Where we wrestle with the sublime, mysterious, powerful and often frustrating paradox of God's necessary grace.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Giving God the Finger and Right Thinking

This is a copy of my post on http://www.tbd.com.

In a thread on a message board I frequent, a poster concluded her OP with "Get rid of your stinking thinking so that you won’t be defeated and discouraged. Believe what God says and you will be victorious and triumphant!!"

This is fine advice to an extent, but there is a danger in taking it too far.

Someone taking this attitude too far will see this as a way to force God's response: "If I believe and say the right things God has to answer me" or "Now that my ducks are in a row, my Christian life will be perfect."

Defeat and discouragement is a normal part of a healthy, valid Christian life, just as when a toddler learns to walk, she'll fall down and skin her knees. However, to agree with Honeybee, defeat and discouragement ought not be the whole of one's Christian life. If this is the case, something's wrong.

Jesus said in John 10:10, "...I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." This means a full panoply of experience: Highs, lows, mediums, ins and outs and roundabouts. Other scripture suggests joy ought always be a constant, yet our imperfect and unreliable perceptions can easily overlook its presence in our hearts, expecially when we're in troubles.

When I'm (pick one, some or all) sad, sick, depressed, angry, disappointed, crushed, humilated, whathaveyou, my negative emotions fill my mind's eye from horizon to horizon and they're all I can see and the world seems to be nothing but them. It seems impossible I'll ever laugh or feel good again when I'm chin-deep in shit and the tide is rising.

At that point I have a choice. My first option: I can continue spiraling down into the black, thinking constantly about how bad I feel, how impossible it is for this situation resolve, how angry and disappointed I am in God and in everyone around me.

My second option: Be honest with myself, and with God. "God, I'm deep in shit right now, I see no way out and You seem to be ignoring me. I'm so damn pissed off at you that things are this way!" And then...

And then...

I have to do the hard work and let God be God. I can't twist His arm with magical thinking (as preached by "name it and claim it" or positive thinking pastors and teachers) or by pushing the right Christian behavior buttons or by somehow manipulating Him into doing what I want. Like David in the Psalms, I have to cry out to Him, chin deep in shit or not, because only in Him will I find answers, deliverance and healing. (I've been in this world long enough to discover no one else can provide these, nor can I get them from any program of thinking, religious structure, level of anaesthetization, material possession or activity.)

There were times I didn't get a response from Him. Those are times when I find out exactly, and I mean to the fucking millimeter, how much I believe in Him! Do I still believe him when every single aspect around me says He's gone and not coming back?

To turn this into a personal aside for the moment, God help me, I have to say Yes. I have to say Yes because I do believe Him, it is in me like a fire, like a drum beat, a rushing river, a mountain--something I cannot walk away from.

I don't know why this is so. Other people have tremendous difficulty with this. I wish I could say I do it because I'm a spiritual giant or specially favored of God; He licked His gold star of approval and stuck it to my forehead because I'm such a fucking prince of a human being and shining example of Christian piety and charm.

If such is the case, then let me assure you celebrity's a bitch. The more I age as a believer, the harder the struggles become and the less God seems to stop by for tea and sandwiches.

Yet if I'm honest with myself (never a given), doesn't this parallel the life of a child growing into an older child, then a teenager, then into a young adult, then into maturity?

A 14 year-old won't have the same problems as a 34 year-old; their two worlds are completely different. The 34 year-old's problems (divorce, job stress or unemployment, financial disasters, relationship struggles such as dating or potential marriage) would crush the 14 year-old. A 14 year-old parents are never far from the scene (in the best of worlds), whereas a 34 year-old is on her own.

Yet as the troubles deepen, so do the joys, so it's not an relieved landscape of pain and suffering. God, who'd want to be a Christian if that were the case? I'd toss Jesus in a heartbeat and live on the beach sipping Coco-Locos if that was the case.

This feels uncomfortably close to waving my own flag, so I'll stop this facet of my post here.
To get back to my main point: it's right and appropriate for believers to focus their thoughts on the Lord and on His kingdom. This is a method for us to knit our minds and spirits to the God, to allow Him free access to every aspect of what makes us--us, and thereby shape us into His own image. This is one way we grow as believers.

But don't allow the practice to become corrupted into a practice to manipulate God or one's external environment. I'm sure you've seen the prosperity preachers on TV, big hair and all: "Send me your seed faith gift of $100 and I'll pray over it with my anointed handkerchief and God will turn your gift into $10,000!" That's a total load of shit. It's one of the nastiest forms of scripture-twisting and deception out there masquerading as Christianity.
(Sorry, got on my soapbox. I'm off it now.)

What the poster said is accurate scripturally. The danger is in us interpreting it in a way to feed our own ego or desire for control over the universe and God. The other danger is in expecting the results of this admirable Christian practice to look like what we expect.

For example, let's say I own a business on the verge of bankruptcy. I read the OP and say to myself, "If I start claiming God's promises for myself and start jumping through these Christian activity hoops God will save my business."

No, actually He won't. At least, He won't do so because I've somehow forced Him to respond in the way I want by my actions or words. My business succeeding or dying has nothing to do with His love for me. One of His hardest jobs IMHO is to divorce us from our dependence on circumstances to define reality. "If my business fails, God must hate me" isn't any different from "If my business succeeds, God must love me." God's hand on our life steers it where He wants it to go, and that can just as easily be into bankruptcy court or the Chamber of Commerce "Business of the Month" award.

The Christian life is one that must be lived in honesty and in honest examination and prayer if it is to survive the beatings and deprivations of the world, if it is to be more than a hollow ornament. Only through being honest with God and yourself will you learn why you believe and why, so go to God with every single insecurity, pain, fear, hope, dream, love and hate. You can't possibly piss Him off because you're honest with Him, even if you tell Him, as I have many times, "God, I'm so pissed off at you!"

"So go thou, pissed off at God if thou needest, yea, even unto giving Him the finger, yet forget not to return in honesty to Your loving Father who stands by thee even when thou seest Him not. Even in thy woes, if thou are honest, thou knowest in the deepest parts of thine heart thou art an asshole yet the Father desires above all thou equally knoweth thou art beloved of God regardless, for did His Son not come to save assholes such as thee? So get thou a grip." (Book of Hesitations, 12:1-246)

No comments: