Jun 14, 2010

But What If He Doesn't?

There is a common teaching we see on television and in the movies.  The good guys win.  The bad guys lose.  Even when things appear hopeless, the good guys always get a last minute reprieve.  There is a fortuitous truck to hit the bad guy.  A mystery check arrives just in time.  The villains make a fatal miscalculation due to arrogance.  Some past good deed causes someone to act valiantly in thanks.  Good things happen to good people.  Bad things happen to bad people.  Dragons are vanquished and the hero rides off into the sunset with the beautiful woman and all is right in the world.

There is also a line of teaching that goes on in most churches.  We are taught that we want to be in the center of God's will.  We want to be doing exactly what He wants us to do - rejecting our own selfish and petty desires to pursue what He has planned for us.  This is the safest place to be.  When you wander from God's will and path, then He has to discipline you.  After all, he disciplines those he loves.  So the church sets up this very clear delineation.  If you do what is right - if you tithe and serve and pray for the missionaries and stand up for God at work, you get rewarded.  You are safe and provided for.  If you do what is wrong - if you are stingy with God and don't pray or read your Bible and pick jobs just because of the money, then you get smacked around.

I think that it comes from trying to encourage the membership to allow God to lead them.  Many Christians make their life choices without any thought as to what God feels - or what He may desire for them and their lives.  So, the church tries to defeat that mindset by teaching how we should follow God and obey Him.  It may be scary.  It may be costly.  But God will always provide and reward us for our faithfulness.

This teaching crops up all over the place.  A church may tells its members that they need to tithe their 10% to the church.  That may hurt them financially, but God will reward them for their giving.  And, if they are struggling financially, it probably is because they are withholding money from God.  Another way we see this is when a church teaching stories like Gideon and Job - emphasizing how God delivers and restores when the people are faithful.  (Extreme versions of this are called Prosperity Doctrine or Name It and Claim It.)  It can be a very encouraging thought.  If we do what we should do, then God will reward us.  This could come through financial stability or promotions or good health or getting a spouse.  Faithfulness equals reward.  That's what is taught.  It may be at the last minute - like the orphans waiting for food when the delivery man comes to the door.  But it will happen.  We just need to close our eyes and jump, and God will be there with a safety net.  There is even the song "Saved the Day," where God is portrayed as a rescuing hero - swooping in at the last minute to rescue everyone.

But, what if He doesn't?

This is one of the toughest questions I have had to face in my Christian walk.  What about if God does NOT come and save the day?  What if He doesn't ride over the ridge to help fight off the army of orcs?  What if He doesn't come swooping in on some screeching creature of vengeance to destroy the evil conspirators?  What if we go broke, lose our job, get sick?  Does that mean He is any less God?  Does that automatically mean that we were doing something wrong?

That is one of the dangers of the lines of teaching mentioned earlier.  We begin to believe that if we are doing the right thing we should be insulated from problems.  And if there are problems, we must be doing something wrong.  And, worse still, we apply that guide when looking at other people.  If they are suffering they must be out of God's will.  This is where you get to the point that you can actually blame the people of New Orleans for the flooding of Katrina by saying, "They are a sinful city so God punished them."  [I hate to break it to you, we ALL live in sinful cities.  If that theory is right, we're all screwed.]

This teaching is NOT Biblical.  Look at the people God help up as examples in the Bible.  They were taken out behind the toolshed and beaten MMA style.  Are you going to tell me that the Apostles were in the wrong?  Their murders were the result of their sin?  Didn't we see this was disproved in the story of Job that this mindset was wrong?  Job's friends accused him of everything and he hadn't done anything.  Even Jesus argued with this belief when his Disciples asked who had sinned - the crippled man or his parents.  Jesus responded that neither had.

The fact of the matter is that God does NOT always come to the rescue and fix everything.  There are times when He wants His people to go through a situation that is less than pleasant.  It may be to grow them or teach them.  It may be to teach other people.  It may be that if they got what they wanted they would turn from God.  Whatever the reason, God chooses many times to not answer "Yes" to a plea for help.  And following God does NOT mean you are wearing an invisible shield.  In fact, following God may put you into more danger than not following Him.  My good friend, David Tarkington, preached a sermon last Sunday called "In the Center of God's Will Is the Safest Place to Be?"  He got into the fact that it isn't safe.  This is something I have always said too - it can be the most dangerous place in the world.

Look at the missionaries who have been killed over the years.  Look at the Christians in other countries who are mistreated for their faith.  What have they done wrong?  What about the people here in America who have been ridiculed and passed over for jobs and fired and worse?  Please tell me what they did wrong.  That is the inherent problem with the aforementioned lessons.  You cannot have it both ways.  If it is true that God is always going to reward for obedience, then a lack of reward implies disobedience.

There are tons of dangers to this teaching.  It is running rampant in some of the more destitute areas of the world.  Missionaries are going into poor regions teaching that following God brings reward.  The people there are so desperate for some relief from their struggles that they jump at this.  What happens when they don't see the promised benefits?  Another problem is that we then begin to view people with much as better than those with little.  Churches love it when a wealthy person begins attending their church.  They usually quickly scale into leadership positions (deacons, trustees, committee chairs).  This is done without as much regard to their spiritual state - or it their portfolio is enough proof.  Pastors of large churches are seen as more worthy than pastors of small churches.  They always get elected to national offices.  They get asked to preach at events.  And the pastor of the smaller church is seen as needing to move up - or as trapped there.  (This is despite the fact that many ministers at large churches are actually pretty horrible people to be around.)

New Christians are often sold a bill of goods when they are led to Christ, or brought into a church.  They hear that all their problems are over.  God is going to heal every wound, end every addiction, pay every bill, rescue every person.  However, that is not always true.  And when they realize that, they are disillusioned.  Or they feel they were lied to.  Sometimes they feel they must be doing something wrong. As a result, their walk with God begins with a handicap.  It is a dangerous and false teaching.  And it gives people an incorrect view of God.  They misunderstand His motives and His plan.

Yes, God can come through with a miraculous rescue.  He can provide.  He can bring money and jobs and healing.  He can remove enemies and open doors.  He can do truly amazing things.  But, just because He CAN, does not mean He HAS TO, and it does not mean He WILL.  And that doesn't mean that God is bad or we are doing anything wrong.  In fact, it may mean that we are precisely where we are supposed to be.  Which can be a pretty tough message to swallow.


davetark said...

Sounds like you're reading my sermon notes. The thing about Sunday's message was that I didn't intend to go off on the "safety Christian" issue, but I guess something (or someOne got a hold of me.) I made the statement "The safest place to be is in the center of God's will" and got a loud "AMEN" from the congregation. Boy, did that feel weird saying the following sentence "That's a bogus theology that is propagated in far too many churches, and has even been preached here in the past." Then I heard silence. Ha ha.

I used your grandmother in law as an illustration. I didn't want to embarrass her, so at the service she attends, I didn't say too much, but at The Creek service at 9am I went into her "hand story." Amazing.

Anyway - great post.

I'll probably not be speaking at any national events, but I'm good with that.

Nana Lois said...

Our David,
God has given you an amazing gift with your writing and you are able to expound, exhort and entertain. You have an amazing heart and mind and we stand with you, together, as life throws it's curve balls and we wait to see how God chooses to respond in each unique situation. It is my prayer that God will eventually use your writing in a much broader avenue because I feel like it could be a blessing to so many people!