Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Why Suffering? PART THREE

Why Suffering?    PART ONE      PART TWO      PART THREE      PART FOUR       PART FIVE

Dear Friends,

If God is so good, then why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? And this question is often the most troubling for believers. Because when bad things happen to good Christians, even the most steadfast and devout believer can suffer a crisis of faith and come into a season of temporary atheism.

There is something that I call “Entitlement Christianity” and many Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians fall into this trap. We do all we can to lead a righteous life. Go to church. Tithe. Pray. Worship. Then tragedy strikes and now we’re angry at God for letting it happen. We believe that God owes us something for being good Christians and that’s bad theology.

At one time, I was a pastor in a Pentecostal denomination that taught “positive confession theology.” Taking authority. Claiming victory over health and financial problems. God guarantees that what we claim in the name of Jesus will be ours. But life happens. We claim God’s protection and then the earthquake occurs. The drunk driver crosses over the center divider. Prayers go unanswered and a wife dies in surgery. We’ve lost a son to mental illness and homelessness. The tests come back positive for cancer. We named it and claimed it and stepped out in full expectation of victory and God did not meet our expectations. We are absolutely devastated. But any teaching that obligates God (based upon our diligent exercise of faith) to do our bidding and provide us with good health, wealth and protection, is the unbiblical religion of Entitlement Christianity. 

Out of our love for others, we can inadvertently foster that Entitlement Christianity with our prayers and encouragements. I remember a pastor’s wife who had been given several “prophecies” by those in her church assuring her that God loved her so much He was going to heal her breast cancer. As she later lay dying in a hospital bed, she told me through her tears that God didn’t love her enough to heal her cancer. Well-meaning “prophets” made promises for God, commanded healing in the name of Jesus and nearly destroyed this woman’s faith. 

God may heal in response to prayer. Or maybe not. God may give us a prophetic word. But too often the promises we make in His name come from our desire to be an encouragement to others.

Entitlement Christianity is when we believe that God owes us a good life that is free of misfortune and evil. And that’s when we ascribe to God the characteristics of a magic genie or talisman. As long as we have Him in our pocket, wherever we go and whatever we do, we will be safe and no harm will come to us. 

When I was a kid, I loved to skate. I managed to fall down a lot on my own, but the photographic evidence establishes that sometimes I was pushed by my little sister who had been watching a little too much women's roller derby on TV. Fortunately, I always had a lucky rabbit’s foot in my pocket to protect me from harm. One day I’m flying down the sidewalk on my skates and the metal clamp that attached the skate to my shoe became loose. I fell face first and left about three feet of my skin on the sidewalk. Apparently I’d been given a defective lucky rabbit’s foot because it didn’t work. And God doesn’t work that way either. God is not a charm to dangle from your rearview mirror or a talisman to wear around your neck for good luck. You can’t stuff God in your pocket like a “lucky rabbit’s foot” to guarantee protection from misfortune or from pesky little sisters.

A more mature theology sounds like this: God does love us. He does protect us. He does heal in response to our prayers. He does have a plan for your life. And sometimes our life is wonderful and sometimes it stinks. We can be flying down the sidewalk of life exalting in the pure excitement of it all and in the next moment we’re sliding on our face. That’s why a self-centered attitude of entitlement must be replaced with the biblical understanding that God treats all His children equally. The first century apostles experienced great hardship and suffering. None were wealthy, Paul had a physical disability and they all were persecuted for their faith. Why are we shocked when God treats us the same way? When bad things happen, instead of crying, “Why ME, Lord?” a more mature response would be, “Why not me..”  to be continued

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