*Disclaimer for this Post: This blog entry is written for an audience assumed to be of the Christian faith. Obviously, one doesn't have to be a Christian to read it, have an opinion on it or even criticize it; however, the context is primarily for those who follow and believe a Judeo-Christian creed.
I like the motivational picture above. I've seen it a lot. It's a great positive message which gives us hope and inspires us to remember we are stronger than we sometimes realize.
I have heard many Christians paraphrase this idea in several different ways. Often they will follow it up with “It's in the Bible, you know!”
The problem with that is...well, it isn't. The Bible doesn't say these things. In fact, it actually says things nearly the opposite.
Does this mean the Bible discourages us? No. But we might need to change our perspective and focus. Let's look at these statements.
Everything in life happens for a reason. This one is closest to Scripture. Romans 8:28 states, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Also in Jeremiah 29:11, God promises, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
But those promises and Biblical assurances are not quite the same thing as everything happens for a reason. Notice these are conditional or contingent on something else.
I don't want to become esoteric and debate determinism versus free-will; that's a complex topic. But it is fairly clear that God doesn't make everything happen, especially bad things. He may allow and permit them for a reason, but also He allows man to have choice and consequence. When a light bulb burns out, it is because of the Laws of Physics (which He created) not because He looked down and decided that bulb's power needed to end at that precise moment. Could He? Yes. Does He? Probably only with great rarity.
God never gives you something you can't handle. This one is peeves me. Again, I think for a reminder to inspire people to stay strong and knuckle down to get through the storm, it's a great phrase. However, it's not in the Bible. Another cliché heard a lot is “God helps those who help themselves.” - Also, not Biblical. Personally, I always hear that saying as a thief's religious justification for stealing.
The Bible actually states the opposite of this idea in the 147th Psalm where it explains God doesn't take pleasure in our own strength, but when we rest in Him. “He doesn't take pleasure in the strength of horses. He doesn't take delight in the strong legs of men. The Lord takes delight in those who have respect for Him.” In fact, God often chooses people who are incapable to do His work. Biblical history is filled with examples. Also, in Proverbs 3:5-6 we are told to trust God and not our own problem-solving.
Something I've learned over time is that God did not design us to be independent. Out of the self-improving progressive movement, we have grown to let this idea trump God's actual design for us. We should be dependent -- on Him and on others. We are built as relational creatures, meant for fellowship and sharing (of both burdens and blessings). The subtle idea that you can do it on your own, by yourself and within your own power is simply not a message from God.
However, God does promise not to abandon us through our tribulations. We can be strong and brave. In Deuteronomy 31 it states “Don't be afraid of them. Don't be terrified because of them. The LORD your God will go with you. He will never leave you. He'll never desert you.”
Also, in the well-known story of Christ's disciples on the boat during the storm, Jesus does not cause the sailors to circumvent the storm. The disciples sailed right into it. Perhaps it was unavoidable; the details of that are not clear. But the point is Christ doesn't promise us smooth-sailing, but He does promise to be there with us while the storm rages. And when we, like the disciples, become overwhelmed and can't handle it on our own, then He is there to save us - through His power, not ours. Of course, He may not rebuke the sea for us like He did for them. Some problems may not simply be whisked away when He is there for us. Surviving the storm with God comes in different flavors.
So when things are bad, just remember, things always get better. From a Christian viewpoint, this is true as eventually we will be free from this earth and in Heaven. But the phrase is meant for enduring the suffering here in this life. And truthfully, things don't always get better.
The Apostle Paul pleaded with God to help him with his physical suffering, often believed to be his eyesight. But God did not let this get better. In fact, Paul explained that God used his weakness for a greater purpose and wrote to the Corinthians that “[God's] grace is sufficient for you, for [God's] power is made perfect in weakness.”
Again, perhaps this one is not too far from the mark, but the problem is about our perspective of what we think is getting better. If we don't fight with God, then our misery becomes His ministry. Thus, in that sense, it does get better. But if we interpret this to mean our suffering will end or that we will be protected from harm, then we are missing the point.
I'm not quite sure how to conclude this post. I hope that I have not inspired work for de-motivational posters. Being encouraging and uplifting others is important. However, I believe that as Christians, we need to understand what God has and has not promised and not fool others into believing a perspective just to give an emotional relief to a difficult time.
The great thing about Christianity is there is always hope. The problem about that is we often misunderstand what that hope is. Hang in there, friends, and continue to fight the good fight.