Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

When we travel to my parents' home in southeastern Missouri, we pass this sign in a front yard:


Recently, I was traveling in central Florida and came across this billboard:


It reads, "Lonely? Confused? Angry? Depressed? Jesus is Still the Answer."

When I was driving to church recently, I spotted a vanity plate with the words, "Try Him."

I suppose the purpose for these signs is evangelistic. They offer Jesus as the solver of emotional, financial, health-related and other needs. But that is not how the Scriptures present Jesus. His suffering and death on the cross were not to keep us from being lonely, not to eliminate our confusion, not to keep us from getting angry, and surely not to keep us from being depressed. These signs proclaim a false Gospel, that of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a term coined by Christian Smith. He, along with Melinda Lundquist Denton, researched the spiritual lives of U.S. teenagers for a book they co-authored. They listed five creeds of the religion:
  1. A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about one-self.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Damon Linker, in an article for the New Republic, writes:
Theologically speaking, this watered-down, anemic, insipid form of Judeo-Christianity is pretty repulsive. But politically speaking, it's perfect: thoroughly anodyne, inoffensive, tolerant. And that makes it perfectly suited to serve as the civil religion of the highly differentiated twenty-first century United States.
Al Mohler, in an article for the Christian Post, states:
Smith and his colleagues recognize that the deity behind Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers. This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy.

This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.
In an article for his blog, Mohler notes:
…the God in whom many of these teenagers believe bears virtually no resemblance to the God of the Bible.
Gene Edward Veith, in an article for World Magazine, writes:
It is not just teenagers who are moralistic therapeutic deists. This describes the beliefs of many adults too, and even what is taught in many supposedly evangelical churches.
Lane Chaplin concludes a blog post with:
…we've effectively proven that the 5 points of Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism, are not only not taught in Scripture, they are the antithesis of Scripture.
Clearly this new religion is a man-centered religion, as opposed to the God-centered religion of the Scriptures. The message of the Bible is that Jesus suffered the eternal wrath of God for those sinners upon whom God had chosen to lavish his grace.
Ephesians 1:3-10
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Jesus' purpose in suffering the separation from God that he endured on the cross was not to solve people's emotional problems. The Scripture makes no promise that believers will be emotionally healthy people. A brief look at four individuals will not only show their emotional struggle, but will also show the blessings they received as a result of that struggle.

King David is a perfect example of a man with serious emotional issues. You don't have to read very far in the Psalms to see that he was a man who frequently found himself in deep emotional distress.

In Psalm 13 he writes:
1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
The first 21 verses of Psalm 22 are an anguished cry to God where David begs not to be forsaken by Him. In verse 14 we hear the cry of a depressed and lonely individual:
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast…
Job is a man who is spoken of as: "…blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil" (Job 1:1). Not only did Job lose all of his material wealth, but he also lost all of his children, when the house they were in collapsed upon them. I cannot begin to imagine his heartache over his loss!

John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim's Progress, was imprisoned for 12 years for the crime of preaching. In the account of his life, recorded in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, he writes of his emotional turmoil:
327. But notwithstanding these helps, I found myself a man and compassed with infirmities; the parting with my wife and poor children, hath often been to me in this place, as the pulling the flesh from the bones, and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family was like to meet with, should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all besides: Oh! the thoughts of the hardship I thought my poor blind one might go under, would break my heart to pieces.

328. Poor child! thought I, what sorrow art thou like to have for thy portion in this world! Thou must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand calamities, though I cannot now endure the wind should blow upon thee. But yet recalling myself, thought I, I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you: Oh! I saw in this condition I was as a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his wife and children; yet, thought I, I must do it, I must do it: and now I thought on those two milch kine that were to carry the ark of God into another country, and to leave their calves behind them.
1 Samuel 6:10-12.
Michael Patton recently posted an article on his blog titled, "Uncle, Lord!" He begins by writing: "God is really starting to get on my nerves." The entire post is about loneliness, confusion, anger, and depression.

As we noted earlier, Jesus came to satisfy the wrath of God for sinners. Man comes to Jesus in repentance and faith, seeking a savior. Evangelistic outreach that concentrates on that as its message, offers hope for sinners. Though there is no guarantee in Scripture that one's emotional struggles will be eliminated, the process of maturing in faith should lessen the impact of those struggles for a believer. In the case of the men spoken of above, the testimony each one gives is how much closer they cling to the Lord as a result of their struggle.

In the final 10 verses of Psalm 22, David rejoices that God does not despise the suffering of those who love Him. In Job 42:1-6, we observe that when Job saw God for who He was, Job saw himself for whom he was, and came to repentance. Bunyan, in the closing section of his account, speaks of the comfort that came as a direct result of his struggle:
339. Now was my heart full of comfort; for I hoped it was sincere: I would not have been without this trial for much; I am comforted every time I think of it, and I hope I shall bless God for ever, for the teaching I have had by it. Many more of the dealings towards me I might relate, But these out of the spoils won in battle I have dedicated to maintain the house of God. 1 Chronicles 26:27.
Patton ends his article with thankfulness for his struggle:
But, know this: I am broken before the Lord. Cracked, bruised, and sometimes crying inside, I have the joy of insufficiency. I have the confidence of inadequacy. I have the hope of lacking in everything.

I suppose there is no better place to be. Broken before the Lord. Like a child in the womb of a mother, I am in his womb. No viability on my own. I have no reason to rise up before him and salute myself. He sees to that.

How much worse would it be if I had the ease that I waste my time and energy longing for? How much worse it would be were I to wave my white flag and life cease to fire. Would I stay at his side? Probably not.
How many believers have been encouraged in their personal struggle by reading the Psalms, by reading Job, by reading Pilgrim's Progress, and now by reading Patton's article? Jesus doesn't take our problems away if we "try" him. No, He provides grace and mercy for us to go through the problems, and thus be an encouragement to those who will follow us. These are the results of coming to Christ in repentance and faith, and this is a message worth sharing.

All scripture quotations are English Standard Version
unless otherwise noted.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009