Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sometimes Good Theology Is Not Enough

It's one of the ironies of human life that the sight of the death of a puppy in the street is more likely to evoke tears in the average person than the news that ten thousand died of starvation in a foreign country. None of us want to admit it, but it takes a personal touch to really get us in the gut. It's a survival mechanism, one designed to protect us from completely shutting down as we would if we felt every human heartache in this vale of tears.

I've recently had a spate of sad events that were far enough removed from my life to leave me unaffected, yet close enough to leave me saddened and thoughtful. A man at church died of cancer, leaving his wife and son behind. A friend is being professionally and personally imperilled by the foolish actions of a co-worker. Worst of all, a child of six just died unexpectedly, of a disease that displayed only cold-like symptoms.

All of this adds up to remind me that, though proper theology can help to put such events in perspective, and give a believer the necessary strength to move beyond them, sometimes it simply isn't sufficient for the needs of the moment. In Job 1:20, Job has learned that his family are dead, and all his wealth has been carried off by raiders. His response? "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." His theology was spot on. He is then physically afflicted with painful ailments. His response in chapter 2, verse 10 is again, correct. "Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?" And yet, his actions are those of despair. He gives up, sits on an ash heap, and curses the day he was born. Job never loses his faith in God or his wisdom, despite his wife and friends, but he also cannot deal with what has happened to him until God himself comes down to rectify matters.

Sometimes, one of the worst things a Christian can do is give the correct theological answer to the wrong person at the wrong time. A person has to be willing to listen before the answer can be given. Think of it this way. If I leave a space heater running and it burns down my home, the time for a lecture on fire safety is not as I'm sifting through the ashes looking for my photo albums. At times, the best thing a Christian can do is love on someone, and wait for them to start asking the questions.