Saturday, April 12, 2008

judge not...oh wait.

Happy weekend, everyone! To celebrate, we're watching Swiss Family Robinson, which I just don't really dig. I put it in the same category as Annie. why? i'm not sure, but i don't like Annie either. It's just so chipper and wholesome. That's right, people, in case you hadn't figured it out, I'm a bit of a film snob. Others may argue that my exclusivity extends into other forms of media, and they may or may not be correct. Judge for yourself. Engage me in conversation regarding film, literature, and music and we'll see what we come up with, eh?

I tend to be just as picky about churches as well. I know I shouldn't be quite as high maintenance as I tend to be, and there are times I try harder than others to give things a chance, but for the most part I fail miserably. I mentioned the other night that Naseem and I went to a church service that hardly appealed to us; it intrigued me, yes. Did it make me uncomfortable? Yes, but not in the good sort of way (I believe that to understand Jesus' message as one of radical subversion as he intended it to be is to be made uncomfortable, but the discomfort is one accented with a challenge and this challenge is, in a word, good). So anyway, the service is held at the church I described earlier, the one with the wall painted with the Bible waterfall, by a prayer team from California. Now we all know those West Coast-ies are crazy (those damn liberals!) but who knew they could be so...charismatic? We walk in to the little church; there's a power outage so there's no electricity. The only light glows softly from candles placed sporadically around the room, creating an almost eerie irridescence that bathes everyone in the same pale light. We arrived late because, hey, how do you get twelve children out the door on time? And by the time we got there, everyone was already caught up in the rapture of worship. I know a lot of people close their eyes when they sing but I'm one of those creeps who likes to look around at everyone singing together. I love to see everyone so caught up in praising the Liberating King, all these different people acting as one voice while somehow maintaining their own oneness. It's lovely, divine really, to see the beauty of the individual. Anyway, so after we worship for a bit, a man gets up and starts talking about how the tops of our heads should be tingling with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Alright, I think, my head isn't all tingly, but sure, amen, brother. Preach it. Everyone now is alive with the Holy Spirit, everyone shakes and quakes. Again, this is not so much my style, but different strokes and what not, etc, etc. Then he asks the prayer team to lay hands on everyone and pray: well, I can always use more prayer, so this I appreciate. Finally I notice this guy next to me, the epitome of the California dude decked out with a puka shell necklace and sun-bleached hair, speaking in tongues and ending each prayer with something that sounded reminiscently of, "Shantih, shantih, shantih," which are the last words of Eliot's masterpiece "The Wasteland," and the conclusion of the Vedic Upanishads. It's a blessing, and now that I think about it, I should devote a whole blog to "The Wasteland" one day because I think of it often and I find it one of the most applicable poems floating around today.

Anyway, so I tend to be a little skeptical of speaking in tongues, and while I know that it is Biblical, I just have never heard anyone personally or heard of anyone legitimately speaking in tongues. For all I know, I suppose, this guy could have been the real thing, but I just didn't get the vibe of authenticity there. So after the prayer session a woman gets up to speak and apparently she is the pastor of the church which begat this prayer team; she begins an oration describing how because of what an upstanding Christian she is, she has been given the authority to heal and raise people from the dead. Well, well, well, now I'm at the edge of my seat. Joel Osteen told me how to get my best life now but he certainly didn't help me figure out how to raise anyone from the dead. What a sham, Joel. And apparently all I have to do is have enough faith and follow steps 1,2, and 3 and the gift is mine. She tells us that her city is now practically cancer-free; in fact, the city is so faithful that God has blessed them with barely any illness. What a neat trick. But I'm feeling a little more apprehensive now for several reasons: first, I believe that God rewards the faithful but I'm not quite sure he just hands out the power to raise people from the dead to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who prays. She kept telling these people that all they had to do was pray and God would instantly heal their pain; or, at least, she could be God's instrument and fix them all herself. I do believe that God can heal the sick and raise the dead from the grave. I do believe that God answers prayers and can do it instantly, but I don't believe that God is a genie either. He's doesn't exist to cater to our every whim; he does exist to give us life and life to the fullest but to say that all one has to do is follow the formula to a healthier existence is to miss the mark a bit. That's basically my point numero dos. We must have hope that God is working in our lives for out betterment but to tell these people, the hungry, the weak, the impoverished, that all they have to do is ask just the right thing and they'll get it is to give them a false hope. There is nothing we can do but act justly, love faithfulness, and walk humbly with our Father. This is enough. And like I said, we must believe that God is continuing to redeem all the hard and broken parts of our lives, and if we pray that we are healed from a physical sickness and it lingers, it is not because God isn't listening. It simply means that we are engaged in spiritual conflict. God doesn't want us to be sick. He doesn't want us to hurt but there is a battle going on and there is a side that thrives on our brokenness. Finally, the God this woman was speaking of is not the God I believe in. I mean, of course he is...sort of. I'm fairly certain that she believes that God created the heavens and the earth, etc, and that he is the Father of Jesus and part of a holy Trinity in which we find our purpose and being. Here is what I mean: she mentioned that her city is practically cancer-free. Sadly enough, practically cancer-free is not wholly cancer-free, which means there are still people with cancer in her city. So does this mean that they just didn't pray hard enough, that they weren't faithful enough? Or does it suggest that those suffering are not Christians and so God thus punishes the unbelievers by giving them cancer? Either way this is terrible. To believe in a God who would smite his children who do no believe in him is to ignore the God of the New Testament. To believe in a God who punishes people who don't seem to be faithful enough is a similar fallacy.

They finally rounded out the service by asking if anyone in the congregation had an aching right knee or intestinal problems beause God was revealing to them that there were people there suffering from those particular maladies. No one came forward so I guess they God-dar wasn't functioning properly. Finally they just said, Well, maybe someone had family members suffering those ailments, in which case, all one would have to do is call up said relative and pray with them over the phone until they were healed. Just like that.

I hope this post doesn't seem terribly judgemental, although, let's be honest, it probably does. The thing is I know that the charismatic church movement is thriving in Latin and Central American countries and again I have to trus that God's work is redemptive in places I don't understand. This experience was just frustrating and unsettling, I suppose. And now that I'm tired of typing, I'm not sure I even made a point. Hopefully I did. Maybe tomorrow when I reread it, I'll go back through and clean it up a bit and try to make a bit more sense out of things.

Peace, Alison


Matt Davis said...

Sometimes the tension we see among the unbelievers seems perhaps equal but "opposite" to the tension we have towards our own family in Christ. Have you spoken to anyone in this church yet or have you from a distance merely sat, watched, and pondered?

Another well-written post. I especially enjoyed where you put your savvy logic word problems to use and point out the problematic logical end of "nearly cancer-free." It certainly compels us to again consider the words our Father spoke over Jonah post-massive-fishscapade.

wisdom said...

The nexus between the Kingdom and the Spirit is clear in Scripture. As citizens of the Kingdom, we are called to be filled with the Spirit, to walk in/by the power of the Spirit, but most of us most of the time do not experience fullness or power. We suspect that we should, but we don't. Then we run into some brothers and sisters who seem to be intoxicated, ecstatic, wildly enthusiastic for God, audacious in their confidence, utterly triumphalistic in their perspective...and they tend to be very annoying to us. We suffer from under-realized eschatology--we fail to appreciate what it means that the Kingdom is already. They suffer from over-realized eschatology--they fail to appreciate what it means that the Kingdom is not yet. Thanks for giving us such a vivid description of the tension. I pray that we will truly taste the power of the age to come without forgetting that God's power is made perfect in weakness.

DW said...

Your blog made me pull out Dr. Fee's essay on the "Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospel". He says that the "health gospel" puts God under an obligation to us. "Healing, therefore, instead of being a gracious expression of God's unlimited grace, is something He HAS to do--at our bidding. By way of contrast, the first sentence of a sound biblical theology may well be, God MUST do NOTHING. God is free to be God. He is sovereign in all things and is simply not under our control. The second sentence of a sound biblical theology will be: Although God MUST do NOTHING, in GRACE He does ALL things. No healing has ever been deserved; it is always an expression of God's grace. Some have asked, If God must do nothing, then why pray at all? Why not simply wait for Him to act sovereignly? The answer is simple: Because God answers prayer. The mystery of faith is that there is a wonderful correlation between our asking and trusting, and what goes on about us. God doesn't have to answer prayers, but He does. God doesn't have to heal, but He graciously does. Healing, therefore, is not a divine obligation; it is a divine gift. And precisely because it is a gift, we can make no demands. But we can TRUST Him to do all things well."

Anonymous said...

Darn you, Jack.... why must you be so wise? Curse my green eyes.

Matt Davis said...

Bruce Waltke has his own little response to the "health and wealth gospel" that Fee so wonderfully discussed (Thanks for sharing that Diana). He says that we cannot avoid suffering in our current context, that the "name it-claim it gospel" has no virtue because there must be a gap between virtue and its rewards. He said, "Immediately rewarded virtue confounds pleasure with morality. Suffering precisely for doing good develops virtuous character."

Jason Raschen said...

I’m afraid that if we engage in conversation regarding film, literature, or music you’ll lose because I know so much more that you.


Seriously, good post. This would be a great topic for a Small Group or bible study. I have so many opinions on this. We’ll have to talk when you get back.