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A Christian View of Suffering

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A consistent theme of mine is how critically important it is for us to have a foundational understanding about what Christianity is about. Most of us who have been in the church for a while know a few things: God loves us. Jesus forgives our sins. Unless you believe in Jesus you're going to Hell. We can have a relationship with God. We have these scattered bits of theological facts, but what we don't often have is an understanding of how it all fits together.

I was wondering today what could be more important for the church than what I'm about to talk about? If I could have my way, if I could dream up a certain consequence for the church, if I could have one thing be true, what would that thing be? I would want for the church in this day and age to simply have a clear understanding of what Christianity is about.

A conversation that I had with a gentleman yesterday evening at the retreat was about a frustration that he was confronting with a young lady and a young man who was her boyfriend. The young lady was a Christian, the young man was not a Christian. You can imagine what the first frustration is, right? What's this committed Christian doing with a non-Christian in a relationship? That's forbidden by the Bible, and for very good reason. 2 Corinthians 5 or 6, "Do not be unequally yoked with non-believers." That is, don't be tied together with them in a vital way because when you have two oxen pulling the same plow in different directions one is going to be pulled off the furrow by the other. And Paul's concern is that the Christian will be pulled off by the non-Christian, so he says don't even get in the same plow with a non-believer, and certainly not a personal, intimate relationship. Boyfriend/girlfriend is an example of that. And I don't have to spell out why, I hope.

There's a practical consideration, as well, because you're just gonna drive each other nuts if you take seriously your Christianity, and that person takes seriously their non-Christianity. They are just two different worldviews, two ways of thinking about reality. In fact, in this relationship, there was conflict. The young lady is trying to make sense of Christianity to the young man and she is not able to do it because the substance of her Christianity is a feeling about God. Let's face it, when we talk about relationships, generally we are cashing this out in personal, subjectivistic, emotional terms.

When we read books, or have seminars, or listen to tapes or teachings that talk about improving our relationship with God, it is never about knowing something about God that we don't already know. It's always about some trick that makes us feel differently. Get closer to God, have this deep, personal, warm experience with God.

By the way, I'm not against having an emotional closeness to God. I just think it's the tail and not the dog. And to a great degree, we have the tail wagging the dog. My concern is that sometimes you have the tail wagging so hard that the dog disappears altogether. The dog is the truth of Christianity, the substance of what it is about. The Christian is the tail, not the dog. The feelings are the tail, not the dog. And relationship is the tail, if you're cashing it out in experiential terms, not the dog.

This young lady has a relationship with God in primarily subjective terms. What's the problem? She can't communicate the ineffable attributes of her relationship. And who can? I mean gentlemen, you love your wives, women you love your husbands. How do you explain that to somebody? You could say "I love them" but it is very difficult to communicate the subjective elements of a relationship. Once you feel it, you know it, and sometimes that's how we relate our relationship with God. You want to become a Christian? You've got to have the faith, then you feel it, you know it. When you really connect with God, then you really know what it is.

That was the best she could do, and her frustration is that she couldn't explain this deep feeling that she has for God. And her non-Christian boyfriend wants to make sense of her point of view. She wants him to become a Christian. "What does that mean?" "Well, I want you to believe in Jesus. Then you can have your sins forgiven, and you can go to Heaven. But if you don't believe, you're in big trouble." And he says, "That's Greek to me. That makes no sense. I don't even know how to comprehend the meaning of those words."

When we take little pieces out of the entire system, how can we expect people to understand Christianity? It's like saying, "You want to understand how a car works? Here, look at this carburetor." Even if you understood some things about the carburetor, you have to know how the carburetor fits into the whole machine. When you understand the system, then they understand what we're saying. He's trying to get it, but he doesn't have the big picture to fit all the parts. The problem is that the young lady doesn't appear to have the parts, either. She has a part. She doesn't have the system. If she had the system, she could explain it.

We have two problems here. First of all, she is living in disobedience. I can understand if one is cashing out religious truth in experiential terms, it's very easy to move from one experience to another. She experiences a love relationship with God, and now she's experiencing a love relationship with this guy. They're kind of both love relationships and if the experience is what makes it valid. But if it is truth that is driving someone in their relationship with God and not experience, then it becomes pretty evident for somebody who has a marginal understanding of the text that there is a violation of truth in this relationship. There's a difference.

The core issue is a basic understanding of Christianity. The boyfriend has an honest question about Christianity. The gentleman I talked to last evening told me about spending three hours with the young man trying to lay it out for him because he didn't understand it.

Think about this just for a minute. When the non-believer asks "Why is Jesus the only way?" he's asking her to make her view coherent. He's asking her to tell the Christian story such that the idea that Jesus is the only way is a sensible idea. He's not even really asking her to prove that such a thing is actually true. That's a separate question. He's just trying to understand the view.

I am sympathetic to a non-believer who wants to know why Jesus is the only way; I am frustrated when a Christian wants to know why Jesus is the only way. The non-believer



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