Charismatics have been much maligned for constantly “praising the Lord.” They would say if you hit your finger with a hammer, you should instantly say, “Thank you Jesus that You let me hit my finger…” This of course, as we all know, is stupid.
There was once a lady who had lost her eye glasses, and she asked the Lord to help her find them. She was commended by the great preacher Spurgeon, and he defended her against detractors who said, “We should pray about BIG things, not silly trivialities. This is a debasement of prayer, which is high, holy, and majestic.” “What, prey tell” asked the Great Preacher, “is BIG to the Lord?” And then in that majestic and poetic Victorian prose, he went on to exclaim the God who flung out the starry heavens, and keeps all planets and suns rolling in their proper course. “One is no more difficult than the other for the Lord, who is infinite.” It is true that for us, one is far bigger than the other. But, we learn to trust God for big things by beginning with the small, and our trust is to be for ALL THINGS.
If it is true that we are all eventually called to be good judges, then what that especially means in a fallen world is that we become co-workers with God in bringing good out of evil. Do we believe Romans 8:28? Do we believe that God is bringing this sinful world to a final and glorious end? Does He work through war, and death, and mayhem, and destruction, and every sinful act that the human race is capable of concocting?
It is one thing to say “yes” in the abstract, but even there it can be hard. The world however, is not a philosophy class on “the problem of evil.” When we are called to be judges in real concrete situations, it is no longer abstract and far away. It is present and at hand.
Now, what is my response when I can’t find the proverbial parking place? Do I instantly curse? “G** ***mit!!” Then my heart has been revealed. He who cannot be trusted in little things, cannot be trusted with large ones. If I cannot even believe that God can bring good out of my not finding a parking place, and being 5 minutes late for an appointment, then how on earth am I going to believe that He can bring good out of the Holocaust? And, it is on that level that the real test of life begins.
It is very, very difficult to get people to see the sense of behaving like Charismatics habitually do in little situations. What? Do we think that a short, habitual curse, and expression of anger is profound?
I remember Cornelius Van Til in his ETHICS syllabus observing that when Jesus instantly rebuked Peter when Peter refused to let Jesus go to the Cross (“Get thee behind me Satan.!”) that Jesus revealed the true righteousness of his own heart. The instant reaction is the real revelation.
Life is made up of little things. Little things lead to bigger things. It is not stupid to learn to habitually thank God for all the little aches and pains of everyday life. God has promised to bring good out of every one of them. Do I believe that? The answer all too often is “No! I don’t.” That is the fallen heart of every sinner. But as a redeemed one, I am to grow in my belief in this. Then eventually, I will be called to be a judge and to begin to act as God’s agent in very messy, sticky, evil situations. If I have not practiced for a long time giving thanks for all of the irritants and difficulties of my life, then I will have no power of seeing the hand and direction that God would have in bigger and far more difficult situations.
It really is literally true. When I cannot find a parking place, I should thank the Lord. It is the real training ground for much bigger things.
I sent the above to a few friends of mine, and some response came back with some objection that what I had written did not adequately take account of just how much negative and even angry expression is found in the Bible, and especially the Psalms. These are very legitimate complaints. So, I penned what is below as an answer. I hope this is helpful.
I think this is a really hard issue, and you have hit the nub of it. We all instinctively feel two things that are almost mutually opposed when this sort of things comes up, and we don’t know how to resolve them.
Years ago, I read Max Scheler’s FORMALISM IN ETHICS (his magnum opus, and massive refutation of Kantian formalism), and somewhere toward the beginning, he quotes Luther when his young daughter Magdalena had died. Luther said something like, “It is strange that I can feel so grieved, and at the same time be in bliss…” or something like that. Scheler takes this as a starting point to expound his theory of differing levels of human experience that are all going on at the same time (the biotic body, the lived body, up and up all the way to the spiritual level–I can’t remember all of the levels he deals with). Luther as a justified man was “in bliss”, but on a lower level was in great sorrow and grief.
Now, we have diametrically opposed problems, and many of them arise pastorally. Many, many people cannot grieve. We’re all familiar with this and have perhaps experienced it. I have a friend, for example, who lost his father when he was about 12. He says that he did not grieve the loss until he was in his middle thirties, and that gave him immense release, and spurred him on to new growths that had been stunted for all of those in between years. A common story. Jeremiah’s LAMENTATIONS are almost the locus of grief, along with Job, and many of the Psalms (being maximized in Psalm 88). And these were not polite, in the grey business suit grievers. They wailed, wept, prostrated themselves.
When we were in India, our “boys” told us how in the tribes in their homes, the relatives would come for a month (a lunar month probably) just to sit and be with you. The entire village would be with you. Something we have lost. I heard NT Wright describe what happened at his own cathedral when Princess Diana died. He said that folks came night and day wanting to talk to a clergyman. But what they wanted to talk about was not Diana, but their own grandma, or grandpa, or mother or father, or brother or sister. Someone of their own who they had lost and had never grieved. Princess Diana enabled the entire nation to grieve its own losses that had never been grieved. In certain parts of the US, funerals are becoming more rare. Grandma dies and the meat wagon picks her up, she is cremated and that is that. Never spoken of again. This is the most true in the Pacific Northwest, a very hip and with it section of the country. Funerals are superstition and get in the way of my work out and jogging schedule.
So we have lost this capacity to grieve, and I mean grieve. I know that some counselors want people to be able to let go, and really wail. Well, that is Biblical. Ancient tribal people lived this. We are the linear descendants of the Stoics, and that needs to be overcome.
So that is one half of the equation. But then there is the other half, and we have lost that just as badly. God has promised to bring good out of ALL things, and the Bible is just as unrestrained on that side as on the side of grief. That too needs to be recovered. Mostly, we don’t really grieve, and mostly we don’t really praise because good will come. Paul and Silas behavior in Acts 16 in the Philippian prison is not an act of “nature”. It is above nature, it is even “unnatural”. What is natural to us is perhaps neither real grieving, or real thanksgiving in difficulty. What is natural to us is complaining. That of course, is why the narrative of the Children of Israel in the wilderness is so relevant to all of God’s people all of the time.
We are called to BOTH grief and praise. It is very difficult to map exactly how that happens, but that they can and sometimes do go on even simultaneously can be a reality. It takes some real inner knowledge to observe this, I suppose.
However, the real point is that it requires no discipline at all to give way to instant complaint. It is a great discipline to “give thanks in all circumstances” and it is a great discipline to “be joyful”. I think that hope is not something that is at the beck and call of our will. It is something that is given. But curiously, the Bible indicates that “being joyful” and “giving thanks” in ALL circumstances is something that is amenable to will. And, that is HOW hope arises. You can exhort people all day long to the virtue of hope, and it does no good. Thanksgiving and joy are where and how hope arise. These are things that are subject to being a discipline. And in all kinds of cases (not finding a parking place) it is so easy to do as a discipline, displacing the instant curse, that it ought to be done as a disciplined habit.
People almost always go to the cancer case or the loss of a child case to object to this. Anything less seems silly. But truth is we are chronic complainers, and chronic complaining has its roots in very small things, and those very small things are the foundation for our everyday outlook and mood. This is where charismatics are not stupid, but maybe preparing to rule the world. And when cancer and loss of child do come along, we are practiced enough to grieve, and to praise at the same time, like Luther.