Thursday, December 26, 2013

Man of Sorrows

"Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all." Ps. 34:19

"I'm having my best life now."
Our God is a man of sorrows. He has been acquainted with grief and affliction (Is. 53:3-4), and He has promised the same to those who follow Him (Matt. 10:16-25; John 15:18-20). I find an odd comfort in this. Our God has made a plan for pain. He does not ignore it or downplay it or frown upon those who experience it. He experienced it, deliberately (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 12:2-3), and has sanctified it into an avenue of glory (II Cor. 4:16-18). This does not suddenly candy-coat it. This does not mean that all who suffer should "buck up" and smile more. Pain is still pain. Affliction is still affliction, and suffering is still suffering. It all still hurts and wears you out. The difference is that it isn't meaningless anymore; nothing is meaningless anymore. All has been infused with purpose, and thus infused with hope: not just that you'll get through it all but also that it is all leading somewhere good (Rom. 8:18, 28-30).

This is what makes "prosperity" teachings or any other syrupy Christianity so laughable and damnable. Laughable because they so blatantly contradict common sense about the fundamental tragedy in existence, and damnable because they attempt to undo the deeper comedy that God has done. He gave pain a purpose, but they would undo that purpose in our minds, returning suffering to a sign of disfavor and failure. They have displaced hope with despair, for who can truly say they are living their best life now? Who can truly say they have claimed all that they've named? Who can say that their afflictions have all ended because they had just enough faith (as if faith were a cure for suffering rather than the strength and succor to endure it)?

The world does not need another rabid optimism to spread childish lies; rather, it needs something stronger, something more robust, something adult. It needs something that can face all the rugged realities of life without flinching or excusing or dismissing. In short, it needs a God who is acquainted with grief to take pity on our frail frames (Ps. 103:13-14) and provide a purpose for pain.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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