And, So It Goes

One Sunday not long ago a pastor was preaching a weighty sermon dealing with suffering. He opined that some people had a hard time reconciling a loving God with human suffering. Accordingly, he said some pastors and ministers simply chose not to deal with suffering. They were concerned such topics made people uncomfortable, and their job was to lift people up. To have uplifting sermons, they simply disregarded suffering, or focused on so-called positive messages.

A sermon such as the one preached that morning can make people uncomfortable. This is especially true when a pastor seems to be criticizing other pastors, ministers, or churches. So, this pastor lightened the mood a bit. He paused briefly, looked around the congregation and quipped with a grin, “There’s the secret to giving a popular sermon, or writing a best-selling Christian book. Tell people what they want to hear.”

The congregation’s response was what one might expect. There were some low chuckles and an “Amen” or two. It is possible a few people sank a little lower in their seats thinking about some books in their personal libraries, but the remark served its purpose.

It is likely most Christians, and many non-Christians, can think of at least one pastor, minister, or Christian writer who teaches what people want to hear rather than what the Bible teaches. In some cases, these pastors lead huge churches or organizations that tens of thousands support. Tens of thousands who are looking for someone who will tell them what they want to hear.

Blaming such teaching on the times in which we live would be easy. The modern world has become a place of instant gratification, material success, and moral relativism. Some people do not want to face the hard truths in the Bible. They would much rather focus on blessings, mercy and forgiveness. However, this is not a new phenomenon. One might think those who lived in the times of the Old Testament would have a better understanding of the realities of the world, but people are people.

Of course, people in biblical times were not exactly like modern day Christians. Beyond the social and technological differences, there were some theological differences. For example, consider their understanding of man’s relationship with God.

AnOldSinner wrote a piece entitled “Of Job and Ants” a couple of years ago. It made the point that people of the Old Testament knew that in some ways people are as ants compared with Him. Yet, even with that understanding, they did not want to hear the truth.

They wanted to be told that everything will be okay. They wanted to hear that God loved them, and would never let anything bad happen to them. They were not interested in hearing about suffering, punishment, or judgment. This point, and its relationship to the pastor’s quip, hit this writer between the eyes a few days ago while reading in the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah 30:10 (NLT) made the point clear. It reads in part …

“Don’t tell us what is right.
Tell us nice things.
Tell us lies.”

The ancient world of the Bible was different. It did not have smart phones, computers, televisions, and other modern products or technology. Still, in other ways it was the same. People were not interested in the truth from their leaders, their prophets, or their priests. They preferred the message of the snake-oil salesman, a message that did not require them to look at their sin. Things did not go well for the people of Israel and Judah when they played this game. One has to wonder how the modern world will fair if we only listen to those who tell us nice things and lies.

© 2015

About S. Eric Jackson

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