Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Soup kitchen religion

There are well-meaning Christians who think the only prayers we should offer for someone with a life-threatening condition are prayers for healing. Their perspective is entirely one-sided.

To begin with, there are different kinds of prayers for healing. Not all medical conditions are life-threatening. Some conditions are painful. Some conditions are enervating. Some conditions are debilitating. Some conditions are disfiguring. 

However, a life-threatening condition is different inasmuch as death is ultimately unavoidable. Sooner or later, everybody dies. Medical science can sometimes postpone the inevitable, but it's a question of timing. Death catches up with everyone. From the moment of birth, each of us is tending towards the grave.

When we pray for the dying, when we pray for the terminally ill, we need to take that into consideration. Religion is essentially about death and the afterlife. 

There are theologians and atheists who make fun of soup kitchen religion. Getting people saved and ready to die. Sometimes that's a truncated view of the Gospel. Yet in the end, that's what religion comes down to–because that's crunch time. That's when the promises comes due. 

Christians need to strike a balance between prayers for healing and heavenly-mindedness. Christians should cultivate a deathbed perspective on life. When you're on your deathbed, looking over your life, were you a good steward of the opportunities God gave you? And when you're facing the grave, that's the acid test of faith. I don't mean a Christian has to be fearless. But that's when theological abstractions need to be real. When everything is on the line. Not just comforting ideas at a safe distance.  

We shouldn't wait until we're dying to cultivate a death-bed perspective. We're not taking the Christian faith seriously if we mentally keep death at arm's length. Rather, we should adopt a deathbed perspective early in life, as if we're dying, as if we're looking back on life, and asking ourselves what's important. That's a good way to prioritize. We should be doing that before it's too late to redeem the time. 

If someone has a life-threatening condition, it's appropriate to pray for miraculous healing, but that's different from medical conditions in general–which concern the quality of life or the ability to provide for ourselves or others. Compared to eternity, this life is just a blink of the eye. And this life is supposed to be a preparation for the afterlife–especially for Christians. As best we can, we should be mentally prepared to die at anytime–because, in fact, we can die at any time. Many people die in accidents. They die without warning. No time to pray. 

Having read many formulaic prayers for healing, I wonder if there's not an element of spiritual ostentation. Signaling to others your belief in miracles, and what boundless faith you have. On a related note is an element of spiritual conceit. Have they been influenced by name-it-and-claim-it theology? As if we can take "authority" over terminal illness by intoning the talismanic name of Jesus.  

10 comments:

  1. This is like your recent post, "deathbed prayer"...and it is good stuff.

    "As if we can take "authority" over terminal illness by intoning the talismanic name of Jesus."

    Indeed. God is allowing the suffering, but is it so that you will learn to take your authority over the thing, or so that you will learn to bow to his authority in the thing? Your faith cannot make these things go away. Your faith can make your fear of these things go away. To be godly in such situations is not a matter of being God-like in power, but godly in character. That’s not a mindset of, “Oh well, here comes the suffering, so I’ll just bite my lip and take it.” Rather than passive acceptance, it is an active opportunity for purifying your heart, and for joy, blessing, and glorifying God.


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  2. Are there any resources you would recommend for someone trying to cultivate a death-bed perspective? That's the situation believe I'm facing at the moment. I have been chronically ill for 17 years, but recently things have turned more serious. I have spent most of my time and energy trying to get well, and now I'm realizing I want to be prepared to die. I would appreciate any advice or resources you recommend.

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    1. I'm sure there are others, but a few that come to mind:

      -A Grief Sanctified: Through Sorrow to Eternal Hope (J.I. Packer)
      -Last Things (Paul Helm)
      -Sunsets: Reflections for Life's Final Journey (Deborah Howard, foreword by D.A. Carson)

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    2. I've heard good things about these but have not read them (yet):
      -Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ (J. Todd Billings)
      -Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Tim Keller)

      In addition, earlier this month, Steve linked to a chapter titled "Dying Well" by Don Carson.

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    3. By the way, Steve and other Tbloggers have written a lot of posts on dying and death.

      If it was me, to the extent possible, I'd want to pass away in the presence of God's people singing God's songs (e.g. "The Lord's my shepherd") and hearing God's word.

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    4. I'd recommend that you read and meditate on certain books of the Bible, especially the

      Psalter

      Gospel of Luke

      Gospel of John

      Philippians

      Some psalms are more suitable to your situation than others. It's a question of which ones speak to you at this time of life.

      In addition, read and mediate on:

      1928 Book of Common Prayer

      Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress

      George Herbert, The Temple

      Henry Vaughan, Silex Scintillans & the Mount of Olives

      Abraham Kuyper, In the Shadow of Death & To Be Near Unto God.

      Most of these works are probably available for free on the Internet.

      Listen to your favorite hymns and carols. Many of these are available on the internet. I happen to like performances of classic hymns and carols by the choir of King's College chapel. I simply Google King's College + the title of a hymn. Other examples are the choir of St. Paul's Cathedral (London).

      But your taste in music may be different.

      If you can walk or drive to a secluded, scenic place like a quiet park, go there to pray daily. Reviewing your life, think about events in your life that you were happy to put behind you. Make a list. Things you won't miss. It's a relief you never have to see them or do them again.

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  3. In the very near future, sad to say, it is most likely the case that charismatics are going to need to take a good, hard look at themselves and the unrealistic expectations derived from their theology. That sort of letdown, unfortunately, is a recipe for apostacy, but the real solution is to reform their theology and leave churches of that mindset for churches that are more sober-minded and biblically-grounded.

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  4. Read this article, then I went and read comments on Nabeel Qureshi's YouTube videos. Lord, have mercy.

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    1. That indeed illustrates the problem.

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