There is something troublesome that comes across in many modern, Western churches, something that offers up Jesus as a commodity that will solve all of your troubles, heal all of your woes, and make you happy.
Pastors exalt the benefits of following Jesus, telling tales of miracles and answered prayers, with little to no talk of the cost of discipleship.
Much of our Western church downplays the theology of suffering and the brokenness of our world and chooses instead to emphasize the “benefits” of Christianity. While most churches wouldn’t say outright that they follow a prosperity-gospel sort of theology, many of them teach as though they deeply believe a version of it.
Even the songs we sing in church or on Christian radio can lean hard into the happy feelings rather than lamenting the pain that we all experience in this broken world of ours.
Compare, for example, the lyrics of some modern praise songs:
You’re a good, good Father
It’s who You are
You’ve never failed me yet
to an old hymn, Faith of Our Fathers:
Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword;
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word.
Faith of our fathers, holy faith,
We will be true to Thee till death!
Yes, I deliberately chose a few extreme examples, but when was the last time you heard anything in church, from a pastor or a song, encouraging you to remain true to God through all things, even death? When was the last time you heard about the discipline of lament, or the idea that some things in this world will never be okay until you see Jesus face to face and He is with you through it all.
Too many people have heard this “Jesus will solve your problems and make you happy” rhetoric and given a predictable “What kind of fool do you take me for?” answer.
Part of the trouble, of course, part of the reason why this notion has taken hold in so many churches is that it is true.
Not the fixing – all – your – problems part, but the way in which his presence takes root and spreads, producing peace and joy no matter what life’s circumstances. ~ Frederica Mathewes – Green in At the Corner of East and Now
There’s no great way of saying that, though. Life is full of pain. How can we say that Jesus makes everything fine without sounding schmaltzy or foolish?
It’s not something that we can really explain in words. It’s something that people must see for themselves. You have to give it a try for a while before you understand, because the pain doesn’t always go away. The cancer doesn’t always get healed, the loneliness doesn’t always vanish, the marriage doesn’t always get saved.
It doesn’t mean that you get everything you want; rather, that gradually you get to want only Jesus. ‘He will give you the desires of your heart.’ (Ps. 37.4) turns out to mean that God gives the desires themselves; our impulsive and conflicting hungers are transformed, tuned, and ordered to receive what God intends to give. ~ Mathewes-Green
In the end, we are given Jesus himself, and it turns out that Jesus is what we really wanted all along.