Fear & Anxiety

Questions received this week dealt with trusting God with so much uncertainty about so many things right now. Are Christians acting out of fear?

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All Things

How do we know what to believe? 

Once we know the truth, how do we know we are making good decisions? 

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Lessons from Less

The COVID19 pandemic has put a halt to all of our normal church routines. At a time like this we are simply unable to participate in many of the activities, even spiritual activities, that bring us joy and happiness. That does not automatically make the situation good or bad from a spiritual perspective. It simply is. Compared to much of what happens in a fallen world, the current situation we are facing is definitely challenging but it certainly is manageable. We have a reasonable expectation that this crisis eventually will pass and there is much that we can we learn during this time.

 

By studying the lives of Christians through the ages, and their responses to the unexpected hardship and suffering we can grow in our own Christian walk. One such person is called John of the Cross.

 

John of the Cross (1542-1591) suffered a great deal for his beliefs and wrote the poem “Dark Night of the Soul” while in prison. During this time, he was taken from his cell 3 times a week to be fed and whipped to force him to recant his beliefs. It is interesting to note that John and other ancient mystic Christian writers never appear to accuse or question God. God allows certain joys, happiness, pain and suffering in the lives of his children for reasons known only to God. John of the Cross never asked why. The presupposition is that based on scripture, Christians will suffer. If they were not required to suffer, they would question why not. Some (I believe misguided) even went so far as to intentionally bring suffering on themselves. Others, like John, viewed difficulty and suffering as the only school where the greatest lessons are learned.

 

For John, the reality was that God in his wisdom and love allows more suffering in the lives of those blessed enough to experience it because of the growth and maturity of the soul that suffering brings. The deeper Christian life is not distracted by physical or even religious activities and blessings. For John, the greatest growth occurred in the absence of everything but God. The question was “What soul growth can be gained that will only come by the removal of physical and spiritual joys and comforts?” Only then, without the self-centered flesh interfering, does the soul fully know and rest completely in God.

 

The true follower of Christ has always been challenged by the complexities of sorting out what it means to serve God in the midst of living in the world. For many Christians throughout history, simply naming Christ has meant poverty, hunger, suffering, relentless persecution and often death. For many, God’s comfort through the absence of any physical comfort is recognized as more than sufficient.

 

Living as a Christian in a free, more affluent culture opens up the danger of developing a self-centered theology where the material blessings may become the focus and even the purpose of our faith.

 

This logic of the pursuit of personal happiness has seeped into modern American theology without many being aware of it. It places the individual at the center and assumes that personal liberty and happiness are in fact realistic and attainable goals of one’s faith. This thinking assumes that by placing faith in Christ, a quid pro quo deal has been struck with God in which He is responsible for satisfying our all our appetites and pleasing us. Whatever is experienced in life that makes life easy satisfies the fleshly appetites and furthers creature comforts is labelled as “good”, and anything that interferes with the self-proclaimed version of freedom and happiness is therefore bad, “evil”.

 

We all make plans for what our day, week or even our life should look like. In a self-centered theology whatever occurs that does not contribute to our goals is labelled as not God’s will for us. According to this thinking the realities of life – what truly is – are judged to be good or bad based on our version of what brings us joy or hardship. It then follows that any situation that doesn’t contribute to my version of reality should be opposed as contrary to the will of God. The fact is that drawing closer to God through the losses is of far greater value. John of the Cross said it like this,

 

“This is very evident, since ordinarily that which is of the greatest profit in it – namely, to be ever losing oneself and becoming as nothing – is considered the worst thing possible, and that which is of least worth, which is for a soul to find consolation and sweetness (wherein it ordinarily loses rather than gains), is considered best.”

 

Serving God in spite of what the world throws at us is very different from a perspective that evaluates everything in terms of what we want which ends up sounding more like sovereignty of the self – by which God is judged for not giving people what they want.

 

To compare this sort of logic to learning anything else I can think of would be considered ridiculous. Suppose a parent would like their child to become proficient at math. There are two teachers to choose from. One teacher asks the student what they would like to do to make math easy. Class is a party. The same simple problems are solved day after day and year after year. We would not be surprised at the result. The other teacher assigns harder and harder problems to be solved. As soon as the student grasps and solves a problem another concept is introduced. The successful student learns to find joy in learning and following the direction of the teacher. The student who is constantly pushed and challenged and embraces the challenges as necessary for advancement will go far. Should the more strict teacher be judged harshly for not coddling the student?

 

With God as our teacher, what hard lessons are in the loss of things we expect and enjoy?

Our prayer should be that God will enable and empower each one us to be the successful student.

 

 


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