Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hope and Church

I often think about where I am now compared to a year ago.  December 11, 2009 I was told, in effect, that my career was over.  I was numb, angry, sad, confused, scared, afraid, embarrassed.  What would I tell Beth?  “We should have stayed in Toledo.“ “I made another mistake, thus one very costly.”  “I don’t know where we will be living or what I will be doing seven months from now.”  “Are you ready to start over with just about nothing?”  I had no hope for a good future.  Hope, for me, is confident expectation.  It is a strong belief for something to come that you don’t now have very good reason to believe will take place.  Others would assure me with what at the time felt like pious platitudes.  “God is going to take what feels to you like a low inside pitch and knock it out of the ball park.”  You cannot now see the good future God has for you.”  “All things work together for good to those who love God” (maybe true enough, but I felt like I wasn’t one of those).  “God has great plans for you that exceed your expectations.”  “You have so many good qualities that you will land on your feet in a better situation.”  I didn’t much believe any of it.

But I think there were a lot of folks who had belief, hope, and trust for me.  They probably too had lots of good wishes.  Good wishes do not often come true.  For me, right now, it feels like they have.  I am glad I can’t take credit for having enough faith, hope, and trust that they would.  I am glad that I can say it was others’ hope, trust, and faith that made the difference.  Or maybe it wasn’t.  Maybe it was just God’s good pleasure.  If it were my faith and hope, I could then tell others just to have faith and keep hope.  And if things do not work out well for them, they could blame themselves for lacking faith and hope.  Think of all the folks who have faith, hope, and trust that something bad will change for the good.  And as best as anyone can see, it doesn’t.  I would like to be the last one who might blame them for lack of faith, hope, and trust.

Even though I am mostly a Calvinist as far as deep theological issues go, so that I am supposed to agree with the whole sovereignty of God thing, deep down it is one doctrine I doubt.  On the sovereignty doctrine, God is in control of everything; not one hair of your head can fall without your Father in Heaven willing it.  I doubt it.  For if I were to believe it, I’d have to think that my losing my job at Bethel, that Aunt Nancy getting cancer, that all awful things happen with my Father in Heaven willing it.  No, I don’t accept the sovereignty of God in that sense.  But I do accept something like the supremacy of God.  I think there is an infection, a defect, in all of life.  However it got here (Satan, the human rebellion against God, the natural less-than-God nature of a created world), it is here.  I genuinely believe that there are some, indeed many things that happen outside of God’s will, things that even make God sad.  Things where even God thinks “that is awful, things shouldn’t happen like that, people shouldn’t treat each other like that.”  I think deeply of God as a Father.  A good father wants best for his spouse and children.  But a father can’t control it all.  Bad things happen, and the father is in a deep funk, crushed with sadness because he can’t fix it.  But where God is different, and here is my view of God’s supremacy, is that God is not only like a father, he is like the World Master Chess player.  Give Him any move, and he can make the right next move.  The hair from your head may fall without your Father in Heaven willing it.  But He knows it fell, and knows how to do something about it if something needs to be done about it.

No, I don’t think God willed the loss of my job at the Christian college where I was teaching, with all the negative consequences of that, like now having to live 650 miles away from my sweet children, like being at $0 equity after paying on houses for 25 years.  I really think God was saddened by what happened to me.  Am I sure? Do I think God cares enough about even me that when a bad thing happens to me He is at all bothered by it?  Yes, I think so.  And God, the Master Chess Player, thinks, okay, here is my next move.  You got a bad deal.  Surprise, surprise, even Christians treat each other like shit often enough.  It is not you, particularly; it is just that Christians (and aren’t you one of them, Eric?) don’t have the best track record of treating other people, fellow Christians included, the way they ought to be treated.  Things were not the way they were supposed to be.  Of course, you are far from perfect, not often even very good.  But you belong to Me (thinks God), you are my child, and I am going to find or make a gift for you.  I am going to surprise you.  And when you get the gift, don’t forget where it came from.  Don’t waste it.  Have hope, faith, and trust, at least a bit more than a year ago, and learn how to encourage others to hope, believe, and have trust.

For me too, it is one of the reasons that I have to attach myself to a local Christian community, a church.  I do this eyes wide open.  I know they are not perfect.  I know this intimately because I know I am far from perfect and I am one of them!  I attach myself to a church because I often, very often need others to have faith, hope, and trust for me.  While I don’t welcome it, I suppose I need their pious platitudes.  It turns out that some of them are just fucking true.

Last week my son was in town (from 650 miles away).  While here he took a 100 mile trip to another town where a friend of his from grade and high school days lives.  Late in the day, they came here.  They were friends from about eight years old.  They got in trouble together, caused trouble together, probably did enough bad stuff to almost get themselves killed.  But they are survivors.  They went to a Christian school.  Had seriously Christian parents, went to a seriously Christian church.  And they both fucked up a bit.  And survived.  We went to a restaurant for a little to eat, and to have a few beers together.  Holy cripes! $5 for a beer.  Okay, calm down, they were draft, Sam Adams—so fashionable—a winter wheat, and large 24 ounce glasses.  They told stories, most of which I had not heard before and would not have been privy to as a parent when they were in their teens.  I felt privileged to be allowed into their lives, to be told some of their exploits.  I am glad they both had parents who would take the risk to give their children freedoms to make mistakes, to do stupid stuff, hoping that they would have enough sense to step off the ice if it started to crack.  We talked.  They are both sour on churches, in my estimation because they expect church-goers to be so much better than they themselves are.  I understand that.  Many rail against the disreputable and hypocritical church folks.  If hypocrisy were our only fault, we’d be doing pretty well.  It turns out that us church-goers say mean things to those closest to us, eat too much, waste too much time on wasteful and stupid activities, fritter our lives away in trivialities, are also liars, cheats, drunkards, drug abusers, malicious, deceivers, spiteful, trying to be independent and autonomous while yet lacking basic self-control.  We are a whole lot worse than just hypocrites.  The sooner my son and his friend find that out, and just decide to get together with a bunch of other fuck-ups to try their best to worship God, to support each other, to share in their trials and successes, the better off they will be.  When there is no good reason for them to hope for a good future, there will be others to have hope for them.

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