I've met far too many disillusioned Christians. And I've met far too many Christians that seem to live in a happy little bubble with their marriage retreats, Love and Respect home groups (or whatever next fad book there is), and testimonies of God's faithfulness in giving them a happy life. At this point in my life, I definitely find myself in the disillusioned category... even the cynical category. I never thought I would find myself there. After all, I had the theology to back it all up. I knew better. I had the right doctrine.
But something happened to every disillusioned Christian out there. Chaos and crisis hit. Tragedy struck. And they looked at their life and all their efforts to walk the line and do the right thing, and they thought to themselves, "What is it all for?! Why do the wicked prosper and I keep getting the shaft? Why do selfish, destructive people seem to get everything they want, often at my expense or at the expense of someone else's destruction, and my years of praying and trying to obey God have just landed me here... lying in the proverbial ditch wondering what the hell happened? And can anyone blame that I wish, for the first time, that I had simply said 'screw it' to all the rules and enjoyed myself just for me?"
And usually these disillusioned Christians go off the deepend, sometimes never to return. They actually do say "screw it" to the "rules" and do whatever they want, slowly (or quickly) destroying themselves with all kinds of things they never would have done before. And sometimes, they lose their faith -or at least severely question it. After all, if God is really there, then why is there never an answer to my prayers and why does it seem like all the good I do means nothing?
The unwritten, unspoken assumption behind all of this, which even the Christians in the happy little bubble live by, is that "If I try really hard to be a good person and a good Christian, God will bless me and make my life happy and easy." And some churches and teachers actually teach this -citing certain passages from the Old Testament in particular.
There are a few very glaring problems with this, though. First of all, it becomes an absolute breeding ground for a very self-centered, results-oriented view of life, eventually leading to disillusionment and a crisis of faith when all my good doesn't yield the good I hoped. In a subtle way, it creates a sense that God "owes" me, but worse... it gives the very mistaken impression that God has abandoned me when life falls apart. And with that, anger and resentment toward God fester. See, when you assume that your good efforst should have good results, and that God's favor is shown in getting those good results, then you must conclude that God has left you when those good results leave. And that is exactly what happens -we think, "Ok, God... if you aren't going to care about me and what I like, and you're going to leave me like this, then I'm not going to care about you and what you like any more, and I'm leaving you -at least until you show up and start showing me that you care."
I think this tendency is not to be solely blamed on our culture, though I think that Western culture and American Christianity does promote this attitude. The reason I say this is because of places in Scripture like Romans chapter eight or the epistle to the Hebrews. Both of those were written to believers who were living through terrible things. And you can see how in both cases it is implied that these believers were struggling with similar questions. God, why is this happenening to us? Have you abandoned us? Why? Taking Romans 8 and Hebrews 10-11 as examples, the authors sought to comfort these strained believers by reminding them that God has not abandoned them one bit but that His rewards are ensured to them, to those who persevere and don't abandon Him.
But secondly, this belief forgets the simple fact that our Master did everything right. He didn't just do some things right. He didn't just try really hard. He did everything right. The Father was "well-pleased" with Him, by His own goodness and righteousness and works alone. And where did it land Him? How did His life work out? Did Jesus get an easy, cushy, happy life that fit right into the grooves of the American, suburban, Christian family dream? Not even close. He was rejected by His own people, misunderstood by His own family, hated, mocked, slandered, handed over to enemies, beaten, humiliated, and killed as a criminal for the jeers and spits of all who walked by, if they still could stomach to look at him at that point.
Hmmm. Something is wrong with this formula. Could it be that this life doesn't work like a machine, where you pull this lever and push this button in the right way and get life to be how you want? Could it be that there is no formula, no secret to making everything happen the way you want? Could it be that there are no guarantees in this life, save only the promises of God? Could it be that we are not above our Master, and therefore we should expect trouble, just as Jesus told us to?
But all of this begs the question: "Why be good at all?" I think many Christians never ask this question. It's just what you are supposed to do, or it is what you will do if you want God to bless your life. But if there is no guarantee at all that God will take the bad out of your life, then why obey at all?
1. God's commands are for our good. Obeying them does not ensure a good, trouble-free life one bit. But obeying them does spare us from a lot of unnecessary heartache and chaos on top of the trouble and chaos that we already will face just from living in this broken world. For example, God forbids sex outside of marriage. There are many very good reasons for that -one of which being how sex creates an unseen bond with the person that can blind us to major red-flags and reasons why being with that person is not good for us. Sin is destructive, period.
2. We leave an inheritance for those who come after us. If we ever have children, for example, we are leaving an inheritance to them -an inheritance of our character. It isn't something can is seen or measured or carried in a box. But it is something they will be handed, even if they don't ask for it! We hand to them our character, including all of the good things but also all of the baggage and destructiveness.
3. We devalue God if we claim to love God yet live in such a way that says, "God's will isn't for me." When people, especially people who do not know Jesus, look at our lives and see how we flagrantly do things that God forbids and have no real problem continuing in it, it shows them that God isn't very special. It shows them that the people who claim to love God don't really care or respect Him, so therefore God must not be all that great.
4. We will receive our reward in the future. We will receive our crown for persevering and remaining faithful (and that has primarily to do with our attitude more than our outward acts) -our crown just isn't here and now. I realize that people from Western culture are spoiled and have a very hard time with delayed gratification, but this is how God works and how are promises are delivered to us. Even if God does grant deliverance and restoration in this life, which He may or may not do, it is often a delayed deliverance. The idea is faithfulness in spite of circumstances. We hold on, we do not give up hope and trust when things go bad, we keep moving. That is what perseverance means. God does not promise us a cushy life for being good and trying really hard. He promises us restoration and eventual deliverance to those who persevere. And in order for us to persevere, there must be something for us to persevere through. It isn't as though God doesn't know life can suck.
5. I believe the ultimate reason to obey God is gratitude and love. When you truly grasp that God owes you absolutely nothing and that you, like everyone else, live under God's curse and fail to live up to your humanity every single day, but that God pursued you still and sent His Son to die for you, to make you His, and rose from the grave to be the progenitor of a new creation for us, to give us everything, to give us Himself and an inheritance with Him forever... to the degree you truly grasp the magnitude of this gift, you cannot live the same way. You will want to honor Him and not dishonor His gift to you. But I have found that believing that God has abandoned you when life falls apart is corrosive and in direct opposition to this truth, for this truth says the exact opposite. It says that God is for us, as it says in Romans 8. This truth, the Gospel, says that God doesn't walk away from us, reasoning that if God gave so much to have us then He would not abandon us for less.