“The sad truth is that many of us are, at best, only half awake. We think we’re engaged with the real world — you know, the world of stock markets, stockcar racing, and stockpiles of chemical weapon — but in fact we’re living in what Lewis calls the “shadowlands.” We think we’re awake, but we’re really only daydreaming. We’re sleepwalking our way through life — asleep at the wheel of existence — only semi-conscious of the eternal, those things that are truly solid that bear the weight of glory.” — Kevin Vanhoozer, In Bright Shadow: C.S. Lewis on the Imagination for Theology and Discipleship
Recently, a prominent Australian Christian made national headlines for their opposition to gay marriage. While being well within her rights to express an opinion, her public statements stirred up much anger and hurt, especially (and obviously) among the LGBTQI community. The whole saga reinforced the widespread public view that Christians are judgemental rule-keepers who feel the need to stick their moral noses into other people’s business. Yes, the Bible does clearly say that acts of gay sex are ‘sinful’ – that is, outside God’s good parameters for human flourishing – but why should people who are not Christians be expected to live the Christian life? Why do Christians seem to single this issue out, and not issues like greed, racism, and divorce? And why do so many Christians forget to tell people about the joy of trusting and following Jesus?
The fact is that the church in Australia has a lot to learn about engaging our culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ – including my own church. Including me.
How should we speak about homosexuality? How should we answer the very good questions that people have about marriage, morality, and sex? How can we point people to Jesus?
Below is an interesting video clip of American pastor Tim Keller, who was asked about his views on homosexuality. While his responses are off-the-cuff and not as concise as they might otherwise be, what he says stands in stark contrast to recent attempts to promulgate the Christian worldview.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
Here’s a quote from a New York Times Magazine article (2 March, 2003) entitled “Bring Back the Sabbath”. It was written by Judith Shulevitz, who was raised in a Jewish family. She has some interesting insights into finding rest in a workaholic, stress-addicted culture.
“There is ample evidence that our relationship to work is out of whack. Let me argue on behalf of an institution that has kept workaholism in reasonable check for thousands of years.
Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily. This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. Interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will – one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction.”
When we think of God, we like to think of him giving us good things. By “good” I mean things like health, family, friends, and faith. And it’s true that God does give us many good things like that. It says in the Bible:
“God [. . .] richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Tim 6:17)
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights . . .” (James 1:17)
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)
It’s true. God gives us many good things. But how do you define “good”? Suppose someone you know has a heart condition and needs a heart transplant. The operation is risky, invasive, and the recovery is long and uncomfortable. Is the heart transplant “good”? Obviously, yes, if it works. But only because the benefits outweigh the cost and discomfort of the surgery.
Maybe what’s “good” or beneficial in life is harder to define than we first thought. If, in the big picture, some things which seem bad for us are actually beneficial in the long run, then it could be the case that we need to have a more open mind when it comes to the “bad” things in life.
The reality is that God can and does use illness, accidents, and all the garbage life throws at us for our good. As it says in the book of Romans . . .
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Below is a classic old hymn by John Newton (the dude who wrote “Amazing Grace”). In it are deep words reflecting on how God uses “bad” stuff to change us:
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.
‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”
(John Newton 1779)
In reflecting on these words, it’s clear that Newton had the book of Jonah in mind (the reference to the ‘gourds’ is probably hinting at the ‘vine’ of Jonah chapter 4). Jonah’s story is filled with miracles and dramatic events that seem larger than life. But in a way it’s a very human story. We see in Jonah our own messy journey of change. Jonah is disobedient, then obedient, he’s happy, then unhappy, he enjoys God’s grace, but resents that God might be gracious to the ‘bad people’.
God provided a big storm that nearly killed Jonah. He provided the big fish to save him. He provided a ‘gourd’ or vine to shade Jonah. He provided a worm to eat the vine. The moral of the story is, to grow us spiritually God uses both the good and the bad to effect change in us.
Worth thinking about.