Reblogged with a few tweeks from last year because I needed to hear this again!
It’s easy to say that we believe God is all-powerful and that He has the ability to intervene on our behalf. But what about when He doesn’t?
When a young couple, serving on the mission field, looses their healthy, newborn son to unforeseen complications, after two previous miscarriages… When a wonderful, loving pastor’s wife suddenly dies… When a family battling cancer with their teenage son finds out their second son also has cancer…
Really, God? If you are really in control and absolutely powerful, why would these things happen?
If we are honest, we will admit that we have all been there. Something falls apart, or a prayer doesn’t get answered, or a tragedy happens, and we start wondering: Is God really real? Is He really in control? Is He really good? Am I believing a lie?
There are plenty of examples of miracles in the Bible, and we hear modern-day stories. There is a “good” outcome we want, and we know that God could do it. Our desires are possible too. But, how do we get God to agree? Will He cooperate? How do we “twist His arm”? Which combination of buttons do we push on His heavenly vending machine?
You don’t talk like that? Me either, at least not out loud, but that’s how we act!
We don’t understand God, we can’t! He is way too big. So, we tend to create a version of God that we can understand, a god made in our own image. We can manipulate people, why not God? How do Christians do this?
We Create Formulas
I was raised under the shadow of the king of formulas. If you can get your hands on any of Bill Gothard’s materials, you will see 3 steps to this and 5 steps to that, always promising blessing and success. A perfect example is the book Gothard wrote called “The Power of Crying Out”. He basically shows verses (mostly out of context of course) where people “called out” or “cried out”. Then he turns around and promises that if we pray loudly God hears us and will respond better than if we pray quietly. What?
It’s not just my old cult leader who does this! I’ve read formulaic thinking on blogs, and in books, and heard it from the mouths of Christians across the range of Evangelicalism.
I have seen people take Bible stories and turn them into formulas. So-and-so did x, y, and got z, therefore, if we also do x, and y, we will get our z. Sorry, it would be nice, but I don’t think it works this way! God is not a vending machine! We cannot enter A5 and B10 and get a Snickers bar and bag of Doritos every time.
We Claim “Promises”
Ever heard this verse used as a promise for physical healing? It’s pretty popular. “By His stripes we are healed.” It amazes me how many people quote this verse and are clueless about the context. First of all, it’s not even a whole verse; it’s a phrase at the end of one. Read the whole thing and see if you can figure out the context.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)
It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to see that this verse is a prophecy about the coming Savior and how we would be rescued by his death. Jesus’ wounds healed us, but it wasn’t a physical healing, it was a supernatural, spiritual one!
How about this? “We walk by faith and not by sight.” People use this verse to claim all kinds of things. But don’t forget context! We cannot rip verses out of the Bible and make them mean whatever we want. This phrase comes from 2 Corinthians 5, ironically a chapter about heaven and one day being with Christ. It is not talking about getting physically healed. Here is verse 7, sandwiched between verses 6 and 8 for context sake.
“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NIV)
Claiming “promises” like these (even if they WERE in context) is still at their root a formulaic approach. We are still trying to find a way to guarantee a specific outcome, to push the right buttons on God’s vending machine.
We Take the Blame (or put it on others)
“I guess I didn’t have enough faith.”
“We didn’t have enough faith.”
“Their faith was lacking.”
These are all real responses that I have heard from people when their prayers weren’t answered the way they hoped. Right. Because there is a specific amount of faith that will twist God’s arm and make Him give us what we want. I don’t think so. It’s formulaic thinking again!
Where do we get this idea that our lack of faith is to blame? From the Bible. There are tons of verses talking about having faith, and asking for things in faith. Here are just two of them.
“He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:6
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:6-7
If these were the only verses I read, then I could easily believe that I am at fault because of my lack of faith. However, when I take a closer look, I realize that James is talking about asking God for wisdom (James 1:5). The specific promise is that if we ask for wisdom, God will give it to us.
Unfortunately, there are no verses (used in context) that guarantee any and every outcome based on our faith. While it is important to have faith as we pray, we need to ask ourselves this question: what is the object of our faith? Is our faith in our ability to move a mulberry tree (or a mountain), or in the God who made them?
So, in this broken world full of hurt and disappointment, what does God actually promise us?
Check back Monday for part 2.