Somewhere, at some point in time, some person decided that becoming a Christian was about having a perfect life.
I think perhaps I want to hunt down and kill that person.
Why? Just why? When and how? What went on in that persons head? Didn’t they think forward a bit and consider how difficult this might be to facilitate in the future? Didn’t they look around and think to themselves, “Nah, you know what? that’s just not how it is in the real world, I can’t say that – it’ll make people crazy.” Didn’t they read the bit where Jesus and the people who followed him didn’t get anything like a perfect life?
I don’t get it. I wanted to get it for a long, long time, but really, I’ve never got it, this thing about how being a Christian means no bad things, only good things. A life where I have more than enough money, terrific health and where everybody leaves me alone to do what I want, when I want. One where we know all the ones who are dong Christianity right, because they never have any bad things happen to them. One where I am never sick, unemployed, or addicted to anything. One where my family members are all like me, and we never fight, and where my children grow up in the exact way I hope and never cause me any embarrassment or anxiety. One where if someone does something bad to me, I’m okay again pretty quickly and don’t find it hard to forgive one bit, where it doesn’t mess me up one hundred ways from Sunday for the rest of my life. One where everybody likes and respects me, and I am able to like and respect others effortlessly. One where whatever I am selling is exactly what people want, and they will pay me exorbitantly for it, very often. One where I create things from my heart and people understand and receive them in exactly the way they were intended and never laugh or write things on the internet about me. One where I am always unselfish, generous, accepting, courageous and empowered, and so are all the people I hang out with. One where I am very frequently right about things, and everybody I admire and like and respect acknowledges my rightness. One where I always meet others expectations of me, and am able to adapt my own expectations perfectly to every person and situation. A perfect life, where I am always inspirational, never fearful, anxious or cowardly, where I never have cause to suffer or make others suffer, where I never fail others or have cause to feel others have failed me. A perfect life, where my days are one endless stream of no bad things, and where I die at the end comfortably and painlessly in my bed, with all my many loved ones around me in a cloud of mote-speckled light, where I surrender my spirit of my own volition at the most appropriate time, without regret or sorrow or bitterness or anger. Oh, and where I have absolute certainty I’m going to heaven. The perfect life.
You’re not going to get one of these.
Nobody is going to get one of these.
There are going to be things that happen to you, and they may feel very bad, and not Jesus, God, Buddha or anyone else is going to stop them. And it will suck.
If you became a Christian or a Buddhist or a Jew or whatever just because you hoped it was a way to stop bad things from happening to you, I’m really sorry. Whoever told you or is telling you that it is God’s job is not telling you how it really is. They may want it to be true, and they may even be able to back it up with words from the Bible, but it’s not what happens in the real world.
Truth is not aspirational. It’s not what we wish would happen. Truth is what actually happens. Truth is what is.
What actually happens in the real world is that bad things happen. They happened to Jesus, and in fact, if you believe the Bible, they happened to God.
All the time. God apparently wanted certain things to happen, planned for them, set things up for them to go a particular way, and still, things went wrong. Which makes you wonder if God has as much control as we’d like to think.
People, right from the start apparently didn’t do what God hoped they might. But, hey, even if they had, it still might not have gone the way God planned. Who knows?
Sometimes we think when something goes wrong, if we had done the opposite then things would’ve gone right, or better, or not been so messed up, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes things would have had been messed up anyway.
Now, can I just say at this point, I’m not about to get into that attitude which says when you get cancer it’s actually a good thing if only you can just see it in a certain, special way.
Having a disease that could kill you is always going to be something people don’t want, bad, if you like. So are earthquakes, famines, and tornadoes, that sort of thing.
This is not about controlling good and bad things. This is partly about accepting the fact you can make some things happen, but not other things. The other part I’ll get to in a minute.
Here’s the thing. Actions have consequences. If you smoke, your likelihood of developing cancer is statistically high. If you work a forty-hour week for forty years of your life and get paid a reasonable wage for doing so, you will experience a certain level of material and personal comfort, possibly even wealth. However, it’s also true to say that a great many people get cancer and do nothing to make that happen. And some people grow very wealthy and do nothing to make that happen.
I think a great many people become Christians not because they like Jesus or want to be like Jesus, but because they feel powerless, and also disempowered. They believe they lack both the ability and the control to avoid the former and attract the latter, and so they bring all that anxiety and powerlessness to Jesus. But they never allow themselves become more empowered. They choose to remain disempowered, because they think it gives Jesus more glory, more opportunity to be powerful, when they do. They get Jesus into a position where He might supposedly feel obliged to use some of His power to arrange the most desirable outcome on their behalf, i.e.: no cancer, and more money, that’d be great, thanks. His strength is made perfect in my weakness, and all that. Many Christians become Christians simply because they doubt their own capacity to make good things happen for themselves, and/or the capacity to prevent bad things from happening, and they are simply wanting to recruit some outside help with that.
Which is fine, except, life. Oh, and the whole following Jesus thing. Being a follower of Jesus surely is about following Jesus? I wonder if being Christian is something completely different.
Many teaching streams within contemporary evangelical Christianity have become little more than a way of helping fearful and uncomfortable people feel less out-of-control, and enabling capable and comfortable people to feel they deserve everything that happens to them. These streams confirm the self-doubting, self-deprecating persons worst suspicions about themselves by telling them they are worthless, corrupt and have no good thing inside them of any value whatsoever, and they won’t be able to do anything without Gods direct help. Also, this kind of Christianity conversely confirms the ego-driven persons sense that all their critics are wrong, all their actions are justified and all the success, recognition and comfort they are able to arrange is their God-given entitlement. In this way, many of the teachings of contemporary evangelical Christianity speak not to the King in people, but to the devil in them. They speak deeply to the fearful heart of the person who suspects they are unworthy, less-than, and will always be unable to handle any kind of stress, rejection, criticism and change. The teachings reinforce the belief the person could never cope if bad things happened to them because they are weak, intrinsically evil, selfish, depraved, untrustworthy, and had it coming. These ideas also often support the premise that God is angry, and purport to reveal the truly ugly, repulsive nature of human beings ever-present sinful nature by provide compelling evidence for what happens to people in the real world when God and our sin intersect, i.e.: bad things happen.
However, in the real world, when faced with the terrible things that often happen, regular people are for the most part not weak in the face of it, or lacking capacity and resilience. They also do not appear to deserve it. In fact, in everyday life, regular people very frequently do not behave or think in a way that is bad or evil. People are usually good, or are trying to be. They have good hearts, and the majority of people in the world want to do good things to help themselves and others, whether they believe in a Creator, or not. And not many Christian teachers and preachers are going to tell you the truth about this. They are a little like the snake-oil salesman who convinces you you’re sick and then sells you the cure. These ones want you to believe you are a member of the only group of truly good people who exists on the earth (Christians) and they’ll tell you everyone else is to be feared, suspected or denigrated in some way, because they are rotten through with worldly evil and wanting to kill and eat you, or some damn thing. But it isn’t true; the bit about the people who are not in your church, or the part about you being sick with sin and needing a cure for it. People outside Christianity are not all bad, and the people we Christians hang out with have no monopoly on good.
The truth is human beings – Christian, or otherwise – are generally not weak, stupid or lacking in creativity. People outside your church will mostly not want to steal from you, or kill you, or even criticise or judge you. They are good. Also, they are incredibly resilient, adaptable and able to cope with huge stresses and change. However, most people in the world experience fear, and feel they are lacking in some way because they do, and most have desires and impulses and needs they are trying to get met as well. This can make people do things which harm others, or which take away others liberties, and even their own or others lives. Nobody wants bad things done to them, and a great many people who do bad things wish they could stop doing them. Bad things happening in the world may not actually be the incontrovertible support for the premise everyone is essentially bad and evil many Christians would like us to believe it is. I am interested in the way many evangelical charismatic Christians are able to observe some evil things done by some people sometimes by people who are not Christians and use this as support for the premise all people are intrinsically evil all the time, whilst at the same time justifying as totally without avarice all the completely evil things they do to people inside and outside of Christianity, and because the Bible apparently told them to, to boot.
When you teach people often enough and with enough conviction they are weak, stupid, and evil, of course they will begin to doubt their capacity to cope if bad things happen to them. And they will think it makes more sense to avoid bad things than to get better at coping with them – who wouldn’t? In the real world, bad things are going to happen – this is the first truth we need to get our head around. Unless you are very well organized, or never leave your church, or are perhaps lobotomized, there is no way to avoid it. And some of the bad things that happen are certainly worse than humans could possibly be expected to endure. However, most people really do have enough resources to cope with most of the bad things that will happen to them. People really are incredible. And you’d think evangelical Christianity, claiming as it does to be really into people generally, and into helping them recognize their God-given gifts, would be right onto this. But rather than teaching people how to draw on their God-given gifts – their inner strength, wisdom and capacity to cope with stress, change and disaster – many modern Christian teachings are instead advocating for the asking of God to arrange for Christians a greater blessings-to-bad-things quotient, and a more materially, physically and socially comfortable existence.
Which, as I said, is fine, except, life.
A life where bad things never happen is not going to happen to you. Everyone has things happen in their lives that are not what they wanted or hoped for. That is a given. God knows this. Further, God is not going to stop bad things happening to you, just because you are a Christian and you asked Him nicely. Now, when you’re a Christians and bad things do happen, even though you asked God nicely could they please not, some Christians people will tell you this is because He doesn’t want to stop them even though He could, but He has a special lesson to teach you instead, or a special job for you to do in the world of the bad thing. In my opinion, that God is not a very good God. That God is an asshole.
God doesn’t stop bad things from happening to you because He can’t.
He can’t stop them. The way I see it, God is either good, or all-powerful. If God is all-powerful, He cannot also be good, because the things that happen to people along the gamut of bad things can be so horrifically bad, any God who would allow those things when He had the power to stop them is not a good God.
God is good.
And you are good too.
So, my friend, having said all that, let me tell you this. You did not deserve the bad things that happened to you because you’re a sinner and deserved it, you forgot to become a Christian or didn’t know how to pray a certain way, or because the world is intrinsically evil and depraved and the devil is out to get you. The bad thing didn’t happen because God thought you needed a special lesson in how to not die of anxiety and stress, or how to survive being raped as a child, or knew you’d one day inspire thousands with your story of how you lost your legs in a car accident. The bad thing happened because you live in a human body, and you live on a dirt planet, and all kinds of things can go wrong when we all start messing around with the dirt and bumping up against the other human bodies and the people inside them. The world and the people are beautiful, but they can get messed up. And it’s not your fault the world is dirt and so is your body, and you and all the other people have to bump into each other from time to time. It’s just the way it is. Good things, bad things; it’s just the way it is.
And He is not going to stop it, because He can’t. Remember, the truth is not what we wish would happen. Truth is what actually happens. The truth is what is.
So, this is the truth. God can’t stop bad things from happening to you. But, whenever you, through your incredible resilience, extraordinary courage, awesome creativity, intrinsic wisdom, and burning desire to help others, or because of a massive spiritual, clever or just damn bloody determined effort, able to turn the bad thing that happened to you into something useful, beautiful, admirable, inspirational, encouraging or meaningful, God falls back in awe of you, and claps the slow, loud clap with a huge grin on His face. Tears spring to his eyes and His breath is taken away for a while. He looks at you with immense pride and wonder, and He says, my Person, how on earth do you do that? I marvel at you, at your resilience, courage and creativity, at the alchemy of what you just did, of what you are doing. You are able to make bad things into good things, and I am amazed at this. I am proud. I am celebrating! Woohoo! Go you! You are my darling, the thing of which I am most proud; who of all the things I’ve made is most glorious, clever and good. Well done, my beloved, well done you!
He loves and admires you when you do that thing, when you make a good thing from a bad thing and confirm all God’s deepest suspicions; that you are stronger, wiser, braver and more creative than you think, and that you are good. When you realize the bad thing could not be God’s fault, He cries with relief. And we can know God didn’t do it on purpose not in a saving-His-reputation, defending-His-honour kind of way. But in a knowing God truly loves you, believes in you, and is on your side kind of way. He is not the Asshole God, really. He is the Good One.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter whether we believe in Good God, or any God at all. What matters is that He believes in us. All of us. All the time. Whether we believe Him back, or not. And He’s not angry about our not believing when we don’t, or can’t. He is okay with it. He still celebrates, because we are His darling, clever, dirt people. We have all believed faith meant us believing He exists, and that all the things that have been written about Him are true. And we hope they are true, hope they are truth. But truth is not an abstract. It is not aspirational. It’s not what we wish would happen. Truth is what is. And His love is.
God’s love for and belief in us is the truth; a truth so true we can build a house on it and live there. Our faith in God is incomparable to the faith He has in us. And yes, okay, even the Bible says faith and hope pale in comparison with love. Imagine how much there is then – faith, hope and love – from God, towards you.
Believing in God and being a Christian is not about having a perfect life. It’s about believing God believes in you. It’s about knowing God wants more than anything to confirm your deepest suspicions about yourself; that you are resilient, courageous, creative and wise. It’s feeling in your heart of hearts that when you do that thing with the bad thing that happened to you, He falls back in wonder. And that’s His glory, you, being you, amazing God with your capacity and your courage to turn your crazy, messed up life into something true. Our truth is not what we wished would’ve happened. It’s what actually happened. The truth is what is. You amaze Him. It’s knowing in your gut that while God is not in control, that’s okay, because God is absolutely good, and is cheering and bragging about you. Look at my darling creation, isn’t she amazing, isn’t he the best.
Your bad things, your struggles to accept and deal with them, and your generally imperfect life, my darling, are nothing to be ashamed of.
Because God is good, and so are you.