A Season of Unfortunate Events? Superstition vs. the Gospel – Kenneth Tanner
Enduring a season of unfortunate events? Does God seem absent or aloof? Feel as though you have fallen out of favor with God?
Many of us grew up with Christian pastors, teachers, friends, and spiritual guides who taught by osmosis that if things were going wrong in our lives or the lives of others—if life was not one moment of glory followed by another—there were two possible answers: either we were not doing all the right things or we were not believing all the right things. A lack of faith, a misstep here or there, results in hardships and divine disfavor.
Most people call this superstition. What it is not is the gospel.
It’s ironic that for many of us our everyday lived theology was not very different from the transactional gods of pagan antiquity to whom our human ancestors sacrificed children, whose dispositions toward humanity change from moment to moment, who need to be appeased, whose favor has to be gained, or could be lost.
Even as many of our churches proclaimed a God of grace who loves the world and has reconciled the cosmos to himself, who has acted for us who cannot help ourselves and redeemed humanity in the flesh of Jesus Christ—even as we preached that no one else has to die to make the world right because God has died for the world God loves—our day-to-day assumptions about God, ourselves, and others betrayed a practical belief that God changes his mind about us, changes his disposition toward humanity, in the same way we humans are inconstant and waver.
This is not the classic Christian understanding of God. For us, God’s love is a constant, his loving faithfulness to us and to all humanity and creation is without a shadow of turning. Our God is the same self-sacrificial disposition of grace and forgiveness and deliverance and reconciliation from age to age without change.
It is we who are inconstant and faithless.
God’s answer to our ungodliness is a human who embodies the divine hesed, who reveals the permanence of an eternal community of lovingkindness.
This world is fallen; it’s is upside down. It’s broken. Someone can be looking always for where God is at work in the world and joining God in that sacred work and live a life of profound suffering. Often people who evidence no love for God or neighbor, who live only for themselves or their tribe, seem to thrive without setback.
Jesus promises his disciplines that we will have a hard go of it in this world and that those who follow Christ also suffer with him, the God who does not stand outside our suffering but in the human flesh of Jesus endures the pain of the world with all who inhabit the world.
If you were raised with this transactional God whose love can be measured, whose moods shift, who abandons us in our folly, I want to encourage you that this is not the God made known to us by Mary’s son, who even now in his resurrected glory seated by the Father is not a ghost but flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. And we are seated with the Suffering Servant.
His love is measureless. His regard for humanity inalterable.
Hardships will come and some is of our making, some are visited upon us by our ancestors, and some has its origin in powers and principalities opposed to God and God’s image bearers. Fallen reality is often cruel and unkind and has no origin in God.
God is with us. God is for us. God never changes. This is the gospel. Leave behind all superstition for the God who clothes himself in human frailty, who wears our nature well, whose sacrificial love is a promise and foretaste of transfigured humanity’s participation in the divine life.