Monday, January 30, 2012

Christian Buddhism

I read an interesting book a few years back by (I think it was) John MacArthur.  In one of its chapters, he exposes something he calls 'Christian Buddhism.' That is, the idea that suffering is redemptive, that it produces some sort of higher spiritual plane and makes us more like the divine. Sounds to me like an elaborate justification for masochism.  Or (if you're into church history) self-flagellation.

I can hear you now - "Hey, wait a minute!  Suffering IS good for us!"  If you grew up in the church, you've heard that message all your life, quite probably:  God allows things to happen in our lives to grow us up, to chip away the excess, to burn away the dross, to make us more like Jesus.  Yes, I have been taught that all my life too.  

I wonder if it's really all that scriptural.  I mean, how loving a God would He be if He caused some innocent girl's relative to sexually abuse her just so that God could ensure that she could grow as an individual at some later point in her life?   

Bad things do happen to people.  All people.  And some of us certainly have more than what we'd consider a fair share of trouble.  Does God cause it?  I don't think so.  Not from what I know of Him.  Does God enjoy it?  Again - No.  He's not the kind of person who gets his jollies out of watching people suffer.  He loves us.  Does He allow suffering?  Maybe - but only in the sense that He values human free will so much that He allows us to make choices, even if those choices are against Him and what He wants for us. Once we make those choices, the law of the harvest kicks in - you reap what you sow - and consequences begin to happen: consequences which are not desirable.

When we choose Him, however, we initiate a feedback loop of blessing that perpetuates itself.  Sure, some people may not like our choice, and they may make life difficult for us.  Christians the world over face this kind of thing to varying degrees.  But always, the face (the favour) of God is shining upon us.  And usually, even though we've chosen Him, it doesn't negate the law of the harvest.  People who've fried their brains on acid usually don't get instantly healed when they become Christians.  They just become redeemed acid-heads.  Sometimes that's just scary for folks who have never been exposed to that sort of thing.  But it's not God's "fault." 

I don't have all the answers.  I don't know why some things happen and others don't. That's because I'm not God... but I also seriously doubt the validity of the idea that suffering is good for us.  If suffering is good for the human spirit - then bleeding must be good for the veins.

I'm more inclined to think that suffering is the natural consequence of human beings' bad choices - whether our own or - unfortunately - someone else's. Blaming God for that ... is kind of like blaming the Tylenol company for some disgruntled employee putting poison in the pills back in the 1980s.  It wasn't Tylenol's fault that someone decided to sabotage the company - whether they decided to kill people or not.  It was the fault of the person who chose to do the deed.  Lessons learned from suffering can also be instructive - such as in the development of sealed packaging after the Tylenol scare, a standard in the industry today.  

But I also believe that suffering can be an opportunity for God to speak to us, for others to be His hands extended to us to remind us of His love.  It is the LOVE that is redemptive.  Not the suffering.  The suffering might make us a little more receptive to receive love, because we are suddenly AWARE that we need it so much, we are hurting, and we are asking honest and searching questions.  But it is the love (and God is love) that heals.  

I can think of one incident that occurred just recently where a terrible tragedy happened to a young woman and her three friends on a late-night road trip - this guy ran their car off the road, shot them all, and then shot himself.  Only the young woman survived.  It was a heinous act of violence and there is absolutely no way that the suffering in the lives of those left behind could be good.  No way could anyone convince me that God intended for this to happen. It was the choice of that young man to do what he did. And even that was the result of a whole lot of choices that led up to that point, either by himself or by people and situations that presented themselves in his life. 

But the outpouring of love and generosity that has been lavished on this young survivor, her family, and the families of all FOUR of the young people whose lives were snuffed out that night - love and generosity shown sometimes by complete strangers - has been nothing short of miraculous.  

As well, contrary to the popular belief that God is the ultimate fun-sucker, I believe that God intends for us to enjoy our lives, one day, even one moment at a time, the way HE does.  Liberated from the encumbrances of yesterday and tomorrow, we are free in Him to live joyful lives.  When bad things happen, we feel those feelings too - when we are honest, we can really let the light of Jesus shine through our lives, through the cracks in our spirits, letting His love and goodness shine through from the inside out. On the other hand, "putting up with it" or seeing a circumstance that happens to everyone - or worse yet, a difficult-to-deal-with person in our lives as "our cross to bear" for the promise of some future reward ... is out-and-out dysfunctional. (I'll save the Biblical "cross to bear" analogy for another time, but suffice to say that it doesn't mean what most religious folks seem to think it does.)   That kind of uneasy, put-upon, self-pitying fatalism can turn us into self-righteous, whining martyrs and victims - and drive the unbelievers away in droves!  

So what DOES draw a spiritual seeker to God?  Well, if experience teaches anything, it teaches that life itself carries with it its own set of special lessons.  As I mentioned before, good and bad things happen to all people; Christians aren't exempt from bad things happening and unbelievers aren't prohibited from good things happening.  Our spiritual lives, which flow from our relationship with God, produce reactions to those events in our lives: reactions that are based on our life-focus.  Whether the events are pleasant or unpleasant, our reactions will determine others' opinions of what - or Who - we represent.  

It's a fact of life, whether we like it or not, that we (who are imperfect) are ambassadors for Christ (who is perfect.) If our lives point to Him, if we live in the power of His Spirit, if He is the central hinge-pin of our lives, then we needn't be concerned with what others think.  We'll live in the moment, dependent on His guidance, and come what may - whether good or bad, we'll be aware of this one, piercing promise He made: "I will never leave you or forsake you."

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