Friday, April 13, 2018
Welcome to “Those Who Weep: Not-Quite-Evangelically-Correct Thoughts on Suffering.” As mentioned in my sidebar, Ann O’Malley is my pseudonym. As suggested in the title above, it’s a play on the word “anomaly.” An anomaly is someone who’s weird, who doesn’t fit in, who never quite feels like a part of the crowd. That’s how I’ve always felt. Even in Christian circles.
I became a Christian as a teenager many years ago. The gospel that I heard and responded to convicted me of my inability to be acceptable to God on my own merits. Only by the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, could I be saved from an eternity of suffering in hell. As a new believer, the Holy Spirit planted in my heart a powerful desire for His Word so I began reading the Bible, but several months passed before I started going to church. At that point, my religious background consisted of a clear understanding of the gospel, plus Jesus’ teachings.
When I first set foot in an evangelical church, I was baffled by some of the preaching. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was my introduction to evangelical correctness. Every message dealt with God’s love and our need to “accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” Not the wording used by the evangelist that I’d listened to, and not the actual words used in Scripture. Little was said about obedience. Our only responsibility after being saved was to save others. Period. What about all those instructions Jesus had given His followers in the Bible passages that I’d read?
In the years since then, I’ve recognized that the teaching at my church was mostly biblical but adapted to our American evangelical culture. It wasn’t ideal, but it was understandable. Every culture, every age has its own way of expressing the truths of the Bible. And I’ve gained much by being a part of evangelicalism—growing in my relationship with God, having the loving support of brothers and sisters in Christ during difficult times, experiencing the opportunity to minister to others both within and outside of the church. But I still feel like an anomaly when evangelical culture clashes a bit with biblical teaching. That’s what I refer to (tongue-in-cheek) as being evangelically correct.
I don’t intend to use this blog to rant against evangelicalism, but to provide some gentle chiding in areas where we evangelicals tend to go astray, especially as it relates to dealing with people in pain. My main purpose is to minister to those who are suffering, especially if you’ve been hurt or puzzled by evangelical correctness in your time of need.
I welcome your comments. (Please take a look at my comment policy for details.) I hope we, as a community, can demonstrate God’s love to one another and support one another through the tough times, including when we need to vent or ask uncomfortable questions.
One somewhat subtle area of evangelical correctness is found in some biblical teaching on why Christians suffer. Many authors list all the benefits to me for the suffering I go through. Focus on me. Focus on self. Feed my human desire to make it all about me.
Biblically, there are legitimate reasons for suffering that do benefit me. It draws me nearer to God (Job 42:3-5). It helps me to recognize how much I depend on Him every day (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). It matures me in ways that otherwise wouldn’t occur (Romans 5:3-4). It can serve as loving discipline when I’m going astray (Proverbs 3:11-12, quoted in Hebrews 12:5-6). And it increases my appreciation for heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17). I can draw great comfort from knowing that God is using my suffering to grow me.
But when I’m at my lowest, I have this powerful tendency to obsess about myself and my problems anyway. To think constantly, even to pray constantly, about me and only me. When I do this, I just dig myself into a deeper pit. What I need most is to get the focus off of myself. Not to deny the problems and the pain, but to look outward to others and upward to God. This is when I need to know that there’s a greater purpose to my suffering. I need to know that it’s not just about me.
One place I find that greater purpose is in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” God doesn’t limit His purposes for my suffering to me alone. He doesn’t give me His comfort just so I can be comfortable. He allows my suffering and He gives me comfort so that I can comfort others.
This is the balance that I need. The passage doesn’t tell me to deny my pain and reject God’s comfort. Just the opposite. Paul admits to having troubles, and praises God for His compassion and comfort. But he gently reminds me that there comes a point where I need to take the next step and pass that comfort on to others. Focus on others.
And he gives God all the glory. This is the transcendence that I need. Focus on God. He is the Father (originator) of all compassion. He is the One who initiates the flow of comforting—from Him to me, from me to others, from those others to additional others, from generation to generation and age to age.