A Facebook friend linked to An Open Letter to the Church: How to Love the Cynics, and I recognized right away a new voice in the chorus of God doesn't make all your problems go away at once. I followed her blog, and bought her book, When We Were On Fire, when it came out in October.
She grew up in the evangelical youth culture of the 90's, wanted to say and believe all the right things, then in her mid 20s found that didn't work out like she'd been told. Life was still hard even when you did all the things the church said you should do.
I recognized the rules, and clichés, and the unspoken assumption that transformation should be sudden and immediate and once-for-all. Do the right things and all will be well. But that’s not the Gospel, not the New Covenant, but the Old Covenant. What is the Gospel? God has provided a savior because we are not OK on our own. But we make it a new law. “Do these things and you will live.”
“O foolish American evangelicals,” Paul might write from heaven, “how you have turned aside from the Gospel to a different Gospel, one that is no Gospel at all.”
Surely we haven’t paid enough attention to all of Scripture, to the promises God gave Abraham that took centuries to be fulfilled, the promises God gave to Moses and David that took centuries to be fulfilled. Why does God make promises knowing it will be a long time before he keeps them? But then, if God is always going to act quickly, would he make a promise? Why wouldn’t he just do it? I think the promises are given because there will be delay, and we must keep faith through the delay.
You feel your heart get still, and instead of the cynical voice in your head, you hear something else entirely. Something old and familiar. But there it is: Unmistakable. Beautiful. It sounds like faith and hope. It sounds most of all, like Love.We don't get the happy ever after, all our problems solved in this life. But we get the assurance of being loved in the midst of this life, and the hope it will be better, because God is with us.
Sometimes the interesting thing in a book is not what it says but what it makes you think about. Reading Zierman's book, I asked why the evangelical church is so prone to cliché and platitude? I suspect a lot of it comes from our general culture. I think of one of my favorite books growing up, Great American Fighter Pilots of World War II. My favorite chapter came near the end, the story of the Marianas Turkey shoot. American engineers produced a fighter plane faster, more maneuverable and better armored than the Japanese Zero, and suddenly (it seemed) the American fighter pilot was on Easy Street, shooting down Zeros left and right, shrugging off the rare moments when a Zero got a shot at them. And that was the message, it may be hard going at first, it may require courage in those early days of defeat, but then end will come. The engineers will figure out what you need to make victory easy. So when that kind of thinking met the Gospel, of course I thought once you come to Christ, God's power will make everything easy. We grow up knowing in our American souls that real change has to be rapid and total. But what does Scripture show us? God's timeline involves long periods of waiting.