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