A few months ago, USA Today ran an article entitled, “More Americans Customize Religion to Fit their Personal Needs.” Quoting researcher George Barna, the article states, “America is headed for ’310 million people with 310 million religions. We are a designer society. We want everything customized to our personal needs – our clothing, our food, our education.’” The article went on to say, “Now it’s our religion.”
The article cited a particular woman who had gone through various mainline Protestant denominations and went for a time to the Baha’i faith and then transitioned from that to Native American traditional healing practices. Yet this woman still calls herself a Christian. She was quoted as saying, “I’m a kind of bridge person between cultures. I agree with the teachings of Jesus and … I know many Christians like me who keep the Bible’s social teachings and who care for the earth and for each other.”
Let me just say as kindly as I can that this is not New Testament Christianity. It is something else. It is do-it-yourself divinity. We have iPhones, iPods, iPads, and now, it seems, iFaith. While it may be customized for an individual’s needs, it is not the faith that is given to us in Scripture.
I think a lot of people believe in a watered-down gospel and, thus, they have a watered-down faith that in reality isn’t faith at all. They have heard so many sermonettes, they have turned into Christianettes.
The apostle Paul warned about this when he wrote, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:8 NIV).
One such version of a false gospel is one that promises that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy and always successful and always prosperous. I am not suggesting that I believe in the opposite of that. It is not that I believe God wants everyone to be sick and poor. However, I do believe that God wants to be God, and that He will bless some people with certain resources, and He won’t bless another with the same resources. One person will have good health and another will have poor health, and there are reasons for that. God’s bottom line is not to make us happy; it is to make us holy.
Being a Christian is knowing God and walking with him, no matter what. It means having your faith intact when the sun is shining and the sky is blue as well as when the storm is raging and the journey is hard. And Jesus made it clear that storms will come into every life. He told us that as you build your house on him, storms will come. And once those storms come, it will be determined what kind of foundation you have built on.
No matter how positive you may think and regardless of all the denials you may have, hardship is still going to come in life. Job put it well when he said, “How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble!” (Job 14:1 NLT). Difficulties are unavoidable. Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
This is what we call the problem of pain, a phrase C.S. Lewis coined in a book by that title. There is no vacation from human suffering and tragedy. Yet a lot of people try to sort this out and understand it and explain it.
Tolstoy summed up four attitudes people take toward life’s problems and human suffering. One, there are those who view life as all bad, so they try to simply escape from it through drinking or drugs or something else. Life is bad, there is nothing you can do about it, so just try to ignore it.
Two, there are those who view life as bad, and they struggle against it.
Three, there are those who view life as being all bad, and maybe by suicide, they try to remove themselves from it.
Lastly, there is the view that Tolstoy himself held: Life is bad, but we live on, irrationally accepting it as it comes.
But there is a fifth category Tolstoy did not identify: those who believe there is a God who, despite the worst tragedy, can bring good out of bad.
That is the biblical worldview. We acknowledge that life can be bad. We acknowledge that bad things can happen. We acknowledge that tragedies can come into the life of a Christian. But we also acknowledge that God is sovereign, which means that he is control. And we acknowledge that ultimately God “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28).
Yet some hold the view that because they are Christians, they won’t suffer. Bad things won’t happen to them. Their house won’t burn down. They won’t be ripped off. They won’t get cancer or have a loved one die in an accident. They won’t have problems with their kids or in their marriages. But the reality is that Christians will face trouble, too. Here’s what the apostle Paul had to say about it: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us. …” (Romans 5:3–5 NLT)
Is God’s end game, so to speak, to keep us earthbound, or is it to prepare us for heaven? It is the latter. So even though no tragedy is good, God can bring good despite a tragedy. And there are times when he will allow it because he loves us.