Sunday, October 5, 2008

Smiling Evangelicals

Everybody knows a smiling evangelical who talks about how "I found Jesus and he came into my life." They are bubbling over with excitement and enthusiasm. They may talk about the transformative power of God and how he improves lives and makes you feel happy and joyful. It is a common liturgical practice in many reformed churches to throw your hands in the sky, look heavenward as if receiving a divine message during the guitar solo of the hymn "My God is an Awesome God." The tears of joy flow with out cessation during some worship services. While this may be pious and laudable - it can be misleading of the Christian life.

Some theologians suggest the notion of progressive sanctification, where one is made holier through day to day living. Where one somehow becomes "more spiritual" more "in tune" with God. This understanding would elevate one's free will to synchronize with Christ's and to hurl one's self heavenward.

Yet, in Baptism, even as an infant we reach a dead end of holiness questing and receive all that God grants - eternal life and salvation. In this way we cannot transcend past our baptisms. We can only "return" to them.

As this life is concerned, suffering or the latin tentatio is all that is promised from our heavenly Father. This is not to show disfavor toward his creation but only confirmation of his love as Saint Paul writes, "For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives" (Hebrews 12:6). Trial and tribulation strengthens faith.

Regarding the error of confusing the Gospel for perpetual happiness, Martin Luther writes to his Father John Luther on his death bed, "This life, cursed by sin is nothing but a vail of tears. The longer a man lives, the more sin and wickedness and plague and sorrow he sees and feels. Nor is there respite or cessation this side of the grave" (Feb. 14, 1530).

Suffering is good. The Christian life ought not be seen as a euphoric and blissful ride. All smiles and false cheerfulness is too much work. Suffering served God's plan for us and we ought to bear our crosses with prayer and vigilance.

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