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The Feel Good Church vs The Church of Blessed Suffering

Do you realize that we are supposed to feel good about ourselves? God declared creation good and upped it to “very good” once man and woman were in place. After all that got messed up at the fall, he then sent his Son to live, die and rise again so that we could be redeemed – be very good – again. Our desire to feel good about ourselves comes from a deep, God-created place and should not be mocked or belittled.

The problem is that it’s not easy to get to a place of feeling good about ourselves. There are all sorts of counterfeits available out in the world. There always are. But like all counterfeits, they wear out, break, chafe, leave a nasty rash behind. For example, it’s pretty well known that many criminals have much higher self-esteem than the rest of us. And we all know someone who loves themselves to pieces even though their own mother doesn’t want to be around them. It’s just not as simple as telling yourself how wonderful you are over and over until you believe it. Any decent person doesn’t just want to think that they are wonderful – they want to BE wonderful. What the world does get right and the church too often gets wrong is that it’s hard to get to that place while thinking of yourself as a worthless piece of filth.

What the world needs and God offers is all that comfy, mushy stuff that our hearts desire – to know ourselves and our world and our life as “very good”. But it does take some work to get there. The church’s job is to offer the real deal, some directions and support and encouragment for people as they go through the hard process of being redeemed. Salvation not just from hell in the next life, but from hell in this life as well. Reaching a point of real self-love (which enhances love of others) is hard. It inevitably involves a good deal of suffering. People on the path always go through periods of feeling so negatively about themselves that it can look like self-loathing. One of the church’s failures is that too often it is taught that suffering and feelings of being unworthy are themselves what we need. Which they aren’t. What we need is a really good reason to tolerate the pain on the way to a better state and way of being. Scripture itself says that Jesus was willing to suffer the pain and humiliation of the cross “for the joy set before him”. Not because it was good for him or for us or holy to suffer but because there was something better on the other side of all that suffering.

If you read the writings of the saints this is exactly what you see. They were saints because they were willing to walk through whatever it took to get to a place of union with God. Because union with God means being flooded with all that is good – joy, peace, healing, worth, and all those mushy things our hearts need and want. It means fear is gone – perfect love cast out fear. It doesn’t mean being perfect, but it does mean knowing deeply that they are very good. Saints aren’t people who just don’t care about comfort and enjoyment – they are people so committed to reaching real comfort and joy that they are willing to suffer greatly to get there. Their faith wasn’t “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” That sort of thinking isn’t going to get anyone through the suffering of life. But hope in the Living God who will set you free and redeem you and your suffering can.

That’s what Christianity has to offer: the promise that all the suffering we go through in this world can be made worth it. A promise that we can get to a place so filled with light that there is no room for the dark – even in the middle of terrible circumstances. A promise that all those things our hearts desire – all that mushy, comforting stuff – can be ours if we’re willing to take up our own crosses and walk our own narrow path. So, will the church of the future be The Feel Good Church or The Church of Blessed Suffering? Yes.

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4 thoughts on “The Feel Good Church vs The Church of Blessed Suffering

  1. The trouble with simplistic ‘self-esteem’ as a prescription, and the criticisms of it as a virtue: Both are based on self-reported feelings.

    You get poorsouls ‘striving to feel good about myself.’ As if not doing so were a flaw to beat themselves for. As if they could achieve it by running roughshod over that ‘bad’ way they actually feel, as if they could feel anything whatsover but what they do. (Certainly one has a choice between striving to maintain suffering, or trying something else, but compulsive pretense just adds another layer of confusion.)

    Your typical psychopath, keeping score by whether he’s maintaining ‘a winning advantage’ over all those opponents & victims out there, will naturally report feeling ‘better about himself’ when he’s really screwed someone over recently. So far as we’re committed to the hypothesis: ‘God inside”, that ‘better’ isn’t really the deepest feeling at work, just the deepest feeling he’s letting into consciousness. (Probably it is what you can expect him to navigate by, so relying on his finer feelings ain’t ‘the way to bet’; all I’m saying is it’s probably better to consider such a person ‘damaged’ than ‘evil’ or ‘deserving to suffer.’ Rabbi Smelke’s insight, Jesus’ perspective: “If you’d stubbed your toe and it was giving you pain, would it make sense to punish it?” is the one that make sense — so far as we aren’t caught up in congratuating ourselves for not being somebody worse!) That’s not saying I have “a solution” to “How can everyone be safe with Bad People in the same world?” — aside from ‘Pray and see what comes.’

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    • Honestly, I think that looking for safety is one of the biggest mistakes we make. The safety people want doesn’t exist and we distort ourselves trying to achieve it.

      Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

      It was a turning point in my faith when I read that and realized that this is a perfectly safe universe to exist in. That’s the only real safety there is, imo.

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