Funny how Western, especially US perspectives on Scripture, are colored by success, innovation, self made success, blessing and God making it all make sense, IS going to bless us and all will be well, end well, etc. We color the rest of the west due to the empire that is all things empire: economic, military, foreign policy (the adore mentioned combined), social, pop media, culture, trends, clothes, music, blah, blah, blah, blah… Ever hear “When the US sneezes, the world catches a cold”? Think 2008 economic US made crash… then see the impact globally compared to the US… It is the same in Christendom, or the remnants thereof. We drive western views of Christianity.
American Christianity is built on upward mobility, at least for white, upwardly mobile Christians – the ones who sustain the Christian commerce, books, speakers, music, preachers broadcast as never before… we quote them and the Scripture they use in the posture, perspective and understanding they have… Piper Says…; Dricol says…;” MacArthur says….; Olsteen says….; you get it.
This marriage of culture and faith has given us “upwardly mobile” theology. This surmounts to God is a) going to bless us; b) going to make us important; c) everything we do will be significant and unusual; and d) our endeavors will be fulfilling and is ordained. Now, don’t get your theological horns up. Yes, God can and does do “big things”, but good, well meaning Baby Boomer theologians, pastors, and thinkers have given us a “it’s all about me” theology.
I was hugely impacted by a guy named Bill Clinton – no, not the former US President, but author and professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Bill’s mantra was that God calls leaders, shapes them, and if they will be surrendered, will direct them to make their “ultimate” contribution… a spiritual destiny… significant, lasting, noteworthy, and people to emulate. Sure – this can be true and there are many to acclaim, some published, some not. I think of dozens as I type this. I also think of many not known, but are significant in their contribution in many lives and in those who go on to impact many others.
This is not all. It is not the end. AND it is not the norm. I have found this born out in many other GOOD peoples’ lives, much, much better than me – better Christians in word, deed, heart, emotion, spiritual formation, attitudes, treatment of enemies, etc. You see, in our “American” faith – thank you Zondervan, and the many publishing companies that focus first on a) will it sell – over and above – what is God saying”… we don’t tarry long in the passages that don’t reinforce these uniquely American optimisms. We don’t dwell on the holocaust and the millions murdered, including saints, most noted being Deitrich Bonhoffer, nor his words to such evil and lives senselessly lost. We don’t think about the Tutsi’s and Hutu’s in Africa long, the slaughter in the Sudan, or across Africa; we don’t think long about the martyrs in the Middle East, South Asia or China; nor Central/South America. We don’t tarry long on our racism and hate yet present in America. We don’t tarry long on our actions of empire – military and economic bullying nor the sin of lording over those more vulnerable. We skip those passages and fail to connect individuals to our society or nation states. We don’t like to think about people suffering and failing and not reaching anything worth of note because life was hard and hurt them, and broke them and then kicked them again.
We also don’t think about people wanting to follow Christ, but never getting to a place to be centered and fulfilled in what they do each day – never freed up to pursue their heart’s desire, for if God gave a person a passion – certainly it will be fulfilled… or they in their desire to hear God missed what He was saying or it would be so.
No, my experience is one where it only partially works out. There have been times when I felt centered, felt fulfilled, but – yet – most of the time – that’s not reality. It’s a false truth found only in the American theology and not present when you see the entire counsel of God’s Word in perspective. There were as many who unjustly suffered, more than half, contrasted to the few who were “blessed” and “favored” and for whom it worked out. Even Job, given more, more children even, no one stops and thinks of the unquenchable stabbing ache of the loss of his children – whom he would have dug out of the rubble and buried himself… crushed, dead, lifeless. We don’t even like to think that the cute little baby with sweet music we sing about at Christmas, came but for one reason… “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” …by being mistreated, humiliated, tortured and then murdered in a cruel “do not defy Rome or this is your fate” form of execution. We forget the martyrs over the centuries in every corner of the globe…most never written about, forgotten, nothing “significant”…
No, my life has it’s trail of scars, its lost friendships where former brothers and sisters now despise and disparage me; where situations fell apart that I KNEW God was leading towards bigger, greater, impact FOR HIM; where it’s been unfair, costs us tens of thousands of dollars; been humiliated and misjudged and people thinking ill of me, my intent, my desire… I’m not crying in my sorrows. Do not mistake what or why I am sharing this.
I share it because my experience is more common with more people than the blessed few who God has smiled upon; blessed with privilege, favor and success. More people experience never reaching that place where they “do” something they “long to do every day”. Most people pay the bills, struggle to stay above water, struggle to raise kids in a hard cruel world and to be faithful. Those blessed at times do go through seasons like Joseph did, but some have privilege they under appreciate and do not realize most do not have such opportunity.
Yes, people make mistakes. If you haven’t yet – you will. If you say you’ve not really hurt others – you’re almost guaranteed to be self delusional or lying. Yes, people do have cause-effect in their lives. Why? They are human in a fallen world. Our theology damns them to what they earned, what they deserve.
Here is what I am learning:
1. We are called to follow Jesus – the humiliated, human, vulnerable, downwardly mobile Christ; not the Steven Covey version of ever more successful, organized, analyzed Christ. We are called to the one who identified with the poor, the broken, the sinners (who made mistakes) – not the ones who tell us all our mistakes, tisking at us, talking in their condescending voices and without knowing it say “thank you Lord, I am not like that man over there, a sinner”.
2. The upwardly mobile Christ is a self anesthetizing false god who legitimizes upward mobility, justifying self consumed privilege and success on one’s own merit – not the Christ who calls us naked to be exposed, vulnerable, seen for who we are and cry “Lord, have mercy on a sinner like me.”
3. There is not secret mystical discovery of “what you were created for” in the vein of discovering your “secret craving” and when you find it – the right job is offered, thousands are saved, and ROI is in the black… It’s follow this humble Christ… we are told to emulate Him.
4. Seeking Him – without ANY of the promises of success – Him alone is only found a) in the liturgy of the church (worship of God’s people together – following and worshiping Him); discipline of the Word where we allow it to penetrate us, strip us, shape us, speak to us; form us; heal us; refine us and; c) discipline of the heart – real time with Him, not just intercession, but listening, waiting, pouring ourselves out, significant time… coming to know Him more and more and seeing our dependence upon Him, allowing His virtues, values, heart to invade and transform us to His image.
5. Suffering, lack of fulfilled contentment is normal – contentment in really knowing Him is our only real contentment and that happens with time and time alone. There is no peace in this world – that is Biblical. Peace in Him in this unpeaceful world is our only expectation.
6. He is still God when it hurts. He is still God when we’re alone, mistreated, maligned, abandoned. He is still God when we’re furious with Him.
7. I am not there yet, so still longing for peace, for blessing, for healing of wounds that I do not think will ever, ever, ever heal again. I follow the Christ… the humiliated Christ. Him I know. The suburban upwardly mobile Christ does not stir the heart, but it does stir the earthly temptations for power, fame and success.
8. Do not quickly dare pray, as I did and have over the years that “I would know the Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the sufferings even life through His death.” Be very careful, for He takes that seriously and it is not an easy path.
9. Yes, at times, I still wish I were simpler, still had a hopeful, simple faith that could easily claim the claims of Scripture I chose to claim, and to ignore the other parts.
May His peace be poured over you.+ mike