I’ve ranted before and will certainly rant again about how pointless it is to try to give people a hard-sell about Jesus. Because if you have to push him that hard to people, those people aren’t ready for him. But along with that particular misstep that so many Christians make, there is perhaps an even more terrible thing done to folks in the name of conversion and salvation, because it is so very insidious: Telling them that God will fix everything.
Being born again is a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong. Even when you factor out the peace of mind that your soul is going someplace worthwhile for eternity, there is the very real comfort of being able to call upon God in times of trouble, and being able to find peace and strength in doing so.
But that doesn’t mean God is going to bail you out of all the crap life hands out.
Reading passages in the Bible about how God rewards fervent prayer and how we can ask anything in Jesus’ name and mindlessly parroting those words to non-Christians and new believers—or even to people who’ve been in Christ a while—is just wrong. Too often, people are promised a perfect rose garden, and they often get mostly thorns. And when they complain, they are told they didn’t pray enough or are praying for selfish things or that maybe they aren’t really in God’s grace and the depths of Hell still await them.
God doesn’t just go around, or send His angels out, to make sure our lives are smooth paths. No one learns much of anything or grows into maturity if their parents pay for all their problems to go away and give them endless gifts for no particular reason. The sad fact is that some people will draw the short straw in life and get a bunch of bad stuff. God may be interested in everything that we do, but He’s not a micromanager. He can and will allow events in our lives to play out, sometimes allowing bad things to happen to good people.
That’s because we live in a world that, quite frankly, we messed up. God can deliver people from their problems, but when He does, it is usually in subtle ways and usually over time, and by working through other people. Rarely is He just going to wave His hand and make your problems disappear.
And despite the fact that God is a great source of strength for us, we don’t always ask for Him to grant us that strength, and sometimes, when we do, what we’re really looking for is complete relief from our responsibilities or the pains and scars we sometimes need. He can give us relief, but that doesn’t mean He will always take away our pains. Diminish them, yes. Give us the ability not to be utterly crushed, sure. But be our panacea? No way.
The faith walk is a battlefield. We are in a war, make no mistake. And to think that a walk in faith will always be pretty is short-sighted. It’s about making the right choices and being in something for the long-term gains and the personal growth and the ability to help others.
When Christians highlight only the good stuff or when pastors preach about blessings and rewards and prosperity without regard for the realities of life, many believers are left in a bind. They have been told that God will deliver them from everything, and they assume that means He will deliver them from everything in this world, and when He doesn’t, they lose faith.
To guide someone to Christ by only painting the bright and happy picture is, frankly, deceptive. It’s not an honest way to help people find salvation. Failing to prepare people for the travails of being Christian is neglectful. You don’t adequately equip someone to put on the whole armor of God. Letting people think that no harm can come to them is madness. People die, some sicknesses drag on, jobs are lost, children become runaways, and so on and so on and so on.
The world is not always—or even often—a pretty place. That’s one of many reasons why we are not supposed to be of the world, even though we are required to be in it for some time.
We need to deal with people straight early on when they express an interest in Christ so that they don’t develop false expectations that faith always equals comfort. We need more pastors to talk about how to survive the battles now and not just how to cash in on the victory in the end.
In real life, we can strip roses of their thorns at the florist shop. We can admire the roses in gardens without having to touch them. But in life, the metaphorical roses are all around us, and they are wild and uncultivated. Christian or not, we are surrounded by gorgeous colors but also wicked briars, and we are going to be cut sometimes.