I’ve just finished reading Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. Reading about his various trials made me think of what our comment as Christians would be to him. I think a lot of us would tell Mr. Copperfield that the answer to his life’s woes is to become a Christian. Now I do agree of course that we should want and encourage everybody to know Christ, but I think we tend to sell that by making promises that God doesn’t make. We have a theology that says God will give us all sorts of blessings, and it implies – if not states outright – that when bad things happen it’s because we’ve stepped out from God’s covering or we’re being attacked by the devil.
I think of the great hymn Amazing Grace. Growing up I learned it with four verses; I discovered later that there are actually seven although (I’ve observed recently) only three verses generally get sung now. We are comfortable with the opening verse that talks about our salvation and we like that grace has relieved our fears in the second verse (although I could argue that we don’t always understand the depth of the verse), and we find solace in the final verse where we are singing God’s praises forever. The one that we tend to leave out is the third verse.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
I think the idea that God brings us through dangers, toils and snares runs counter to the popular theology that He saves us from these things. We talk about Jesus calming the storm as if He promised to calm the storm in our lives, but He makes no such promise (the point of the story being to confirm His status as divine). Indeed, the second storm that He calms finds Him asleep in the boat and when He is woken by the disciples He does so with a word of disappointment towards them.
If we look through the Bible we don’t see a God that makes the lives of His people better temporally. The best summary of the lives of the Old Testament saints is the great chapter of faith in Hebrews 11, and indeed we see God do some amazing things through the lives of the saints. As a conclusion the writer says
“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword,
were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.” (Hebrews 11:32-35a)
If the text stopped at this point we would definitely have a case for God giving us a wonderful temporal life but it doesn’t. Instead it goes on to say
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:35b-38)
Not exactly The Blessed Life is it. So, what is the point of becoming a Christian? What’s the big sell? Jesus Himself says in Matthew 5:45 that God makes the sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust, so He Himself indicates that the status of our lives here on earth is not governed by our piety or religiosity. Fortunately, Hebrews 11 does not end there but goes on to imply something greater.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)
What is the point? Ultimately, as Hebrews says, God is providing something better for us. That better thing is eternal life in the presence of our glorious Creator where we will see Him as He is and worship Him forever more. 1 Corinthians 13:12 describes us as seeing God through a mirror dimly. We are currently limited by our humanity and our sin but one day we will see Him face to face and we shall comprehend fully that He is our great reward and that the greatest thing to be pursued is to know Him and be known by Him. On that day we will truly see our life in a new light and see that the various dangers, toils and snares that God has brought us through to be insignificant when compared to the great Joy of being in the presence of our Lord.
This post comes from Ben Smith, who shares a deep conviction of Scripture as the infallible counsel of God, and that aided by the Holy Spirit we can arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches as a whole.