A Bunch of Noah’s in Nashville

Do you know what I don’t like doing? Arguing with conservative Christians. I used to do it. But it’s pointless. Sometimes someone is so many different kinds of wrong that it’s hard to know where to start. And why bother? Arguments have been made, the sides staked out and scripts provided to all involved. It’s just the same conversations over and over again. As is so often the case when it comes to controversies grounded in scripture, we tend to come down to two fairly plausible readings of the text. As much as we want to argue over minutia and details, when you get right down to it, we’re just picking the interpretations which seem right to us. Which means all we’re doing is using the scripture to reflect our own hearts.

Sometimes what’s in our hearts is ugly. Like the recent appallingly timed release of an anti-LGBT statement by an appalling list of right wing charlatans who use the fear of God and man as a weapon to maintain control over much of the white American church. (If you are fortunate enough not to be in the loop about these things, it’s called the Nashville Statement. Google.) Now, not only am I openly biased about this statement, but I haven’t even read it. I’ve just read what other people who are appalled by it have said about it. That’s how flagrantly biased, unfair, bigoted and close minded I am.

Except I’m totally not. I haven’t read it because, again, what for? It’s not like we don’t already know the script they’re working from and it’s not like a bunch of “leaders” who long ago lost my respect are entitled to the time and brainpower it will take for me to read it. But because of the prominence and proximity to power which the signers hold as well as the fact that these morons thought we needed to hear them formally recite their opinions – AGAIN – about other people’s genitalia while we’re in the midst of several human, ecological, political and social catastrophes, it’s a thing people are talking about.

So, to start off with, contrary to what these jokers claim, the bible is not nearly as clear as they’ve made it out to be when it comes to LGBT people’s genital pairings. There’s an excellent case to be made that the bible passages which forbid homosexual activity have been completely misunderstood and misrepresented. If you’re not familiar with it, here are some good places to start looking. And here. And here.

But even in the absence of a scholarly case for LGBT acceptance, scripture provides us with ample room and cover for re-examining the old prohibitions against homosexuality. Go back to Noah. In Christian lore, Noah is held up as a righteous man who obeys God’s commands without question. A hero of the bible who saved life on the planet. The Jewish people, however, have tended to see things differently. In their eyes, Noah is not particularly admirable and, despite being a literal forbearer to the Jewish people, according to the text, has not been accorded the honor of being recognized as a Jew at all. The reason? Because he obeyed God’s commands without questions. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, certainly no liberal, explains this Jewish perspective of Noah thusly:

The Bible says that Noah was a righteous man “in his generation.” He was only a righteous man compared to the others who were far worse than he.

Now, why wasn’t he righteous? Because righteousness is all about what you do for your fellow man. And Noah does NOTHING for his fellow man. He doesn’t care, he has no compassion. He executes God’s commandment to the letter. So when God says “I’m going to kill everybody,” Noah says, “will you save my skin? Oh, I get an Ark? Okay, fine.” . . .

[Noah] failed in the greatest mission of all. He failed to protect human life. And failed to fight with God when he wanted to take human life. He refuses to wrestle with God. . . God says “everyone will die” and Noah says nothing. But this is not what God wants. God wants people with moxie! God wants people with spiritual audacity! He does not want the obedient man of belief. He wants the defiant man of faith.

It isn’t until Abraham, when God says “we have the rainbow and I promise not to destroy everyone, but I will destroy these two cities Sodom and Gomorah,” Abraham does something audacious. He says “will the judge of the entire Earth not practice justice?” He lifts his fists to heaven! He raises a cudgel to Heaven! This made him the first Jew. A Jew does not just accept a divine decree, he does not just bow his head in silent obedience. [Source]

Jesus was a Jew in the tradition of Abraham, not Noah. We see it in his proclamation that “the sabbath was made for the man, not the man for the sabbath”. That is to say, the rules do not take precedence over human beings and their needs. It’s up to the rules to serve human needs, not the other way around. This idea is further re-enforced in Acts 10 where God tells Peter to stop dividing between clean and unclean. Those rules which had been put in place long ago for the Jewish people would no longer define what was acceptable and unacceptable. Real Jews wrestled with God in defense of their fellow man. And going forward, Christians would no longer bind people to the rules which had previously defined everything Peter knew about right and wrong, good and bad, clean and unclean.

The fact of the matter is that those who continue to declare homosexuality unclean, forbidden and a violation of Christian morality are like Noah. They are obedient, but fail at the most basic requirements of caring for human life. Regardless of our understanding of what God has declared his intention or desire to be, LGBT people have made it clear, in word and deed, that they are being deeply hurt by the teaching that their innate sexual inclinations are defective and acting on them an affront to God. The traditional teachings regarding human sexuality have resulted in suicides, addictions, destroyed families, people being cast out of communities, mental health problems and intense rejection and hostility for LGBT people. So even if we believe that it is, in fact, clear that God condemns homosexuality, that is not a good enough reason to continue promoting a teaching which is hurting the people who are subject to it.

Jesus told us, flat out, that we can judge a thing by its fruit. The fruit of the teaching against LGBT people has been consistently bad. To ignore this because we believe that the teaching was handed down by God doesn’t actually honor God. As 1 John 4:20 says, if we don’t love the human beings who we can see, we CANNOT love God who we cannot see. Insisting on feeding people fruit that poisons them is not love. Saying that the fruit that poisons them is from God and must be eaten for our own good only makes it worse. Pointing to the very rare person who is able to tolerate the fruit without being obviously poisoned by it does absolutely nothing to help those who the fruit would kill. God’s ways bring life, not death.

At the end of the day, we do have a choice to make. It’s much the same choice that Noah and Abraham had to make. Do we just go along with what we’ve heard God has said he desires, or do we push back in order to defend our fellow man from destruction? The writers of the Nashville Statement have chosen the path of Noah; they will accept the salvation of being right for themselves while others continue to perish. I and many others are choosing the more faithful option of refusing to continue imposing death, suffering and rejection on LGBT people in God’s name. And I am not remotely worried that God will condemn or reject me for following in the footsteps of father Abraham.

The Quiet Secret to Global Revolution

Well, look at me! Posting for the second day in a row. I told you I’d be back! 🙂

I actually have a guest post up at Dr. Chuck Crisco’s site that I wanted to invite y’all to go check out. It’s on a topic near and dear to my heart – overcoming the “us vs them” dualism of the past in order to embrace a more humane, holistic understanding of humanity as “just us”. I’m sharing the introduction below and I hope you’ll head on over to Chuck’s site to read the rest:

The Quiet Secret to Global Revolution: “Us vs Them” or “Just Us”

In talking with my fellow countrymen, it has become increasingly clear that there are two competing and seemingly irreconcilable mindsets at work in the conflicts being played out around us. On one side, you have people who see the world in terms of “us vs them” in which humanity is divided between those who are on our side and those who are not.  On the other are those who see the world in terms of “just us”, as in there is no “us vs them”, there is only a broad “us” which encompasses all of humanity. “Us vs them” thinkers see our differences as a cause for division, while “just us” thinkers seek to transcend our differences and recognize our deeper, shared humanity. READ ON . . .

Also, I am still collecting money to fund necessary surgery for a 14 year old Christian Pakistani who sustained serious injuries after being kidnapped and tortured by a man his father had a financial dispute with. I shared the story here yesterday. If you missed it, you can read it and find the link to make a donation here. 

This Is Our Faith

My friend Carol sent me a link to this video over the weekend of Egyptian Christian’s responding to the murder of 21 of their own by ISIS last month. I wish that everyone would see this video, because this is what the Christian faith looks like. This is the faith of the apostles, the saints and the many unknown faithful through the ages, as taught to us in Christ. I would that when the name of Christ was spoken, this is what people thought of. Please, please, please take a few minutes to allow these dear ones to teach you what it is to be a follower of Jesus. And then pass it on so that others might know the true face of our faith as well.

I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven . . .  ~Jesus

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. . . Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. . . Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Paul to the church in Rome

HT to Simply Church for sharing this video.

The Mystery of Faith

“Go that way! Towards the sun.”

I always wondered about faith.  Evangelicals say that you have to choose to have it.  Calvinists say that you are predestined to either have it or not.  It’s a free gift that you cannot earn.  But you have to nurture and hang onto it.  Catholics and Orthodox Christians practice it with rituals.  So many contradictory ideas.

What I have learned is that faith is the little voice that pops up when you are discouraged or even despairing and points you back to God.  It tells you something true. sometimes what is true is not what you want to hear.  But it’s true and you can choose to embrace it and continue walking by faith or you can reject it and try to find your own way forward.   When times are hard, you have to really listen for it.  You have to really hold onto what you hear.  Because soon enough something will come and wash that little piece of comfort away.

Why do I say that these words and their amazing power to sustain us are faith?  Scriptures describe Jesus as the author and perfector of our faith.  Jesus is the Word made flesh.  In the beginning there was the word and the word was God and the word was with God.  Listen and you will hear words pointing you back to God.

A couple of months ago, I read in a devotional: “who told you that winter will never end and spring will never come again?”  And regularly when I have been ready to consign myself to a life of permanent misery, those words: “who told you that winter will never end and spring will never come again?” would drift into my mind.  And I had a choice.  I could believe these words pointing me back towards God or would I continue embracing the darkness.  The darkness seems so reasonable and safe.  It’s real.  I can think of 100 reasons to just let go of what I have put my faith in until now and give myself up to misery and call it my fate.  But every time I am quiet, every time I cannot hold onto being miserable anymore, the words of faith keep coming back.

For years I heard them, read them, sang them, prayed them, studied them – these words that are truth pointing me back to truth.  And now, they come back to me.  They are songs running through my head when I wake up in the morning.  They are words I have planted in my children repeated in their own voices for their own reasons.  They are the words that come to the surface every time I pause my recital of the litany of reasons I just cannot and will not continue.  And consistently they point me back to God when hitchhiking to Vegas starts to seem like my only hope for survival.

This is how faith works: what you allow in, will come back to you when you need it. It’s not magic; it’s a free gift we all have thanks to these amazing brains we have been given.  Our brains will take the smallest good thing we give it and when we most need it, spit it back out at us.  I cannot tell you how often when I have been quiet and just listened, something so tiny, so seemingly insignificant will come to mind and that’s just the little boost I need for the moment.

This is God teaching me to see and be nourished by even the tiniest things and the smallest drops of water so that I can survive in a desert place.  This is Jesus authoring the words which point me in the direction I need to go on the path that leads to God.  Faith is a tiny mustard seed sprouting and pointing towards the sun, however dim and distant it may be.  Go that way.  Towards the son.  There’s love there.  S o you hope that God is as good as he says he is and hold onto the light for as long as you can, letting it strengthen you to endure the darkness from the next wave threatening to rip this little bit of comfort away.  And somehow, it’s always enough.

*First published 12/2011

Three Sinful Paths

Let’s say that you are a new Christian, earnest and eager to follow the narrow path and repent of sin and all its damaging consequences. Which is a good goal. Both the Greek and Hebrew words for sin mean to miss the mark. The mark being union with God. Since union with God is the full fruit of redemption and sin means missing that fruit, avoiding sin is a worthwhile goal. But how to do that?

Well, in general, there are three paths you can take. One will take you to God. One will take you destruction. And one will get you somewhere between the two. Allow me to explain these paths and you see if you can pick out which is which.

The first path is one favored by many in the church. It is to identify sin and target it for elimination. It may mean that you refrain from engaging in worldly activities like drinking, swearing, watching questionable movies, hanging out with friends who are up to no good and the like. Perhaps you get involved in a small group or pursue relationships with more mature Christians as a way of building accountability for yourself.

This path does have its uses, particularly for those who are new to the faith. When a person converts to Christianity, it means adopting a new identity and with it, a new way of life. If your old identity was grounded in being a promiscuous partier who was known for your outrageous antics, it may be necessary to swear off those old behaviors in order to make room for your new identity in Christ.

The danger of this path is that identifying and eliminating sin can become the way you live out your faith and the basis of your Christian identity. Those on this path are too often the public face of the church, defined by what it is vocally against. In fact, the church has no end of self appointed gatekeepers for whom a willingness to identify and target sin for elimination is synonymous with being a faithful Christian. They think they are protecting the church when really all they are doing is attempting to lock everyone in the nursery. (more…)

Prayers of Faith

Earlier this year, I did a series of posts on why God doesn’t answer prayers. My reason for writing the posts was to push back against the common church narrative which says that if you just have enough faith, God will answer your prayers. I think this is such a problematic teaching as it basically teaches us that if our lives are hard and God is not answering our prayers, it is because our faith is inadequate. We didn’t believe hard or well enough to be rewarded with answered prayers. Which just isn’t true and encourages us to engage in the sort of magical thinking that keeps fairies alive. I suspect that this teaching results in very few answered prayers and a whole lot of burnt out, discouraged Christians.

The other day, I read a wonderful post on just this topic titled “Why Your Prayer Will not Be Answered” which pointed something out which I wanted to pass on to y’all. It was written by John Igbinovia. (Yes that John Igbinovia, also known as XTsamurai, also known as the Nigerian musician I wrote about yesterday. I wasn’t kidding when I said that he was an exceptional person.) At any rate, in it John explains a few things about what faith is and what faith is not:

Faith is NOT the same as belief. . . If GOD has not given insight about a situation to you, there is NOTHING to faith.

All you have is passionate ardent belief that is your HOPE – and it is fine to act with the hopes of getting what you want and telling God, your Father, what your desires are. . . Faith is acting based on a KNOWING of God’s intention about something. Basically, there is a plan about a person or situation that God is bringing about and somehow, you have been able to hear or “hear”, as in know SOMEHOW on the inside, what God intends to DO. Praying with that understanding simply aligns with what God plans to DO already

“Faith cometh by hearing the word of God”. If you have not heard, what are you “faithing’’?

Mmmmm . . . Doesn’t that explain so much? We have our hopes and desires and even bible verses which can be read to say that God will give us what we hope for and desire. Then when God does not answer our prayers of hope, we feel betrayed and confused. But it’s not our prayers of hope that God answers, it’s our prayers of faith. And faith comes from the promises we’ve been given, not from our own desires for what we want: (more…)

When Complaining Is Ministry

I’m one of those people who you should only bring your ideas, plans and dreams to if you’re looking for a solid critique of them. Otherwise I’ll probably give you a seemingly unenthusiastic word of support. Not that I won’t support you, just that I’ll be using all of my self-control biting my tongue because I know you need my support and not my advice. It’s hard to show how enthusiastic you are while biting your tongue.

Strangely enough, this is a trait my husband doesn’t always find endearing in me. He’s told me that he wants to be rich enough to create his own echo chamber so he’ll never have to hear anyone disagree with or criticize his ideas again. I keep trying to tell him what a bad idea that is, but some people just have to learn things the hard way, I guess. So I’m not saying anything about it anymore.

Personally, I dislike learning things the hard way. I’d much rather have other people learn things the hard way for me. Of course, there are those things you just have to learn for yourself. Once you get past wisdom like, “don’t take your duelie* out on the ice when it’s only been below freezing for a week” and “rich people spend all their time working so their children and grandchildren can grow up to be stunted, damaged people”, most people have no idea what they are talking about. So often, you have no choice but to make your own mistakes and figure out your own lessons for yourself.

I certainly looked for a way out of having to learn things the hard way. And I’ve learned a great deal in the process. But I finally had to accept that there is no one out ahead of me who could give me some answer, some word of wisdom or practices or set of rules to follow that would make everything alright. It’s not just that I’m so wise and out ahead of everyone else, spiritually speaking. (Although that does play its part, of course. I should be catching up to the kids with Down’s Syndrome in another 20 years or so.) It’s also that in the end, some things are like death. Or labor. They have to be experienced to be understood.

I’m hardly the first person to figure out that there’s  no answer anyone can give that will end my suffering, of course. But I think I might be more willing to shamelessly complain on the way than most. If you’re a jerk, that makes me a complainer. If you’re a kind, wonderful human being such as my readers are, that makes me brave and vulnerable. Which I’m always a bit amused to hear people say about me. I only share things that don’t make me feel vulnerable and don’t make other people look bad. If what I share sounds brave and vulnerable, that’s just a sign that not enough people are being honest. Because, trust me, it gets much worse than what I’ve shared here.

We’re always told not to complain, but I think it can be helpful to keep a few complainers around. Have you read the bible at all? Complaining is biblical, people**! The complaining is one of the reasons I keep returning to the bible. Often the promises and praises sound like taunts and betrayals, but the complaining? That’s real life, peeps.

One of the unique and valuable characteristics about the bible is the lack of sugar coating. The writers were honest about how much pain they were in. They were melodramatic and intense and blunt. And because they were so open about their pain, I knew that my pain wasn’t a sign that I had unwittingly gone astray. Being in that much pain didn’t mean God had abandoned me or wasn’t real. Sometimes people who follow God walk through terrible suffering. I know it because my bible tells me so.

Hell, I know it because of the cross. When Jesus suffered, there was no buffer between him and the rest of the world. He didn’t get to retreat to his bedroom or into loving arms as he suffered. He suffered in front of us. He lost all control over his story. He fell in real time in front of crowds. He felt pain beyond what he could be stoic enough to bear in front of his mother and brother. Every cry, every yelp, every inch of skin and bodily function was there for the crowds to see.

Me? I do my suffering in private and then sift through the details and decide what I’m comfortable sharing. I might look brave, but that’s only because we’re all really scared. Jesus was vulnerable. I’m just less beholden to shame than most of y’all. But no matter what the world would have you believe, there’s no shame in suffering. Jesus did it after all.

Maybe one day we’ll know how to become wise and live in union with God without walking through all the pain and suffering. After all, there are videos on YouTube of women having orgasms while giving birth. Mr. Rodgers was so happy when he was told he was going to die that his family requested that he at least pretend to be upset that he was dying. Jesus is now worshipped  as King. There’s hope for us yet. We are teachable, after all.

This is probably one of those things you have to experience to really understand, but I do have one little thing to share with others who are in the process of learning things the hard way. It helped me to hear it when all hope was gone, so even if it’s a bit premature, I’d like to add my voice to the great cloud of witnesses who have said it before: trust God. Even when he seems utterly untrustworthy or like a figment of your imagination. Faith is believing what you cannot yet see, after all. Just a teeny, tiny bit of faith will get you through the darkest night. And if you can complain a little on the way, call it a ministry. 😉

*For those of you who don’t live someplace where people drive on ice, a duelie is a truck with four back tires. Also called a big bootie or fat ass truck. You’re not allowed to take them through automatic car washes. Every year up here in the Northern Tundra, some dude with a duelie drives out on the ice before it’s thick enough and puts his truck through the ice. And every year, that year’s genius is interviewed on the local news. Inevitably he informs the rest of us that the local officials warning everyone to stay off the ice might be on to something. Because who knew, right?

**Complaining can be a problem. If you complain about something every day, you are complaining too much. Save complaining for important things like intense suffering and itching, not petty stuff like broken bones and bad traffic, k?

Is Your Faith Good Enough? Yes. Always.

gotfaithOnce upon a time, back when I was a young, single mom trying to get my crap car to start, or wishing for money to fall from the sky to get my electricity turned back on or hoping I could  make it to the gas station on fumes, I prayed many desperate prayers. I was queen of the desperate prayer, in fact. But my prayers were answered close to never. Which made me think that I didn’t have enough faith. Because if I had enough faith, I could make anything happen. Right?

“Name it and claim it”, some people would say.

“Walk boldly into the throne room and lay hold of your rightful inheritance,” others would advise.

“True belief is the key that unlocks the blessings God has promised his children,” I was told.

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,” Jesus claims.

So as I moved from crisis to crisis to crisis, I tried really, really hard to have faith. Enough faith. Real faith. Good enough faith. The kind that could move mountains. Or at least help me find change in the couch cushions to buy milk for my toddler right before payday.

I was like a little kid who’s been told that a fairy’s going to die if they stop believing in fairies. “I do believe! I do believe! I do!” I would practically clap my hands and will myself to really, really believe – with absolute certainty – that God would answer my prayer.

In the end, I learned two things. The first is that magic isn’t real. I can’t just really, really believe and say just the right words and make things happen. I’ve heard of people who this works for, but I’m just going to have to chalk that up to the sort of illusions which all so-called-magic relies on.*

The other thing I learned is that my faith isn’t faulty. You see, when you’ve been told that the key to getting God to answer your prayers is having enough faith, unanswered prayers can never be God’s fault. If you get mad at God then he’ll really not ever answer your prayers. Therefor unanswered prayers are always your fault for not having enough faith.

But one day I heard the scripture verse which refers to Jesus as “the author of our faith.” And I had a little revelation. Whatever faith I have – be it big and certain or small and doubtful, has been written – authored – by Jesus. Who can always be trusted. And who does all things perfectly. So my faith, shaky though it sometimes seems, is always just as it should be.

And all those unanswered prayers? Well, that same verse says that along with being the author, Jesus is the “perfecter” of our faith. As hard as it is for me to swallow sometimes, my faith is much more important to Jesus than my car not starting. My car problems will pass one day. (Maybe. I’m still waiting on that one, actually!) But my faith is meant to be carried into eternity.

As much as I would like it if I could simply believe and make things happen by the magical force of my belief, instead I have a faith that doesn’t fail when my car does. Or when my wishes don’t come true. Or when tragedy strikes. Or even when God is no where to be seen. Because Jesus has been using all those unanswered prayers to perfect the faith he’s authored for me.

So if you ever worry whether your faith is strong enough or good enough or big enough, stop. It is. Because Jesus himself is authoring and perfecting it just for you.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith ~ Hebrews 12:2

And all God’s people said – Amen and amen!

*For the record, this is not meant to discount the possibility of being gifted for healing or other seemingly miraculous things. I know a young man who regularly goes into the ER waiting area at local hospitals with a group of friends to pray over people. Most of them end up leaving without seeing a doctor. But that’s a gift given by God for his own purposes, not something which is just our due for putting an “X” next to the Christian check-off box.

Warning: God Can Be Ruthless

Some years ago my husband was driving through our small town’s business district early in the morning and happened to observe a hawk catch a rabbit. After nabbing the cute little bunny, the hawk alighted on a nearby light post and began ripping into the little thing’s soft belly. What struck my husband was that the rabbit was still alive and struggling when the hawk ripped into its flesh. Yet the hawk was completely unperturbed by the fact that its prey was still screaming. He just sat there nonchalantly looking around, enjoying his breakfast.

When my husband shared this story with me, I wondered for the umpteenth time what exactly it says about God that we live in a world of predator and prey. Because scripture says that the creation is a reflection of God. In the Book of Acts, Paul says that creation testifies so strongly to the reality of God and his character that even those who have never heard of God know enough about him to be judged.

So for many years, I would occasionally meditate on the relationship between God’s character and the fact that we live in a world which actually depends on the relationship between predator and prey to function properly. What I came to is that there’s a certain ruthlessness about God.

Ruthless isn’t a word which we usually associate with God. It seems awfully negative. It’s hardly something we go out and proclaim to the world; “praise God all you people for he is ruthless!” Sure there are those people who are really excited about God’s wrath who might do it, but mostly we tell people that God is loving, powerful, merciful, etc.

Perhaps ruthless isn’t quite the right word. The dictionary definition of ruthless is “pitiless, without mercy, cruel”. And certainly God is not any of those things. When I say there’s a ruthlessness to God, I mean to describe a lack of sentimentality combined with unwavering determination.

God is ruthless in the same way a surgeon who cuts into flesh to operate is ruthless. He’s ruthless like a demanding coach who won’t settle for anything less than near perfection from his team is ruthless. He’s ruthless the way chemotherapy is ruthless.

What I mean to say is that God most certainly has pity on us, is merciful and abounding in love. And yet he will not allow any of those things keep him from doing what needs to be done in order to bring us to salvation. He would rather walk us through the suffering of redemption than allow us to remain broken and enslaved to sin in blissful comfort.

Consider Jesus; despite being King and God incarnate, he wasn’t spared the suffering of mankind. Everything we suffer, he suffered. There was no point at which God said, “it’s too much.” Instead, he walked with grim determination to his bloody death so that the work he set out to do could be completed. He would rather suffer the worst that life had to offer than leave our redemption for another day when it would be easier and less painful.

I’ve written a few times about the work of John of the Cross. His writing on the dark night of the soul has been a comfort and companion to me for the last few years. And yet when I read his story, it terrifies me. He suffered awfully. Same thing with many biblical characters. Abraham, Joseph, Hosea, Jeremiah and others all suffered through terrible trials and anguish which went on for far longer than seems reasonable.

When I first heard of Mother Theresa’s long night of spiritual darkness, it made me wonder what sort of God this is we follow who would hide his face from a faithful servant for so long and inflict so much suffering on her. Truly, there is a reason scripture says, “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.”

This is something we Christians don’t talk about much. We flock to teachers who explain how if we are faithful, God will bless us with prosperity, ease and a good name. For many people a good life is evidence of Godly character.

Apparently it works for some people. I have heard many stories of people who practically had wealth and good fortune fall from the sky when they put their trust in God. He got them good parking spots even! And yet, I know many more people who have done their best to follow God whose lives are a mess. They keep waiting for him to show up and set everything right for them. (Sometimes to the point of not doing for themselves what they need to do!)

So many people suffer and wonder if perhaps God is angry with them. Maybe they don’t have enough faith or haven’t submitted enough. The suffering which comes when we expect God to bless us and he doesn’t is sometimes far worse than the circumstances we are struggling with to begin with.

The truth which isn’t spoken of nearly enough is that the Christian life is practically by definition a suffering life. It’s not that God doesn’t love us and doesn’t want good things for us – far from it! It’s just that he loves us too much to settle for less than the best for us. And, unfortunately, the process by which humanity finds redemption is a painful one.

Jesus didn’t tell his followers that if they followed him, they would live in comfort and ease like some prosperity gospel preacher. Rather, he told them that to follow him, they’d have to carry a cross. At the time, the word cross was actually a common Roman curse word. People would tell someone, “go to the cross” the same way we say, “go to hell.” When was the last time you heard a Christian teacher tell you that to join their church, you’d have to agree to “go to hell”? (If they were following truth in advertising rules, a lot of them would have to. But that’s another topic for another day!)

Some time ago, I said what has got to be the dumbest, most idiotic prayer I’ve ever said. (And I’ve prayed some dumb prayers before!) I asked God to do what he needs to do in order to redeem me. I asked him to be ruthless. That I wanted as much of him as I was capable of receiving. That he knows my limits and abilities better than I do, so to do as he saw fit – even if I begged him to make it stop. I’ve talked with other Christians who have said similar things and we all agree that it was an idiotic thing to have done.

And yet, even on my worst day, I wouldn’t really take it back. You see, Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. We tend to think this means we will enjoy the good things of life abundantly. But he’s really promising that we will experience all of life abundantly – including the hard things. How hard life is and how much I suffer on the way is simply a measure of how good the life God has waiting for me is and how much joy I will have in him.

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? –Kahlil Gibran

It’s hard not to look at people whose lives are comfortable and relatively easy and be jealous and bitter. But don’t be fooled. This process of redemption is something God is determined to bring ALL of us through. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.” God’s ruthlessness is that he will not spare his children the suffering of correction and leave them dead in their sins.

Those people who have refused the way of the cross and enjoyed the easy path will one day experience the consuming fire of God which purges all that is not of him – only with great regret at having invested their lives in things that didn’t last or matter. A wailing and gnashing of teeth, as scriptures say.

Those of us who walk through the process of redemption willingly – who have said idiotic prayers and picked up our cross of our own free will – will be spared that bitter regret. As we grow and are refined into the likeness of God, we will see God’s Kingdom emerging within and among us. We will surely see the Lord in the land of the living and when the times comes, walk right into the house of the Lord to join in the feast which is being prepared for us.

The way of the cross is hard and full of suffering. And yet, it is for good reason that the bible tells us over and over to endure to the end. Father John Hardon said, “we love only to the degree that we are willing to suffer.” We know that this is true. When we love someone, we stay with them through sickness and death – even though this means we will suffer alongside them. Parents go without food and suffer hunger pangs so their kids can eat if that’s what it takes. If we are not willing to suffer, we are also not willing to love.

In the end that’s what this is all about. Suffering isn’t the point any more than the point of surgery is the cutting. It’s about Love. It’s about becoming an image of Love. And when we reach the point that there is nothing in us which is not love, we will be grateful that God is so ruthless.

Can God Do What He Says He Will?

One day – hopefully soon – I will write a post which is all “God is great! He has lifted me from the pit!” but I’m not there just yet. And I’m guessing that more than a few of you aren’t either. I feel like I’m in that spot just after the darkest point of the night when hints of a coming sunrise lighten the far eastern border of the sky ever so slightly. I can sense it coming, but it’s still awfully dark out here.

Anyways, a week or two ago I asked God if he was ever going to bring me out of the darkness I’ve been wandering in. And he said, “I swear I will.” Under other circumstances, a promise like this would lift my spirits. But I’m in endurance mode, so it’s re-assuring, yes. But it’s a bit like telling a woman experiencing contraction on top of contraction that she won’t be in labor forever. Good to know and hang onto. Doesn’t do much to change what’s going on right at the moment. But I will say that if it’s true for me, it’s true for you are well if you are also laboring in the dark. God has sworn that he will bring us out of this.

Anyways, the next day I was thinking about my own life and how intractable my problems seem to be. How everything I can think of to fix or change them has been tried and failed. How fixing any of it would seem to require an act of God. And even then, there’s always the very likely possibility that people would refuse to respond to even an act of God. Not only that, but I thought of how in some ways the challenges I’m facing seem in some ways to be a microcosm of what is going on in the world at large. There are these hints of sunrise on the far borders, but really our problems just seem too entrenched and unsolvable. And too many people seem utterly resistant to changing.

I confessed, “I just don’t know if I believe that you can do what you say you’re going to do, God.”

Right away my attention was drawn to a coneflower plant growing next to my front steps. Plants perform this magical alchemy of turning sunlight into food. And they use quantum physics while doing it. The number of leaves, petals and seeds the plant grows follow the pattern of Fabonacci numbers. (If you’re not familiar with Fabonacci numbers, they are a series of numbers which show up over and over and over again in the universe for reasons we don’t understand. It’s a pattern which is so consistent it seems like it ought to mean something, but we have no idea what that something might be.) The workings of a simple, common garden plant are so intricate and precise that it boggles the mind if you stop to think about it.

It’s ridiculous that such a thing should exist, really. And yet it doesn’t just exist, it exists as the result of a long, elaborate, yet elegant process which stretches back through the course of life on this planet, the birth and death of stars long ago and into the porriage of particles present at the big bang. Go back to absolute chaos and through an unimaginable amount of time and somehow, you get a coneflower with it’s impossibly neat, exact geometric pattern at the center and an equally impossible bee feeding on it. And God says, “do you really think I can’t do what I’ve said I will do?”

It still seems impossible to me that God can take my life and fix it much less that he can do the same with the rest of the world. (Actually, fixing the rest of the world seems much more likely than being able to fix my own particular life at the moment!) And the truth is that one of my great fears is that my life is just going to go on as it has for the last 40 years for the next 40 and that I’ll continue to be helpless to stop it. That all of God’s promises really are for the next life and not this one – at least for me. It took many billions of years to make the coneflower, after all.

And yet there’s this very faint light just starting on the horizon. So now, a few times a day, I go out and look at that coneflower outside my front door and remember God’s words: “I swear I will.” And for as long as the manna lasts, I can believe that just maybe he can. And will.

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