Friday, September 29, 2023

Life is hard. . .

Many years ago I was talking to a couple parishioners about their absence from worship.  It turned into quite a conversation.  They were suffering the bruises and hurts that can be typical of life.  They basically said that life was hard and it was the church's job to make them feel better about it all and find some modicum of happiness.  I get it.  Really I do.  Life in this modern age is not quite easy for pastors either.  We are all looking for a slice of the happy pie and for someplace to turn where we can feel better about it all.

Of course, the problem is that what makes like hard cannot be wished away.  To be faithful the Church and her ministers must speak the hard and blunt truth of sin and its consequences.  Sin is not some small thing added onto life's problems but the beating heart of all that is wrong within us and out there in the world where we live.  Added to this tension is that God has not delivered us from living within this tension of not being of the world but nevertheless living in the world.  What we all shudder to admit is that this living in the world while having, as St. Paul says, our citizenship or commonwealth in heaven is its own burden.  Bearing the cross is our lot but we don't have to like it and sometimes we just want to lay it down for a while to be amused or entertained or distracted from it all.

Honestly, if this is what you want from the Church, you will not find it in a faithful Lutheran congregation served by a faithful Lutheran pastor.  Our refuge is Christ whom we know and from whom we receive gifts of unimagined grace and favor through His Word and Sacraments but we cannot escape talking about sin.  We are a people who have been redeemed but who live in the not yet of God's final completion.  Happiness is what the world talks about but we talk about our contentment resting in the hands of a gracious God whom we know through the face of His one and only Son.  Within this mystery the cross is both the cruel image of sin's cost and the blessed comfort of Him who paid it willingly and gladly that we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom both now and forever.

Life is hard but relief cannot be found in amusement or entertainment or distraction.  Happiness is fleeting and it is more work to sustain the moments of happiness than it is to rest the ache of our discontent upon Him who loved us more than life and loves us now with everlasting life.  Evangelicalism has somehow become attractive but it cannot offer us much more than the old moralism which presumes that things are not good because of something we did and they can be improved also by something we can do (and it is the preacher's job to tell us what to do to make things better and make us happier).  Our joy is not in extending the small joys of this life or multiplying them but in Christ our Redeemer.  He is not a path to our joy but that joy incarnate.  The relief which we seek is not a decision or a choice but Christ whom we know by faith.  

Anyway, life is hard enough as it is.  Why stir things up?  The Church’s job is, after all, to make people feel good and be happy.  Or is it?  Calling people to repentance is surely stirring things up yet this is the Church's vocation in the world.  Addressing sin with the remedy of absolution surely stirs things up yet this is the Church's vocation even among the faithful.  Admitting that death is not a friend to the suffering or something with which we may make peace if it waits long enough and comes peaceful enough is surely stirring things up but it must be done so that we are pointed to eternal life.  Challenging the dualism of the age that sees the flesh as a container for the spirit gladly jettisoned in order to find oneness with all things is surely stirring things up but it must be one to proclaim the resurrection of the body and the new heavens and the new earth of God's design.

The problem is not that we want to be happy but we choose to be happy with things which can never be trusted to make us happy or keep us happy.  The problem is not that we find the cross and self-denial hard but that we would trade such difficulty for the fragile easy of amusement, distraction, self-indulgence, and desire satisfied.  It is precisely what happiness is that needs to change within us by the transformation of mind and heart under the direction of the Spirit.  It is precisely desire that needs to be challenged because it remains the enemy of contentment and peace and not the means of them.  

Don't choose a church that promises to make you happy today but cannot provide you with eternity and don't leave a church because you find life hard now and you want to find an easier way.  These are the devil's lies to which we are so susceptible.


jwskud said...

This excellent post should be "stickied" to the top of your blog permanently! I blame the false prosperity gospel for selling Christians the idea that being a Christian is easy, or fun, or happy. It is a daily suffering, but one which holds its ultimate hope in the surety of the resurrection.

Or, to put it more succinctly as a fellow Christian once told me: Life sucks, but then you die. :)

Janis Williams said...

And how, if one removes oneself from the fellowship of the Church, and stops confessing and being absolved is one to be comforted? We seem to desire comfort (to be comfortable) rather than to be comforted. Our God is the God of all Comfort. Which is better for the soul and body (one unit)? To be comfortable and never to have faced what Jesus promised us we would face as His baptized children, or to suffer for Christ’s sake that which He sends for our good? I don’t like the hardness of life, and I suffer from the added sin of complaint and cursing on top of that which is my lot. For these things I ask forgiveness and absolution. In the end, I pray God will make me thankful, which I would not be if I had never suffered.