My friend Phil ended his last post in the "Elijah" series by saying this:
It's always interesting (isn't it?) to look back on an episode like this and marvel at the wisdom and goodness of God, who can bring so much eternal good out of a moment of tragedy. But real faith is to be able to trust Him in the midst of the tragedy—before we see the final outcome—and rest in the assurance that He does all things well.And so be it -- amen. I would agree with Phil, and add the encouragement of James the brother of Jesus that we should count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
It's true, and I have no qualms with that -- this is how true faith, saving faith, acts out. This is what it does.
But as we consider the contemporary church, there is a greater danger to faith which is manifest every single day on the blogosphere and in our culture which God also warns us about, and ironically, it's that we have it pretty good.
Just to change things up a little, in order to explain that, I'm going to use the Message (don't faint):
When God, your God, ushers you into the land he promised through your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you, you're going to walk into large, bustling cities you didn't build, well-furnished houses you didn't buy, come upon wells you didn't dig, vineyards and olive orchards you didn't plant. When you take it all in and settle down, pleased and content, make sure you don't forget how you got there—God brought you out of slavery in Egypt.[Deu 6:10-12]This is from the part of Deuteronomy where God, Moses and Israel are having a sort of one-time event -- you have read me go on about it before, I am sure. Moses was on the mountain receiving the 10 commandments, and when he came down the people were afraid of him and of God because of what they saw going on up there. So they say to Moses, [this is a paraphrase] "Dude, don't make us go up the mountain to God, because we won't make it. If God wants to say something to us, you go find out what it is, and whatever it is, we'll do it."
And when Moses delivers that message to God, God is actually pleased with Israel -- He tells Moses, [again, paraphrase] "If they'd always think like that they'd stay out of trouble, because this is one time they have a right-minded fear of YHWH." And in that, God gives Moses the Sh'ma and what follows.
Listen: God doesn't ever miss a beat when it comes to knowing who we are and upon what we usually hang our hopes. Here He's telling Moses to tell Israel that it's pretty easy to remember that God loves you when He's a cloud of fire and lightning on the mountain who's delivering bread every morning and squab every night, and that's all you got. But think about His warning here: "you're going to walk into large, bustling cities you didn't build, well-furnished houses you didn't buy, come upon wells you didn't dig, vineyards and olive orchards you didn't plant. When you take it all in and settle down, pleased and content, make sure you don't forget how you got there". That is, when you need Me, you're pretty quick to treat me like I'm God, but when I give you all the blessings I want to give you, you're going to like the blessings more than you like Me.
I'm pretty sure that there's not another verse of the Bible more specifically useful to most American Christians than this one -- and it's not because this verse promises us prosperity.
It seems to me that this relates directly to why we are worried about becoming "too God-centered" when a bridge falls down. Haven't we forgotten who God is because we have it so good in the first place? We're spoiled, really -- we think (each one of us) that we're the king of the world and we should have a really sweet existence where the part of "me" is played by Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, and we each get to tell all the good jokes and hook-lines, and gas for our Sports Utility pleasure barge is free, and our jobs should not intrude outside of Monday thru Thursday 8-4 (well, Friday if you must) (and I need to catch up on my blogs before break [!] on Monday), and so on. We have a nation we didn't build, in cities we didn't toil for, and we get food we didn't plant, and we have homes that frankly pop up out of nowhere -- we didn't have to frame one wall or float any sheet rock.
We need to remember something before we start thinking about how God provides in the bad times: we need to remember -- we who are sitting in our homes reading this post via the internet -- how good God is to us almost all of the time.
I was in church on Sunday (weren't you?) listening to my Pastor close up week 20 of a 15-week series (seriously) on the core convictions of our faith, and we wound things up with the doctrine of the eternal state -- the doctrine of Heaven, and the doctrine of Hell. And as the Tad-meister was really swinging for the parking lot, I got a little stirred up and frankly I wept over the beauty of God's plan and the exquisitely-generous provision He has made for us in Christ -- and to be honest, the provision He has made for me, because I am certain it is a larger provision than average -- because my need is so much greater than average.
And my kids were sitting with me (weren't your's?), and they both put their arms around me when I was weeping.
After church, as we were driving home, my boy asked me, "Dad, why were you crying in church?" And we pulled the vehicle over so we could talk about why I was crying in church. It wasn't exactly like this, but here's mostly what I said:
The next time your child asks you, "What do these requirements and regulations and rules that God, our God, has commanded mean?" tell your child, "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and God powerfully intervened and got us out of that country. We stood there and watched as God delivered miracle-signs, great wonders, and evil-visitations on Egypt, on Pharaoh and his household. He pulled us out of there so he could bring us here and give us the land he so solemnly promised to our ancestors."That is, "Son, it's because God has done something for me which I did not deserve and which I couldn't do for myself. I deserved to be sent to hell, and instead God sent Jesus to take the punishment for me." We talked about Leviticus (which we are reading), and how only blood pays for sins, and how God didn't take my life, but took Jesus' life in my place -- canceling the record of debt that stood against me with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.
This is when it matters -- our theology and who we say we think God is. It matters when we are in the midst of plenty, and we still can see that what God has done is the most valuable thing, the most beautiful thing, and that it is worth proclaiming and telling-forth.
Here's the challenge, folks: if faith is built up under trial, how do we build up our own faith when we are full up to the chin with blessings which 98% of all people who will ever live never have? And what do we make of our faith when it is tested so infrequently?