Just because a person becomes a Christian does not mean that they will now be blessed with every good thing and will walk smiling through a life without troubles, wondering why everybody else doesn’t simply adopt their easy plan for love, money, and a life for the most part free from pain. I know that this caricature of life as a Christian is pure bull caca, and it continues to amaze me that it is preached by some and accepted by great crowds of the gullible to this day. Jesus and ten of the first eleven disciples (Judas excluded), seemed to miss out on the health and wealth aspect of this strange description of Christ’s mission on earth, so why on earth would anyone think that such a vision would work for a true Christ follower today?
This topic of pain and trouble has been dealt with already by writers and thinkers far sharper than Yours Truly. Harold Kushner wrote “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” in 1978, and Rabbi Kushner did a wonderful job of explaining this topic. I will not summarize that book here, but I encourage anyone wrestling with this issue to give it a read. This is only a Lent reflection however, and not a book review.
During this Lent period I have been trying to focus more sharply on God and my walk with Him/Her (at ease now; I’m not trying to be unnecessarily incendiary here. I just believe that trying to apply gender roles and limitations to God is a fool’s errand). At the outset of the Lent season I naively expected a significant spike in the quality of my prayer life, a quiet confidence that God was in control of the wildness and confusing randomness of my health, work and family life, and that maybe I would hit on the lottery. As it has turned out, this has been one of the most trying months-and-change that I have had in a while, and if you consider that my last year included a heart attack and bypass surgery, that’s saying quite a lot.
I won’t go into all of the details of the trials which I have endured during this Lent season, and I also won’t try to say that I have not also experienced great spiritual successes and blessings too. The point of this reflection is that we all, Christian and non-Christian alike, live in a bent and broken world, and that becoming a follower of Christ does not remove a person from that world. All of the pain and wrongness which afflict the atheist or the Hindu or the Muslim or the Capitalist or the Vegan afflict the Christian too. I don’t know why that is so, but I do know for a fact that it IS so, and nobody will gain anything by denying that fact, except perhaps silver-tongued preachers who prey upon the fear and greed and weakness of those who listen to them. I am not judging anybody here (that would be way above my pay grade!), but I am not overly confident of those “preachers'” odds for a good outcome when the judgement day arrives. I hope for the best, but I’ve got some doubts there.
With all of this in mind, it is probably reasonable to ask why it is a good idea to become a Christian in the first place. I miss out on the sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll, I don’t get to make fun of people who are different than me, and I don’t get to cheat on my taxes with a clear conscience if I buy into this Christian thing, and in return I get – What? Maybe I’ll go to heaven if I get the luck of the draw (if Calvin’s caricature is right), or maybe I get a crutch to prop my weak ass through the life that everybody else seems to be living just fine (NB: they aren’t!) . Maybe I’ll just get the prestige of being the adherent to a barely tolerated subgroup in American society and earn the right to get a shellacking in the next election if I decide to run for president.
No, any benefit received by following the crucified Christ is not likely to be monetary, political or positional in society. So what is it” I have learned this Lent season that God is, as David Benner writes in “Surrender to Love”, madly in love with us. Jesus does not stand between us and the shit that the world, the flesh and the devil throw at us. Instead, He stands beside us, getting covered up in that shit the same as we are. I count it a privilege to be covered in the same shit that the broken world threw on my God, and when He/She cleans me off some day I hope that He/she will clean off the world that was throwing it as well, and that all of us who will accept God’s grace will dine – no, dine isn’t the right word – will PARTY together, while those who chose to reject Christ to the end will nurse their grudges and drink their bitter cup in an outer darkness of their own choosing, in a prison or tomb locked from the inside.
So yeah, life can be a bitch. So what? That’s not news. Put your tough pants on. Life is also a gift, and while you can’t always dial up the life you want, you can always draw on His/Her power to make it reflect a little bit of Christ back into the world. For me, that is enough.