Testimonies and theology

Recently in church we had someone tell us a story. It was a true story about her parents. They were church planters all of their lives, and never saved for their retirement years. Whenever anyone would ask them about the wisdom of this plan, they would reply, “seek first His righteousness . . .and all these things will be given to you.” (Matthew 6) When they retired from church planting, the wife decided to teach school in her retirement. They looked for a house near her work, and found the perfect house for sale. However, they could not afford it.

As they were talking to the real estate agent, someone from a cell phone company happened to be canvassing the neighborhood to find people who were willing to have a cell phone tower in their back yard. Out here in Cali, they often make these towers look like fake palm trees. Of course, the family agreed to the tower tree, and they were able to buy the house. Later, another cell phone company approached them, and now they have two cell phone towers in their backyard. They call them “the money trees.”

This is a sweet story, is it not?

However. The theological conclusion that was delivered with this sweet story was this: God is faithful and works in mysterious ways to make circumstances good for people who trust Him.

The problem with that theological conclusion is that then the opposite of that statement needs to be false. But it is not.

God is faithful, yes. He works in mysterious ways, yes. He works out circumstances so that they are good for those that trust Him: sometimes.

I feel like this is dangerous to do in church, celebrate something like this, and not give some time to other, less straightforward stories about life with God.  A story like this is next door to the truth about God.  But it presents a warped picture of God and His people.  Sometimes people are super faithful and trusting and God doesn’t work like this.

A serious percentage of the Psalms are not what you would call content.  They cry out to a God that is working so mysteriously that His people are frustrated and lost.  Sometimes they say something like, YET I will praise You, God.  This means in spite of dire circumstances.  If no cell phone towers had appeared, that couple probably still would have praised God, because they were faithful followers of His.  But we don’t hear that kind of story very often.  I feel like there should be a balance in church testimonies.  The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.  It would be a much more honest reflection of the people of God’s experiences with Him.

What do you think, innerweb?  Do you just love stories like the “money trees?” Or. . ?

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9 Responses to Testimonies and theology

  1. missionseeker says:

    Dear Megan, Happy New Year. You surely hit upon a nerve with this one. How confusing it can be for someone who has had a loved one pass in an accident and thereby feel forgotten, or condemned or dissed by God, especially if someone survives and they feel blessed, like God was with them, and not with the other guy. I don’t think so. God loves and is with everyone. God’s delivery system of blessing surely is not dictated by our own thoughts or worldly wishes. God’s revelations of mystery are righteous even like when nation blending of Isreal with Gentiles confounded many religious men. How God’s will of revelation to His children is indeed based on our willingness to find His will and accept whatever this world system presents. Do you think it is proving grounds here on this earth? I do. So, what if it rains while we are out on the proving grounds, geeking around in the car? Or what if the rain is so hard, we have to pull off the side of the road? God doesn’t pick the car up and put it on the shoulder of the road for us. **Praying** for the knowledge to know what to do in any given situaltion is the support and then looking for help found in crisis can be provided when a Christian friend comes over or rescues or supports with their prayers too. So being hurt or helped in respect to finding God’s will, him being purposeful, is our need for courage. I think about that movie “Simon Birch” where Simon said, “I believe God has a plan for me.” In time God’s will can be revealed, obvious, or hidden, or mystery, considering while we remain here on earth, we are works in progress. I believe we are placed here in seed form in momma’s womb, then into the world system, born pure we learn whats up with this world. When confronted with Jesus, what will we do with Him, regardless of whatever the events presented in our lifes? We need Jesus to go with us, just in case the end is near, or be ready for any tradgedy and react with Godly reaction. Of course God is the giver and maker of all things good. Good can come even out of distress, Pharoah was also used to factor into God’s plan. David is prime example as you said, he had many foes. Too I think of the apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh. In whatsoever state he was in therewith he was willing to be content. God’s grace was to be sufficient. With God all things are possible. (The firey furnace attitude comes to mind too, trust in God.) Dan.3:18. I am also saying we can be thankul when God does bless our situation if he provides trees so to speak. I think you are right, we should still praise God, trees or no trees. He makes the sun to rise on the just and the unjust. In Him, Mel

  2. endlesslyrocking says:

    Megan, I’m also a little bit troubled when I hear this kind of give-and-take, cause-and-effect relationship with God being spoken of. I feel that God is everywhere all the time, but is not speaking with me or intervening in my life. In fact, in my experience, a life with God is very quiet, filled most of the time with the sense that I am quite alone. It’s the “fear and trembling” thing.

    When I hear other people speaking of having their prayers answered in concrete ways, or of having a dialogue with God, my main reaction is to marvel at how different people’s religious experiences can be. I wonder whether my experience is qualitatively different from theirs, or are we just using different words to describe the same thing? Is it a matter of translating their words into mine? I’m interested in bridging this gap, if that’s possible.

  3. Kim says:

    Hi there, I know what you mean, Megan. When my dad was slowly dying of cancer, the pastor at the church we had belonged to for over 12 years somehow got off onto a “name it and claim it” kick. Or, maybe it wasn’t that bad but it seemed so to my family at the time. It hurt. A lot. To hear the old, stupid assertion that bad things happen (or continue …) because we don’t have enough faith. However, that wasn’t the most troubling thing I got out of your story. The couple that got cell phone towers in their backyard failed to use their God-given heads to plan for their retirement. A pastor once said that the whole reason the first-century Jerusalem church got into such bad shape that other churches had to send them money, was because they sold off all their property and held everything in common… sold their own means of supporting themselves. Thank God that yes, He takes care of us even when we’re stupid. There are no assurances in this world, and He is our only true Source. But He is also the Source of our ability to “mentally time travel” — backwards into memory and forwards into possible futures. And so, we are given the ability to plan.
    As a “psychology geek,” I believe we all construct our own realities (not to say that there is no Reality, just that we can’t comprehend the complexity of God’s Reality, so we construct our own limited ones out of the components that have meaning for us). Therefore, I can’t judge these people absolutely. God does work in mysterious ways. But my reality has been that God is not the big Easy Button in the sky.

  4. josh says:

    great points. i get really creeped out thinking about an interventionist god who plays events like chess pieces.

  5. Megan says:

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments. It is really encouraging to see that I’m not the only one who thinks that this slanted testimony is a little wack.

    Kim: Easy button! ha! one of my seminary professors used to call this theology “vending machine God!”

    Josh: crrreepy. i’m with you.

    mission seekr: thanks for all your recent comments.

    tony: i know, I wonder about this too – if it is a quantitative or qualitative difference . . . on verra, I guess.

  6. titus2woman says:

    This post makes me think of prosperity teaching~even though I know that’s not exactly what you’re talking about. I agree that the life of faith does not always equal easy and content and satisfied! and my favorite testimonies are those of people coming out of hard times~like Psalm 119 says~it is good that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes…. (((((HUGS))))) sandi~enjoyed finding your blog today!

  7. pistolpete says:

    I see your point. Testimonies, however, are not to be viewed as systematic theology. They are anecdotal evidence of God’s presence, not a statistical analysis of his appearances.

  8. agma says:

    I come across this frequently at my church. I have two working theories (open to revision) on this. The first is that Israel understood God to be working in much the same way, so in conjunction with their chosen people theology, that is the perspective they used in the Hebrew Bible. The second is that it just makes people feel a lot better to assume God is micromanaging than to face chaos. Also biblical, yes?

  9. Janice says:

    From my perspective, I find that these stories are necessary. Why? They are true and they are an equal part of the story. Balance is essential and this provides part of that balance. Other stories should also be presented, not necessarily at the same time, but over the course of time. Why shouldn’t we be encouraged when things work out, why shouldn’t we share the stories of God’s goodness? I believe we rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. God sees us through both. :)

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