Please don’t read this blog post if you’re teetering on the brink of depression b/c it will surely push you over the edge. It’s a very realistic look at what God actually promises us.

My favorite CS Lewis essay is “The Weight of Glory.” In this piece, he summarizes what guarantees Scripture give us. “The promises of Scripture may very roughly be reduced to five heads. It is promised

  1. that we shall be with Christ;
  2. that we shall be like Him;
  3. with an enormous wealth of imagery, that we shall have “glory”;
  4. that we shall, in some sense, be fed or feasted or entertained; and
  5. that we shall have some sort of official position in the universe”

This is very sobering b/c it really indicates no guarantees about our welfare on Earth. I think what is problematic is that we will read stories in Scripture where God makes specific promises to individuals (e.g., Abraham), and we then erroneously appropriate those verses/promises for ourselves. I don’t know why pastors / seminaries don’t do a better job at helping lay people learn how to study Scripture and discern between promises God makes to everyone (e.g., what’s listed above by CS Lewis) and specific promises He made to individuals and DO NOT APPLY TO US. As a result of this totally sloppy, and frankly self-focused and almost narcissistic, way of interpreting Scripture, we have unfortunately absorbed a health and wealth / prosperity gospel into our theology. We expect God to deliver us from our current circumstance. I am not saying He will not, but sometimes He does, and sometimes He does not intervene. There’s no formula here.

And fortunately, since I (and perhaps some of the folks reading this blog) are fortunate enough that things work out for us generally in this life (because we are part of the global 10 percent, and we have access to a wealth of resources, not limited to social networks, family support, education, living-wage employment, clean air and water, money, etc.), it does seem like we are generally delivered from most challenging circumstances.

But in reality, this is not true for people who are at the bottom of the pyramid, many of whom worship Christ. Every day people die from lack of food and healthcare, families are separated, children are orphaned, people are trafficked, women, children, and others are violated, etc. God’s promises of deliverance did not bear out in their lives on Earth. Even for those who are of the top 10 percent, there are many ailments that are not addressed on this side of Heaven — many blind, deaf, and mute who do not recover their senses; many with diseases who die young and not healed (my mother being one of them); many hearts broken which never fully heal, whether it’s because of the death of a dearly loved one or a loss of a relationship.

So the solace of Advent and Christmas, and the heart of the gospel message, truly lie in the guarantee, promise, covenant, fact that we are saved from the jaws of DEATH, to eternal life. Should God choose to deliver us from earthly circumstances and trials, that is a bonus.

It’s interesting, b/c since many of us in the 10 percent are not at the brink of death (unless we’re aging and have terminal illnesses), we don’t confront our mortality day to day. Death is not a pressing concern (unless there’s a natural disaster and the apocalypse comes upon us). And so the solace that Christ brought to us isn’t as much of a solace. At least not for me. For those whose survival hangs on a thread, the gospel becomes truly good news.

So how then does a global ten percent-er live day to day with this hard truth that nothing on Earth is guaranteed, and while Heaven is guaranteed, it may feel like a distant glimmer, almost like a fairyland? The bottom line is I honestly can’t rely on God to have my back in this life — whether it be in my job context, my prospects for dating/marriage, my ability to sustain myself financially, my health, my relationships with friends, family, coworkers, etc. It used to be, that when I lived under the delusion that God has my back, I could give “freely” because I trusted Him to honor and replenish what I had given, in this lifetime. I didn’t have a scarcity mindset. It turns out I was motivated by entirely the wrong theology.

However, now that I’m moving one layer deeper into theology, it turns out that faith actually means giving and loving with no guarantee or hope of return in this lifetime. As such, I lack faith. I find that I am becoming increasingly stingy about giving financially b/c I don’t believe it will come back to me. Maybe I’ll get an extra jewel or two in my crown in Heaven, but if it means that I will struggle financially during my retirement, I don’t think it’s worth it.

So the question, while embracing the hard reality that God may or may not have my back on earth, how do I live by faith? I think of the book of Daniel and the King threatening to throw his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the furnace to burn them alive. And yet in Daniel 3:16-18:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

That is truly faith! In some weird way, I sort of wish that they had perished in the fire because this would be an example in Scripture where God didn’t come through and people couldn’t just explain that away. We are quick to embrace happy endings, and yet sad endings are typically what happen 99% of the time.

I remember my pastor taught about how obedience is a response to knowing (in a deep, personal way) God’s love. And so maybe the motivation to obey is not b/c of how God can deliver or bless us in this life, but more because we are enthralled with Him and then act sacrificially. But that’s where I truly struggle. I don’t feel a deep emotional love for God — like Heaven, He’s an abstract concept to me. And hence I don’t know if I will ever be able to live deeply in faith for Him and lay down my life for others as Christ did. I’m just a bit too self-protective to do that.