For the first time in a long time I was angry in a worship service. Perhaps I was wound up by the fact that I am called to preach and therefore I would rather be preaching than hearing, as I was last Sunday. I need to learn to sit back.
However, I was angry and I think I was provoked. The preacher began well and spoke about the death and resurrection of Jesus and our need to repent and believe. This is the gospel and its call.
The preacher said he did not want to minimise the importance of this but…
Ah, a “but”. At this point he began to ask, What does this resurrection life look like? Now I started to get uncomfortable. His argument was that resurrection life consists of experiencing healing miracles. He concluded by urging people to seek this “resurrection life”.
The worst part of the sermon was a story he told about a person going to heaven and being shown around. Seeing some warehouses the person asked his guide what they were. “Those are full of the arms and legs that God wants to give the injured if only they would ask.”
I got angry. I almost stood up to remonstrate! I was agitated. My wife and daughter got agitated too.
Here is the problem: this kind of thinking has no place for suffering. It burdens the hearer with the weight of their lack of faith – it must be, otherwise they would be healed! It calls them to exercise the right kind of faith for something God has never promised. It plays on the suffering of people and only heightens it. This is no answer at all to the needs of man.
Maybe I have a lot to learn about this area – after all I am a cessationist by default. But it seems to me that everyone dies. It is something I have noticed. Which means that at some point, if we do not meet with some grizzly accident, something in our bodies fails irreversibly. How can one consistently believe that God will repair the damage “if only we ask”? It is a message of despair. A stick to beat people with.
The real problem which the Bible identifies is the sickness of our sin. That’s what needs to be healed or fixed. Jesus’ miracles were symbolic of his ability to deal with that problem, and they pointed to him as the answer that we need. He brings about a resurrection which is already, but not yet. We have it in part, inwardly, but not outwardly, as Paul expresses when considering the hardship of his own ministry in 2 Corinthians 4:16 –
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
So, in the meantime we live with suffering, looking forward to the glory to come.
As the preacher spoke on Sunday, I kept thinking about Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8-11,
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
In the end what matters is not that I get a better leg, or a straighter back. What matters is that I get Jesus Christ. What good are these other things if I don’t get him?