Misery and our choices in the matter

The pat Christian answer as to why we face misery in this life is that sin is to blame. We are all born into it, ever since Adam and Eve. Now, those two had a great life in the Garden of Eden. Naked and unashamed, they had good work to do that was satisfying and not terribly exerting. Naming animals and looking after a garden that pretty much watered itself sounds pretty good to me. God even showed up regularly, putting aside his terrifying awesomeness and taking on human form to walk and talk with them, so the Garden of Eden days were about as good as life could get.

God didn’t make humans because He was bored or lonely. The good qualities we see in people, He possesses in infinite measure. His love and generosity make life with Him a possibility, and God doesn’t need us because He has perfect fellowship with Himself. CS Lewis likened the Holy Trinity to a dance that we are invited to join. Adam and Eve were part of this dance, sharing fellowship with God Himself and enjoying the blessings He had so abundantly chosen to bestow on them.

Without a choice, though, there is no real love. God could have done anything He wanted, but He chose to share Himself with humans. If loving God were the only option available to us, it wouldn’t be love at all, so Adam and Eve were given the ability to choose something other than Him, and they had the audacity to do the one thing God told them not to do.

They could do pretty much what they wanted, except eat fruit from one tree, but that’s just what they did. Afterwards, they covered themselves up with fig leaves, in essence hiding from one another, and then they tried to hide from God Himself, which never works. He knows all our secret places and won’t leave us alone.

I believe in inherited sin, which means we are all born sinners because of what Adam and Eve did in that garden. You can say what you want about the innocence of babies, but I was amazed at how strong-willed and defiant my infant children could be, twitching and fighting against me when all I wanted to do was change their nasty, stinking diapers. (Don’t we act that way with God, too? He’s trying to break in and clean us up, but we would rather sit in the crap of our own misspent lives.)

Even if I didn’t believe in inherited sin, I’d still have to say we’re all guilty because we all have had our little garden of relative innocence way back when we were kids, and at some point—usually at a surprisingly tender age—we do one thing we know is wrong, follow up with other actions we know to be morally incorrect, and then we cover ourselves with our own feeble fig leaves of self-justification, or we blame-shift like Adam, who insinuated that God was responsible for giving him a wife who tempted him, and then his wife blamed the serpent. The serpent offered no defense and slithered off, at least for a while.

Fortunately, God is always seeking us out and exposing our misguided attempts to justify ourselves, so He can generously redeem us. I finally let God clothe me in His righteousness, way back on the day of my conversion, but then I had to stake out a life far from Eden, just like the rest of us.

Adapted from Keeping It Between the Ditches


Suffering saints and wrong expectations

The biblical list of suffering saints goes on and on, yet we so often assume that if we come to God, we can have it all: money, lavish possessions, the esteem of others, personal fulfillment, and great happiness. We lose sight of the fact that, while eternal life begins when we meet Christ, we do a fair amount of suffering right here in this life.

Jesus said that if we love Him we will obey his commandments (John 14:15), and the Book of Hebrews makes it plain that Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). Why should we expect less?

We aren’t guaranteed happiness. Heaven is the only real guarantee, that and a peculiar peace we can enjoy in this present time. The true peace of God transcends all the muck we endure, but that peace too often eludes us because we are overwhelmed with the details of this life.

Too often, we expect things God never promised us, and we are disappointed when we don’t receive them. Some become bitter, and some turn away from God completely.

Real life is lived in the course of everydayness. We hit the button on the alarm, go to the bathroom, shower, feed ourselves, work, dash here and there, sleep, and repeat. Days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years, and if we’re not careful, we can wonder where all the time has gone. There are golden days we treasure, trauma and pain we try to forget, and a whole lot that simply vanishes beneath a haze of routine.

At this point, I have a type of contentment that I can’t quite explain and a hope that is quite solid. Such has not always been the case. In the Book of Hebrews, this hope is referred to as “an anchor of the soul” (6:19), and far too many days I have spent with my anchor down while I was being beaten down by wave after wave of what I considered unrelenting BS, if you catch my drift. I was hanging on, not getting swamped by life’s grating routines and disappointments, but I wasn’t making progress either

I have had a problem where everyday life doesn’t measure up to what I expect of the abundant life that Jesus promised to believers. Let’s just say, I’ve had some wrong expectations.


Expectations and delusions: Faith, sin, and the pursuit of happiness

While attending my twenty-five year high school reunion, I ran into one of the Christians who had been in a music theory class with me during our senior year. He was drinking a five-dollar beer, and I was sipping free black coffee like some kind of refugee from Alcoholics Anonymous. He said he was glad to see me and wondered if I was still writing because he always thought the music reviews I did for the school paper were good enough to have been in Rolling Stone.

I brought him up to date on my literary pursuits and told him I was wondering if he was still a Christian like he was in school. He told me he really wasn’t “into that” anymore, but was still spiritual, whatever that was supposed to mean. Of course, I shared some details about my own spiritual experiences since graduation.

He listened politely and then asked, “So, are you happy?”

I thought about his question for a moment and replied, “Is that even relevant?”

He seemed surprised by my answer. Perhaps he thought our personal happiness was the supreme test of the Gospel’s value. If we use that as a gauge, we’re all going to be disillusioned because the pursuit of happiness is very often a quest for novelty. Eventually the shine of newness wears off, and then we’re stuck with the everyday life we had before. Or, even worse, real tragedy comes our way. We find ourselves out of work, lose a loved one, or become gravely ill.

There’s a lot of unhappiness in this life, but in the midst of it all, we can seek God and commune with Him in our hearts. He is always unchanging, but He never becomes a mere routine. He Himself helps us get through this life and makes us well prepared for the next one. We are able to live good and decent lives, but we will be incomplete until we finally see Him in full instead of in part, and all our distractions and tribulations are put away once and for all.

Very often, we have to refuse opportunities that could make us happy or rich or that otherwise seem good in order to stake our claim on that which is unseen and eternal. Doing all this requires a lot of faith. The Bible states, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:27). Unfortunately, I’ve had my own hearing dulled by the clamor of this present age, and I really like pleasure, money, success, and happiness.

While God is not against any of these things, He doesn’t value them nearly as much as we do. The Apostle Paul said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), so why do we expect an easy ride?

Even Jesus Himself told us we would have many trials, but to cheer up, because He overcame the world (John 16:32). We also are called to overcome this world and not let it put us down, but I must admit, it’s hard to do. After all, I’m blood and skin and bones like everyone else, and I don’t like to suffer. In fact, I try to avoid hardships as much as possible, but they find me just the same.

Adapted from Keeping It Between the Ditches