Saturday, September 12, 2015

Some blessings are not all that beneficial. . .

Only a stranger to religion in America would deny the fact that the fervor of modern evangelical Christianity is about quality of life.  Everyone from Joel Osteen to Rick Warren has been on the bandwagon for a healthier happier you -- courtesy of your Christian faith (albeit not so overtly Christian for Osteen).  It is a drumbeat that has resonated with many in America who seem unable to be satisfied with the never ending pursuit of happiness, good health, personal preference, pleasure, and meaningfulness.  But it occurs to me that this is a big disconnect with the generations before us (50-60 year ago).

We seem to believe more than any other generation that the definition of life ought not to include pain, disappointment, struggle, sacrifice, or anything else that does not conform to our desire to live at peace with ourselves (meaning more our wants and desires).

No generation before today was as concerned about relieving body aches and emotional ills.  No generation before today was as preoccupied with leisure and quality of life.  No generation before today was as averse to sacrifice and suffering.  Christianity has, for many, adopted the pain free, struggle free, problem free life as the goal of God and the real working definition of salvation.

My greatest generation parents worked hard to give me a better life.  My generation made up for the guilt of two working parents by indulging our children.  The children raised by my generation are not so sure that marriage is worth the cost, the sacrifice, or the suffering and they are pretty sure that children are not.  Who knows what the next age of folks will look like.

My grandparents were among the first to embrace the idea of retirement but it meant more the time in your life when you were no longer physically able to work than indulging in leisure.  My parents were not much different.  My own grandfather died of complications from a stroke suffered at work and my own dad worked until a few weeks before his death, just shy of 88 years old.  I have classmates who have already retired and given up the rat race for a life in an RV or golf or some other pass time.  My kids will marry at a much later age than my wife and I married.  No, I am not being curmudgeonly here but it is impossible not to notice the differences.

How does this impact the church and the faith?  As a people, we tend to be less tolerant of pain or unpleasant circumstances than those who went before us.  We buy painkillers at the first inkling of an ache.  We go to the doctor expecting things wrong to be fixed.  We buy all sorts of little blue, white, yellow, pink, and green pills for everything the pharmaceutical companies advertize.  We ditch our spouses when marriage hits a rough spot and we settle for a commitment free hook up in exchange for love.  We would rather be friends to our kids than parents.  We look for work that we love and rewards us more than it costs us in labor.  Then when we come to church on Sunday morning we have no patience for St. Paul's suggestion that suffering produces anything good or that grace is sufficient for our all weakness and pain or that it is privilege to share in Christ's sufferings.  We want an easy life and have come to believe that it is God's job to make us happy, successful, healthy, and financially comfortable.

It would seem to me that the way the devil is testing our generation is much different than with Job.  He is not subtracting things from our lives but raising our expectations so high that we are most certainly going to be disappointed with our life and God's grace unless we get pretty much what we think we want.  The end result is that we are more miserable than happy and less content with the abundance that we have.  We have too much, we expect too much, and we are impatient when we get anything less than we think we deserve.  It would not be fair to blame our parents and grandparents for screwing us up.  We did that to ourselves just fine without much help from others.  And the result is that the whole Christian conversation is not about sin and righteousness, life and death, a hopeless end and the beginning of hope.  It is about me, my wants, my feelings, and my desires.

Isn't it amazing that the folks before us turned out so well given that they did not have fluoride in the water, no seat belts in the cars, moms smoked and drank during pregnancy, kids shared rooms and wore hand me down clothes, we worked hard before we played, and we carried around all sorts of aches and pains.  I include myself in this.  I want too much for me and I am not very grateful for the abundance that I enjoy.  It it not that I have listened to my heart too little, I have listened to my heart too much.  That is the only voice I hear.  Every sin either begins with or ends up at idolatry.  It is the one sin I do best of all.


David Gray said...

"Only a stranger to religion in America would deny the fact that the fervor of evangelical Christianity is about quality of life."

I'm sorry but as an ex-evangelical this is simply rubbish. It would be absolutely fair to say a major portion of modern evangelicalism could be described in this fashion. It was not true historically and it is not true of a major portion of evangelicalism now. There are many possible critiques of evangelical errors and flaws but this misses the mark.

My grandfather was an evangelical missionary. I never knew him because he wore out his body on the mission field through malaria and very challenging physical conditions so that people could hear the gospel who had never heard it. Two of his friends were martyred by the Auca Indians. Those men, one of whom had fought in the Battle of the Bulge as a paratrooper, made a conscious decision not to defend themselves if attacked understanding that they were reconciled to God while those they sought to reach were not. There are still evangelicals with that mindset.

Evangelicalism can fairly be critiqued for its errors but a pathetic man like Osteen does not encompass the bulk of the evangelical world.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Generalizations about almost anything can be troubling., A statistical and accurate measurement of evangelicals and their attitudes is difficult to ascertain. There is much truth in what was said about the pursuit of happiness, but that aspect is common to most people in and outside of the church, in all cultures and in all periods. However, the pursuit of happiness for one group is sometimes accomplished through power and warfare, thereby bringing misery upon another group. Man can be kind. Man can be a beast. In pursuit of happiness, the seeking of an ultimate happiness without pain is a common goal. Evangelicals can find happiness in being a child of God, and the Bible does not prohibit us from desiring to enjoy the fruits of our labors, however, the caveat is to not set our hearts on these things and neglect our God, and to walk humbly before Him.

Carl Vehse said...

"Isn't it amazing that the folks before us turned out so well given that they did not have fluoride in the water, no seat belts in the cars, moms smoked and drank during pregnancy, kids shared rooms and wore hand me down clothes, we worked hard before we played, and we carried around all sorts of aches and pains."

No it is not amazing, because it ignores those folks who had few or no teeth before they were 40 because of no fluoride in the water or poor dental hygeine; it ignores those people killed or maimed in traffic accidents; it ignores moms (and dads) who woke up nightly with coughing fits until they died of emphysema or lung cancer; it discounts children who suffered or died early from the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome because their mothers drank; and it is not amazing because it ignores the tragedies from these causes by combining such now-preventable or lowered-risk causes with other trivial or anecdotal childhood examples.

In the last 35 years as a pastor, how many children in iron lungs from your congregation have you had to visit? Isn't it amazing that the folks (except those who didn't survive) before us turned out so well given that they didn't have polio, hepatitis, diphtheria, tetanus, influenza, measles, mumps, or rubella vaccines?

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Carl, Genesis spells out the consequences of sin: death, disease, famine, pain, suffering. The earth is cursed and believers and unbelievers alike will experience these things. But in the end, the child of God will prevail. And in this temporary life, the Bible tells us, we may seem to suffer while the wicked prosper. But their prosperity will follow their damnation. Reading Hebrews 11 will remind us we are Pilgrims and Strangers on the earth, and we need to never forget it.

Carl Vehse said...

"Genesis spells out the consequences of sin: death, disease, famine, pain, suffering"

John, no one here has argued otherwise. But Genesis and the rest of Holy Scripture did not proscribe the use of vaccines, fluoridation, or other efforts to improve health, reduce suffering, and extend lives.

For example, following Louis Pasteur's discovery in France during the 1860s that germs cause some diseases, public education and awareness grew about the relationship between germs and disease and the use of hygiene to reduce the spread of disease (penicillin, an antibiotic, wasn't discovered until 1928).

This education also resulted in major change in the cultural and social-political life of the United States (and western cultures in general), and spurred many inventions and American cultural practices:

The increased use of the modern indoor bathroom, complete with a flushing porcelain toilet,
Window screens,
Linoleum (replacing carpeted or wooden) flooring, especially in the bathroom and food preparation areas,
Safety razors (for clean-shaving faces at home; beards declined in popularity),
Vacuum cleaners,
Drinking fountains, rather than ladle or cup next to a public water faucet,
Cellophane, for wrapping food,
Municipal water supply systems and regulations to provide safe drinking water,
Sewer and plumbing improvements and regulations, like the sewer trap,
Doctors washing their hands before surgery and using disinfectants,
Dental hygiene (before the 20th century you had a 50-50 chance of surviving a root canal),
The practice of washing hands before and using clean utensils when cooking,
Short skirts… well, at least initially, skirts above the ankle so that dragging hemlines would not carry germs from the sidewalk or street into homes.