I remember being asked what I would do if ‘they found the body of Christ’. Like, the physical body of Christ. Would I switch faiths? Have no faith? And so on. Truthfully, it’s going to be hard to convince me you found THE body of Christ, so this is largely a hypothetical exercise. But it is a worth while exercise.
What is the greatest challenge to your faith? What would be the greatest challenge to your belief in God? If you were to ever stop being a Christian, what would cause it?
I know the answer for me. It isn’t sin, or the temptation to sin (though I still fall into sin from time to time). It isn’t the perceived inconsistencies in scripture. It isn’t going to be an archeological find (though if someone finds the body of Christ and can convince me of that, that would do it). No, the reason I would walk away from the faith is the same one so many people have already walked away from it.
The world is a painful, ugly, broken place a lot of times. It’s full of death, disease, and injustice. And all of that is the opposite of the God I know. My time as a hospice and military chaplain showed me a lot of ugliness and pain up close and personally. And I think it’s because of those experiences that I bristle against a few Christian cliches. None, however, make me bristle as much as ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle’.
To be fair, I know what most people are saying when they say that. What they’re trying to say is that God will be will you, and offer strength and support in the midst of this. You won’t be alone in your suffering. And those are very true statements. But those aren’t what we said. Unintentionally, we’ve said quite the opposite.
We’ve said God is doing __________ to you, because you whether or not you think you can, you can take it.
And that’s just not true. Here are a few reasons why:
1) We weren’t meant to live in brokenness – The world is terrible at times. But we weren’t meant to live in this one. We weren’t supposed to know pain, or suffering, or illness, or death. The creation account in Genesis tells us that we were created in perfection and in the presence of God. We had no needs or pain. Then Adam and Eve wanted a bit more, and broke creation.
We are living in a world of pain and suffering we were never intended to.
2) Faithful, biblical people experienced more suffering “than they can bear” – Elijah was so distressed at one point in his life that he became suicidal. Paul tells the church in Corinth that he suffered “more than he could bear” and thought “that he was going to die”. Christ suffered so much emotional stress and strain before the crucifixion that He pleaded with God to change the plan, and He sweat drops of blood (this is a real medical condition, by the way. It’s called Hematohidrosis.)
It’s important to note that God didn’t make Elijah suicidal. God didn’t cause Paul to “suffer more than he could bear”. And God didn’t make Christ suffer to the point of sweating blood.
Living in a broken world caused those things.
3) God promises to walk with us in the midst of suffering – God promised Joshua that He would never leave, nor forsake him when Joshua was frightened. We’re told in Isaiah that when we get tired, exhausted, and fatigued, God will offer us strength to endure. Christ offers us His yoke, which is “light”.
Following Christ will lead us to uncomfortable places. We will be challenged in some incredible ways. But God has promised to be with us in the midst of those trials. It isn’t that “God won’t give more than we can handle”. God will be with us WHEN life is more than we can handle. We don’t have a god who gives us suffering.
We have a God who suffers with us.
And that is why I won’t leave my faith.
That is why I won’t stop being a Christian.