The False Hope of Christianity

The church has no business making promises apart from salvation.

One of the biggest lies churches have led people to believe, intentionally or not, is that when they trust in Jesus, their lives will suddenly become better. All the pain and sorrow of their unsaved days will be washed away with their sins and a beautiful, mountaintop experience awaits them where the honeymoon never ends. Of course, it only takes a few years before a lost job, a broken relationship, or the death of a loved one quickly dispels this myth.

But that's when an even bigger lie kicks into high gear: the Christian life has seasons. Pulling from arbitrary biblical imagery, many will be quick to tell you at a low point in your life that every Christian has seasons of plenty and seasons of famine. There are times you're on top of the mountain and others when you're in the valley of the shadow of death.

God's authorship throughout all of this is carefully excluded, but perseverance and faithfulness is emphasized. Because every famine and valley is nothing more than a teaching moment (likely due to some unrecognized sin in your life). You'll get through it, learn from it, be better for it, and find yourself back on the mountain soon enough. Because God loves you and apparently has never condemned anyone to a life of misery.

There was never a man named Jeremiah who accused God of deceiving him into becoming a prophet. Such a person was never betrayed by his own family, beaten and put into stocks, imprisoned, and thrown in a cistern only to find peace at the end of his days as an exile with the rest of his people. And all for a message that was never accepted even though he devoted his life to it. His memoirs might as well be called Lamentations or something.

Nor was there ever a man named Ezekiel who was commanded to lie on his left side for over a year--just to symbolize the years of sin that the people of Israel had committed. At least the sins of Judah only cost him about a month lying on the other side. But he had to do this bound up so he couldn't roll over, and he could only eat bread baked over cow dung (this was after God relented from making him bake it over human excrement).

You won't hear those stories in Sunday School. You won't even hear them coming from most pulpits. In fact, the only stories of hardship you'll hear are those where people put themselves in bad situations or were persecuted by others. Stories like those of David and Elijah who, though they experienced difficult times, were given miraculous victories to hang their hats on.

Those are the comforting stories, the ones where God comes through for those who love him. Yes, we sure do love God's sovereignty in Romans, but we wince at it in Isaiah and the prophets. We wince because the God whose love never fails and whose love endures forever would never will hardship on any of his children.

Except that he has. Long before those very real prophets, we can't forget that God placed his own people under slavery for four hundred years just to give the exceptionally evil locals more time to repent (even though they never did). In other words, a lot of people died under severe oppression just so other people could repeatedly reject redemption. That's our God.

Some people will never get those mountaintop experiences. Some people will be born into abusive homes only to marry an abusive spouse and die a victim but never a victor. While others will seemingly cheat death and misfortune at every turn, some will appear accursed and be forced to live in shadow and sorrow.

I'll never say that this describes my life, but I'm certainly not the picture of the victorious life (otherwise known as the evangelical prosperity gospel). People often tell me that my depression and cynicism is just a season, but for all I know, this is the life God has for me. Because the truth is God doesn't prepare the same life for everyone.

David may have gotten a lot of victories but we can't forget that he was denied the opportunity to build a temple for God. Even though his heart was more in tune with God's than Solomon's ever would be, David was only granted the role of warrior. That was the life God had for him while his son had a very peaceful and prosperous life.

My life, on the other hand, may never be peaceful and prosperous or victorious and rewarding, as evangelicals prefer to say. I'm ok with that because I see God's design in it, but many people are not. They'd rather fabricate a Christian life factory where one size fits all than address their fear that God might be behind their suffering. That he might actually be worth fearing.

Fear conjured up the false hope that your life will get better and it perpetuates your guilt when it doesn't. But your life is unique because you and the purpose God gave you are unique. And that purpose might suck. Thank God he gave us the church to embrace us as we are instead of reducing our purposes to seasons.

Photo credit: jason a. cina / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND


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