There is a famous bumper sticker that bluntly states the truth that “Shit Happens”. It was so prevalent, that growing up, I think it might have been my first exposure to the word “shit”. I was about twelve and, yes, I was that sheltered. Another popular bumper sticker out there is “Life sucks and then you die”. Also true and equally uplifting.
I doubt that either one was coined by an Evangelical Christian. First, because the words “shit” and “suck” have most Evangelicals clutching their pearls. (Don’t believe me? Check out the comments Jamie the Very Worst Missionary gets). Second, because we have decided based on what I believe is a misuse of scripture, that we need to be happy, shining, perfect and fake in order to be “a good witness” and not “cause our brother to stumble”.
At the beginning of the month, I wrote about how I believe that the passage in 1 Corinthians 8:13 was misused to put the blame on women for men’s stumbling into lustful thoughts, and thus blaming women for their own objectification in Jesus, Paul, Modesty, and Personal Responsiblity. The same passage has also been used to guilt Christians into trying to put up a perfect front regardless of what is actually going on in their lives. If your heat just got turned off because you can’t pay your bills, because your husband just ran off with a 19-year-old, and you might be losing your hair due to the stress, if you tell the truth to a “weaker” Christian or non-Christian, the belief is that they won’t want to emulate your life. You simply aren’t a good advertisement for Christianity. Instead of telling the truth, you should just say you are simply being a good steward by trying to conserve energy (in the middle of winter) by not using your heat, your husband is on a (indefinite) buisness trip, and you just really like wearing hats. Basically put some lipstick on your pile of shit and lie.
Here’s the thing though. Despite anything a slick haired, prosperity gospel spouting televangelist might tell you, God never promised that this life was going to be easy. In fact, Jesus said the exact opposite. Jesus said that his followers would be hated, betrayed, lied about, persecuted, and put to death (Matthew 10:21-23, Luke 21:11-13, and John 15:20-21). But bad things don’t only happen to followers of Jesus. People of other religions are persecuted and put to death. People starve and dy of thirst. Corrupt governments and leaders inflict genocide on their own people. People cheat, lie, steal, rape, assault, and murder each other. Horrible things happen to the good, the bad, the indifferent. I see babies that were slowly poisoned by alcohol and drugs before birth. I see children who were raped by people who were supposed to be protecting them. What did they do to deserve that? Nothing . The world is broken.
It is harmful to say to a person who is hurting, that they just need to try harder and put on a perfect mask because they might be a bad witness if they admit they have problems or they just need to have enough faith to fake a smile. If we take our example from Jesus, we will see the opposite. We will see a man who wept over his friend even though he knew he fully had the power to raise him from the dead. We see a man who was so angry he made a whip and drove out people who had desecrated the temple with materialism. We see a man who became exhausted and needed time alone from the crowds. We see a man in such emotional agony that he sweated blood.
This was not a man who put on a fake smile and pretended everything was peachy so people would follow him. He wasn’t a good advertisement by being rich, shiny and knowing all the right people. In fact he surrounded himself with drunks, prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners.
The good news of the gospel is not that life will be perfect. It is not that if you tithe 10% you will have enough money to pay your bills and buy a new sports car. It is not that if you follow Jesus’ commandments you will have a fabulous wife, 2.5 perfect kids, a big house with a white picket fence.
The good news is that the God of the universe, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise One, loves you. God loves you enough to come down as a vulnerable baby, to be born next to piles of shit, so that he could be fully human, fully God. To live amongst us in our broken world. To surround himself by those who had been ostracised by the rest of the world and called human shit. To teach us and show us how to love each other. To be killed by us. To overcome death for us. To send his Holy Spirit to dwell within us so that we could also overcome.
The good news is best “advertised” by those who are honest about their struggles, their doubts and their pain and by others who, instead of shaming them into putting on a perfect face, come beside them and show Jesus’ love to them. It is more encouraging for someone to say “My husband and I fight a lot, but lately I am praying to be more patient and it seems to be helping” rather than someone who portrays a perfect marriage without any problems. It is more encouraging for someone to say “I didn’t know how I was going to pay my electric bill this month because we are that strapped for money, but someone I didn’t know handed me an envelope with cash at my church and we can now pay this month’s bill” than someone who pretends to never have any money problems. We all know we have problems and perfect people just look fake or like we could never live up to their standards. The good news is not for perfect people. It’s for tax collectors, zealots, prostitutes, virgins, Pharisees, and drunkards. It’s for televangelist, murders, politicians, rapists, buisness owners, and drug addicts. It’s for sluts, activists, adulterous, homemakers, misogynist, porn addicts, nuns, racists, and bloggers. It’s for me and it is for you.
The good news is that we have a God who loves us and that he is with us. God promises to never leave us or forsake us. She is with us through all that life can throw at us. Because life sucks. And then you die. And that is good news. Because while Jesus never promised us treasures here, he did promise us that we can build treasures in heaven. And there he promised us that there would be no sickness, no pain, and no tears. He promised that he would make all things new we will be forever with him. He promised that we would overcome. Revalation 21:3-5