In the sermon on Sunday, May 28, I said I believe Christianity has the most spiritually satisfying, emotionally healthy, intellectually robust perspectives on the problem of suffering you will find. I have studied the religions of the world, as well as many of the great philosophies. So many of the “best answers” I found there were not as compelling as the wisdom of the Christian faith. There were nuggets of help, there were glimmers of grace, and there were signposts to find a better answer in those religions and philosophies. But Christianity was deeply and lastingly beautiful in its wrestling with the mystery of evil and suffering.
However, 21st century North America today doesn’t even think much of the glimmers and signposts of those other religions and philosophies, much less mull over the stirring truth of the Gospel. Our culture is just real confused. Distortions, misperceptions, flat-out weird and wrong opinions on suffering are everywhere. Here is a sampling of some of the current cultural beliefs about suffering:
We think we can do whatever we want and are upset when there are any consequences.
We think it is not fair (life isn’t fair) if we suffer.
We believe we are entitled to a suffering-free zone of living.
Expectations are freakishly high for having the “good life” of pleasure, ease, and comfort. And not after 20 years of hard work. Delayed gratification is so out of date. We deserve it NOW.
When we do suffer, we are absolutely sure it is “not my fault!”
When we do suffer, we get upset if there are not fast, easy, simply, inexpensive solutions to fix our suffering.
While we don’t say it, we think it: Perfection is what I deserve about everything. From mail being delivered, to Starbucks getting my order right, to customer serve about anything and everything, to medical results on tests, to grades in school (or at least we deserve a massive curve).
We have our own superstitious versions of karma, fate, luck, the lucky break.
We think we can bargain with God (or trick God) into giving us what we deserve.
We think God owes us something.
We think we can pray a formula prayer and God will jump to answer our request.
We think mostly about our own immediate happiness and have a very hard time being concerned about the suffering of people who are one or two degrees of separation away from us.
We can sue our way to the good life.
We think the government should (and will) take care of us.
What else would you add to this list?
It is a long list. It is the cultural air we breathe. Even followers of Jesus breathe in that toxic atmosphere. No wonder Christians don’t seem much happier or more flourishing than those who reject Christ. We have a long journey ahead of us, of building a comprehensive worldview of biblical faith.
Wrong thinking will lead you to wrong expectations and wrong practices; i.e., not flourishing. The pathway to right thinking is being immersed in the Bible, praying those great spiritual realities into our own experience, and then faithfully walking straight ahead into your future … by grace through faith. To flourish you need to know and live by the truth.
The next time you realize you are “junked up” with dark thinking about your struggles and difficulties, look over this list to see how many of these items you are believing and living.
May the eyes of your heart be enlightened with grace, goodness, and truth,
Having the ability to empower and resource leaders to bear much fruit that lasts. Being a part of a team of friends and missional servants committed to changing the world.