Sunday, April 14, 2013

Great Expectations: The Vehicle through which Faith Is Lost

One of the things I want to really instill in my sons is that tragedy, pain, difficulty, frustration, failure, and disappointment are what life here is really about, as opposed to happiness, success, easy living, peaceful tranquility, etc. being the true purpose of life here.

The reason why I think this is important is because we are told that God judges His own household first, and that means that this life is one of trial via tragedy for the believer. In 1 Peter, we are told:

Dear friends, do not be taken by surprise that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or thief or criminal or as an instigator of crime. But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name. For it is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God. And if it starts with us, what will be the fate of those who are disobedient to the gospel of God? And if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinners? So then let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator as they do good. (4:12-19)

 It is "through much affliction/trouble/suffering that we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). And we are told that "in this world" we "will have trouble/suffering" (John 16:33).

In short, the norm for this life is thorns and thistles as yield for your labor and pain in childbirth. And the bonus to this life is death. It is filled with tragedy and ends therein. But we are told that God wants it this way. This is what God has promised us. His purpose is to save us, to melt the dross from the gold, and fire is painful if you are living gold.

In short, this world is hell for the believer. His hell is now. His time to suffer is now. His judgment is now. All of the tragedy of life is now, because his heaven is later.

To be sure, God gives mercy and we have glimpses of heaven here that push us along our way. We are told to find hope and comfort while undergoing this constant barrage of tragedy in Christ's victory over the world and looking to His return and restoration of all things.

But what I want to say to you today is that suffering tragedy is normal life. We, especially as Americans, have distorted that picture, as the rich often can distort their realities by creating fantasy worlds. We emphasize success in this world. We entertain ourselves to death, precisely, because entertainment provides vicarious experiences for us to escape our real world and imagine our lives as better than they really are. 

But the boy, stolen from his family and held at gunpoint, drenched in mud, while he looks for diamonds to support the fantasies of the rich, knows that life is tragedy and toil. He has no illusions. 

I say this to you, because many lose the faith over false expectations of what God promised us in this life. When God delivers hell instead of heaven here, faith is lost. But God never promised heaven here. Quite the opposite indeed. He promised salvation in the world to come, and that means going through the fire here, suffering loss here, undergoing painful trials that remove the dross of a self worshiping life. 

Now, of course, hell starts early for many people, believer or unbeliever. God makes no bargains with unbelievers. They may get a little heaven and then hell, or they may get nothing but hell. The only pact God makes with us, as believers, is that he will use our hell here to bring us to heaven. He will save us by conforming us to the image of His Son in this world, His Son who went through pain and tragedy to bring us this road of deliverance and sanctify us in Him with many crosses.

That is all God offers. That is all we should expect. Hence, as Peter said, "Let no one be taken by surprise that you are undergoing trials by fire, as though some strange thing were happening to you." If your life is tragic, you aren't experiencing a bad life, you're just experiencing life. The question is whether you will submit to God and praise Him for using it for your salvation and His glory, or whether you will become embittered against Him for not giving you a life He never promised to give you in the first place--indeed, being embittered against Him for saving you.

Instead, be surprised by success and happiness that God gives to you here as something abnormal. See the heaven that God shines into a dark world as God's gracious mercy that seeks to motivate you toward the goal, but not as something that can stay for very long without interruption from the necessary pain and suffering that salvation from self worship requires. Then your expectations will be in line with reality, and you will end life in praise, rather than in disillusionment, about God and His love for you. 

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