We speak often with adoptive parents who are dealing with very difficult and deeply disturbing realities in the process of loving children from hard places. And even those whose children are adjusting well into our families aren't always sure what to do, or how our faith applies to our parenting. We invited our pastor at Northlands Church, Greg Haswell, to begin to share his thoughts on the theology that is the foundation of our faith. We trust that it will stir Faith and Hope at Home.
From Greg Haswell:I write to address what I believe to be a gentle drift in an unfortunate direction. In some quarters a fine sounding sentiment is embraced as though it is the purest of theologies and indeed it does sound noble, humble and right.
Sovereignty and Suffering
It starts with the beautiful truth that God is sovereign, holy and infinitely above us. It jumps from there to address the sinfulness of man, highlighting the differences between us and our creator, therefore emphasizing the distance needing to be made up. It does not believe or account that the blood of Jesus offered for us is more efficacious than our sin. It agrees with the lie that condemnation is still due to those who are in Christ. It presents our sins as more potent than His sacrifice and therefore suggests that our efforts and sufferings are needed to make up for the wrath that Jesus blood did not quite cover. It follows in that line of thinking that as Christians we are going to have to suffer our way through the repayment of our offense before God. This is not true at all and is not the gospel. Yet many of us still feel a lingering sense of condemnation and consequently can be lulled into believing that a sickness is God-sent, or a rebellious child is a manifestation of Him testing us. It suggests to us that lack in our finances or pain in relationships or any one of a hundred other awful things that sane people abhor is what we deserve and are called to bear without resistance.
Now if we throw in some harsh life circumstances and an over emphasis that God wants us to suffer, we end up with a theology that bids us to be content with whatever happens in life as the will of God and especially to endure pain and suffering, meekly. This perspective mimics the philosophy of the stoics far more than anything in the Christian gospel. We assume that our heavenly Father seeks out afflictions to ensure our safe passage to His arms. This produces believers who, instead of hearts brimming over with hope and faith, are rather consumed with enduring hardship and pain without hope of God’s intervention. Instead of approaching our Father with bold prayers and expectant hearts, we agree that we deserve this pain or brokenness and a parade of disappointments. This would be fine if it were clearly shown in the gospel. It is not.
In the gospel an ever-present God, Immanuel, is proclaimed. He is vibrant, active, loving and involved in the lives of those who love Him. He is a good shepherd who swore never to leave us or forsake us or to leave us as orphans. He is the God who urges us; to ask whatever we wish (John 15:7), assures us He will give whatever we ask (John 16:23), encourages us to pray for anything in His name (John 16:24), suggests that we ask in His name (John 16:26). We are told to actively resist the devil and to fight a fight of faith. Jesus urged us to persevere in seeking, asking and knocking and promised that those who do so will be answered; they will receive, and for them doors will be opened. His word says that anyone who comes to God must settle these two fundamental truths; That God exists, and that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). This expectation of reward is meant to stir our faith and not discourage us from any expectation of good as some theologies do. James additionally assures us that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective. Paul prayerfully suggests in Romans 15:13 that we overflow with hope by God’s power. If the doctrine you have learned does not produce an overflowing hope in your heart it should be mistrusted.
Choose to Believe
Jesus demonstrated a remarkable animosity against the suffering of man, whether it was through healing sickness, driving out the devil, giving mourners their relatives back restored to life, His miracles of provision or the militancy of His message against the status quo. He did not leave the woman bound by Satan in her state to perfect her understanding of God. No! He healed her. How can we read the New Testament and come away with an expectation that God will be distant, harsh and ambivalent to our sufferings, needs and desires? If our theology leads us to this place before God it is erroneous and should be discarded. This kind of thinking does not line up with who the scriptures shows Jesus to be. He is the perfect representation of God and His will. That means that all of the things Jesus did were exactly what His Father wanted and are a trustworthy representation of God’s heart. God is looking for faith and hope and love in our hearts not fear, expectation of evil and broken ambivalence to life’s pain. In His explanation of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus told a parable to encourage the disciples to ask boldly. In fact Jesus said that we would be heard by God when we came with shameless audacity (Luke 11:8). James says plainly that if anyone is in trouble they should pray in James 5 the same chapter where he affirms the powerful effect of our prayers. Next time you encounter difficulties, instead of surrendering to the nagging doubts about your behavior before God or the harsh accusations that you feel you need to balance with your fair share of suffering and hard times, choose to believe the gospel which shows that all your sin has been washed away, that you are highly favored and that your Father in heaven wants to bless you. I encourage you to come boldly to the throne of grace and to ask your God for beautiful things with great expectations.
The Shield of Faith
I cannot find anywhere in the scriptures where God chided people for asking too much or for having too great a perspective of Him. I can find many places where God was angered by unbelief, ambivalence, by small prayers, by timid faith and by people who ascribed evil or meanness when they should have ascribed greatness to Him. We will probably not confess to the One whom scriptures say that we will marvel at on His return, that we have made Him too big in our eyes. No our confession will be “I have made you too small in my eyes”. Jesus’ one concern before leaving the earth was if upon His return He would find any faith. I encourage you to fight this good fight of the faith. Take up your shield of faith because it can extinguish all the flaming arrows of your enemy. Dare to believe that God is as good as He says He is. Come in full assurance of faith to our Father and honor Him with the size of your requests and with the greatness of your assumption of His goodness.
Expect Greater Things
I leave you with the words of Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do not go gentle into that good night”, written at the deathbed of his father to urge him to fight for life. He said;
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I say do not go somnambulant through this world of pain. Rage, rage against the dying of any light. As you do you will discover an Almighty ever present ally. You are the light of the world, blaze brightly and expect greater things for there is a giant of a God in you and He dreams great dreams for you.