At OnFaith they write about the simplistic (cliches?) we too often use that scare off our young adults. It’s an honest and helpful discussion, and I am going to load it up with my own reflections. What else is a blog for?
“The Bible clearly says…”
We are the first generation to grow up in the age of information technology, and we have at our fingertips hundreds of commentaries, sermons, ideas, and books. We can engage with Biblical scholars on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s impossible not to see the way that their doctrines – rooted in the same Bible – differ and clash.
To me this is really an appeal to humility. And when you think about it, it’s a hugely hopeful problem to have! While biblical literacy in general — among believers — is at an all time low, for the more reflective out there, they are not content that we reduce complex theological meanings to three point summaries. Moreover, many are willing to do the work to get through the complexity.
We want to hear our pastors approach these words with humility and reverence. Saying, “This is where study and prayer have led me, but I could be wrong…” Amen!
“God will never give you more than you can handle”
This paraphrased Mother Teresa quote has become so commonplace in Christian culture that I was shocked to learn that it wasn’t in the Bible. Inherent … that your faith must not be strong enough.
And of course behind behind this frustration are a bunch of really good questions.
1. If I have more than I can handle, maybe it didn’t come from God?
2. following on this, it might be naive to attribute to God everything that occurs
3. following on this again, it could be that evil, Satan, and free will are also realities in the world?
4. and yes, those pesky Calvinists need a more nuanced view of sovereignty (see Roger Olson on this one)
Which gets us to —
“God is in control . . . has a plan . . . works in mysterious ways”
Chances are we believe this is true. But it’s the last thing we want to hear when something goes horribly wrong in our life. We are drawn to the Jesus who sits down with the down-and-out woman at the well. Who touches the leper, the sick, the hurting. Who cries when Lazarus is found dead… even though he is in control and has a plan to bring Lazarus back to life.
And here are both a theological question, and a pastoral concern. And the problem is that God’s omnipotence and goodness don’t always translate into deliverance, but our facile answers sometimes make it sound like that. no, we won’t always be delivered from pain, illness, or death. Witness Israel 400 years in captivity. Witness Jesus agonizing death on the cross. And there’s the clue. God’s power looks like weakness. He promises that in the world we will have trouble — but also his presence.
You’ve heard us say that we like Jesus but not the church, and it’s not because we’re trying to be difficult. It’s because the Jesus we read about enters into the pain of humanity where so often the church people seem to want to float above it.