Monday, January 5, 2009

Delivered Unto Suffering

This is a quote from the latest post by David, the Jollyblogger, who recently announced that he has cancer:

...we tend to give God the praise when He delivers us from suffering. In other words, we believe we have found God and He has shown Himself at the moment of deliverance and this is the stuff of our testimonies - I once was suffering but now I'm free - praise be to God.

But it occurred to me that such a testimony only has resonance in the affluent west. What do we say of Chinese believers and others around the world whom God delivers unto suffering, not from suffering. For many Christians throughout history their testimony has not been the typical western testimony, it has been the testimony of illness, homelessness, and persecution, to be followed by further persecutions, beatings and death in anonymity.

Thanks for the wake up call, David.

An observation: Almost everywhere I go, I hear people talking about God in terms of how he shows up in their lives. "God is good," "God showed up," "God did this and that for me." This isn't a problem, except when it betrays that the person's perception of God is mostly shaped by the circumstances. Which is usually. This worldview depends on two things that need to draw some fire from the big guns: 1) that I'm an accurate judge of whether the current circumstances fall under the "good" or "bad" label, and 2) that God's disposition, mood, character, and action are identifiable by what my circumstances look like(i.e. My suffering means God's mad, or disciplining me, or teaching me some life lesson.)

I'm going to go out on a limb here. Perhaps people will disagree with me. But there is never, ever a time when you are able to define God's character and intent towards you based on what you see in your life. (Even though that radio preacher I once heard said "if you don't care, God doesn't care.") Because if the "best life now" that you're living is proof that God's smiling on you, then he must be frowning on those in pain. Too bad for them. Those Christians with a testimony of "illness, homelessness, and persecution...beatings and death in anonymity?" God didn't like them as much because of something bad that they did, and now they're gettin' theirs.
"That's right, young, starving African woman that was raped and now has AIDS. Clearly God's favor is not upon you because you screwed up really bad." (This is now what runs through my head when people say "God is good" after they got a raise at work. I don't try to think it, it just comes. I swear!)

David, I'm glad you've seen through this fallacy. May he continue to reveal his love and glory to you and your family through your suffering.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. If not our circumstances, what
are we to use to describe God's character and intent?



flyawaynet said...

Thanks for these thoughts Nate. Literally "thoughts" because I love posts that really make me question how I think. And you've got me thinking.

Nate said...

flyawaynet, glad you could come by!

Bob said...

You've expressed something here that I've never seen expressed this clearly and succinctly. Well done. I think you're onto something very important here.

Erin Hope said...

as to the last question.....

the cross?

Erin Hope said...

oh oops. somehow I missed that you answered your own question.

Daniel Vawser said...

My limited understanding of the infinite God: He is good, and has only good in store for me. I truly believe that. However, God's definition of "good" and mine are often widely divergent. Romans 5 and James 1 say trials and troubles are for our good, and we should rejoice that we get to endure them. I'm not always ready for that, but it's a truth not often heard in feel-good Christianity.

Nate said...

Bob: Once in a while I come up with something worth paying attention to.

Erin: The cross indeed!

Daniel: Another illustration. Invariably in America we pray for financial blessing and consider wealth a gift. In Scripture, warnings abound that one should be very careful about money, that having great wealth is dangerous, and is not something to be desired very highly. Where did our ideas of "good" come from in that area, I wonder?

Wow, that's weird. People are reading my blog!