The claim that “Everything is Going to Be Fine” needs to be taken to the mat. Okay, I know I made that statement in the last post, and I stand by it. But too many situations suggest that things are not going to be fine for large numbers of us. For instance, I’m not ignorant or indifferent about Christians losing their lives in Iraq. These people confess the same Lord as I do. What theological comforts should I give a man as his family gets gunned down in front of him for refusing to reject Christ?
Nothing makes people madder than clichés, and there are more than enough of those cute snappy things to go around in the Christian church. Westerners who are reasonably happy with a job, a spouse, and good health, like maxims such as “Let go and let God,” and sayings of a similar ilk. But to the man beheaded by a militant terrorist organization, such advice will appear bizarre and useless. Tell the Christian cancer patient who has three days left to live and who is out of her mind with pain, “If God brought you to it, He’ll bring you through it.” Right. Shut up and bring the morphine. Tell the Christian widow whose children died in an African famine, “You can’t out-give God!” or go to the scene of the next deadly mudslide or earthquake and tell the person holding their dead spouse, “God’s best is yet to come!” You’ll sound like a freakish travesty of some sort. Bottom line: Things aren’t going to work out for these Christians according to western expectations. I can pack up my motivational sayings and go home.
Most enduring religious clichés have hung on because somewhere in the dim past, they were at least partly based upon biblical teaching. These thoughts—that Christ has your future in His hand, that all things work together for good, that when you reach your end God is just beginning (and a hundred other social media sayings)—blossom on bended knees, behind closed doors, and often through tears. Sometimes they need years to hammer out in close proximity with God Himself.
But take those bare truths and erase the relationship, struggle, and life from them, and we’re left with flip truisms taught from pulpits and then applied again and again and again to everything—even things that don’t quite fit.
Why do we do this? Because if we can shrink serious and challenging truth enough to fit on a tee-shirt or a tweet, preferably in one single rhyming phrase, we’re better apt to remember it. But it breeds a new problem. The freshly hatched slogan eventually becomes irritating and the last thing you’d ever want to tell anybody (or you’d ever want to hear yourself).
Verses like Romans 8:28 and 1 Cor 10:13 lend themselves to one-size-fits-all motivational hijacking. As seekers of truth, we should plug them back into their historic and literary contexts, as well as into devotional life where a Christian is in serious interaction with the Savior. Then they become what they were meant to be—transformative and life-changing.
I’d like to ask Paul if he ever got mad and pouted like I do when things don’t go my way. As Roman soldiers marched him off to be executed, I find myself wanting to ask him, “Paul, do you still believe what you wrote in Romans 8:28—that all things work together for good?”
And if church history is true on the specifics of how Peter died, I’d want to ask him, “Do you still believe what you wrote about how God cares for you [1 Pet. 5:7] —even while they’re crucifying you upside down?” Then again, I probably don’t need to ask those questions. I can’t find any passage where either Paul or Peter lamented how they’d thrown their lives away on a failed Savior.
I think of the martyrs who were about to be die in Roman arenas, and how they might have spent their last night in prison cells. Maybe they hoped the Lord would come rescue them. After all, the Bible contains stories of such last-minute dramatic deliverance. Yet, they didn’t feel unloved or betrayed or let down in the final moments, with the hot breath of the lions on their necks. Why did they say with in the middle of dying gasps, “Lord Jesus”?
I don’t know…Yet.
“Lord” meant something to them I have only touched a little bit and even then at a distance. I want to know what they knew because Christ is so glorious He can eclipse all disappointment and even life itself.
On the other hand, the idea of finding out unsettles me…