Friday, November 28, 2008

Why Do We Do This, Again?

The Milk Guy says that if there's a God, He must be a cosmic Sadist.

I never really know how to respond to this when he brings it up, because frankly, sometimes I think things like that myself, and so I have no idea how to explain how Christians (generally) view trials, without sounding like we have made ourselves into Masochists-for-the-God.

Here are some cases in point:

1. Pretty much all the Old Testament prophecies. God's people are not cooperating with Him. He gets mad. He causes or allows (depending on your theology--but the words in the Bible usually sound like "causes") really horrific things to happen to them. Today I read in Zechariah 14.2 (NRSV) "For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped . . . " It actually goes on from there, but the rape thing alone causes me to recoil so violently, I kind of lost track of the rest of it. He mercifully allows some people to be spared these monstrosities, and then He restores them, and they're supposed to (and do, at least for a time) return to Him with love in their hearts because He essentially beat the stuffing out of them. Or . . . that's what it reads like.

2. I'm reading an autobiography of an English evangelist, whose prayer as a child was that she could get into the center of God's heart. Or something like that. She had a fairly difficult childhood and then suffered some serious health issues (and miracles) as an adult, and at the end of the second-to-last chapter, she renewed her request to God that she be satisfied with only Him. Three weeks later, her husband of 30 years, who had been involved in ministry with her, left her for another woman. What?!

3. I've prayed similar prayers, and meant them, and I've even asked God to do whatever it takes (even to me) to cause certain people to come to know Him. Now I have cancer? I don't know if that's "what it takes," but I do know there's some way that this is supposed to draw me closer to Him.

Don't get me wrong. I love the Old Testament prophets (although I've decided I don't like Zechariah all that much), and I think the prayer for God and God alone is probably the best one we can pray. (It's also pretty audacious, if you think about it, and so the fact that we can pray it is pretty amazing.) I love that God wants to relate to us enough to open Himself up to our rage--to the point of His own death in Jesus. I know (at least intellectually, although sometimes that's all it feels like) that He doesn't ask us to do anything He didn't live through Himself, or experience along with us. I've sensed His presence with me in this cancer adventure and I've seen Him answer prayers in surprising ways and I know He's been faithful to me through my whole life.

I also understand that if He tried to coax us to Him with blessings all the time, it wouldn't work. We just get distracted. All right, I get distracted, okay? I get all caught up in the blessing and start to treat it, instead of Him, like God.

I'm just saying that causing or allowing the rape of the people He chose when He hates rape, or answering Jennifer Rees Larcombe's prayer through a divorce when He hates divorce, is downright baffling, and I don't really know how to argue with the Milk Guy when he says, "You talk like everything God does is perfect. But He makes bad stuff happen, too. You have to take the good with the bad."

"As for God, His way is perfect," but I do see the Milk Guy's point. For all I said about "It's all good," God's perfect way often feels really bad. And even if I am settled in myself that I have about as complicated a relationship with God as I do with the Milk Guy but that it's good; even when I feel that I can trust in God when I suspect He might hurt me and that I love Him even when He does; even when I know that I am free (thanks to Jesus) to argue with God and that somehow through all this turmoil it will bring me closer to Him, I really don't know how to explain that to anybody without its sounding like I have some kind of psychological malfunction that causes me to seek out pain. I don't. I really don't like pain.

So . . . why do we do this, again?


Clifford said...

God's ways are perfect, but this world we live in sure as hell ain't. Neither are its inhabitants.

I'm not trying to be flippant here, or dancing around the weight of the situation, but we could hijack (as Christians are wont to do) that old saying about "Whatever doesn't kill you..."

Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger; if it does kill you, then it takes you to God.

I'll renew my prayers for you.

Jenn said...

I think my question is more of an evangelistic one--although I'll take being prayed for whenever I can get it! I do think the "whatever doesn't kill you" cliche is, like most cliches, just about right, but also a little simplistic.

However, I've wrestled a lot with my own personal relationship with God, and that's not so much what I'm asking about here (in spite of the "why do we do this, again?").

I think what I'm trying to fathom is how I can present to SOMEONE ELSE the idea that I would willingly engage in and sacrifice myself for a relationship that is potentially mind-bogglingly painful, when the payoff is often so internal that the person I'm explaining it to can't see how it would be worth it. I feel like, to be honest in evangelism, I would have to speak from my own experience, and frankly, although up to this point my experiences haven't been overly horrific, they haven't been all sweetness and light, either. And I don't know how to explain to someone (particularly someone who isn't overly invested in building character and is more invested in comfort) why I would essentially welcome the pain that has been inherent in my experience. Everlasting life is not much of a draw for most people who don't already believe in it these days, and so there has to be something on this side to make it seem worth it, and I don't know that I have anything to say, in those terms.

chris said...

Have you ever seen the recent version of the film "Luther" ?

Jenn said...

No--just the really old one my Grandmother likes.