Politicians are famous for telling us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear. Few politicians get elected on a platform promising austerity and hardship. We want the best things and we want them for free.
But we all know that there is no free lunch. Someone has to pay.
Unfortunately, the church is not immune to the same type of inflated promises. We have entire church organizations that make similar promises. They claim that those who follow Jesus will never endure hardship; they promise that with enough faith, disease will stay away.
Yesterday I read these words in Zechariah:
“For the household gods utter nonsense, and the diviners see lies; they tell false dreams and give empty consolation. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd.”Zechariah 10:2, ESV
I have been in churches that are infected with those who are self-proclaimed prophets. Like the diviners mentioned by Zechariah, they tell of false dreams of ascending into heaven and make false claims of being able to speak prophecy concerning what is best for the people around them. Rather than comfort, they bring confusion at best and destruction at worst.
Also rampant in such “ministries” are claims that those who adhere to their interpretation of scripture will certainly be healed of their sicknesses.
Certainly, I do believe that God can heal. I have known stories of healings that defy normal explanation. I am not arguing that miracles cannot happen.
What I am arguing is that we have no Scriptural basis for any claims that God will automatically heal those who have faith that He can do so. To make such a claim is an empty consolation. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, statistics show that one out of one of us dies of something.
Jesus himself told us:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”John 16:33, ESV
I have believing friends that are going through serious hardship right now. One friend is struggling with a recent cancer diagnosis. Another friend was informed yesterday of a tragic death in the family. Others have difficulties with family relationships. And we all are struggling with how to cope in the midst of a pandemic and all the changes that result from it.
There is no guarantee that the cancer will be removed, even though I believe God can do it and I pray for such a healing. There is no guarantee that the tragic death will result in some ostensible good, even though I believe God can use an unexpected death for his Glory.
The only guarantee is that Jesus promises to be with us no matter the outcome in this life. The one who conquered death promises to know and to care about what we are experiencing. We can have comfort and joy in the midst of difficulty because Jesus is with us.
In this Christmas season, we celebrate Emmanuel, God with Us, who came to earth to make that comfort and joy possible. But we should also keep in mind that the baby in the manger came knowing that he would also be the God on a Cross as the means of producing that joy.
Any real hope that we offer people has to consider that in a fallen world, suffering is a real thing and does not exclude those who are followers of Jesus.
But we can offer very real hope that suffering does not get the last word.