In an adult church school class recently, we were talking about “depending on God,” especially whether that meant waiting passively for help when we have trouble, such as being unable to pay a bill. We didn’t resolve anything in the brief time we had, but we did raise the issue of our responsibility for taking appropriate and timely action to take care of our own needs and for making thoughtful choices.

There’s apparently a whole school of Christian thought out there that God will rescue us from our foolishness and bad decisions. Isn’t that what the Bible says? We need only cite Psalm 34: “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles…. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.”

So the woman who overspends on her credit cards on stuff she doesn’t need and then can’t pay the bill when it comes due believes that the check her friend sent out of the blue “because the Lord told me to” is a sign of divine favor and a divine sanction to keep on running up the bills. Or the man who knows he cannot afford a new home unless his old one sells signs the contract anyway and sweats how he will pay. Then a relative at the last minute provides the money he needs  because “in my prayers last night, God laid it on my heart” to help out. And so the man continues thinking that God controls every little detail of his life and will never let him be in dire straits because God always cares for his sheep.

Surely these folk are favored by God! Which means the poor widow on a limited income must not be righteous because she has to watch every expense and even has some utilities, like cable TV, cut off because she can’t pay the bill. Or that the man who dies in a car wreck or from a shooting must have resisted God’s plan for his life and angered God, who abandoned him to whatever may come. Or if victims of a corrupt and/or selfish government would simply trust Jesus, they would have what they needed.

What sort of God is it whose “plan” consigns some to hunger, poverty, grief, and pain while others live charmed lives and get away with anything they do, no matter how stupid or irresponsible?  How can anyone believe in a God like that? If God is like Jesus, then God as he truly is has harsh words for the self-assured, the selfish, and the self-righteous who are certain of divine favor and gentle compassion for those who struggle on the margins, left-out, looked down on, and cast aside.

Besides, the Bible does not speak with one voice on the issue of rescue. Some of the poets may have believed that God delivered people from troubles, and all they had to do was wait on him, but the wisdom tradition differed sharply with such ideas. The sages emphasized good choices made at the right time with an eye to the future. The word “rescue” only occurs once in Proverbs, and then in a negative context (Proverbs 19:19). But over and over, laziness, foolishness, and irresponsibility are condemned.

So next time you get in hot water due to choices you made, don’t look to God to get you out of it. Bear the consequences, and then start making better choices. God gave you a brain; he’s depending on you to use it.

© 2013 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

“Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven light years away—here in this place the new light is shining, now is the kingdom, and now is the day” (Marty Haugen, “Gather Us In,” © 1982, GIA Publications, Inc.)

++++

There’s a trend in our culture that’s disturbing to me. Politicians, parents, and preachers with a certain spin or take on Christian faith consistently discount and dismiss particular scientific theories and/or warnings as so flawed as not to be believed or some sort of scam or not worthy to be taught in the classroom or funded by the government. Science itself is seen as the enemy of faith and the results of careful observation and experiment are referred to as “just a theory.” (That phrase itself shows how little these people understand science. A theory is not just a guess; it begins as a hypothesis, which is tested and refined until a theory based on observed behaviors of, for example, people or particles emerges.)

Contrast the approach of someone like the popular and now controversial preacher, writer, and pastor Rob Bell. In his “Everything is Spiritual” talk, Bell uses string theory, quantum mechanics, and contemporary cosmological thought to explore what it means to be human. Bell is an evangelical, but he sees science, obviously, not as the enemy, but as an ally in the overall quest for Truth. If indeed, everything is spiritual, and simply being human means we are spiritual, then science is inherently a spiritual pursuit, honoring to God as we explore his creation.

The biblical wisdom tradition, largely ignored by every kind of Christian (the mainline Revised Common Lectionary has only a few passages over the course of three years), leads us to the same conclusion. The everyday stuff of life is the basis for theological reflection; exploration of the world and the cosmos is a holy task and can open our perspectives in ways we never imagined. For example, the long speech of God from the whirlwind in the book of Job is intended to awaken Job to the undreamed-of possibilities for his life and broaden his viewpoint.

Recently, I’ve begun to think about how science could help us approach the question of Heaven. If we think about it at all, we may assume Heaven is somewhere “out there” beyond the stars; it’s “up.” But what if we baptized M-theory or string theory, for example, which posits the existence of parallel universes (http://www.npr.org/2011/01/24/132932268/a-physicist-explains-why-parallel-universes-may-exist)? Suppose we began to think of Heaven not as “out there” but contiguous with our reality.

Such an idea would open up possibilities for passages like Revelation 4:1: “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open!” A door is a portal, an entrance into another reality existing side by side with this one like one room with another. The prophet would simply need to step through in order to enter the parallel realm. Or how about Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses….” Heaven as a parallel universe would allow us to understand that text quite literally. We’re surrounded, but we can’t see the saints, because they live in a different dimension. And of course, there are all the texts in which Jesus suddenly appears to and among his disciples. Could he have been traveling instantaneously from his universe into this one and vice-versa?

Of course, there’s no way of knowing short of our actual going to Heaven. But I think these things are fun to think about. And it’s important to affirm science as a resource for faith. Whether Heaven is a parallel realm or indeed somewhere beyond the farthest galaxy, as the old song says, “it’s a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace.”

© 2011 Tom Cheatham