CLEARING THE WAY
Let's begin by ridding ourselves of a common fault: craving simple answers. Our generation is plagued by a loathing of the complex. Everywhere people are looking for an absolute formula, a clear rule, a plain solution of life's enigmas. Politicians campaign by promising absurdly facile remedies for enormously difficult problems. They offer slogans for substance. Electoral oblivion is sure to swallow any man or woman who in good conscience tries to be honest with the public. People prefer a spinner of fairy tales. No one wants to hear about the hard and hurtful surgery our ailing society really needs.
The church, too, is full of timorous simplifiers; lovers of micro-wave Christianity who want every answer to be quick and easy. How thirsty these recipe-lovers are for delusion! How readily they reduce God to a platitude, insisting that all darkness become light, and all mysteries plain! Bewildered by complexity, distrusting ambiguity, afraid of awkwardness, terrified by uncertainty - these undaring saints, yearning to banish every shadow from life, eagerly snatch at any glib palliative..
Yet how can I criticize them? Am I not pushed by the same urge? Indeed, we all possess something of this ingrained reluctance to confront the harshness, the unfairness, that insistently clamours for our attention. As T. S. Eliot said: "Human kind cannot bear very much reality." Were we to keep our eyes fully open, laughter would vanish from our days. If we did not block our ears, weeping would embitter every hour. Who could endure an unbroken contact with ugly injustice? Who could suffer without lull the cries of the hungry, the homeless, the tortured, the damned? So we allow ourselves to see and hear only a little, otherwise every hour would be a haunted nightmare, an intolerable burden of misery.
Yet in these days of mass communication, reality is much harder to escape. Our forefathers rarely had to cope with tragedies any larger than those found in a single village or a small farming community. But we are confronted every day with images of mass terror, of multitudes of people devastated by all the ills that plague mankind. We were not built to withstand sorrow on such a monstrous scale –
"Open any volume of modern history, and the blood of innocents pours onto your hands. From government policies of starvation to countless varieties of religious wars, the 20th century is one huge Domesday Book, a catalogue of horrors so vast that numbers lose human meaning. One death is a tragedy; millions of deaths are a statistic, to be deplored, then filed away as nightmares beyond comprehension. The atrocities nag at our conscience, finally numbing it. Amnesia seems the only solace."
So we blind our eyes; we dull our hearing; we learn to forget quickly; we stifle our compassion; and we go searching for an easy answer. That is why, when Doug Marlette was asked, "Do people really want TV evangelists?" he replied –
"Yes. People want TV evangelists. They want gurus and answer people. They want simple solutions. They do not want ambiguity, and they do not want freedom, and they don't want a cross. They want someone else doing things for them."
THE GOD OF THE "BREAK-THROUGH"
But those "simple solutions" continue to elude us. The world refuses to respect our prejudice; it daily assaults us with its ugly reality. So we find that we must see and hear, we cannot turn away, there is no place to hide. This drives us to develop other evasive tactics, among which the most common is an attempt to rationalize the providence of God, to link every happening to some axiom of divine government, to restrict God to a set of human rules. So we decide for ourselves what the Lord will allow, and what he will prevent; we imagine that we know just what God will do and what he will not do. We demand a tidy God who does predictable things in a well-ordered world. "Perhaps this thing may happen to me," we say to ourselves, "but that one never will!"
But the Lord God laughs at our folly. He refuses to be enslaved by our pretensions. How silly to suppose that any earthly framework could ever limit the Glorious Creator, or that his ways and wisdom could be any more than dimly perceived by a human mind!
Instead, God compels us to share David's long-ago discovery that the King of Israel is "Baal-Perrizim", the Lord-Who-Breaks-Out-Upon his people. He breeches the wall! No one can lock him into a neat little scheme. He casts off the flimsy shackles wrought by our dogmas! He does whatever he pleases in heaven and on earth! Astonishing us with innovation, confounding us with change, the Lord sternly trashes our logical theories and our comfortable programmes.
Why do we even try to handcuff the God of infinite variety to a single pattern? Can the Source of all Wisdom be obliged to seek the approval of acolytes? Can the Father of a thousand cultures be compelled to applaud only the mores of one people? How fatuous to imagine that the way of one nation or of one church, of one family or of one person, of one civilisation or of one society, is alone correct! How myopic to suppose that our view of the world is the only one approved by the Lord God!
Since we cannot padlock the Father behind the iron bars of human dogma, why not surrender now to the inevitability both of perplexity and surprise? Some things we see clearly, some darkly, and through it all our God weaves a golden thread of delightful serendipity!
TRUTH HAS TWO SIDES
A final comment, before you turn to the First Fallacy. Both in scripture and in life there is an inescapable tension between the two sides of every truth. Thus the Bible contains a message of prosperity, but also one of poverty; of happiness, but also of tears; of triumph, but also of defeat. The art of Christian living is knowing each day on which side of the truth to stand; or, more bluntly, knowing when to change your mind! Indeed, every sensible person knows that it is quite possible to keep together several apparently contradictory opinions –
"The test of a first-class intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
This paradox is merely a reflection of the general untidiness and ambiguity of all human experience. That is why the most dangerous people in the world are those with a single-minded obsession that blinds them to all other possibilities. But most ordinary people find themselves well able to look at things from several different viewpoints. Hence they are prone to shift from one opinion on a matter to another, depending upon what is presently influencing them.
Therefore I follow Paul's example. Today you might find me enjoying the abundance of the Lord, while tomorrow you would hear me welcome abasement in Christ. Today, by a miracle of answered prayer, I grasp everything; tomorrow I stand helpless while it is all stolen from me; but on the day after, you might see me pray it all back again!
We all find ourselves facing multiple realities mixed in with a single event. Thus we look at a happening and at once find in it some things that make us happy, and some that make us sad. Which should we choose? Whichever is most appropriate for the moment! Or again, every day we are confronted by competing inadequacies, which clamour for preference. When every decision is a bad one, how can you make one that is right? But that is life.
So then does the Bible teach prosperity or poverty? It teaches both! The trick lies in knowing which one is right for you at the present time, and then being able to embrace that state by faith.