Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Shaking A Fist at God

A very close friend of mine, I've known him all my life, went to the same church I did as a child, and we've kept in touch these many years. Like everyone, he's had his ups and downs through life, but he seems sometimes not so much unable to roll with the punches, as unwilling. He has hardened into the last rugged individual, convinced he must go through life on his own, figuring things out on his own, dealing with problems and setbacks on his own. He is very resistant to the idea of turning his life over to the Lord and letting Him be in charge. I have tried many times to talk him into coming to church with me, and he's not rude, but he always asserts his independence.

If God is pursuing someone, however, He seems to have a way of tightening the screws in someone's life to the place where there is no alternative but to submit to His will. This is what the Calvinists call "irresistable grace". As the Borg might say, "Resistance is futile."

To me, the interesting thing is how we have changed places since we were young. As a teenager, he was popular and outgoing, always laughing, always the social butterfly. On the other hand, I was a trombone-playing bookworm, not popular at all, and not very joyful. Today, he is grim and taciturn, seemingly angry about his place in the world and resentful of many of the changes he has seen and experienced. And while I'm not exactly Mr. Popularity at work, I have a cadre of close friends who seem to enjoy my company, and I theirs, and I'm having the best time of my life.

There are so many rules to follow in Christianity, it's easy to mislead oneself into believing that the Lord wants us to be miserable. He throws our sins in our face, tells us we're not worthy, and exhorts us to behave contrary to our nature. And the penalty for failure is eternity in Hell.

This joyless theology may be why so many have turned away. If the Lord can't give them peace and happiness, they'll achieve it on their own terms, thank you.

And that is the path to true misery. As C.S. Lewis observed, the problem is not that we want so much out of life, but that we are willing to settle for so little.

It's the other way around. The Lord wants us to be joyful in His presence. Basically, He wants to party with us for all eternity. And sometimes, He has to disabuse us of our own fixations, to pull us away, gently or not, but firmly, from the things we desperately hope will bring us happiness, but which were always destined to fail us.

Anyhow, my friend called yesterday to tell me about a lawsuit that he just lost, that has cost him thousands and may cost even more. He opened up by saying, "Well, some people believe God allows bad things to happen in order to send a message, and it that's the case, then I guess I'm just going to have to get used to getting screwed." About two or three more minutes on that theme. The frustration in his voice was as thick as brick wall.

I expressed my sorrow for his misfortune, and offered to have my pastor call him. "No, no," he begged off. "I don't like to tell other people my problems, I'm just going to have to deal with it."

Usually I'm not so bold, but something got a hold on me. I said, "Hey bud, look: you've been shaking your fist at God, so don't you think you ought to hear His side?"

Though he denied doing that, it was clear that he still prefers his own home-cooked misery to God's happiness. But we all shake our fist at God sometimes. He has designs for our lives that don't necessarily fit with our own plans. The more we struggle against them, the worse our circumstances are liable to get. He remakes us in His image, and sometimes that takes a lot of re-arranging. And it hurts. And the prospect of it is daunting.

(This has nothing to do, by the way, with being "holier than thou." Any Christian who harbors such feelings is doing something wrong. The closer you get to the Lord, the more you should realize how great your sin is, and it should make you even more grateful for what He'll do for you, and has already done. No human being has cause to boast. Christians have no excuse for not being even more aware of this than anyone.)

My friend's great theme is that the world is full of injustice and that he gets more than he deserves. But if anyone deserved to be treated well, it was Jesus, and look at what we did to Him. If He wasn't treated well, we certainly don't deserve to be, either.

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