A lot of people suffer disappointment with God when they encounter some kind of trauma: death of a loved one, terminal illness, horrific abuse, or a terrible accident. Nothing like that has ever happened to me. I’m not so much disappointed as discontent. I can’t help thinking that the Christian life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’m not sure why. Let me give some examples.
The church I attend is very good. We have ministries that extend help to the homeless, food to the hungry, and good counsel to the perplexed. We pray for the sick. We give generously to similar efforts in other countries. Our church has grown because it attracts people to the faith and attracts believers. We have two thriving programs that attract people to the faith.
One of those programs is called Alpha. It is a non-threatening introduction to the Christian faith that originated in England. Those who attend hear the gospel presented in clear, easy-to-understand terms. Many become followers of Jesus, and some of those begin attending our church and becoming involved in it. A good number of our new members have come from Alpha.
The other program is called Celebrate Recovery. It has its roots in the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, but this program was developed at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California. The program has been very effective in helping people overcome various forms of addiction, from drugs and alcohol to pornography and life-controlling obsessive behaviors. Again, several of those who have attended have made their way into the life of the church.
Both of these programs have produced excellent results. Their aim is not to make our church grow but to help people. Growth has been an ancillary result. From the perspective of our church, they have helped us fulfill our mission and grow. From the perspectives of participants, they have helped them come to Christ and overcome life-controlling habits. Good news all around.
Yet when I consider the need within the community, I realize that our church is barely making a dent. I do not see the rapid cultural transformation that was characteristic of the church in the first and second centuries. I do not see the growth Jesus himself talked of when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” If the kingdom of heaven really is as powerful and effective as Jesus says, then why hasn’t it transformed our communities? Why does its growth seem so piecemeal instead of exponential?
On a more personal level I see the same process in operation. We pray for the sick, and often they feel better for a while. We pray for those oppressed by Satan, and they sometimes turn from self-destructive behaviors for a while. Why don’t the sick simply recover? Why don’t the lame walk? Why don’t the blind see? Why don’t those oppressed by Satan become such victors that they begin delivering others themselves?
I am dissatisfied with what I get because it is not more. In fact, it’s barely enough.
I know all the answers. I know that miracles require faith, which is often in short supply in our mechanistically inclined culture. I know that what I desire requires spending everything. The kingdom of heaven is like a man who found buried treasure in a field. He buried it again and in his joy went and sold everything he had and bought that field. What if the treasure turns out to be a few bits of rusty metal and old buttons with a few genuine coins thrown in? What if it’s always a bit less than you hoped for? What if it’s enough but never an abundance? Does that sound like what Jesus promised?
Of course, I’m not talking about eternal life. I’m talking about God’s present blessing. Perhaps eternity should be enough for me. Perhaps I suffer from temporal myopia. Perhaps I should just repent of grumbling and get back to work.
I want more than just okay.