My English friend (I think she’s the only one), Odd Babblings, wrote tonight about suffering, the goodness of God and the general crapness of our lives. It is a lovely post that I urge you to read. She is describing that awkward experience that Christians can tell you about which we might call the Homegroup Precipice.
Everyone is sitting around being lovely and polite and pious with our easy reflections on how Jesus is the answer and isn’t the Bible wonderful even though the last time we looked inside the book was at last week’s study and the last time we considered Jesus was during last week’s round robin spontaneous prayer session about how a friend of our dad’s is going through a cancer scare or how our car can’t quite pass the NCT. But you are sitting there wondering what in the hell is going on because Jesus has just said something batshit crazy in the section of the Gospel we are reading. And you are wondering if you should really draw attention to the fact that if Jesus, the alleged Messiah, was trustworthy in what he was saying, all our lives would be an outright rebellion of his commands. But its getting late in the night and you have work in the morning and you’ve always been a little bit intimidated by the holiness of that one older guy who fought in a war and always uses war metaphors when talking about faith.
So you are on the edge of a precipice that threatens to railroad our lovely little religious experience and if you are anything like me, you usually shut up about your anxieties and bring up a nice theological issue instead. That way you can look really smart, really holy and altogether wonderful.
Totally the kind of guy who could be an alright if slightly less than combat ready army chaplain.
But the reality of our faith is that the questions and the babblings and the outright shouting matches we want to have with God are far more significant than any interesting historical tidbit about how the Jerusalem gate that is mentioned in that passage was excavated in the 1960s.
I didn’t expect this post to take this turn when I started writing but Babblings is right when she writes that “when our Father gives out his gifts, he doesn’t do so equally.” But Calvin, for all the hassle we retrospectively give him, always keeps this fact front and central before our eyes. What we see as Westerners as the capriciousness of God is often the result of our warped eyesight mistaking grace for something that ought not offend us. Grace offends us. Especially those of us who deserve a good, nice comfortable life. Evangelicals have such a problem with the suffering question because we have done such a thorough job of domesticating grace.
We always want to add a sentence or two just mentioning how God made up for what we’ve sacrificed in other ways. As if grace can exist on a scales. As if there is a balance or propriety in the actions of this profligate God.
The problem isn’t that Babblings wants to take us to Precipice. That is where we should live. On the edge of God’s grace in our life. The problem is that we want to receive grace once and then settle back into a nice give and take where we are justified by faith, meaning we have faith and God rewards us with what our Age believes are the Good Things. Health, marriage, family, wealth, security, significance and whatever other version of Maslow’s Hierarchy you can imagine.
My wife often wonders how Paul can be in chains in prison, likely facing death and still spring into praise of God. She basically spends her life figuring out how to get that kind of mojo going on for herself. She tells me Proverbs 15:15 says “All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast” and she thinks that there might be some hope in that.
My English friend acknowledges that suffering is real and I agree. When we suffer, we should grieve and mourn and not try to dress it up as a tidy little lesson through which God, a horrendously ineffective teacher, is trying to educate us. Babblings points to the rare likes of Brother Yu as someone who gets that grace and suffering are not mutually exclusive. Maybe the rareness of such disciples is explained by the fact that the church has convinced herself that the Gospel of the Age is real and that suffering can be avoided through the insulation of wealth, the nation state and military power. The road to Jerusalem is the road of suffering. I write this with my feet up having drunk a glass of wine. So I write this as a freaking hypocrite of the highest order. But it might explain why suffering is not nearly as large an apologetic problem in the majority world and largely uncontested before the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755. Suffering as a problem is a problem created by modernity?
Your Correspondent, His Elmer Fudd tribute bombed because of his speech impediment.