Brad King, a professor at Ball State, has started a “collaborative letter-writing project” called “Faith, Fully,” in which he is accepting letters from people of various faiths and worldviews across the nation to answer questions posed monthly by Brad. Both Josh Holowell, New Life’s church planting apprentice, and I have agreed to participate in the project. Some of the letters will eventually be chosen for inclusion in a book that “explores how Americans think about their own faith, or their own lack of religion.”
The second question posed by Brad was this: “What is the one aspect of your faith/belief system that troubles you the most?” The copy below is my response to this question, and I will plan to post my responses to future questions here. If you want to read the other letters received, go here.
There are many perplexing questions that accompany the Christian faith – How can God be good if there is so much evil in the world? What is the eternal state of people who have never heard about Jesus? If Christianity is true, what does this say about the claims of other religions?
I’ve thought a lot about those questions, and have come to a place of contentment with the answers I have found. What continues to bother me the most about my faith, however, is simply this: if the Christian Gospel is true, then it leads to a troubling conclusion: God can require of me anything he wants.
I will try to explain. If my salvation, or right standing before God, or forgiveness of sins, or promise of eternal life, or whatever you want to call it, is earned or secured by my good behavior or moral effort, then that would mean that salvation is rewarded to me by God as a kind of wage – something paid for services rendered. This would mean that after this transaction was finalized – after my work was finished, and my payment was received – then the deal would be considered finished and no more obligation would be expected.
But in Christianity, salvation is not a “deal.” Instead, it is something that God freely and sovereignly gives, always motivated by His grace (something in him, not in us), and never by any obligation that he might feel to compensate us for our goodness. Since God doesn’t owe me anything, and yet has giving me everything, that means he can require of me anything.
Like pretty much all of my thoughts, this is not original to me. I first heard it from a pastor/writer from New York City named Tim Keller. Maybe I can explain it better by using a negative corollary.
Sometimes people will get angry with God when trouble or tragedy comes to visit. They might not articulate it exactly like this, but at the heart of the anger is a sentiment something like this: “I’ve been obeying you all my life God, and you have the nerve to give me cancer?” Or, “I’m one of the compassionate people, God – so how can you keep me single all my life?” The controlling idea is this – “Because I’ve been good, God, now you owe me. By sending trouble, you’re not holding up your end of the deal.”
But again, Christianity is not a deal. The essence of Christianity is grace, and personally, I believe myself to be a recipient of that grace – not because I’m good, or religious, or moral, but because God looked upon me in favor and sent Jesus to die for me. Now I enjoy forgiveness of my sins, removal of all my shame, affirmation from my Creator, acceptance into his family, power to enact real change in my life, and the hope of a fully perfected future new earth. All of this given to me by grace – unmerited, undeserved, and unexpected. That means God doesn’t owe me – I owe him. And he can require of my anything.
Some say that God won’t give you anything you can’t handle. I don’t believe that. I think he often gives what we can’t handle, so that we will find him fully sufficient to handle what we can’t. Maybe the exposure of my own weakness and vulnerability is what I fear the most.
So, sometimes I wonder – what will God require of me, and will I be able to handle it? Will I be able to stand up under the pressure? Or will I turn to God and curse him to his face?
In the Bible there is the story of a man named Job. He has gone down into history as the quintessential sufferer, one who endured pain and grief of the worst kind. As he sat in ashes, scraping sores on his body with a broken piece of pottery, his wife said to him: “Curse God and die.” Realizing the foolishness of this counsel, Job responded: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).
It’s easy to give God praise and thanks when things are going well. I just hope I will give him the same thanks when things aren’t so good.