Christianity is pretty divided sometimes.
Whenever I talk about it I usually make sweeping generalizations saying something along the lines of “there seems to be two camps of thought” when a particular issue or scripture comes up. Truth be told, there’s probably more along the lines of a million camps, but that idea is a bit overwhelming to try and process so I simplify for myself.
One such set of “two camps” has been going at it in my subconscious for a few months now, if not years at this point are the “God exists to make you happy/God doesn’t exist to make you happy” camps.
In high school I was a hardcore “Psalm 37:4/Jeremiah 29:11” Christian. You know the type, and if you don’t, the short way to describe myself from that period is that I read the bible as a book about me, and my favorite verses talked mostly about how God was going to give me want I truly wanted out of life if I put Him first. I loved “plans to prosper me” and “abundant life”, and expectantly looked to the future where I was sure God would honor my ‘True Love Waits’ ring and give me a really hot husband who played guitar and looked like a young Adrian Greiner and wanted to have about 10 kids with me. All my decisions were more or less motivated by “honoring God”, but under the microscope of any scripture other than my hand chosen, semi out-of-context pluckings, somehow seemed to be fall pretty flat from a vibrant life following the Spirit.
The years went on and I came to realize there were a lot of other people that seemed to go by more or less the same thing. It wasn’t (and isn’t) uncommon to hear things about how coming to Jesus would better our lives and would result in living a more blessed life. I’m totally going to pull an overly-used card and cite the whole “Joel Osteen” type thing, but maybe that will more or less encompass it. It’s the sort of clean and shiny, all-American, all-Republican, orderly, blessed, “shaken-together-and-running over” affluence that was a result of good choices and a lot of naming, claiming, grabbing and bagging people who had all the best intentions and hearts once you talked to them.
I didn’t discover the other camp until about college, honestly. I could even go as far as to say that I didn’t truly immerse myself into it until I got a crash course in ‘Perspectives’, which can be briefly summarized as a jarring but clarifying revelation of how the Bible is a book about Jesus, where I am a supporting character and this idea that “missions exists because worship doesn’t”.
The second I realized the bible wasn’t written about me (though there are certainly passages that speak directly to me), I remember I felt a weight lift off my chest and could almost see all the pieces falling together in front of my eyes. I didn’t have to scan my bible for verses about me or to justify my feelings on issues–I could read it as an expose of God Almighty and who He is. Scriptures I’d never been able to explain in relation to myself suddenly were full of new meaning as I realized they were talking about Jesus, not about me. After years and years of reading the bible the same way, having a new perspective released me to actually understand it in its fullness. And it wasn’t about me, or about me having everything I wanted, or about how I deserved it because I could recite verses about plans to prosper me. It was about Jesus, his heart, his love for the nations, his personality, and yes, even his relationship with his people (hey, that’s me!). The entire thing made me feel strangely more valuable than ever, like I had a intimate secret with Him after years of trying to “get into the club” but somehow feeling like I was still missing it.
It was a wonderful time for me.
With this came the death of a lot of cliches in my life and vocabulary. With the belief that Jesus ultimately mattered more than me having what I felt I wanted out of life, I couldn’t bring myself to apply familiar phrases like ‘God wouldn’t let that happen to me’ or ‘God wouldn’t want this for me’ when I was faced with something uncomfortable in my life or my relationship with Him. Things about “if we’d only have enough faith” being our tickets out of things made me think of David Livingstone dying of dysentery in Zambia after years as a missionary, fervently serving the Lord. Would any of us dare say that he was living outside the will of God? Suddenly there was story after story of people serving Jesus with their lives who actually died on the mission field–people with faith greater than mine, or at least my estimation of my faith.
There were more than just missionary stories that ended in heartache and sickness (at least on a physical level). There were suddenly books on how marriage exists to make us holy, not happy. You better believe it was tough to kiss the years I’d believed “When God Writes Your Love Story” goodbye. I suddenly realized that God might ask something of me that made me uncomfortable or interrupted my own plans for my life, if it suited His plan.
And so this change grew in me. What started out as a relief to discover that my life as a Christian was about more than my comfort and a sexy instagram account and 401k subtly descended into a skepticism that God actually cared about me at all.
Fast forward to the now (read, a few weeks ago).
It’s been said that I’m an extremist, which is probably a pretty honest assumption about my character. If I’m in something, really about it, I’m 150% in and no one can change my mind.
All of these experiences, revelations, false assumptions and the ultimate annoyance at the “It’s all about Me” Christianity blended together into a massive cocktail of frustration that resulted in me rejecting actual passages of scripture because it might associate me with that which I’ve come to passionately renounce.
“Stephanie, you can’t ignore verses about my goodness and my love for you and my ability to work all things for good just because you feel other people abuse them. These passages are still true of me, and still true towards you. My ‘will’ may not be what you envisioned for yourself, but it will still be good things. You are allowed to believe that. When have you ever regretted my movement in your life when you were fully surrendered to me?”
Psalm 16 is a wonderful example of the Lord’s goodness towards David and has become something of an anthem for me in recent weeks.
2 I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!
Every good thing I have comes from you.”
Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
You guard all that is mine.
6 The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
What a wonderful inheritance!
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.
And context: David wrote this stuck in a cave hiding out from King Saul. Things really sucked for him on a human level at that point in his life. And yet, he was confident of the Lord and his inheritance. He believed God despite his circumstances and recognized that the ultimate prize of his life had never left him, because his inheritance was the Lord Himself.
So I guess you could say I’m neither/nor, both/and camps now. God doesn’t exist to make me happy, but my relationship to and with him contains great joy that isn’t dependent on the physical. And I’m learning to rest in the fact that God actually does have good things for me, and they may even be material blessings at different points of my life. Who am I to say how, when or to what extent God is able to bless me? But I never want to wield scriptures as some celestial “you owe me” flag, expectant of this or that specific raise or relationship or opportunity.
I just might hold on to it as a gentle reminder that Jesus is with me, and Jesus is working, and Jesus is supremely valuable and that is enough to make me to fill me with joy that surpasses what we call “happiness”.
“The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One. Many ordinary treasures may be denied him, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment of them will be so tempered that they will never be necessary to his happiness. Or if he must see them go, one after one, he will scarcely feel a sense of loss, for having the Source of all things he has in One all satisfaction, all pleasure, all delight. Whatever he may lose he has actually lost nothing, for he now has it all in One, and he has it purely, legitimately and forever.”
– A.W. Tozer