There is a mystery to this life. A confluence of two rivers that forms the truth about our lot here on Earth. And there seems to be two camps of people who view this mystery through two very different lenses.
The mystery is how hope and hopelessness can...and do...live intertwined in the human experience. There is a brokenness and a suffering that marks our time and it makes us who and what we are. It is what Jesus came here to experience. It's what made Him weep.
Paul told us that he had learned in whatever situation he found himself, to just be content. (Phil 4:12)
He doesn't teach about being overcoming and prosperous here on Earth. He states quite emphatically that some Christians will be masters and some slaves. Both are equal in the body of believers. He talked in several books about his thorn in the flesh...something that nagged at him all his life. It was most certainly not a physical malady. It was a heart issue.
Yet today, we hear teachers telling us how we need to be "overcomers". The twisted sickness of the prosperity gospel has spread into a lot of churches who outwardly claim to reject that school of thought. They might not be straight-up "Name it Claim it" but they have succumbed to the insidious lie of quoting Bible verses at your problems, Christian "Jedi Mind tricks" and affirmations. It's sad and it's damaging the body in very palpable and dangerous ways.
When the church at large begins to embrace a school of thought that says that we are supposed to be "positive thinkers" and we should "know what the Bible says" about the situation we find ourselves in and cling to it, to the denial of the pain we feel and the hurt in our hearts, we force people to hide their tears, cover their pain, and lie to themselves, to their fellow believers, and to God. Let me say here I totally believe in positive thinking. I adored Zig Ziglar and practice his style of this daily. But the Bible...and Zig...taught honesty amidst the positivity.
Jesus never...not once...healed anyone who denied needing healing. He didn't come upon ten lepers and standing by the side of the road in silence. When He asked them "What would you have me to do for you?" not one of them responded with "What do you mean? We don't need anything, we're already healed in Your name!" When one of them spoke up and said "Heal us of our leprosy!" the other nine didn't silence him with rebukes about "Negative confessions" and say "I reject that in Jesus name". How utterly stupid would that have been?
No...every person whom Jesus touched, first admitted they needed His touch. They were not in denial but rather openly admitted to the illness and the pain that went along with it. Their only mental attribute discussed in the Bible was faith. And most of the time it was pathetic and weak and barely enough to get through another day with the sickness that had them coming to Jesus in the first place.
But today we see a terrible attitude of falsehood and phony-ness at work. We are being told to stop speaking about our pain. To deny what hurts and wounds us and to instead remember "Who we are in Christ" and to recite "The Truth of the word". Well...lets look at this. Who am I in Christ? I am a redeemed, forgiven man who is becoming a new creature. I am not entirely new yet. When Paul wrote "Anyone who is in Christ is a new creature, old things have passed away and all things become new" (II Cor 5:17)
He used a form of "become" that was future perfect tense. A better translation would be to say "...all things are becoming new." It's a process that takes a lifetime.
However, in the church today we see a dissatisfaction with the speed at which God is moving. And since we can't ever blame God, we attack our brothers and sisters for their pain, their illness, or their immaturity. In truth, it makes us...and our fellow church members...so miserably uncomfortable to have anyone hurting around us at all, that we turn on those in pain because of the pain itself. We don't do it with a direct attack. No...that would be rude. We do it far more subtly and in a far more sinister fashion by preaching sermons on victorious overcoming but never on feeling the depths of our pain. We talk about finding comfort in the Word but we want to tear out the pages that talk of how just being a human guarantees us suffering and how Christianity does not guarantee victory over it in this lifetime.
"It's all in your mind" they tell us, and yet it isn't. The pain came from someplace real and it hurts in a real fashion and to deny someone the needed and necessary process of doubt, fear, hurt, anger, sadness, even the depression that accompanies the times of trial and failure and pain, is to slap them in the face again and again. And it drives people from Christ...not to Him.
In truth, I believe the Western church cares too much about looking good to it's own membership. Pain and brokenness and wounds and hurt don't fit in the nice, clean, successful, overcoming image we want to present to ourselves. Of course, we lie to cover this. We say that it's to attract the unsaved, because they need to see victorious living if we want to draw them to Jesus. We lie to ourselves that it doesn't hurt, or that the promise of Heaven makes it hurt less and we attach a spiritual maturity to feeling this way that sends the signal; "If you really were a mature believer, you wouldn't be doubting and questioning, and hurting, and whining about your situation. Stop your bellyaching! You bother me, ye of little faith." In truth, the promise of Heaven comforts us to know our missing loved one is with Jesus...our ultimate goal...and that there is a promise of reunion. But let's be honest...that doesn't take away the hurt of missing them down here even one little bit. Anyone telling you differently is selling you something. Or lying to themselves.
I grow weary of the practice of bad medicine in the church these days. People are hurting. Badly. The constant obsession with "being positive" at the expense of being honest is hurting them more. If the woman at the well were alive today, our pastors would silence her testimony about her multiple husbands and failed love life and her adulterous ways. They cringe if she ran through the streets saying "Hey! I just met this preacher who told me every terrible thing I ever did in my life and loved me anyway! I think he's the real deal!" They'd preach a sermon where they carefully outline how and what you should and shouldn't include in your "testimony" so as to not offend the upper crust of culture who attend their assembly. If that didn't work, they'd pull her aside...outnumbered so as to intimidate...and they'd tell her in no uncertain terms to stifle it. If that failed, they'd ignore her, crush her vision, openly question her authenticity and break her spirit until she finally left their midst. But they sure wouldn't love her for the uniqueness of her life and her story.
Somehow we have gotten so spiritually arrogant as to actually demand that we have the final edit on the narrative of the salvation of individuals. If Peter were around we'd redact all those ugly vulgarities he used when he denied Christ. If Jeremiah were alive today we'd tell him to watch his language. We would have sent Magdalene to a convent for a few years before permitting her to talk of her past.
And forget those in pain. Forget the wounded soldiers who have seen death and it haunts their dreams. Forget the alcoholic who craves the bottle every second of every day...even in church...and who more than occasionally slips up and gives in. He can't speak of this weakness and faithless condition. Forget the Christian sister who wrestles each second with her sexuality and who didn't choose this and who burns with real passion...not just some twisted sickness as we want to prescribe...for someone she is told is "abominable" and she can't even talk about it openly and get the reinforcement and comfort she needs because that sin makes us sick. Forget the divorced dad who still cries sometimes, 13 years later, because I miss the time I've lost with my daughter.
The truth is that hope and hopelessness live side by side in the same moment and in the same life. The glory of Christianity is not that we always overcome here in this life. It's that we will overcome one day in the next. Yes there are victories here. Yes there are miraculous changes and redemptions and transformations. But there are also colossal failures. There are runners limping to the finish line with barely enough energy to make it and with scars and wounds from falling down more than standing up. There are great saints and people of prayer who will go to their grave with alcohol on their breath, or with doubt about their value to God, or with great open grief about a loved one they miss. They miss this person even thought they have the knowledge and comfort that this person is alive in Heaven and they separation is temporary. It may be temporary, but it's the separation that hurts so badly...not the destination. I know I will see my grandmother again. But I miss her now. I wish my daughter could have met her. I know my grandfather came to Jesus and died in Christ and lives in eternity. But I was barely 19 and I wish I had him around a little longer. I miss Pop and I miss Collette and I wish they were still here. The pain is real and all the dulcid "Praise and Worship" songs in the world won't make it go away. The hope of the future does not assuage the hopelessness of the present. They live side-by-side and while the former makes the latter more tolerable...it does not remove it altogether.
The danger of lying to ourselves is that we suppress the pain and hide the tears. We wrestle with God and when He pops our hip out of joint and changes us in the midst of that pain, we try to hide the limp. We deny it, we curse it, we hate it and we preach sermons against it. But what we should be doing is embracing it. Because it's the limp that draws attention to the wrestling match, and it's the story of the wrestling match that allows us to tell the story of grace. The story as it happened...not the cleaned-up, polished version. Because nobody will find my testimony attractive if I take out all the parts we have in common.
I need to speak of my hopelessness if I'm going to proclaim His hope. Otherwise I really have nothing of value to offer.