I was recently visiting with a friend who has had a pretty rough year in a lot of ways and wondered, with some hint of anger, whether God ever listens to prayer, much less does anything useful when it’s really needed. I managed to mumble out a few of the standard responses and make a few suggestions. But I think I really tread on the conservative evangelical toes of his youth when I suggested that God probably does not control every event in our lives, and that although most every event has causes, that does not mean that God has a reason for letting bad things happen to us.
Over the years I’ve observed a lot of Christian teaching that leads believers to think that, if they can only confess Jesus as their personal savior with all their heart, life will be great from then on. If something bad happens it must be due to some lack of faith, poorly worded prayers, sinful backsliding or one of God unfathomable reasons. Where does this come from?
Even a cursory reading of scripture has got to reveal story after story of lives that endured extreme misfortune time and again. Where in the bible would you find the “I believed and lived happily ever after” story? It is true that scripture goes to great length to describe a personal life and social fabric that will lead to a truly good life in every way, but we have not yet demonstrated that we are willing to live that kind of life. We’d rather do it our way, suffer the consequences and blame God.
For all of that, scripture also reveals that, in spite of our human condition, life in companionship with God is a life of abundance and second chances (see Erick Kolbell). Such a life has misfortunes, but it also has direction and purpose, and for those of us who follow Christ, it also means that we know that we are already living into our “eternal” lives. And there is one more thing that I keep working on. That is the idea that the more we open ourselves to God’s presence in our lives, the more God engages with us in them. To be open is not to pray for this or that, but simply to be open. A life of faith is not about an easy life, but it is a life of great adventure. It’s a life growing in faith and communion with God. How hard that can sometimes be, but, wow, what an adventure.