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December 15, 2008

Rick Warren's Dark Night of the Soul

Rick Warren is keeping a list, and checking it often. He'll have to memorize it because he can't count on having his Blackberry when he needs this list most. This is Rick Warren's list of questions for God.

In the course of a fascinating conversation last week with Beliefnet and our partner The Wall Street Journal -- click here for video of the full interview and here for a transcript -- Warren was stunningly candid about having doubts, even "dark nights of the soul."

"Oh absolutely. All the time."

"What do you mean 'all the time'?"

"I've never doubted God. But I've doubted why God does certain things....".

There are parts of the Bible, for instance, that he doesn't get -- "slaughters in the Bible and rules that don't seem to make sense and things that just don't seem to me, to be logical."

"And I still have doubts, I mean, I read the Bible and go 'whoa, why did God say that?'"

He concludes that these passages are mystifying because he just doesn't have "the brain capacity" to understand God -- but he is eager to ask Him a few questions at the appropriate moment.

One is why He gave humans the ability to have babies before they're ready to raise them. He also wants to know how prayer works - why God answers some prayers right away and not others. "The truth is, that the vast majority of our prayers, we don't see those kinds of miracles."

But his number one question, he says, is about suffering: "I know why there's evil in the world, I don't understand why so much suffering happens to so many innocent people."

I don't want to give the impression Warren has lost faith. Quite the opposite. Most of our talk was devoted to his absolute conviction that the real "purpose of Christmas" is understanding, treasuring and opening the gift of grace - the idea that Jesus said In effect, "I've paid for everything you need to get into Heaven. I've paid your ticket..... That's the gift." (Watch him talk about "the gift")

He offered an inspiring message about the purpose of Christmas (the topic of his new book) and some special devotionals for Beliefnet viewers.

He also dove headlong into some of the most controversial culture war issues, in ways likely to surprise and perhaps enrage some on the left and right.

Most Likely to Infuriate Liberals:

  • Gay marriage is morally equivalent to allowing brothers and sisters to marry. Watch.
  • He opposes torture but didn't try to convince President Bush to change course because "I never had the opportunity." Watch.
  • A possibly veiled slap at Islam: "He could have made us all puppets. ... He could have put us on strings and we'd pray five times a day and we'd have no choice." Watch.
  • "Abortion reduction" efforts are mostly a "charade." Watch.
  • His historical argument that "social gospel" Protestantism was "just Marxism in Christian clothing" and that "the mainline [Protestants] died." Watch.

Most Likely to Infuriate Conservatives:

  • He supports partnership rights for gays including insurance and visitation benefits. This appears to be a similar position to that which just prompted the resignation of a top official of the National Association of Evangelicals. Watch.
  • His declaration that it's a "no brainer" that divorce is a bigger threat to the American family than gay marriage, and that Christian leaders focus on gay marriage instead because "we always love to talk about other people's sins." Watch.
  • Religious conservatives have misled people into thinking Christ's message was primarily about conservative politics and that politics is the primary way to change culture. Watch.
  • The Bush administration seems to have engaged in torture, which he condemned. Watch.
  • While condemning abortion as a Holocaust and abortion reduction as a "charade" he nonetheless said he would support those efforts, which he equated to Schindler's list -- a way of reducing the harm of an overall evil. Watch.

Most Likely to Titillate Theologians:

  • While your behavior doesn't determine whether you get into heaven, it does determine what you do once you're there. Watch.
  • His statement that "I really don't know" whether people who don't know about Christ will be blocked entry into heaven. Watch.
  • "God's will is not done most of the time on earth. When people go, 'oh, that hurricane must have been God's will' - baloney!" Watch.

Most Likely to Inspire and Challenge:

  • The story of his daughter in law's brain tumor and its surprising lesson the family learned. Watch.
  • His relentless commitment to awakening Americans to African poverty. Watch.
  • His personal Christmas prayer. Watch.
  • His argument that the economic collapse comes from abandoning Biblical principles of thrift. Watch.

Moment I'd Most Like To Follow Up About:

Everyone will have their favorites. But for me the most interesting moment was after he described the gift of grace, and I then asked: "Why if he forgives us for murdering or raping would he not forgive us for not believing in Him?" He took his best shot, but I'm not sure he totally nailed it. Watch.

Click here to buy Rick Warren's new book, The Purpose of Christmas.

Click here to read a transcript of the full interview.

(Originally posted at Steve Waldman's blog at Beliefnet.)


I agree, Sarah, that he evaded the question you mentioned. He gives the impression that he has no idea, then gives the old Pascal's Wager answer, perhaps the weakest apologetic ever.

Rick Warren is a great preacher and has helped me draw closer to Jesus Christ. This video that depicts real images of Christ is wonderful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sLkioKFLEE

Its hard to argue with most of what Warren says, although it never ceases to amaze me just how easily he can reduce everything to three ideas, three principles, three things to do, etc. He has to be the consummate "packager," so efficient at marketing Christianity that he no longer realizes that it is the mystery of the Triune God with whom he is dealing. It all sounds so simple. Yet it leaves me wondering how Jesus managed to get himself crucified, and how millions of martyrs have followed in his steps across the centuries. Perhaps its because they were men and women who loved God passionately, even without all the right answers,and simply for God's sake. However,according to Rick, you just need your ticket to heaven ... There are faithful evangelicals whose work is characterized by intellectual integrity and who demonstrate much more depth and wisdom. Why not interview them?

In answer to your final question:

"Why if he forgives us for murdering or raping would he not forgive us for not believing in Him?"

"Anyone who rejects the Holy Spirit's convicting influence and does not repent will not be forgiven, 'neither in this world, neither in the world to come' (Matthew 12:32)" [Ray Comfort, "The Unpardonable Sin," The Evidence Bible (Gainesville, Florida: Bridge-Logo Publishers, 2001).].

“Jesus thus regards blasphemy against the Spirit—permanently rejecting his identity (Matthew 12:18) as attested by the Spirit's works (12:28)—as the worst of sins”
[Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 80.].

God has further declared that He will not forgive blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31).

…If one's conscience is bothering him to the point that he feels he is too guilty for God to forgive, he has the assurance of God's Word that forgiveness is possible. The very fact that he is bothered by his sinfulness shows that the Holy Spirit has not abandoned him nor has God given him over to a depraved mind.

The real danger arises, however, when one can continually violate God's law and never feel the slightest remorse over his rebellion. The Bible's warning should jolt the spiritually flippant out of their complacency:"

"It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31).


And Warren is right. Pride is the root cause of people believing that they don't need God or they are a god or they can relay on "the god within". He got it right.

Humans make God too small. Look at the earth, the universe and see how big God is.
The 'triune' God - God is one, but reveals himself as Father, Son - Jesus, and Holy Spirit.
Jesus taught that humans must become as children. Children trust the one who shows love and care for them and children believe that person and want to be like that person.
The Father in all the Old Testament shows humans that we never get it right - there are always wrong choices - this is sin, this is the cause of all the pain and evil on earth. The Father set up a system of paying for sin - sacrifices; sin costs - again, pain and evil on earth is a huge cost.
The Father God came - Jesus - to show us how to "get it right" how to live in love, peace and compassion. Jesus favorite name for himself was "Son of Man" - God is identifying with the humans he created - in fact made in his image - we have choice like a god.
Jesus was revealed by John the Baptist as "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
John 1 Jesus on the cross, Lamb of God, is the redemption for humans sin IF, and a big IF, humans are willing to believe God that wrong choices / sin is worse than words can tell - evil, pain........
There is a price to pay for sin.
Jesus said, "God loves the world in this way, he gave his one and only son so that everyone who believes in him will not die, but have life eternal. The Son did not come to judge the world, but that the world through him might be saved." John 3:16-17 (my way).
Father God provides the redemption for humans by one agreeing that one's sin is part of the evil, pain.....of the world. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the redemption for humans who accept the gift. It is my sin and past sin that put Jesus on the cross because I have accepted God's mercy and grace - God's forgiveness. It was not the Romans or the Jews.
God gave me part of himself - within me - when I accepted his gift of mercy and grace - The Holy Spirit to teach me, convict me and shows me the way of the Kingdom of God on earth. To be LOVE - to be PEACE - to be COMPASSION - all the 'good' that Christians do comes from the leading of the Holy Spirit - from God's grace. GRACE given - there is nothing good I do that God will love me more; there is nothing bad I do that God will love me less -- GOD LOVES - this is grace.
God is letting me be part of his work on earth - the goodness, the love, the compassion to draw more humans to God. GOODNESS as seen in the beauty and bounty of all God created. LOVE as seen in Jesus - God on the cross for my redemption because I never could/can get it right - I sin. COMPASSION as seen when Jesus, Son of Man walked the earth and healed the people, gave sight to the blind, the lame to walk and raised three people from death: Jaiur daughter, the widows son on the way to burial and Lazarus who had been dead more than three days. Victory over death for a time.
God showed us victory over death when Jesus rose from death after three days just as the prophets told about and just as Jesus taught. Jesus told the criminal on the cross beside his own who believed, "I tell you truly, this day you will be wil me in paradise." The Spirit / Soul of the criminal went to paradise - his death body was left on earth.
To become a Christian costs nothing - God provides the mercy and grace. BUT, to live as a Christian costs everything I have - and willingly to the Father God who loved / loves me completely and lets me be part of his work of love, peace, compassion and sharing until the day the Lord calls me to come to him in paradise.
I'll keep reading Jesus teaching the Kingdom of God, the O.T. where God showed wrong choices/sin and the cost, attending and participating in the CHURCH that Jesus "loved and gave himself up for." Ephesians
And listening to the Spirit so I am part of God's work to bring love, peace and compassion on earth - until the day when my Lord calls me to come to him. My soul/spirit will leave for paradise and my 'old bag of bones will stay.
God is love and is very good - if one will come to him and learn of his goodness.

"I've never doubted God. But I've doubted why God does certain things....".
I am certain that there isn't a Christian alive who would not admit that he has often doubted why God does the things He does---
But that doesn't mean that we launch out on our own and try to "work it" so that things will go in a way that we can grasp (I'm not suggesting that RW has done this---just making an observation).Actually, there are quite a few references in the Bible to the folly of man trying to do things and live life contrary to His ways and the dangers involved. A frequent reading of Proverbs is always helpful in remembering that God is God and I am not and His ways are not our ways. It doesn't have to be so hard.