Maybe I’m entering a cynical phase in my life. Maybe I’m taking things to seriously. Maybe I’m being a touch dramatic. Or maybe I’m finally developing a more full view of the world.
What I’m feeling and examining now has been building for a few years and I think a similar sensation builds in all of us when we truly encounter suffering. Recently, though, I’ve been a little off-key when singing optimistic worship songs, I’ve been cringing away from people’s prayers for little things, and I’ve felt a deep anger when seeing hashtags like #blessed and #highlyfavored that people tack on to posts about buying a house or purchasing a second car.
Because, and I guess cue the judgment of “dramatic” if you feel like applying it, I’ve been singing those words and seeing those prayers and reading those hashtags and thinking of Coptic Christians getting murdered in Egypt. Or Syrian people trapped, slowly dying, hoping to save their children. Or faithful believers succumbing to cancer, staring death in the face, knowing a miracle will not come. And the words turn bitter on my tongue.
God is good, and I pray for small things, and I feel both fortunate and blessed. But so often we expect God’s goodness to translate into our wealth, success, comfort, health, and security. We expect God to grant our wishes for that new house, that new car, those three perfect kids if we just follow all the rules. So when we twist our lives into single-minded pursuit of those things, we still feel like it’s okay to credit God when we eventually earn them. Then we turn around and tell others that if they obey and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, they too will receive.
What happens, though, when you don’t? What becomes of us when we are faithful and we still endure pain? How can that view of God stand when weighed down by relentless injustice, suffering, and cruelty?
It cannot. And we will be either lost in our own trials or blind to others’ pain. If you truly reap what you sow and God truly doles out blessings (dream jobs, great spouses, stable finances, well-behaved kids) to the faithful, then those in need simply haven’t been righteous enough to receive what they lack.
So over the past few years, I think a huge growth in my faith has been slowly abandoning a form of prosperity gospel.
Good Christians will suffer. They will experience financial hardship and profound loss. Faithful believers will die of violence and disease. Innocent children will be the victims of broken systems and evil politics.
Where does that leave the character of our God? Where does that leave our understanding of blessings and goodness?
Perhaps our goodness, our blessing, our treasure, is not in what God gives us, but in knowing God. Perhaps, even if it does not all work out fine, we will still be left with enough in the end. Maybe, in some strange math that I can’t understand, redemption doesn’t equal my comfort or prosperity. And maybe, just maybe, my privilege is only privilege and not divine blessing at all.
Free will for humans, I think, means situational triumphs of evil in the world. It does not, however, mean the absence of good. I am happy that I’m not blind to the crushing scale of human suffering on our planet. At the same time, I am also happy that I am discovering how God can work for good even in the midst of injustice and pain. Now, shrugging off materialistic false-promises and formulas for getting what I want, it’s also time to stave off cynicism, honestly recognize God’s goodness, and continue to discover how this all can coexist.