Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How To Avoid Being a Disciple, Part 2 - Refuse a Theology of Difficult Things

It is nearly axiomatic in the life of Christians that their greatest struggles with faith come in times of stress and difficulty. Financial pressures squeeze families. Serious illnesses come out of nowhere and throw every expectation and hope out the window. Betrayal pulls the rug out from underneath our relationships.  And on the story goes. Struggles of every kind create unexpected bends in the river and create tension for us, tensions between what we expected to happen, what we hope will happen, what we expect of God in our lives, and who we think God really is.

To paraphrase a popular bumper sticker, all kinds of awful things happen. This is the human experience, and as such, it needs to be dealt with in ways that make sense of both our experience and our faith. If we believe in a sovereign God, we need to come to terms with his plan and power and the fact that things in our lives often do not go the way we expect them to. On the whole, however, we have failed at this task. We have simply not taken enough time on the "street level" of Christian lives to develop a theology of difficult things - an understanding that God is still good and great even when we suffer. And the failure to do so is more than a theological oversight, it is another way in which we avoid discipleship.

If we are unable to develop a clear and faithful understanding of God in the most trying times of life, we will find ourselves tossed and turned by even the slightest of winds. It will not necessarily be the gale-force gusts that topple our faith, it may be one contrary breeze. There is no surer way to destroy the future faith of a young believer than to insinuate that if they follow Jesus everything will go well for them. If we do not deepen our comprehension of God beyond believing in his greatness and goodness when "all is well," we will end up with a shallow projection of ourselves and our wishes on the sky, resulting in us following ourselves and not God. Our default theology is never who God actually is, but who we wish him to be.

At the very least, the disciple must learn where they stand in the God-to-human gamut of power. God is God, I am not and can never be. God is, by his very nature, necessarily good and right. I am, by my very nature, small in power and rife with error. So the disciple learns to respond to God's very existence and his call with confident abandon. The three Hebrew children about to be thrown into Nebuchadnezzar's famous fiery furnace understood this well. They refused to bow down to the pagan idol because they knew who truly was God. At the moment of their peril they said, "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18).  In another situation, not leading to potential death but to a radical change in the rest of her life, a young girl also saw what this meant for her. When the angel Gabriel told Mary that as a virgin she would give birth to her long-awaited Messiah, and that her older cousin was also surprisingly pregnant, she replied, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

If the follower of Jesus Christ gains an understanding of the character and power of God, they become able to follow him in the most complicated of times. This is not to say it will be easy - that would, in fact, contradict my entire point. The three Hebrew children were actually thrown into the fiery furnace and Mary watched her son be executed by the Romans. But if a Christian fails or refuses to come to terms with their sovereign and good God in the midst of trials, in the end they will follow their feelings instead. It is a very quick way to avoid being a disciple.

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