Posted by: alliehope | September 20, 2008

Spirit in the Shadows

WARNING: This one’s going to be pretty ornery in places. Buckle up, and grab a crash helmet if you feel compelled to do so.

iMonk got me thinking this morning, after about 3 hours of sleep. (My own dang fault; I was closing cashier last night, and just couldn’t stop rambling no matter what I did). Specifically, I got to thinking about the whole spirit of entitlement that underlies the prosperity and health and wealth gospels so popular among so many (coincidentally, Western-hemisphere) Christians. The question I asked was, “Where does this show up in our teachings, albeit unseen? How does it rear its ugly head in the way we live our lives?”

Where does it show up? I was browsing the Christianity racks at a bookstore the other day and came across a title boldly proclaiming, “God Wants You to Be Rich”. While a lot of the other titles weren’t as flagrant, their messages sure were: “You can have it all in this life, and in the next. God wants you to be happy, well-adjusted, well-off, and comfortable”. And people gladly plunk down paper or plastic to buy into this chimaera of an idea that God wants to materially prosper us.

Why? Because at core, so many of us (and, let the reader understand, I am not exempting myself) consider ourselves entitled to be “happy”, regardless of what price we or anyone else has to pay in order to make that happen. I listen to people at my cash register: “I NEED…, GIMME…., and I want it NOW!” I see ten-year-olds walking around with Coach purses, tiny Chanel logo earrings in their ears, demanding Abercrombie clothes at the local malls, again with the “I NEED” mentality so prevalent. Are adults much better? Not really. We just are sometimes more subtle about it: we decide we “need” the latest iPod, the latest SUV, the bigger house, the Ralph Lauren sweater instead of the Old Navy one, the 120-dollar Adidas sneakers when the 20-dollar ones at Target would work, the 1500-dollar flat-screen HD set, etc. But we’re on the level of the 10-year-old: finding our identity in “stuff” that no one gives a [expletive deleted] that we have other than our immediate friends/family. We’re just showing off, saying, “Look what my platinum-kryptonite strength credit card can buy me. It can buy me happiness”.

Yet in the eyes of the ten-year-old, in the eyes of her parents, I see so much emptiness: the hollowness of this kind of life doesn’t provide them what they truly need: intimacy, freedom of expression, purpose, character. This is the lie of the spirit of entitlement; “You deserve what you deserve, and that’s the best. It IS all about you, after all. Go ahead; make that purchase, even if you can’t afford it, either financially or emotionally. Live in the moment”.

Like a drink, it goes down smoothly, and we ignore the bite in our throats, ignore the cry of our soul that says “No! Don’t give me stuff, give me something to truly live for”!

But it’s not just about the stuff. That’s just the more overt manifestation of the spirit of entitlement. In its more sneaky (and far more devastating) version, it implies that in order to be a “good Christian”, we should never have ddoubts, never wrestle with ugly questions, never wrestle with our own sinful natures. It says that happiness is everything; damn all the rest.

I’m thinking that this is so wrong it’s pathetic. It’s not just pathetic, it’s sinful. It is obvious: being Christian entails struggle, death to self, questions, issues, searching for light when it’s so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face. It means praying even when you feel like your prayers are bouncing off a ten-foot-thick brick, soundproofed ceiling, serving when you’d rather sleep on the couch watching the football game, and often, suffering.

This is what the health-and-weath gospel, with its lurking spirit of entitlement misses, in favor of generating “Shiny Happy Christians” with no idea what suffering and pain are. The true Gospel, however, gives hope in the middle of suffering, that even though there is trouble in this world, Jesus has conquered this world. It doesn’t give pat answers, doesn’t say “You’ll be happy again someday. Chin up, cheer up, things will get better soon”. Rather, it reassures that even when it seems like He’s sleeping in the boat with you, He is still with you, and He WILL calm the storm in time–even if it’s not until eternity that you really see what He has done.

This is the light that exposes the spirit in the shadows and calls it what it is: demonic, spouting lies from the mouth of Hell itself, and devouring souls in their journeys home. It also provides the antidote for the poison of the lies: faithful trust that God does indeed have a plan for us (even and especially when) it’s not what we would want for ourselves. It encourages us to keep seeking the face of God, even when the blessings of God seem to be withheld. It encourages us to hold fast to the hope that God will set everything right someday, and until that day, to keep walking, listening to Him, instead of the spirit in the shadows.

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