Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Long, Convoluted, and, I Hope, Not Too Preachy

Being me, that is, NOT being someone who is NOT me, it is hard for me to perceive how I am coming across... I mean, it occurred to me that I rave constantly about how great the Christian life is... but, honestly, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s a panacea. Well, actually, it WILL be a panacea (a cure for all ills), as outlined in the Revelation of St. John (no crying, no night...) but right here and now, it’s not that easy.

I mean, I know that what they call the “prosperity gospel” is popular. “If you follow Jesus, you will have happiness, health, wealth, fame and beauty.” But absolutely NOTHING in the Bible points to this. Okay, well, maybe some things do. There are lots of places in the Old Testament that lays out the rewards for following God and doing what’s right... like here, in Deuteronomy: “If you completely obey these laws... The LORD will love you and bless you by giving you many children and plenty of food, wine, and olive oil. Your herds of cattle will have many calves, and your flocks of sheep will have many lambs. God will bless you more than any other nation—your families will grow and your livestock increase. You will no longer suffer with the same horrible diseases that you sometimes had in Egypt. You will be healthy, but the LORD will make your enemies suffer from those diseases.”

Got milk? How about honey?
Over and over again, Israel is promised a land flowing with milk and honey in exchange for their goodness. But then again, look at Job, right? His life was total crap for quite a while; even his friends didn’t really support him. They just told him it was his own fault. By contrast, the author of Ecclesiastes was a king, (“King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.”) rolling in splendor, but he knew in his wisdom, that apart from God, life had no meaning at all.

So what’s the deal? First of all, no one can be perfectly good and perfectly faithful, so... how can we hope to earn these rewards? As Christians, we believe that Jesus’s goodness and perfection are transferred to us... but I still say – and I think I’d be right – that becoming a Christian will not bring you these things automatically. So why bother, right? What exactly is in it for us? 

Sorry, I just can't get into it...
Why did I trade the life I had – that was MINE – for a life that would possibly contain... more suffering and also plenty of struggling? Having to obey a Being that I couldn’t even SEE, avoiding selected pleasurable experiences, loving people I didn’t particularly like, wrestling internally with sin, enduring cringe-inducing contemporary Christian pop music, being on display as the worst kind of nerd... 

Well, honestly, the life that I traded was not really much of a life... I already carried the weight of a world’s worth of guilt on my shoulders, I was starving, I was scared of so many things. So, in terms of driving my own life, let’s just say, I had run it into a ditch.

On the other hand if things had been going well, I probably would have felt okay with driving my own life. I mean, why rock the boat? That not being the case, though, I had to grab onto to the lifeline God threw me. And that’s what I got. LIFE. 

But instant happiness? wealth? health? fame? beauty? Well, I am not really sure why the prosperity gospelers can claim that these are benefits of following Jesus. They can’t even claim that God will keep you from suffering - because it just isn’t true. I know plenty of faithful Christians who are sick and tired and poor. I once had a friend who said that she knew that God would never let her be without a job. And I thought, “What?” I didn’t have the courage to say anything at the time, but that didn’t sit right at all with me. I mean, Jesus was homeless, right? Important people wanted him dead! And He told his friends that they would be persecuted too. And they were! Take Paul, for instance: he was persecuted, shipwrecked, flogged... heck, some of the other Christians didn’t even like him all that much. 

And Paul was a guy who gave up a LOT to follow Jesus, being a prominent Jew from a good family, climbing up the leadership ladder... So, unlike me, he actually jumped out of a really well-driven car, saying, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Metaphorically speaking, of course, they didn’t have cars back then!)

That's me!
I think back in those days following the Jesus “cult” was like forsaking all you previously knew – leaving your your family and your whole community... maybe your identity. And it can be sort of like that today. Ever heard the derogatory term “Jesus Freak?” I have. But that really is what Jesus said, right? “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9) 

Another misconception about the Christian life is that once you give yourself over to it, sin is no longer attractive. I have heard a few stories from people who said that once they became Christians, they lost all desire to sin. Well, I have not found this to be the case at ALL. Maybe they were speaking of one specific sin... like, honestly, giving up occasional pot-smoking was not difficult for me at all... However, everyday sins like pride, selfishness, anger, envy, lust... well, they persist. But you can work on it in a safe environment, with the sweetness of knowing that you’ve already been forgiven!

And I didn’t get well immediately either. I do know of actual people who have been healed by God, but I don’t think it’s the norm for people to be spontaneously healed just because they are Christians. In my case, it took me, my church, my therapist and God Himself a fair amount of time to lift me out of the pit of anorexia. It was frustrating and scary, but in the end I learned and grew so much, and had the opportunity to watch God and his church in action to help a single insignificant girl become whole. 

The Holy Spirit is usually
pictured as a dove... or fire.
This dove looks like
it's ON fire.
Because being a member of Christ’s family, I didn’t have to go through any of it alone. God was with me, and God’s people were with me. So that’s one thing throwing your lot in with Jesus gives you – a brand new family. And “... no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10) So, while the Christian life is not a walk in the park, you don’t have to do it alone... So, benefit #1: new family

Benefit #2: God is with you. Of course, God is everywhere, and with everyone all the time, but are you also with God? Jesus promised his friends he’d be with them to the ends of the earth, and he promised them a “Comforter,” that is, the Holy Spirit. Another word for the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, which can be translated in English as “counselor”, “helper”, encourager, advocate, or “comforter”... All things I could definitely use, every single day. The Holy Spirit, is God IN us, reassuring us of God’s love and presence, and the truth of Himself. In my opinion, that’s a pretty sweet bonus to being a Christian.

Benefit #3: You can have the joy and peace of knowing that you are walking in a direction of peace, goodness and truth. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14) I may not be rich and famous, but I can’t tell you how awesome it feels to be part of something so beautiful and true – honestly, the greatest story every told. Really, I can say, like Peter did when asked if he wanted to leave, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Benefit #4: Speaking of eternal life... This is ours, too. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This pretty much trumps everything... There was an incident described in Luke 10 where the disciples are raving about the superpowers they had been given (healing, demon-casting...) and Jesus said, “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” So that’s pretty much what I’m setting my sights on. Oh, and looky there – it says “rejoice” so there’s your happiness... well, JOY, which is even richer!

No, becoming a Christian, won’t solve all your problems. But I do think there is much to recommend this life of devotion to the Living God... Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here writing this.  And benefits aside, if He is the Living God, why would I be anywhere else?

1 comment:

  1. Re: healing, I always think about that Reynolds Price book "A Whole New Life" - by his own account he was healed, but he also ended up crippled.