Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #1

I am hesitant to label this #1.  This means that I will do more.  However, if this doesn’t go well, I won’t.  But since it didn’t go well, you won’t remember, so we’re good.  As this (possibly) turns into a list over time, some of them will be funny, some will not.  Christians have a lot of expressions that we use.  Some of them have terrible theology in them.  Some are just weird.  Some are old and need a makeover.  Enough intro, here is #1.

Lesson Learned Theory of Facing Trials

Set-up: A Christian is going through some sort of difficult circumstance and is trying to process it.

So the person going through the trial is talking to a friend about the trial and one of them (could be either one) will say, “God is trying to teach you something.  You need to learn it, so this will pass.”  “Yeah, I know.  I thought I had learned this lesson already, but apparently I didn’t.  The trial came back.”

That seems harmless enough, and my guess is that it seems common.  However, there is a danger to that kind of thinking, to believe that trials happen so that God can teach us.  He then will not remove the trial until you learn the lesson.  He then reserves the right to bring more suffering into your life if you did not learn the lesson completely.

There are a couple of problems here.  First, it means we misunderstand the source of trials and suffering.  God is not the source.  A cursed and sinful world is the source.  We sin and suffering results.  Someone else sins, and suffering results.  The world that is cursed where sickness and death are the norm brings suffering.  God does use suffering to refine our character, but that job is never finished and that lesson will never be over.  God will use suffering to teach perseverence which develops character which produces hope, a hope that does not disappoint (Rom 5:1-5).  He will work for your good in all things (Rom 8:28).  Nowhere in that does it say or even suggest that God is throwing suffering on you simply to teach you or that he is holding on to the end of suffering like cheese on a string, waiting for you to learn something, but jerking it back if you haven’t learned enough yet.

God is a good God that loves you and wants you to have peace and hope in your life.  When trials come he is always going to be leading you in that direction, deepening your character.  However, do not believe that that means you are at fault for the suffering because he thought you needed to learn something.  Furthermore, (trying to avoid full blown rant) this kind of thinking is very dangerous for those that are in the middle of a trial that is irreversable, i.e. the death of a loved one or infertility.  We learn to cope, have hope and peace, trust God, but those things do not go away.

By all means, we need to find God in the middle of difficult circumstances.  However, in these situations God is not the strict 3rd grade teacher with the ruler ready to swat your knuckles, but a compassionate Father with you on his lap wanting you to find hope and life in him and to find comfort in the eternal life he offers.

Some Thoughts on the Shack Book

Staying on the cutting edge, as always, I just finished the wildly popular Christian book, The Shack.  People have been asking me for a while to read it and “give my thoughts.”  I am not a huge reader, though I go through spurts of reading, and of course, like most of us I wish I read more.  (At least I wish I wanted to read more)

So I finally did get around to read it, and to be honest I am kind of scared to write a full review of the book.  Why?  I am not sure there has been a more polarizing book in a long time.  There are two, very distinct, categories of people that want my thoughts on this book.  First are those that think this is the greatest book ever and is now the definitive Christian book on answering the question of how a Christian should deal with pain and suffering.  The second group are ready to reinstate heresy panels whereby the author may be tried, convicted and excommunicated.

Let me just say that my feelings on the book are, well, shall we say, somewhere in between the two.  I am afraid that whatever I say, I won’t love it enough or hate it enough to satisfy anyone.  “Come on, you spineless weasel! Take a stand.”

I think what he has to say about the “problem of pain” is actually pretty sound and comforting.  He pictures God as not the cause of pain, but one who will use the pain in our lives to bring some good.  All pain, in one form or another, is derived from the world’s separation from God and independence.  Again, God does not cause this pain, but it is a natural consequence from the collective rebellion of people.  Why then does God not choose to intervene and prevent pain?  The author gives a solid two part answer.  God desires to give us freedom and choice, and who knows how much pain and suffering he is preventing.  We will never know, because he prevented it.  Does that leave you unsatisfied?  Probably, and rightly so.  There are some questions that cannot be answered simply, and I don’t believe that even 48 hours in the physical presence of God can give satisfactory, complete answers to some of these questions.

Does the author go too far some times?  Yes.  I would say that he is not a theological scholar when it comes to the Trinity.  Is that going to bend me out of shape?  No.  Was I shocked by his portrayal of God as a black woman?  No.  Was he trying to be shocking?  Yes.  Again, does some of what he does go too far?  Well, what do we even mean by that?  He reduces God to human form as three separate people.  Even the author recognizes this will be incomplete.  Should he have therefore not done it? Of course not.  Anytime we describe or try to explain who God is, we will use limited analogies and words.  It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.  We just need to recognize the limits, which I believe the author does.

All that to say, I am not a big fan of trying to be shocking for shock value sake.  “God’s a black! woman!  Ooooooohh.”  I found the book to drag in parts.  It still was a pretty quick read.  It is worth your time to read, especially if you have a personal interest in the question of how can their be pain and a loving God.  If you are a theological, doctrinal watchdog, as I can be sometime, you will have to turn some of that off at times and say, “it’s a fiction book.  It’s a fiction book.”

Well, despite my original intent, I did comment some on this.  Did you read it?  What did you think?  Any specific questions that you wish I had answered? Topic I should have covered?  Let me know.