God Does Not Work That Way!

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Since the dawn of man, people have looked for ways to explain their world. Comets were once thought to be bad omens. To have a mental illness or epilepsy meant you were possessed by demons. A bad harvest meant that the goddess, Demeter, was displeased with you. The creation of the Earth was, (and still is, for some people) explained by a poem written around the 6th century BC. And today, people explain illness and tragedy as God’s will. When people can’t explain why a child died, they say, We can’t understand the mind of God. If people are suffering, whether with a chronic illness or becoming overwhelmed by life, others will try to comfort them with, God will never give you more than you can handle. When that doesn’t ring true, they add on “without Him”. Some proclaim that God allows you to suffer because your faith is great, so you may be an example to others, like Job. The flip side of that is that you haven’t been healed because you haven’t prayed enough or your faith is too weak.

YOUR LOVE IS LIKE BAD THEOLOGY
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We’re going to assume, for the same of argument, that Jesus was/is who He said He was/is. The Son of God traveled, not only preaching the Good News, but also healing the sick and raising the dead. I can certainly understand why people may glean from the Gospels the idea that God allows people to suffer.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents have sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
John 9:1-4 NIV

I think plenty of people stop at verse 3 and hold it up as proof that God made or allowed this man to be blind so that God may be magnified and glorified. They completely miss the actual point, which is to do God’s work by helping others. Add on verses where Jesus asks people who are asking for healing whether or not they believe in Him, and it’s no wonder where this suffering theology comes from. But I find it telling that, while Jesus may have asked people if they believed, (and for all we know, it could have been something the disciples slid in there while writing the Gospels) He didn’t make them go through a checklist or faithfulness song and dance to prove themselves before healing them. In one case, Jesus found it more important to forgive a man’s sins, rather than physically heal him. It was only after the Pharisees pitched a fit did Jesus add in healing the man’s paralysis, just to shut them up with a resounding So’s your face! (I may be paraphrasing.)

Sometimes I think we forget and only look at the words of Jesus. We forget that His actions are every bit as important. Jesus healed the sick. When someone asked Him for healing, He didn’t say, Nah. Imma sit this one out. But you can head on out from your leper colony and tell everyone how awesome I am. Hosanna, y’all! To claim that God only heals those who call upon His name and are deemed worthy enough is to call God a capricious asshole. It completely contradicts what we see in God through Jesus. What is revealed is a loving God who mourns with us. We don’t see a God who brings suffering. And we certainly don’t see a God who’s concerned about getting credit for good works. (“Go and tell no one…”)

I think, too often, we are like the Pharisees. When we don’t understand or something doesn’t fit in nicely with our worldview, we cling to what we know, (or what we think we know.) Sayings and beliefs, and even superstitions, are passed down from generation to generation. When we use them to explain things in our human experience, we are looking to our own understanding, (and explaining it as God) rather than to what Jesus actually showed us long ago.

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘Theses people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
Mark 7:6-8 NIV

STOP IT! YOU’RE NOT HELPING!
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Phrases like, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” has made me want to reach through the computer and shake people many a time. (Especially when it’s thrown out flippantly when someone is clearly suffering.) This time, I was set off by the “helpful” comments that people in my chronic pain support group shared. All of these were things that were said to them about why they are made to suffer.

Jesus suffered pain so others would not suffer much more in hell. Your suffering makes you like Jesus, and it draws you closer to Him.

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(An ability to create a massive fish fry out of two fish and to form my liquid metal body into anything I want would also make me like Jesus, but you don’t see that happening. Or was that T-1000?)

I was once told by a Christian therapist that God wouldn’t heal me [be]cause I made him mad.

(So He took his toys and went home, or…?)

Our church said that our family [was] suffering with many illnesses so that the rest of the town doesn’t have to suffer.

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(John Coffey? Is that you?)

Look…those of us with chronic pain and illnesses appreciate your concern and support. But, like most people, we just want to vent or have a shoulder to cry on. Some things are just shitty, horrible, and unfair. Trying to have a simple, pseudo-spiritual answer to make sense out of something that doesn’t make sense isn’t helpful. And think about this: how many peoples’ faith are you possibly destroying by saying such things? When people have suffered for years without relief, saying these things leads people to the logical conclusions that they, 1) Aren’t good enough for God, 2) That God doesn’t care about their suffering, 3) That God is oblivious to their needs and tribulations, and 4) God is a capricious jerk with sadistic tendencies. And this is assuming that they don’t give up belief in a god altogether.

Please, just tell us I’m sorry, or That sucks, or What can I do to help? Those go a long way. If you want to pray for us and healing, that’s great. But also pray for our families who suffer with us, for comfort, hope, and strength. Because, as Jesus so often pointed out, the non-physical is just as important. Just be there for us. SHOW us you care.

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And now these three remain

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Hylton Memorial Chapel was filled with hundreds of teens. I sit here and try to remember why so many church youth were gathered there. It may have been a speaker, but I think it was a Newsboys concert.
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At the end of the concert, the house lights came up a little, music played softly in the background, and an altar call was made. My friend, Kelly, whom I had invited, wanted to answer the call and asked if I would go with her. Surprised by her response, I agreed. We walked forward, ears still ringing from the loud music, and were paired with a young woman whose job it was to walk youths through committing their lives to Christ. As it turned out, Kelly was already Catholic, but wanted to reaffirm her faith. And since, in my experience, Catholicism wasn’t counted as good as evangelicalism, this was just as good as a conversion. The woman pulled out the go to tool of many an evangelizing Christian: a tract.
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gospeltract.org If you have five minutes, go to the website and see all the tracts they have for sale. It’s hysterical!

I don’t remember exactly what the tract said. But I do remember a cheesy and disturbing comic about a man who was just going along with the world and not making the right choices in life. He ends up on a train or in a mining car or something, heading straight into the fires of hell. I. was. mortified. I desperately wanted to distract Kelly with something shiny or ice cream, but we finished and then prayed “the prayer”.

This was the evangelical subculture in which I grew up. It parlayed dramatic conversion stories into more conversions. It used social pressure to coax knees to the altar. It co-opted secular culture for music and merchandising in order to appear “cool”, rather than creating something original. Scare tactics, like demonic possession and eternal hellfire, prevented depletion of the ranks. Men were leaders and women were helpers. One’s sexuality and sexual behaviors were of utmost importance.
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People who weren’t virgins on their wedding nights were damaged goods who owed their spouses explanations. Girls who weren’t covered up enough led boys into temptation. I remember once, in elementary school, my church’s pastor lecturing and shaming me for having pulled down my pants while inside his daughter’s playhouse. You see, my body was created by God and shouldn’t be exposed that way. His daughter had told on me…right after she had pressured and dared me to do it in the first place. Homosexuality was a “lifestyle choice” caused by sexual abuse and poor parenting. One sexuality conference our youth group attended turned out to be a speaker from Exodus Ministries who “used” to be gay, but was totally “straight” now. Music, games, fellowship, and atmosphere allowed substance to be traded for style.

It wasn’t until I left for college that the trance I had been in was fully broken. Over time, I came to realize how shallow my faith was and just how much the pile of evangelical bullshit stank. I learned more about scripture and biblical history and scholarship in my secular college classes on the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Letters of Paul. My journey has led me to a place of “I don’t know”, which I’ve described as agnosticism. When I made that admission, I was worried how my conservative evangelical family would react, especially my mom. I was almost certain that she would tell me how much I was breaking her heart and God’s heart. But nothing happened.

Finally, this past Monday, my mom talked to me about it. She began by saying that between my blog and Facebook activity, it was pretty clear that my beliefs were different from what she thought they were. As she built to the emotional bomb she was about to drop, I tried to remain stoic. I had no interest in letting myself become vulnerable or getting into an unwinnable argument. As last, she said it: I don’t blame you.

Wait. What?

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In fact, she was glad that I had turned away from the faith of my childhood. It wasn’t the real thing. She explained that, like me, she was learning to make her faith her own. It wasn’t all the little things that mattered; not the “rules”, what everyone else was doing, or having the right answers.
The more she and I talked, the less I was able to hold back my tears. And then, the gasps came, deep from within my chest and my soul. As I ugly cried and disposed of crumpled tissues, I was able to allow for some healing. Bitterness was eased by some understanding. As the pain I carried with me was validated, I began to let it go.

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And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
~1st Corinthians 13