“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12
Why fear and trembling? Well, perhaps because it suggests vulnerability, the risk we take when we are being honest and humble? I sometimes say “God will answer all your questions,” if we’re honest about wanting answers and humble enough to receive them.
He puts my mind at ease, He calms my fears. He gives me wisdom and He lends me His peace. I ask a lot of questions. He asks me some, too.
I can’t answer spiritual questions in the same way one might answer questions about a recipe, because the answers are going to be tailored toward us as individuals. God speaks our language and He knows us well, our history, our nature, even our future, and that is unique to each of us, kind of like our fingerprints.
I can however, testify to what He has said to me personally and to share that relationship. We people have a lot in common, so many of our questions are going to be common ones. God is steadfast, unchanging, trustworthy, so that is familiar too.
So if you have questions, talk to God about them. Ask Him. Pray about it. Read the bible. Talk to other Christians. If those people give you unsatisfactory answers, find new people. I like how that verse says “work out” your own salvation. It’s a work out, like exercising, except you don’t need a gym membership.
Jacob actually wrestled all night long with God, or an angel of God, and refused to quit until He got a blessing. That’s the spirit, that’s how we should be pursuing our faith. Jacob came away with a limp, but by golly, he got his blessing.
One question many of us in faith wrestle with, “Why does a good God allow suffering?” I’m not going to write about that one because volumes have been written already and it’s a complex question that requires many involved answers. One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 3: five and six, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Trust in Him and He will actually direct your path and lead you to the answers you need about that one.
John Branyan posed another philosophical question that I really liked however, that I want to speak about, “If Christians are no different from the world, why tell people they should follow Christ?”
Right?! I have wrestled that one extensively and unlike Jacob and his limp, you have to just carry me off on a stretcher. I’ve wrestled that one so many times, I’ve actually had to spend six weeks in traction, before simply going at it again. Pit bulls R us.
John poses that as a question that makes a statement, more like “Christians should be different from the world, that’s why we preach Christ.” And that is true, they really “should” be. But then there is what we observe all around us, Christian people not being Christian people, everything from pedophile priests to blind pharisee, to people using the Lord’s word to justify their own hatred. Don’t even get me started about some of the 3 way open marriages, the pastor who left his wife to marry his husband, the child abusers and alcoholics. That is truth! I’m sorry, but people are gonna people.
In my own life it is tragically comical, but I guarantee you the moment I sit down with one of my non believing family members, the ONLY vile Christian within a hundred miles is going to suddenly show up and start screaming at us. It’s a family joke, my hubby has taken to just saying, friend of yours? Is that one of your people?
I’m left to mumble, “Uh yeah, sort of, not really, kind of….well yes, that’s just my broken and wounded, dysfunctional neo nazi psycho little brother….” I guess if you think he’s doing faith all wrong, then it’s time to get bold, get out there, and drown him out with the abundant love of Christ….
Once we pulled into a gas station behind a guy who’s bumper was plastered with Jesus fish and crosses and my heart just sunk. I just know how these things always go down! I was really hoping maybe he had just stolen that car. So of course the guy gets out, having a loud tantrum, yelling at the clerk, cursing up a storm, abusing anybody in his sights.
So hubby quips, “Good thing he’s a Christian. I’d hate to see what he’s like without Jesus.” That little quip was actually quite profound, it settled something in my mind, it was the answer to a question I had been asking God about.
The truth is, in my judgy little Christian mind, I don’t have a baseline in which to weigh and measure. Sanctification is a process and I don’t know where it began in someone. I can look at some woman covered in tattoos, wearing fish nets, ring in her nose, smoking a cigarette, and not realize that just a few months ago, before she found Jesus, she was actually living on the streets and addicted to heroin. (Actually I find those kind of people very easy to love. That’s not my kind of judgy, but you get the point.)
I don’t know the whole story, I can’t see the whole picture, I just can’t see someone’s past, present, and future. Without the Lord, that gas station guy might have been a serial killer for all I know, rather than just a small man having a big tantrum.
The truth is, in our faith we are supposed to be following Jesus Christ and not other people who may or may not be following Jesus very well themselves. It’s good to have friends, leaders, teachers, mentors, but that is not where our faith should be rooted. People are always going to “people” and they can let you down. Jesus will never let you down. Root your faith in Him.
The second part of John’s question is really good too,“If Christians are no different from the world, why tell people they should follow Christ?”
I spent a good 20 years in the closet explaining that very thing to God Himself. I totally believe, I love the Lord, but there is no way I was speaking to anybody about my faith. First off I’ll just get chewed up and spit out, like I always do. I am not a big fan of being anybody’s chew toy. But also, I’ve seen some rotten Christians, and I’m surrounded by people driven out from the church, driven away from faith itself, because of some rotten Christians.
I had a lot of doubts and fears, many of them irrational, but real enough. What if I tell someone about Jesus and their life gets worse? What if I say something wrong and drive them farther from faith then they already are? What if I do more harm than good?
Why should I tell people they should follow Jesus Christ? Shouldn’t they make their own decisions? Isn’t it really none of my business?
I’d still be in the closet arguing with the Lord about these things, but He really pressed the issue and I just came tumbling out in a crumpled heap.
Anybody ever watch “Game of Thrones?” I do not, but I read a lot. “Game of Thrones” really is what the world looks like without Jesus Christ. Might makes right. Slay the weak, reward the strong. Do good and suffer, be evil and rise to power. The characters on Game of Thrones don’t even fail to act like Christians, because they aren’t even Christians in the first place. Our ideals, values, beliefs don’t even exist in their world. Their world is one ruled by conquest, incest, rape, slaughter, violence, theft, murder, and anybody attempting to do good and mind their own business, is going to be promptly slaughtered in the most horrific way.
That really is what the world looks like without Jesus Christ. I have walked there myself, absent the Hollywood glamor of Game of Thrones. It is a dark and ugly world, without even any good background music or costuming to comfort you.
We “tell people they should follow Christ,” not just as if it were some kind of behavior modification program. People’s health, their well-being, the joy that comes from having a relationship with your Creator, is really important. Salvation in terms of eternal life and knowing your destination is vitally important, too. Let me tell you, when you get there you’re going to suddenly care a great deal. Learning to live in community with others is also a really good thing.
But our faith in Jesus Christ is not just a behavior modification program, it is not a self-help program, it is not a way of forcing compliance to social norms, it is not about making everyone else look just like us. It is not about ridding the world of sin. That was actually done on the cross more than two thousand years ago. We preach Jesus Christ because we believe and trust in Him, we keep the faith because we have confidence that He is sovereign, that the world is beneath His feet and it is going to transform exactly as He wants it to. It is not something that is in our hands or some kind of behavior modification process we must carefully supervise.
As the song goes, He’s got the whole world in His hands… Our role is tiny, we are like the kids He lets help out in the kitchen. Half the time we are no real “help” at all, but He still invites us in, He welcomes us to His kitchen, He teaches us things. He isn’t grumpy about it either. We’re going to get it wrong, we are going to make a mess. That’s who we are, that’s why we need a Savior in the first place.
We can hate sin, we can be mad about stuff, we can and probably should point out that God said, “Hey, said this isn’t okay,” but it is still nothing but the blood of Jesus that rids the world of sin and nothing but His grace that has the power to transform hearts, minds, and lives.
Let me end on a more humorous note. Sometimes it’s hard to tell from my writing and from my relationship with the Lord today, but in my early days I did not like people very much. My worst evangelistic moment was also my finest. This nice young man, atheist, unbeliever said, “So why does your God allow suffering?”
And I said, “How the hell am I supposed to know? Ask Him yourself.”
He did ask and He hasn’t stop asking Him questions since. It’s the Lord who does the work, always, it’s the Lord who takes a woman’s grumpy answer and plants a seed.