The Gospel of "Life Sucks but then You Die" is being preached in many places all over our country. No, I am not talking about atheists. Some atheists preach something slightly similar but many of them would not label it as good news, necessarily, just reality. In churches all over the nation we have this gospel preached.
Skeptical? Sound farfetched? Well, perhaps if I set it to music. Last week was Reformation Sunday, so how about from The Church's One Foundation (Samuel Stone): "Were they to take our house, goods honor, child or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The Kingdom's ours forever!" That one is a bit direct. More often the message is more subtle. It can sound like "O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home, (O God Our Help In Ages Past by Isaac Watts)." or "safe and secure from all alarms...leaning on the everlasting arms, (What a Fellowship, What a Joy Divine by Elisha Hoffman)."
God is our shelter and refuge, our comfort, our safety. These don't sound like a description of life's trials (aka "life sucks"). But when held to closer scrutiny the truth is revealed. After all, many of us have experienced hardships in life from which God did not protect us. Many of us know divine comfort can be thin or even nonexistent in the midst of grief and tragedy. I will concede for some there seems to be some reality to God providing comfort, some sense of God's presence when they are suffering. But for many there is not. And still being a good, faithful, person does not mean God will intervene and be your "shield" against all the horrors life can provide. All the platitudes in the world can not protect us from this reality.
And lest someone dismiss my thoughts because I am "clearly stuck in the anger stage of grief" or some such thing, let me make clear this is not just about my own experience. I have sat with others through their pain, as well. It is not just about emotion either. Rational consideration of life leads me to conclude God does not protect us from pain in this life.
If God does not actually protect us from life's hardships nor iradicate the pain, then what are all these songs, children's sermons, sermons, platitiudes about? They must be about the hope of eternal life. God will protect us from eternal death and damnation. Someday we will receive comfort. Someday we will be safe. Someday it will all make sense and we will all be healed. Someday. Meaning after we die (or at the Second Coming for a few). Therefore the message of the gospel becomes, "if life is hard focus on the next life." i.e.: "Life Sucks but then You Die."
( A side note: a very insightful person in my life pointed out there is another possibility: if we see God as fighting the forces of evil and being constrained by our free will and the impact of evil I suppose we could say God is protecting us even when we don't see the results. But this perspective is generally reserved for more fundamentalist circles than the mainline churches with which I have been in contact. And besides really this is just a slight variation which would translate to the Gospel of "Life Sucks, But It Could Be Worse, but then You Die.")
I wonder if these messages of God's protection and comfort are second only to evangelism in killing the church. We are setting our children up for faith crises. We tell them that God will protect them and then life happens and it is revealed to them as a lie. We worry about lying to them about Santa Claus! That pales in comparison to the lie of this gospel. It is time to get real.
The Gospel in which I hope is not a platitude of false protection.
The Gospel in which I hope is a call to action,
a call to revolution,
a strengthening of resolve and transformation of weakness
by a spirit of unity,
the power of meaning,
the richness of something more than meets the eye.
This is the spirit I feel when I walk amongst the trees,
when I play with my children,
when I join in songs of compassion, justice, hope, mercy and beauty,
when I listen, speak, and act with the outcast and hurting.
This is not a "Life sucks but then you die" gospel. This is a "life is hard and sometimes beautiful let's use the latter to strengthen us to do something about the former" Gospel of hope and transformation. God is there. In that. In this I hope.