Saturday, 4 March 2017

Is the Gospel the Answer to Every Problem?

Most of us analyse problems and situations and look for logical or sensible solutions. We often focus on the practical rather than the spiritual. It is human nature. It is also the natural tendency of Christians to think practically in the first instance because we are surrounded by earthly concerns. But are we really helping people? 

When we see a homeless person, our inclination is to want to feed and clothe the person and ultimately to see them finding housing. When someone has died, we offer the grieving relatives counsel and encouragement and tell them that time is a great healer and it will get easier. When dealing with someone with addictions we offer them twelve step programmes or rehab. When someone is arrested, or goes to jail, we send them material things, visit them in prison and try to lift their spirits encouraging them to focus on their release date. When someone is the victim of a crime we try to replace what was lost materially or pay their medical bills if they were assaulted. When a person loses their business, or has a financial crisis we might directly offer them money or a loan. When someone goes missing we help with the search and spread the word on social media. When someone is lonely we spend time with them or invite them round to our houses. When a person is being persecuted in another country we help them leave as a refugee. When someone is abused we offer counselling. The list is endless…

I have written in the past that help without hope is the ultimate tragedy. From a slightly different angle, I wanted to focus on whether we, as Christians, really believe that the Gospel is the answer to every human problem that we face. We often say it and offer to pray for people, but has it become something of a cliché? We give a lot more consideration to practical help, and the spiritual can be side-lined. What does a person in crisis really need? Do we believe that there is power to solve every earthly problem in the name of Jesus? What will the solutions look like? What happens when God’s ways are not ours?

Sometimes, when reading the news, which I do every day, I come across an article that moves me more than usual. It might stay in my mind and I might think about the person’s situation and want to help them. My mind immediately turns to finances or material help. 

Clearly, many people, believers and non-believers alike, are influenced in this way. Just look at the success of crowd funding or the donations that pour in for people whose plights are highlighted in the media or whose social media posts go viral. With the seemingly unstoppable march of technology it is now easy to connect with people whose stories we read from all over the world. We all want to help and money or material provision is one way to do that. We provide funds to help the person overcome their earthly trial and it might help, at least temporarily.

Then there are situations where time is needed—we might be inclined to visit someone or spend hours listening to their problems. Again, this may be helpful, for a time. 

The Bible encourages us to be generous with our money and resources, to visit those in prison and to look after widows and orphans. This can easily be extended to all those in crisis or facing trials, as the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. So, practical help can be a biblical response.

However, the important aspect is where our focus is as we do these things. As Christians, we need to train ourselves to think firstly in terms of eternal matters rather than earthly concerns whatever they may be. Jesus is our example, he addressed the spiritual concerns of the paralysed man by forgiving his sin prior to healing him (Luke 5 vs 17-26.) From an earthly perspective, to onlookers, it would have appeared that the only need of the man was to be healed physically, but his burden of sin and eternal destiny was of far greater importance to Jesus. It should also be our priority as we seek to help others. 

The Bible tells us that we will all face trials of many kinds in our lifetime. Sometimes it takes a crisis to make a person think seriously about God. Immediately focusing on practical solutions may not be what they need from a spiritual perspective. God may be working in their life in another way. We need to be careful not to obscure their view of God or pathway to Him with our earthly wisdom.

Instead, we can offer hope to someone struggling through a trial by offering to pray for them not as a cliché, but in the sincere belief that it will actually help. We can contact a stranger via social media to share the Gospel with them in their time of need or desperation. We can visit, call or write to someone to share the hope we have found in Jesus. Whose responsibility is it to share with the individuals that we read or hear about in the news or on social media? Who will share real hope with that neighbour or friend as the large financial donation temporarily relieves the crisis? Maybe God is prompting you to be that person.

We might feel awkward and fear rejection if we try to offer a person hope when others are providing seemingly greater earthly gifts. We might worry that the person may see our offering as worthless in comparison—that they might think we offer words to avoid financial sacrifice ourselves. Of course, we can offer practical help as well, but which should be the priority and focus? 

Firstly, we should remember that any rejection of the Gospel message is actually a rejection of God rather than a personal one. Secondly, you might be surprised how willing a person is to hear the message of hope if your offering is covered with prayer and if God chooses to open their eyes. I recently received the following from one such stranger; “Thankyou for your message. It means a lot.” I contacted the person on social media, having debated whether or not to do so. I felt awkward and feared a hostile response or a “Who are you to get involved in my business?” or even the question that every Christian fears "If God loves me then why has this happened to me?" The enemy whispered that someone else should share with them, I didn't need to do it, but the fact is that God had prompted me. Don’t ignore those inner promptings of the Holy Spirit—I am not always faithful in responding but am learning.

The key here is whether we actually believe the things that we say we do. In my recent post about whether Christians really believe in Hell, I observed that if we did, we would do everything in our power to stop people ending up there, regardless the earthly consequence to ourselves. 

Similarly, if we really believe that forgiveness of sin through Jesus, leading to eternal life in Heaven is the answer to every earthly problem, then wouldn’t we offer that first to those facing trials.  If we really believe that the Gospel is the answer and provides the hope the person needs at that time, wouldn’t we risk it anyway, for their sake? We worry about political correctness and potentially offending someone, but if the Gospel is the truth then shouldn't a person’s eternal welfare be the priority.

What happens when God’s solutions are not our solutions? We need to be careful about offering people the “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” version of the Gospel. We shouldn’t tell a person that God will remove them from their earthly trials or make everything better. God may require the suffering to continue for reasons we cannot fathom, but He promises to be with them in the middle of the struggle.  We can pray that the suffering would end, but we need to ensure we are offering hope for life beyond this one rather than focusing on the here and now. 

The Gospel is the answer to every problem because it sustains us in our earthly trials and offers hope for a future life in heaven. Let’s ensure we keep our focus and communicate this to others as we also help them practically.

“If I firmly believed, as millions say they do, that the knowledge of a practice of religion in this life influences destiny in another, then religion would mean to me everything. I would cast away earthly enjoyments as dross, earthly thoughts and feelings as vanity. Religion would be my first waking thought and my last image before sleep sank me into unconsciousness. I should labor in its cause alone. I would take thought for the marrow of eternity alone. I would esteem one soul gained for heaven worth a life of suffering. Earthly consequences would never stay in my head or seal my lips. Earth, its joys and its griefs, would occupy no moment of my thoughts. I would strive to look upon eternity alone, and on the immortal souls around me, soon to be everlastingly happy or everlastingly miserable. I would go forth to the world and preach to it in season and out of season. and my text would be, "What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul”

Anonymous atheist

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