We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them- 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3 NIV
This past week some friends took me to see the movie Free Burma Rangers. The movie reminded me of three fundamental truths:
- Life is hard.
- God is good even when life is hard.
- When life is hard it doesn’t feel like God is good.
Most Christians eagerly agree with truths one and three. However, many Christians (including me), struggle to fully embrace truth two. Backing-up this belief is an increase in the number of Christians who have turned their backs on God when life got hard or other Christians disappointed them.
Some who walk away from Christianity are spiritual snowflakes. These are the people who see a rude comment on social media as a form of persecution. Deep down they tend to believe they are too special to suffer and when life gets a little bit tougher than they are comfortable with they melt under the heat of adversity, get mad at God and get out of the church. Spiritual snowflakes tend to carry their snow-flakiness into other areas of their lives especially into their relationships. These individuals are quick to take offense and get their feelings hurt. They tend to abandon relationships that challenge them in any way.
There are also individuals who turned their backs on God after experiencing situations that are legitimately horrific and difficult to explain in the context of God being good. These people have lost a child to a dreadful disease or had a loved-one murdered or lived through horrible abuse or a genocidal massacre. Those in this category all came up against a situation they couldn’t find a reasonable answer for and they simply determined they could not live the Christian life without that answer. So, they turned away from God either in anger or unbelief.
These two groups are vastly different in nearly every way and I definitely have more compassion for one group than the other. However, both groups share a common problem that has become endemic in Christianity.
They lack a theology suffering.
Theology is not just for bookworm-y, bowtie-wearing types. Theology is practical and necessary to survive life with our faith intact. Theology explains life and how God uses the stuff of life to accomplish His purposes in our lives. Every believer in Jesus must have a solid theological grid to view life through; if they don’t they will never be able to effectively explain to themselves and others why they are experiencing the things they are experiencing.
One reason Christians lack theology in this area is because life is easier now than it has ever been before in human history.
Think about it.
Thanks to the miracles of central heat and air nobody is ever too hot or too cold. Unless, of course, they are freely participating in an activity that demands they be too hot or too cold. Two-hundred-years ago, most people spent the majority of their lives in a state of perpetual discomfort. Today, it is uncommon for people in the Western world to experience hunger unless they are attempting to lose weight. A hundred years ago famine was still a reality for much of the world. Illnesses that once wiped-out large portions of the human population have been controlled or eradicated with drugs, surgery or public health programs. A hundred years ago it was simply accepted fact that few people would see all their children live to adulthood. People in civilized countries do not go to jail for being poor anymore. One-hundred-years ago there was no such thing as bankruptcy. Developed countries had poor houses, which were basically just jails for poor people.
All this progress is undeniably awesome. However, improved living conditions have raised our expectations for happiness to a level that cannot always be met. Truth-be-told most of us (including me) feel entitled to be comfortable, healthy, happy and entertained all of the time. We tend to get a bit cranky with God when life is anything less than perfectly pleasant.
A couple of things:
First, we live in a fallen world that is not fully redeemed (Romans 8:19-22). This simply means that no matter how good humans get at making the world a comfortable place to live we will never be completely free of adversity and tragedy this side of heaven (John 16:33). Secondly, Christians probably experience more difficulty and hardship than non-Christians. This is because God is relentlessly working to conform us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29, 2nd Corinthians 3:18). This is no easy task and apparently it requires some hardship to get the job done (James 1:2, 1st Peter 1:6-7, Revelation 2:9-10). Furthermore, life is full of tests (Luke 4:1, 2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1st Thessalonians 2:4, Hebrews 11:17, James 1:12). God does not test us so He can find out where we are at. He already knows everything there is to know about us. However, God sometimes allows us to be tested so we can figure out where we are at so we can make changes that lead to growth.
We must change how we view the Christian life. Someday we will dwell in heaven, and there will be no more tears, sickness, longing, pain or evil (Revelation 21:1-7). Life will be perfect and we will be perfect. We aren’t there yet. At this point in the story we are soldiers in a war (Philippians 2:25, 2nd Timothy 2:3-4, Philemon 1:1-2) We are fighting for the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings (Ephesians 6:10-20). Sadly, wars are messy and painful, they demand soldiers not snowflakes.