“A theology of glory almost always, inevitably, comes down to something YOU can do to help improve your situation. “God’s got a plan” nearly always segues into, “…and you just need to…” Pray more. Believe more strongly. Learn to accept it. Focus on others. Be more satisfied with God. I propose that we do not have as much influence over our life as we often like to think. Sometimes a solution may come from our own striving and the assistance of others, as with cases of addiction. But when the cure is beyond the reach of human effort, were only hurting people to point them there, because now their ongoing pain is also a consequence of their failure. Let’s add some guilt to the equation, shall we?”
– Miguel Ruiz, via http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/miguel-ruiz-god-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-death
When I was involved in Evangelism at the church we attended, the Pastor brought in a famous Evangelist to train people to do personal Evangelism. You memorized a script. It’s a good thing to have a memorized script to fall back on in the beginning, but this one always bothered me. It started out “God has a wonderful plan for your life”.
Now please understand, from Gods point of view, His plan is wonderful because…it’s His plan and He is wonderful.
As I reflect back on those days, I groan a little. I spent a year or more leading teams into the homeless district in Chattanooga, handing out sack lunches, lemonade, and hot chocolate. That’s not what makes me groan. Neither is it the sharing of the glorious Good News of the Gospel.
No, what makes me cringe is that opening line “God has a wonderful plan for your life”. Consider the context. We were ministering to people who had nothing. Most had either lost everything they owned through a series of terrible occurrences, substance abuse, or psychological problems. From their point of view, God’s plan was not so wonderful for them at the moment. I’m actually surprised someone didn’t give that reply, but most folk in the south still retain a crumb of nicety.
I like what this article says about the Theology of Glory, and the Theology of the Cross.
“You see, when pointing a person who is suffering to God’s “plan,” you are appealing to His sovereignty for good news at a time when it seems most responsible for bad news. This is what Lutherans call a “theology of glory.” God is good, God is all powerful, cling to this and know that His benevolence will win out in the end. However, pointing to God’s sovereignty as a source of comfort places His goodness on trial. He allowed this into my life. The world is cursed by Him because of sin.”
It’s a question of theodicy, or why a good God would allow suffering and evil. It was Joh Stuart Mills who proposed the difficult question:
“If God is omnipotent and allows all this suffering, then he is not benevolent, he is not a kindhearted God, he is not loving. And if he’s loving to the whole world and allows all this suffering, then he’s certainly not omnipotent. And given the fact of evil, or the fact of suffering, we can never conclude that God is both omnipotent and benevolent.”
Now that’s a question for another post. What I’m trying to point out is that when we point out God’s sovereignty to people in the midst of their suffering, without emphasizing that He is good, and that He suffers along with us, then our God comes across cruel and aloof from people’s suffering.
Ruiz continues “What then can we say? How do we comfort the broken? I suggest that the encouragement Christians give be something that can only come from Christian faith. I’m talking about the “theology of the cross.”
Martin Luther, in the Heidleburg Disputation, said: “He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” A potentially benevolent Almighty is simply not a Christian encouragement. A Muslim could say that. It is Christ-less, it is cross-less.”
Talk is cheap. Only Christ, as second Person of the Trinity, took on flesh and walked as one of us miserable humans. Only Christianity can say that.
“When the troubles of life threaten to undo us, Christians can cling with hope to the cross of Christ. Here, and here alone, we see who God truly is for us. And this sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, God-forsaken man is Emmanuel: God with us.”
God with us. No promises of a great “plan”, that if you follow, and cross all of your t’s and dot your i’s, that it will will bring you health, wealth, and 2.3 kids in this life. No burden of “if you have enough faith, success and happiness can be yours.” Those are the false hopes of a theology of glory.
Would you have felt good telling Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane “Don’t worry, it’s just three days, you’ll be back and it’ll all be better.” Somehow, I just don’t think that makes the pain of Calvary any less significant. Jesus knew He was rising again. He still felt forsaken. By God. He cried out in anguish. “Hang in there, Jesus!” Uh-huh.”
Just remember, it is in weakness and suffering that Christ comes to us. Yes, He is Sovereign, and at another time that would be an appropriate setting for that conversation. But not when someone is in the midst of suffering.
As Ruiz puts it “I understand that for many, a pat on the back and a reminder that God is bigger than their problems is all the encouragement they need to soldier on. But if these problems don’t then go away soon, the silent sovereignty of God looms over them like a threat. It is not in His power (glory) that God comes to save us: It is His weakness (the cross) – where He identifies with our frailty and mortality – that is our salvation, strength, and comfort. We cannot truly see the goodness of God and His love for us apart from the cross, and our hope must not be set on any pretense of positive payoff in this life. Christ does not promise us the instant resolution answers we so often seek; rather, by His death He has won for all believers forgiveness, life, and salvation; a peace that the world cannot give or understand. May these be ever with us as we plod through this vale of tears.”
Remember that when you’re with people in the midst of suffering and you catch yourself about to say “but God has a wonderful plan for your life”.
Speak of the love of Christ in the midst of suffering. That’s the theology of the Cross.
The quotes and inspiration of this post come from http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/miguel-ruiz-god-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-death
simul iustus et peccator,