By Matt Sapp
Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, estimated that as many as 10,000 American churches would close their doors in 2013, a number that is forecasted to grow each year for the foreseeable future. The church in America is facing unprecedented pressure as culture shifts and church attendance and giving decline.
Bill Wilson, at the Center for Healthy Churches, writes insightfully about the particular struggles Baptists are facing in a blog post this week.
Families are under pressure, too. Stagnant wages, credit card debt, a tough job market, rising healthcare and education costs, and widening income inequality all leave families in increasingly stressful and precarious situations.
It’s enough to leave our churches and families and individuals feeling broken, betrayed even. We used to believe that if we played by the rules and were individually responsible, morally upright, industrious and faithful, then God would take care of us. It’s a worldview as old as the oldest books of the Bible; God will bless people who are good and curse people who are bad.
It’s a view that continues to dominate, so much so that the exception to the rule — when bad things happen to good people — is one we can’t seem to account for.
At HERITAGE, we’re working our way through the Book of Job on Wednesdays in preparation for an October worship series we’re calling “Broken: learning to be OK again.”
The story of Job is challenging and compelling. It asks real questions based on experience and challenges real assumptions and pervasive worldviews. The story starts as Job, a man who has everything, loses everything—his family, his wealth, and his health. Fire and tornado and rivals from across the border steal or destroy everything he has. And just when it seems things can’t get any worse, he’s afflicted with a terrible disease that leaves him with no rest or comfort.
Job’s loss is total. And it’s apparently senseless. There’s no easy answer to explain it.
The Book of Job then becomes a penetrating exploration of who we are and who God is. It all starts from a place of brokenness.
But it also explores how God speaks healing and wholeness and hope into individual, human brokenness.
Job cuts through the clutter and the bad advice and the fingers of accusation that always seem to come with challenging circumstances. It moves beyond speaking in anger and fear OUT OF our brokenness and instead lets God speak INTO our brokenness.
When we experience loss and hurt–or even just change–our natural inclination is to start asking, “Why?”
Job experienced many of the things that churches and families are experiencing now—the loss of comfort, position, security, financial stability. And just like Job and his friends, we have to get beyond the natural human impulse to come up with a reason why. We have to move beyond the stage of finger pointing and assigning blame.
If we can get there—as individual Christians, as churches, even as the universal Church—then scripture teaches that we have an opportunity to grow in four distinct ways.
We can gain a greater understanding of who we are. Challenge and loss and struggle can give life a whole new perspective.
We can gain a Greater understanding of who God is. The self-revelation of God to man is the only way we have any idea who and what God is. Many times God is revealed most powerfully in the midst of struggle.
We can gain a greater understanding of what it means to be faithful. Are we faithful to God because of the blessings God provides or are we faithful simply because of who God is? Are we people whose faith is tied to the gift or the giver?
And finally, as broken people learning to be OK again, we have an opportunity to challenge prevailing worldviews. Is there a truth beyond the adage that God blesses good people and curses bad people? Can brokenness provide us a fresh opportunity to claim forgiveness and grace and mercy and hope in Jesus Christ? I think it can.