On the surface, Christianity seems pretty straightforward. Love God, and you’ll be blessed. Disobey God, and things will go wrong. And this is true, to a point. However, this kind of black-and-white thinking leads to a simplistic spirituality that limits faith to a two-dimensional God. He’s either angry or He’s loving. Maybe He’ll bless you or maybe He won’t. You just never know; in fact, you can’t possibly know, since like all human beings, you have blind spots. You can’t see where you might have missed something.
Simplistic spirituality limits us to the belief that if we have all our ducks in a row, God is pleased and we will prosper. We counsel others from this belief system. Finances going down the drain? You must have forgotten to tithe, or you didn’t remember the poor. Marriage failed? You didn’t love enough, endure enough. It sets us up for works-based faith, and in the worst case scenario, our counsel becomes condemnation.
Job’s friends did this. Well-intentioned and citing scripture, they attempted to alleviate Job’s sufferings with their biblically-based counsel. It was obvious to them that Job had sinned: how could he not see it? How could he claim to be sinless?
The story of Job is a lesson for us. When we look at someone’s life and it seems obvious to us that they are failing in some area, we shouldn’t be so sure that we have the full picture. We probably don’t. Only God sees every aspect of our personal battles, and knows both the problem and the remedy.
I have found that to be in relationship with a relational God is to realize that there isn’t always a “right or wrong” answer. Afflictions are not always the equivalent of curses. Those who appear to be blessed are not always the most faithful. God is looking to develop more in us than just simple obedience: He’s developing character, love, trust, and compassion.
In real life, Christianity is not simplistic at all,
not even easy to understand,
even after many years of walking with the Lord.
We know from scripture that Job was indeed blameless, a man God was so proud of that He boasted to Satan of his perfection. (See Job 1). God chose to allow a perfect man to be afflicted in order to demonstrate the strength of the man’s relationship with Him. Job’s pride did not surface until later, when in anguish he justified himself rather than God. (Job 32:2).
From the beginning of the story, I believe that Job, like God, knew that his relationship with his Maker was good, even “perfect.” He feared God, carefully preserving a good relationship with Him and shunning evil. (Job 1:1). The two were friends. However, the peace Job had with God was challenged when he was tested, and his final realization before repentance was that as a relational yet sovereign Master, God could do anything he pleased without needing to justify Himself – even to His friend.
No relationship is “black and white.” We are fluid individuals, with unique needs and unique ways of expressing ourselves: learning, giving, and growing. My response to your actions will differ from my neighbor’s response, and in the context of a healthy relationship, that’s okay. Only a multi-dimensional God can work all the aspects of our character together for good.
However, the moment we allow God to be God, affording Him all the rights we afford to the person next to us, things change. Suddenly He no longer “fits” into our neat little box of blessings and curses. The relationship has unpredictable grey areas now, not just black and white ones. Suddenly we see other biblical issues such as trials, offenses, and persecutions (which all do come, as predicted by Jesus). As Pastor James Levesque noted recently, good biblical things such as promotion often come at the cost of suffering. Just like Jesus, right?
This is the juncture where those who are serious about God
continue, while His “fair-weather friends” fall away.
Consequently, in order to minister effectively to one another, especially when we are enduring trials, we need the input of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t it interesting that the Holy Spirit is described as having “seven eyes” all around his head? (Zechariah 3:9; Isaiah 11; Revelation 1:20-3:22). Seven is said to be the number representing divine completeness, and only through the eyes of divinity can we see to the root of another’s problems. To approach someone from a simplistic, two-dimensional viewpoint is an affront to God and to the afflicted one.
Elihu is a good example of someone who saw the afflicted with the eyes of the divine. By listening to the Holy Spirit, he rendered godly counsel in the hearing of those considered much wiser than he. Compelled by the Spirit, Elihu saw to the root of Job’s problem and spoke truth that set Job free. (See Job 32-34). Words inspired by God released the Presence of God, bringing Job back to God. Again, with a nod to James Levesque, Job’s afflictions became the grounds for his promotion.
It’s biblical for God to trust a man enough to put him through trials. This grates against our desire for a comfortable lifestyle, a blessed life. Stephen was not stoned because he failed God; he was stoned because he had succeeded! I believe one of the greatest pleasures God has is in seeing someone trust Him no matter what. No matter how bad it looks on the outside or how difficult things seem. Imagine the strength of a prayer that comes from a child in distress, who is still proclaiming: “Daddy, I trust you! I know you’ve got a plan here, and I know you’ll get me through this!”
Our fault lies in believing that a “blessed” relationship has to look a certain way or adhere to certain worldly standards. There are unseen standards in the kingdom of heaven that hold far more weight in God’s eyes than the size of our paycheck or the location of our prodigal child. Simplistic spirituality will fail us and alienate those around us. But a life lived in dynamic reliance upon God, despite its trials, is a truly blessed life.
Deborah Perkins is passionate about helping others to
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.