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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The personal touch of God's favors.


When people talk about the little favors God orchestrates on their behalf, they assume they are giving glory to God for the little things? But I think at a deeper level they are trying to convince themselves and others that God is real.

Most Christians are unaware of how offensive such talk is to those who suffer. No harm is intended but they fail to realize it comes across as a self-absorbed, contrived proof of God's presence in the life of a spoiled child. Those who do not believe in Jesus know that although life is at times a struggle, nonetheless, pure randomness and the simple nature of things means that often things work out real well.

As a Christian, I find this belief troubling and harmful to the gospel. Why would a God who wants to develop within us the character of Christ be spoiling His children with such spiffs when they have not yet learned to be content in whatever state they are in? That seems counterproductive in exactly the same way ineffective parents inadvertently bless the world with spoiled brats.

Is such talking biblical? How common is this sort of activity by God in the bible? We are asked to give thanks for all things but this is because there is great benefit in adopting that attitude toward every situation as it converts circumstances into opportunities by redirecting outcomes toward a better end as the result of a better focus. But what is particularly embarrassing and scandalous in this perspective is that we often hear Christians thank God for specific little favors as they remain shockingly oblivious to just how unfavorable the situation actually is for others.

This sort of unbiblical talk turns God into our fairy godfather. Forgive my cynicism but the people I have known in my life who often talk as if they are always being touched by God's little favors are the very ones whose affairs are in disarray. They are the ones making bad decisions given to foolishness. Often they are the Christians who have mean streaks and look down at those less fortunate as their personal ethics slip. But worst of all they lack empathy for the way others suffer who could have really used a favor or two if God was in the doing little favors business.

I contend that God is active today PRIMARILY from within us. Our gospel is a message of Christ in you, the hope of glory. Most alleged manifestations of His presence are - at best - just stories spun as coherently as possible to simply help us feel more loved by God or - at worst - intended as a spiritual name dropping exercise as we brag about how God pays particular attention to us.

Why do Christians fail to see this makes Christianity appear to be little more than a joke of self deception? I have noticed that this magical talk, so void of empathy, seems to be most offensive and prolific when Christians who do not see each other regularly come together for retreats and other special gatherings. When I attend such conferences I find within me a compelling desire to get away as quickly as I can from those Christians deeply steeped in the concept. This makes me suspicious that this style of talking helps us feel like we are getting back to God.

I toyed with rejecting this perspective for several years but it became crystal clear to me after an incident in 1987. I had occasion to be driving a car belonging to a Christian businessman to run an errand for him. He had a habit of often sharing how God does tiny little favors. The owner of the car had an annual income several times larger than mine. Furthermore, at that time I was working to pay off an uninsured medical debt of over $13,000. A series of lung collapses required a portion of my right lung to be removed. That debt was part of the reason I did not own my own vehicle. As I was on that errand another Christian person ran a stop sign and broadsided me. I ended up in the hospital to have my lungs checked out and the car was totaled.

A week or so after the dust settled, the owner of the car came into my work area beaming with a huge smile saying, "Praise God, I just love how He orchestrates blessings and has a purpose for everything. Just before that accident I had my eye on this penny stock I thought was about to do very well, and everything I have was tied up. But God brought a check to me for the totaled car just in the nick of time for me to dump it into that stock! I held on to it for only three days and sold it for more than twice what I bought it for and now the stock has gone back down."

I responded, "Are you saying God deliberately used one of his numerous puppet people to slam your car with me in it just so you could have even more money making opportunities? Help me out here, are you saying God is good and I can trust him or are you saying God is an ass who arbitrarily knocks people around for the benefit of those already doing well and I had better watch it?"

This perspective is totally superstitious and completely unbiblical. God is not a respecter of persons. And it is extremely rare for his rain to fall on the just and the unjust by any means other than the natural result of his creation of a universe where things work as they do irrespective of who benefits.

Even God accepts full responsibility for the potential confusion and injustice in how he favored Jacob and dismissed Esau. It is mentioned several times in scripture specifically to clarify the confusion. The texts help to differentiate how things work in general as contrasted with God's sovereign plan. His decision to redirect favor had absolutely nothing to do with the people involved but rather it was focused upon the overall plan to further God's purposes in bringing a Messiah. The fact that it works out well for Jacob is, for Jacob, simply fortunate. He was in the right place at the right time.

You cannot convince me God is helping one child find a good parking spot in front of the shopping plaza in trivial answer to prayer while behind the building another Christian is crying out earnestly to God as she is being raped but finds no favors to deliver her from the moment? Telling such stories is prompted either by ignorance, habit, self absorption, or disregard for how God is perceived by those who hear of His horrible injustice, messed up priorities and inconsistencies. I contend that outside of the overall plan of sending a Messiah this sort of thing simply never happens.

As a professor at a community college I am in an environment where people feel free to express their reactions to Christians. And they have a lot to say about it when free to speak where it won't offend the Christian who might hear it. They are far more sensitive in sharing this reaction than Christians are in assessing how it comes across. These people need the love of God but the only Christian God they know about is one who chooses favorites as He spits on the unfortunate.

Christians who mean well do not realize we paint ourselves into a credibility corner with this one. God has definitely created a world in which many wonderful things can come our way, praise be to God. The world is designed in a manner, provided we love, that can provide an abundance for all. It is very sad and a testimony to our cultural greed that most of the population of the earth knows very little of such abundance.

But for now, during this age God speaks to us through His Son, and that Son abides inside His people. You have the mind of Christ; He does not live in you without His mind. You have the life of Christ; He does not dwell within without life. This is the time when we experience the renewing of our mind. The externals are no longer the priority. The only way God orchestrates anything in this present world is by the difference living in His people can make. If we do not make a difference in this world, God will remain inactive.

Don’t passively sit by as you take in all the favors you assume God sends your way. Rather allow the indwelling Christ to mature the character of love within you so that you bring the favor of God’s love into a world in desperate need of the redeeming quality of that love.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Bob! I've been reading some of your posts here and having a great time, although I have to say I need to read slowly and carefully to get your meaning sometimes.

    I particularly like this one. I always had difficulty listening to people pray (for example)that it not rain on their picnic (literally) and then give God the 'glory' when the weather turned out favorably! I wondered how the person/farmer who desperately longed for rain would feel hearing such 'testimony'!
    Whatever happened to being content in whatever situation we find ourselves?!

    If we want to talk about God's 'favor' why not just focus on the great favor he has bestowed in that he came, lived, died and rose for us all...and yes, now is within us! No greater favor than that, I think!

    I enjoy thinking along with you...Thanks!

    Erika (in Schuylerville)

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  2. A friend suggested this post to me when I was feeling frustrated about the cheapening of Christianity by people posting groups on Facebook saying things like "Let's find out who the true Christians are. Hit "Like" if Jesus Christ is your savior!" I am a reluctant Christian myself--reluctant because I don't want to be a part of this insincere clamoring. Looking for authenticity... Thanks for writing this post--I couldn't have said it better myself.--Ellen

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