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Jeff's Afghan Diary: God's Role and Our Own
September 15, 2007

      I’m on my way back to Afghanistan today.

      Two weeks went by way too fast – I did a lot of things with my family, but the time just flew.  Now I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport, waiting for my flight back to Kuwait en route to Afghanistan, where I will rejoin my teammates.

      Last night my family and I went out for a very nice dinner.  The day before, we let the kids miss a day of school so we could spend a day together at Navy Pier in downtown Chicago.  It has been a delight, and I will miss being able to enjoy times like these until next January, when I am scheduled to return to stay.  But if I must say so, at least we spent the time together enjoyably, rather than being miserable about my having to leave.  Might as well make the most of every minute and enjoy what time we have!

      My wife missed me much more than I realized.  She confided that when I wasn’t able to call her for weeks, she called my cell phone a couple times, just to listen to my voicemail announcement and hear my voice.  It really saddened me to hear that.  She has been trying to stay positive, but she hates to have me gone.  Can’t say she’s alone in that regard – I love spending time with my family.  It’s my greatest joy, and I can’t wait to get back home again to my wife and kids.

      Last Sunday I gave a presentation at my church during Sunday School.  Lots of church members came to hear me, which was heartening.  I was asked by many how I thought our efforts in the Middle East in general and Afghanistan in particular are going.  I had to admit I have been frustrated by the slow pace of progress over there, and told my friends that I think it will be many years before we see real change.

      I have come to see my efforts as part of a larger picture.  Interestingly, the ancient civilizations (including the ancient Jews) saw wars and conflicts as part of the activity of God.  In some sense, I can understand this, even now – wars are pretty much illogical, because logical people would not try to kill one another for issues that could be negotiated peacefully.  And God is beyond logic – we cannot reason God into or out of existence.  So we reach to explain the illogical by means of non-logic, i.e., the unseen and unknowable activities of God as their source.  I understand this now.

      However, while the ancients saw God as the unstoppable force of the universe, I see him more as allowing us to help shape our own destiny, partnering with him or choosing to oppose him by choosing a more selfish way.  I believe in the inevitability of progress, as God is the source of all progress, but the path of progress is not smooth or easy, as many people choose to try to stop such progress for their own ends.  Sometimes this opposition is ironically in the very name of God himself, but it is due to a warped misunderstanding of God, an insincere and hypocritical theology which is usually more self-serving than God-serving.  Those who truly wish to serve God do so by serving their fellow human beings and being good stewards of the planet God has given us.  Those who use God to oppose their fellow human beings are merely seeking to enrich or enhance their own selves, seizing power over others to promote their own gain.

      I see God working behind the scenes, moving us closer to his own purposes in spite of such self-seeking.  Admittedly, all of us are self-seeking to some degree or another, and we are liars if we do not say so.  But the Bible is full of stories of how God uses manipulators and evildoers to move us forward, in spite of themselves.

      So I see this present conflict now as part of a larger conflict that has been going on since time began – the conflict between good and evil, self and others, light and darkness.  Various religions use different terms to describe the same obvious conflict, but these religions all observe the same human behavior, and find evidence of both good and bad in it.  Ultimately, as a Christian, I see good triumphant over evil, however long it takes.  I see our struggle in Afghanistan as being part of this greater struggle, both individually and collectively – as I choose to behave in good faith, protecting the poor and powerless, opposing those who would oppress them, I am on the side of God, of what is right and just and true.  As much as my fellow Soldiers do this with me, we do what is right, and work to further God’s purposes.  As much as we sidetrack from this, we risk bringing pain, suffering and evil into the world, even if our cause seems just.

      But I digress – I should return to thoughts about my family, who I am leaving behind again.  If anything, this period of time at home has brought me to the strong realization that my biggest mission is not the one in Afghanistan, it is the one in Illinois, where my wife and children need me.  I have seen how things go at home without me, and I see how essential I am.  Perhaps every father is essential, but I have seen for myself how what I do at home affects the family so much.  In some ways, it has been discouraging – I had hoped that my being away would help my children “grow up”, but it has not.  The lessons still remain to be taught, and I must be the teacher.

      Things will be different when I return home again.  I promise!

-- Jeff Courter

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.