truer that statement had become in the strange world of particle physics. The invisible was fundamental to nature, and extremely powerful.

Davis Earle
Davis Earle

Imagine my surprise and delight, then, this fall when my hometown paper saluted my cousin, the retired nuclear physicist, Davis Earle for contributing to a team that won the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2015, particle physics in particular. As Dr. Davis Earle he had been technical associate director on a project studying neutrinos one mile underground in an abandoned mine near Sudbury, Ontario. “Neutrino” is Italian for “little neutral ones,” millions of which pass invisibly through our bodies each second, part of that invisible universe.

My cousin Dave had totally bemused an interviewer by driving home what atomic and particle physics emphasized. “Our bodies are empty space,” Dave enthused. “I cannot emphasize how much empty space we are. It’s just the electromagnetic force that holds everything together.” Strange, humorous—but true. The electromagnetic force was uncovered by the Scotsman James Clerk Maxwell in the 1860s and Einstein had a picture of both Maxwell and Newton in his Princeton University office. How fitting. The drawings we see of the electron circling the atom are not true to scale. The circling electron has as much space as a bumble bee inside a cathedral. Empty space. Cousin Dave was just repeating what the New Physics had underscored.

The New Physics—a worthy phrase. The concept fully hit home to me in 2012, when I signed up for Dr. John McKenna’s “Scientific Theology of Thomas Torrance” class (as it was then called), taught at Grace Communion Seminary. The New Physics underlined how the most powerful forces known to us were invisible. Forces such as gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force, the weak force—these unseen realities were holding our bodies and the cosmos together. Paul’s words hit home—“what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

What came clear in Dr. McKenna’s class was how the Scottish theologian Thomas F. Torrance brought home to Christian theology parallels to the New Physics. Torrance saw that Einstein and his generation had opened up a whole new view of reality. In his book Space, Time and Resurrection and elsewhere, Torrance argued for a cosmos that was orderly enough to be investigated yet “strange and unpredictable” enough to allow for new and unexpected things to take place. “Far from being closed or predetermined,” he wrote, “the universe constitutes an open-textured system in which novel forms of order constantly emerge.”

This includes neutrinos and quarks. “Quarks”—a strange word, yet part of what Caltech’s Kip Thorne calls “Einstein’s outrageous legacy.” Here at the heart of the proton were those strange, whirring spinning creatures that were hard to measure and keep account of and given whimsical names such as Strange and Charm. The British journal New Scientist even admitted, “After quarks, believing in the Virgin Birth is a doddle (a snap).” I couldn’t help think of how my friend and amateur physicist John Halford would have enjoyed that. The most powerful forces were and are invisible and people such as Thomas Torrance saw the connections to Christian theology from such statements as Colossians 1:16. There Jesus is shown supreme over things visible and invisible. These were some of the new realities that flowed from General Relativity and Quantum Theory. All this allowed room for Torrance to argue for a universe geared to both the orderly and the unpredictable. In his theology—much more fulsomely argued in such works as Space, Time and Resurrection—this discovery about creation removed certain “scientific” arguments against Christian faith and seems to indicate how God allowed for the possibility of an Incarnation and a Resurrection to take place in his good creation.

On the trail of neutrinos and quarks, Torrance well knew, the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes 11:5 rang truer than ever “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

GCI school in Haiti

This prayer request is from Joseph Franklin, GCI pastor and director of our church school in Haiti.

Joseph Franklin
Joseph Franklin

Please join me in praying for the participants in our school in Haiti:

  • Several of our children who are battling an epidemic of cough and bone pain
  • Micheline Darius, the principal of our school, who is fighting typhoid-malaria
  • Mie Gerale Vainqueur, our sixth grade teacher who had ovary surgery and was sent home to convalesce for 60 days (we are now having difficulty finding a competent teacher to replace her)
A picture of the school children (taken a few years ago)

I also request prayer as I continue to search for younger, reliable men and women to whom I can entrust the oversight of our school. Also please pray for the nation of Haiti—it is experiencing crime greater than what we’ve ever known. Some of our church families living at a distance from the capital tell of increasing insecurity. Though we are more and more convinced that we are on mission with Jesus, we face increased difficulties in these trying times. Thanks for your prayers for us.

Death of Shelby Grundy

This prayer request is from Senior Pulley, wife of GCI-Bermuda pastor Cecil Pulley.

I am sorry to report the passing of my brother Shelby Grundy on November 1, 2015. He was 67 years old. Shelby became a part of WCG/GCI in 1967 and has been a faithful member ever since. He attended Ambassador College and graduated in 1978. He also worked in WCG’s television studio for nearly 25 years.

Shelby was well known for his jovial and upbeat attitude and sense of humor, which he was able to maintain even in the midst of trial and pain. He was able to witness to many about the love and goodness of God.

He leaves to cherish his memory his wife of almost 40 years, Marietta, son Matthew (wife Jocelyn), daughter Susan, sisters Rose Arnold, Alice Roach (husband Donald) and Senior Pulley (husband Cecil) and brother Mether Grundy (wife Emily), five grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends all over the world.

Please remember our family in prayer.

Cards may be sent to:

Senior Pulley
#14 East Shore Road
Sandy’s MA02