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Monday, February 1, 2010

Bend Don’t Break

Last night I was watching the Winter X Games, and I witnessed the most horrifying accident. A trick skier on a half pipe flew up about fifteen feet, came down, hit the pipe, and cracked the middle of his back on the rail, face up, bending his spine at a 90 degree angle in the wrong direction. By all logic, it looked as if the blow broke his back. Except that this was a clip of a run earlier in the week. The guy was a little achy, but he competed and delivered an amazing performance. You see, this skier bent. He did not break.

I understand about people who bend and don’t break. I’m raising three of them. It’s my middle son who skateboards and does gymnastics and best proves this illustration. He back flips off small buildings, jumps from the top of twenty-foot-playground equipment just for the fun of it. I don’t know what blessing of genetics has given me three children with good flexible bones, but trust me, I am very grateful. I am well aware that some kids break bones simply by tripping and falling.

Watching that skier reminded me of something. When we face hard times in our lives, we can either bend or break. I’ve been seeing an overused motif recently in Christian fiction, and I see a common origin. I’ve read at least five books in the last two months with characters who start out bitter and broken because of some tragedy in their lives. They did not bend with the winds of adversity. They blamed God and turned away from him. Of course, as the book goes along, they come to trust God no matter what bad things God throws at them, but still I see something problematic here.

I know the majority of Christians look at tragedies and assume it must be "God's Will." I wasn't raised that way, and I'm thankful. I look at a tragedy and assume it is the result of evil and an active enemy in the world. That God only wants to love and protect and heal us through this situation.

I realize this sort of theology is complicated, and I know it requires some sort of balance, but I will say that due to the way I was raised, tragedy has ALWAYS pulled me closer to God, never farther away. I have never blamed him for anything bad in my life. I have only turned to him to solve it and thanked him for the good.

Honestly, reading so many characters recently who do blame God for the tragedy in their lives, I have to wonder if in fact poor theology has led to all of this brokenness. If the bones, the skeleton of our relationship with God is weak, then we’re bound to break.

I don’t really know why tragedies happen. I assume it’s all very complex. Yet in my childlike faith, I choose to believe that ultimately, God wants only good for us. I’m sure there are many factors that could contribute: sin, doubt, not hearing a warning from God, simple weariness, an active spiritual attack from the enemy. Perhaps it merely comes back to a world where God has provided choice and therefore a certain degree of randomness must scientifically accompany that reality. I see no need to search out fault or cast blame. We simply live in a fallen world, and not yet being perfected creatures, naturally bad things will happen.

But if we truly see and believe that God is on our side and wants only the best for us (really the best like a loving father, not like a twisted sadist) then it is so much easier to trust him to see us through it. This leads to what I see as the key factor in characters and lives that do not break.

Good perception.

In any tragedy we can focus on the blessings or the problems. Here’s a quote from my first novel, “Only remember this, Dandelion: happiness is not so much about our circumstances as it is about how we perceive those circumstances. The poorest, crippled beggar on the side of the road can have joy in his heart; and the richest, most influential man surrounded by people who love him can be caught in the throes of despair. You can’t choose your circumstances, but you can choose how you will face them.”

With a proper perception of God and of circumstances, we can maintain the intimacy with our loving father that we will need in order to receive the help and healing we so desperately crave.

So I vote for characters and lives that bend and don’t break. For belief systems based on a proper understanding of God’s truly good and loving nature. For a recognition of an active evil in this world bent on our destruction, but an awareness that we as believers can overcome the world.

John 16:33 (New International Version) "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Oh, and in case you were wondering, MaryLu Tyndall and Karen Hancock are two of the best inspirational authors for teaching excellent theology in their novels. In general, most of the books I recommend in the side bar come from a solid theological perspective and provide many fresh insights into the wonder and nature of God.


  1. Many of the blogs I read take the position that you are questioning here - that God sends problems, tragedy, etc. And, he might. Certainly in the OT God send hardship on his people at times as a way to change them. And Hebrews pictures God as a father disciplining his children. So there are no doubt times God does send hardship, even tragedy.

    But I, too, question if God is always behind it. Sometimes I've thought I'm the only one who questioned that, so I'm glad to read your post here (which I was alerted to on FB)! I agree with you that we live in a fallen world, and one feature of a fallen world is bad things happen b/c we are out of sync with God. Selfishness often predominates, which means people will act in ways that are harmful to others. Even the creation is affected by the fall (Romans 8), and groans for redemption. That may explain some of the natural tragedies we see (earthquakes, etc.). Is God behind all that? I don't know, and I don't think we can at this point.

    Fred Craddock says some people like to think God is behind it b/c of the questions and fear they would have if he were not.

    I like to think that God is not behind it all, and offers us comfort and refuge when tragedy does strike.

    I guess people will pick the perspective that most resonates with their faith and needs.

    Anyway, very good post. Enjoyed reading it.

  2. Thanks, Warren. I hope I have properly conveyed that I understand this issue is complicated. And you're right, various takes may resonate with different people. God is certainly gracious and multi-faceted that way.

    But, I am tired of seeing a certain type of theology creating bitterness towards God in so many people. I hope this article will help someone to see God in a new light that will allow them to love him again.

    And Warren, there are whole theological movements within the church that advocate this sort of theology. Some may say they go too far in the other direction. I say balance is the key, but that they offer a needed counterpoint.

  3. I hate to say this, but from a ministry perspective, it's a lot easier to say "God did it" than to say "I don't know why" when we're trying to comfort the hurt and grieving. IMHO, a lot of the "blame God" theology sprang from a selfish desire to protect ourselves and our 'positions' as spiritual authorities. And that position has, indeed, caused a huge amount of bitterness and mistrust toward God. Shame on us as ministers of the Gospel, messengers of good news, if we resort to hiding behind pointing fingers instead of being honest and saying we simply don't know why these things happen, but we DO know God is good, all the time.
    OK, I'm quietly getting off my soapbox now... : )

  4. That's deep Niki. I always thought of it more as a theological opinion rather than a ministerial co-op, but I think in many cases you are right. Saying that something must be "God's Will" is an overused platitude in my opinion that can be hurtful in some situations.

    We know that ultimately God created the universe and set it's laws in motion. But does that mean it's "his will" for us to do evil, to hurt others, to turn from him. Of course not, which leads me to believe that not everything is "God's will," at least not in the way so many think of it. Although God may not actively stop things due to how he set up the universe to include choice, it doesn't mean he wanted those things to happen.