Bad theology is dangerous. What we believe affects how we feel. What we believe affects how we behave. What we believe affects the choices we make.
So what we believe is very important.
There is a theological idea that is wildly popular in many churches today that has the potential to wound and destroy the faith of many Christians. It creates a weight that no man or woman can bare. It produces disillusionment with God and the church. Like many bad theologies – it is very subtle. Well meaning pastors, Sunday school teachers, small group leaders and the like unwittingly promote this dangerous idea:
“If you have enough faith, God will change your circumstances.”
If you just have enough faith God will take the cancer away. He’ll change your husband. You’ll get the job or admission into the school program. Your wayward child will come to their senses. That bad decision won’t result in negative consequences.
So you pray. I mean you PRAY. You even have other people praying with you. You go to church and read your Bible and “claim God’s promises”. You believe. You maximize your faith the best way you know how.
And then things don’t change. The cancer is still there. You’re husband is still a jerk. You don’t get the job. The rejection letter comes. You’re still single.
What does it mean when things don’t change? When your theology is: “If you have enough faith, God will change your circumstances” you get crushed. “I must not have enough faith!” “Why can’t I believe enough?”
Then, you look around and see the circumstances changing for others. “Why them and not me?” you wonder. There are only two possible reasons: 1) They have more faith than you, so you’re a ‘loser’ Christian. 2) God loves them and not you, so you give up…sometimes on God all together.
All because of terrible theology.
I believe that I can say with some measure of authority to every Christian who reads this: Your faith isn’t as strong as the Apostle Paul’s. When was the last time you were praying and your house was so physically shaken you had to call a contractor for repairs? Yet, according to Paul he pleaded with God to remove a circumstance from his life. He begged God to take away a physical and emotional affliction. Paul had mega-faith. So how did God answer Paul?
God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)
Despite his faith-filled, earth shaking pleas to God, nothing changed. Paul’s circumstances and his affliction remained. If enough faith could cause God to change your circumstances, then Paul’s would have changed. His thorn would have dissipated. He probably wouldn’t have had his head cut off in Rome either.
Despite this, Paul’s faith didn’t waiver. Rather, it was strengthened. Paul found a way to see his affliction and his circumstances as a gift. (2 Corinthians 12:7) Paul described his circumstances as something that brought him closer to his Heavenly Father. He began to see his circumstances, though painful, as a gift because of how God worked through them.
If this sounds insane, it’s probably because humanly speaking it is. Joy in prison? Nonsense! Joy in torture for his faith? Insane! Humanly speaking.
But Paul remained faithful despite the fact that his circumstances didn’t change. Today, we name cathedrals and children after Paul. We name dogs after Nero.
Paul’s faith didn’t change God, but it did change him. May it be so with us.