Imagine that God doesn’t love you.
No, I mean really. Imagine it. Take a minute, but not too much more than that, to think about what it would feel like if God didn’t love you.
I bet you’ve never heard this before, especially from someone who normally pleads with people to know that he does love them (which, of course, he does)! I know it doesn’t sound particularly edifying and I admit it isn’t ordinarily the best use of your imagination. We’re usually encouraged to meditate on the opposite; that’s why you’ll have to flex your imagining muscles to do this. But consider the possible benefit of momentarily envisioning what is not true in order to assess how much you genuinely believe what is.
Should you be willing to go along with my quirky experiment, I suggest that you identify and temporarily feel the feelings that go along with imagining a God who doesn’t love you. If you don’t feel anything different than you normally feel, consider what condition this might indicate. It could be a sign that your default is to think that God actually doesn’t think much of you. You get the logic, right? If it’s no stretch for you to imagine him as unloving in general or that he loves other people, but not you, the results of my bizarre exercise might signify that one or the other of these is how you actually believe. I say, “actually believe,” because our emotions don’t usually follow what we say we believe or even what we think we believe but what we truly believe. Continue reading
The first three gospels record the story about how Jesus fell asleep in the storm-tossed boat while the disciples feared for their lives. “Don’t you care if we die?! Do something!” It occurred to me that after he quelled the squall in the sea, he turned to address the storm in the boat…
“You of little faith. Why are you so afraid?” (Matthew)
“Do you still have no faith?” (Mark)
“Where is your faith?” (Luke)
I’ve been thinking a lot about faith lately, and how we’re supposed to aim it at God (“Have faith in God” – Mark 11) and not necessarily getting something from God. I’m wondering if this is what the sermon in the storm is really about – – – aiming our faith at him, and not so much at getting what we want from him (i.e. calming the storm so we can get to the other side). In other words, I wonder if he’s saying, “Why are you afraid? I’m with you on the boat (and in your life), and whatever happens that won’t change, so you don’t have to be afraid. I thought you had faith in me, but where is it? If you trusted me, you wouldn’t have to be so afraid, because I’ll be with you in any circumstance.” I used to think his point was, “You should’ve trusted me to calm the storm…” But it seems to me now that the punch line of the sermon is, “You should’ve aimed your trust at me, and whatever occurs, I’ll help you through it.” Most of the sermons I’ve heard (and given myself) have been to encourage people to trust God for the miracle of getting them to the other side of the lake, but I think his point was to get them to trust God through whatever happens. Do you see the difference? One is having faith for something the other is faith in Someone. Continue reading
In Parts 1 & 2 I’ve been talking about the “suffer-well” versus the “get-well” options for the Jesus follower who is going through difficult times. The conundrum is – am I supposed to endure this pain or escape it? It’s near blasphemy to some people to think that God would purposely leave any of his beloved in their pain and ask them to suffer with faith and courage. Others have a theological presupposition that precludes the expectation of pretty much any supernatural intervention to alleviate our suffering. Denominations have begun over such a debate, and I have no aspiration to settle the argument. My purpose here is to challenge those who languish in-between those two options in a place I call the “Mediocre Middle.” Continue reading
In Part 1 I talked about the tension between having faith to “suffer well” and faith to “get well.” Sometimes God has his reasons for miraculously making us well and at other times he gives us the strength to suffer well. The same God who said to Moses, “I am the Lord who heals you,” also said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” (to endure his “thorn in the flesh”). Both options require faith. Then I coined the phrase “the mediocre middle,” which is a place between the two “wells” in which many Christians languish lazily – a pitiful spiritual location, which requires little-to-no faith at all. People who live in the “mediocre middle” don’t trust God for the grace to either make them well or to help them suffer well. They’ve lost touch with the adventure of trusting God for whatever he brings. Continue reading
Get Well or Suffer Well?
A few years ago, during the blackest and most heinous time of my life I was asking the Lord what he wanted me to do about it. I didn’t hear an audible voice but I did have these two words come to my mind (ones I’d never thought of in just this way): “Suffer well!” It wasn’t really what I’d expected, and not at all what I’d hoped for. “Get well!” or “Be well!” (even “Well, well!”) would’ve been a much better boost to my bleak morale. But since God isn’t in the business of running around trying to make me feel good, even though I didn’t completely understand it, I registered the directive – “Suffer well!”
Recently I was in a prayer meeting with some friends and we were seeking God mostly for people’s healing. I found myself musing about how sometimes God gives us grace to get well and at other times his grace empowers us to suffer well. It’s not always one way or the other. He, being God all by himself, gets to decide which one of the two (or some facsimile of them) would best fulfill his purpose, bring him the most glory at the time, and benefit us somehow at least in the long run. Continue reading