“God wants to bless you!”
I’ve heard this preached by a hundred people on a hundred pulpits over a hundred church services. And heard it again last night as I watched the televised sermon from Hillsong 2014.
“God wants to bless you, and keep you, and make his face shine upon you!” No bad things will come your way. No harm will befall you. None of these diseases. You are Gods beloved, his favoured, his delight. Nothing bad will come upon you if you trust in him, only good, for God only wants you to prosper, for your plans to succeed, for you to have a hope and a future.
So, what happens when they don’t?
If I had a church, I would tell my congregation that God loves them, but things they don’t want to happen to them are going to happen. Some of their plans will not succeed. They will divorce even though they don’t want it to happen. They will get cancer, and chemo, not a miracle, will save them. They will go bankrupt. They will not be able to have children and it will break their hearts. And God will not stop these things from happening to them. These things will happen even if they go to church, pray, do devotions, believe with all their hearts and even prostrate themselves on the floor and beg God for them not to.
They will happen, and the people they happen to will wonder what they did to make God give them such hard things. They will lie in bed at night and ask God to show them what it is they’re supposed to be learning, what the lesson is, because at that moment all they can do is endure the pain and confusion, and the thought of trying to understand the Big Purpose for the very hard thing seems like a vast, crushing responsibility, and could God please just be explicit and tell them what they’re supposed to be learning, and while He’s at it, relieve some of the excruciating grief, and the shame caused by the fact they apparently were not able to prevent the bad thing from happening, and are not really Gods favoured or beloved any more.
And I would tell them they will wonder why, if God was able to prevent their child from dying, or the tumour from growing, as they hoped, He did not do it. And they will be angry at God, but people will quote Job at them incessantly, and tell them God has a big plan for even this, and one day they will be able to see why, and then those people will walk away and feel they have done a very wonderful thing. But it won’t feel like something wonderful has been done. It will feel like you want to punch the wall and scream and cry. And I’ll feel it’s my responsibility to warn them this is how it will play out.
And I would tell them the perfect life is a myth, and they won’t get one. And if they get a life that even resembles a perfect one, an uneventful one, one where they are always safe and happy, and nothing comes along daily to challenge them and make them think about what they think about, where they always have enough of everything and never understand what it means to be poor, or oppressed, or experience lack or loss or grief, then they are either dead, in one way or another, or else Very Well Organised. And none of that, not the good organisation or the nothing terrible happening, will have anything to do with God at all.
And I’d tell them, for that matter, neither did the poverty, the illness, the infertility, the cancer or the divorce. It had nothing to do with God. It was not His doing, and it was not His fault.
I would tell them that God more than loves them. God is love. I would tell them life is tricky, and they won’t get a perfect one, and they should not feel embarrassed about that. I would tell them God didn’t do it, and God doesn’t expect them to interpret what’s happened or try and work out what the big lesson is, or justify it, explain it, or stand up in front of church when it’s all over and tell everyone in the church about it, and explain all the things and support Gods motives for allowing such terrible things to happen.
I’d tell them God just wants what they want. For them to be okay. For everything to be all right.
I believe in blessing, but I don’t believe a well-organised, easy, only-what-I-want-eventful life is a sign of Gods blessing. I also don’t believe cancer, infertility, divorce, bankruptcy, addiction, or any of those other things that happen, are sent from God, or allowed to happen by Him, or are a lesson, a test, or done on purpose to give us certain character attributes. That god, I would tell the people in my church, is an asshole.
I would tell them God is a god of hope, that He is the strong place, and the world is not. That when bad things happen, it’s because we are bashing and crashing up against the earth, and other people, and all the things that have been set in place since men started meddling in the ways of the world, and not because we are out of favour with God.
I would tell my church when the things happen, and they will happen here in our church, we will need to know how to help each other and make each other feel like everything is okay, and they are okay, and God wants to help them, and shame isn’t something we do here. And I would tell them I won’t be preaching on blessing, I’ll be preaching and teaching and trying to get us to be good at acceptance, and sharing, and compassion, and on listening, and saying, “I know”, and “me too”, and “how can I help you be okay?”. I’d tell them we will be learning how to sit with someone and listen to their pain without feeling we need to defend Gods reputation or make their story have a moral ending, and we will be learning how to accept tension, complexity, ambiguity, imperfection, brokenness and failure. That’s what we will be learning, I’ll say, because when Jesus said “blessed are the…”, I have a feeling all of that is what He meant.
And many will disagree, and there will be a church split, because there will be people who are disappointed there is no good, solid Bible teaching in this church anymore, and it’s not what it used to be. And I’ll take a few more hours at my day job.
And I’ll think, maybe I’m not cut out to be a pastor, and should’ve just stayed at my day job?
And that, dear friends, is why I am not a pastor.