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Confronting Life Honestly
by Anthony Weber
9/10/2011 / Christian Living
In my experience, the Western Christian church has trouble facing life honestly. Life is clearly full of valleys and shadows, but I hear so many conversations and read so many books in which attempts are made to pretend that valleys are actually plains, and shadows are illusions.
This denial manifests every time someone says, "God wants me to be happy," or "If I have enough faith, nothing can harm me." These distortions deny the absolutely clear realities about life we know from Scripture:
We will have trouble (John 16:33).
The Lord gives and takes away (Job 1:21).
God does not always relieve us of our struggle (2 Corinthians 12:710).
The world is more like Gethsemane than Eden right now (Genesis 2; Matthew 26).
Even Jesus felt deserted by God (Mark 15:34).
Everybody dies (Hebrews 9:27).
Everybody ought to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3).
Sometimes bad things happen (Luke 13:4).
Even godly people can be poor and sickly (Book of Job).
We civilized Western Christians are desperate to make our lives safe and easy and comfortable, so we convince ourselves that God, too, wants our lives to be a walk and whistle through the park.
Why do we have such trouble facing reality head on? Do we think God isn't big enough to sustain us? Do we think we are too weak for the task? Do we think that struggle equates to failure? Whatever the reason, a lot of us "duck and cover" our way through life. If it is true that ideas have consequences, then it follows that this denial of reality cannot be believed without consequences.
In our attempts to sidestep the real world, we convince ourselves to believe things that we shouldn't. Since, as Christians, our foundation is the Bible, we have to misread and misapply biblical verses like the following:
"You will have none of these diseases" (Exodus 15:26).
"By His stripes you are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).
"I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you"(Jeremiah 29:11).
"All things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28).
Never mind that the first has to do with the dietary and hygienic changes the Israelites were going to implement after leaving Egypt, or that the second has to do with the healing of sin, or that the "plan" in Jeremiah was for the Israelites in captivity in Babylon, or that "all things working out" refers to our spiritual redemption. A world where we will always be happy and disease-free requires an imaginative reading of the Bible.
One of the hardest things for me to do after my father's death from pancreatic cancer was to process all misapplications of Scripture sent my way by well-meaning people. They sent us notes or read one of the above verses to us over the phone. They exhibited a remarkable ability to rip the Bible out of contextand out of reality as well. Even though everyone had good intentions, good intentions have paved some pretty depressing roads.
The implications are significant. When someone says, "God gave me this verse for you," and the message of that verse does not happen, there are three main options:
1) Your friends think they are hearing from God when they are not (which is a problem).
2) The Bible is written so obscurely as to be almost incomprehensible (bigger problem).
3) God lied.
We are immediately left with the first two options, at least if we want to keep our faith intact.
But if the transmitters of God's will are that faulty, what hope do we have that we can hear from Him correctly? If the Bible is that murky, and all God's people are that deluded, is it any wonder that Christians often struggle with their faith after times of calamity?
The dilemma in trying to balance our faith with these options is that the list of options is not complete. Even though they feel like the only choices we have, I believe there are more.
I don't believe God lies; I don't believe His Word is so obscure as to be incomprehensible; I don't believe His people are so fallen as to never hear His voice. I do believe, however, that in an attempt to make the world like we desperately want it to be, we read parts of the Bible from a perspective that is tainted by our fallen, selfish nature.
The Bible has not failed us; we have failed it. We treat it like a magic lamp: if we can rub it just right, God will pop out and grant us wishes. We spend a lot of time and energy reading books and going to seminars on Genie Control. We criticize Harry Potter for wanting to use magic to fix his problems, then we go to Christian Hogwarts to find a magic wand that will put the perfect life just one good spellsorry, prayeraway.
The unfortunate result is that when God fails to respond to our frantic efforts, we blame Him or, if that is too brazen, we blame others. Even worse, we can become like the prophets of Baal and perform increasingly demanding and self-damaging acts of piety in a desperate attempt to get God's attention.
Why do we think God must give liberty to our desires? Why do we think our wishes ought to be our commands? Why does it follow that if we hurt, or we endure hardship, that God automatically must be mean?
The Apostle Paul said that when we become adults, we have to stop being like children, and that includes our thinking about the hard roads in life.
Anthony Weber is a pastor, teacher, husband, father, author and blogger (nightfallsandautumnleaves.blogspot.com; learningtojump.blogspot.com; empiresandmangers.blogspot.com). You can contact Anthony at firstname.lastname@example.org
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