Sunday, July 29, 2007

5 Christian Paradoxes

There are a few things in Christianity that I cannot understand. Listed below are five of them.

1. Job’s three friends: One quickly finds that the sin of Job’s “miserable comforters” was their accusations of Job. They wanted Job to confess a sin, apparently a sin heinous enough to warrant such a stiff punishment as Job was experiencing, and then all his trouble would miraculously disappear. When this tactic failed, it switched to accusing Job of being a hypocrite. Job had apparently helped many of the afflicted of his day, and now that he was the one being afflicted, it occurred to his friends that Job might not have the fortitude he had urged from so many others. And then, and this is the stickler, they tried to tell Job that God was God, and that his ways were past finding out, and for him to just sit back and pacifistically take these blows on the chin.

The church is like this. Every time I try to express any trouble I am experiencing to a fellow Christian, their advice is some variation of what Job’s friends said. The problem was sin’s reward, God allowing me to suffer so I could better identify with others in their suffering, or God doing something in me that I couldn’t comprehend, and I should just sit back and let it happen.

So the striking similarity between the comfort of Job’s friends, and the current Christian doctrine for dealing with various trials, prove to me to be mutually exclusive. How can such advice be contemptible in Job’s time, and perfectly orthodox in our time?

2. Job’s answers: God quickly asserted that what Job had said was the truth concerning God (42:7). But deeper study reveals that Job said a few things that the church would reject if a Christian said them today. Consider if a Christian said the following things today…

“I wish I were never born.” (3:1)

“God is trying to kill me.” (6:4)

“I wish I would die.” (6:9)

“Why should my life continue?” (6:11)

“My life is worthless.” (7:16b)

“I cannot find God.” (9:11, 23:8-9)

“The strong hold the weak in contempt.” (12:5)

“God blesses the unrighteous.” (12:6)

“God has given me to the ungodly.” (16:11)

“He has shook me by the nap of the neck and has made me a target to shoot at.” (16:12-13)

“My cries go unheard by God.” (19:7)

“God considers me one of His enemies.” (19:11)

“God blesses with wicked, and there is no benefit in serving God.” (21:7-17)

If Job’s answers, which are paraphrased above, were given by any Christian today in a trial, it would be viewed by the church as a lack of faith in God, and the unfortunate Christian would probably be declared anathema in the hearts of many of their fellow Christians. And yet, God’s own testimony says that Job said what is right about God. This is an irresolvable paradox to me.

3. Sanctification: Another process that has always bothered me is the work of grace that holiness, charismatics, and Pentecostals regard as sanctification. Oh, I believe in it well enough, but the progression, as defined by the church, seems to me out of line.

The church tells us one of the benefits of getting the baptism of the Holy Ghost is that you will receive power to live the holy life demanded of the Christian. Then cometh the paradox. One must be living a holy life before they can obtain the baptism.

Okay, this is similar to the money problems of high school graduates. How does one make money without an education, and how does one get an education without money? From a Christian perspective, how can I achieve true holiness without the necessary power to do so, and how do I obtain that power without achieving holiness first? In the same sense that, in the past, higher education was only available to those young people who were born into financially elite families, it truly sounds as if the baptism is only offered to those who were fostered in religiously elite atmospheres. Of course, today, every child goes to college. Financial means to go without actually paying, like credit, has made it easy. But God isn’t a bank, and he doesn’t give out grace loans. God has requirements, and the fact that these requirements must be met before he actually gives you the grace to meet these requirements is a paradox indeed.

4. Disproportional Teachings: Every church, it seems, teaches certain things disproportionately to other things. Some churches disregard eschatology, and lean almost entirely on evangelism. Some churches are so hung up on eschatology that they neglect to prepare its members for the end-time events they enjoy predicting so much. The same works with Christian disciplines. After eighteen years of church attendance, I just heard last Sunday, for the first time, an entire sermon given on the necessity of intense Bible study. Compare this to the hundreds and hundreds of sermons I’ve heard given on the necessity of church attendance, tithing, and other more “showy” forms of obedience. In fact, of all the disciplines of being a Christian, by far, the ones most emphasized are the ones performed in the corporate sense. Private disciplines, like personal, in-depth Bible study, closet prayer, personal emulations of Christ, sacrificial love for our fellow human being, and personal attempts at piety outside the church, are emphasized far, far less than the necessity of corporate prayer, corporate worship, church attendance, ministry support, and (this is the one that always pushes my buttons) religious extroversion.

And the shocker of it all is the church thinks it is okay in such practices. It leaves me speechless.

5. Without spot: Conservative churches tend to teach that the Christians that will inhabit Heaven will be the ones whose garments are without spot and without blemish. And of course, they dovetail enough scriptures together to assume that this means absolute moral and ethical perfection.

But who can say that? Even those who do seem to live such holy and pious lives around us, do they never have an evil thought, or an evil desire. Is every ambition and agenda in absolute perfect alignment with God’s perfect will? If not, behold, a spot, a blemish.

I cannot understand how a preacher can stand in the pulpit and say that God requires holy and perfect people to inhabit his land, and then fifteen minutes later say, “I’m not perfect, none of us are.” It is yet another paradox.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

AMEN, BROTHER! I couldn't have expressed it better myself! I have wondered some of the same things. It's wonderful to hear I am not the only one feeling this way.