Why Formulas don’t work.

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By David Megill

My unbelieving friends frequently don’t understand why the world religions just don’t pool their resources, get together and unite over the things upon which we all agree (which to them often seems to sum up as “Don’t murder, Love each other, and don’t judge.”).

Some of my believing friends wonder the same thing.

It’s a good question.
With a very good answer.

It’s not a surprise people are confused about this. We pastor-types have been very confusing in this regard.

A search of Christian books reveal Christianity’s formula for great marriages, successful careers, making friends, even the best diet.

There is a hunger for formulas that work. The problem is they don’t.

Job discovered this. To many people Job seems a book with unanswered questions and no clear point. In fact, Job makes a very strong point about unanswered questions. Here’s the gist.

The prologue of Job tells us three very important things.

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. … He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.

a) He’s righteous

b) He’s prosperous

The third thing comes a few verses later when God and Satan make this odd sort of plan. This is troubling to us, and probably should be, but don’t miss the point amid the trouble. The third point we learn beyond doubt is that:

c) God Himself clarifies that what is about to happen to Job in the story is not his fault.

In no other Biblical story are we so completely confirmed that there is no connection between the bad consequences to come and choices of the protagonist. I think this is, in fact, the reason for the odd prologue, not simply to confuse us but to confirm from God’s own words that Job is not responsible for what’s to come.

So with that as the set up, what happens next? Job loses everything and his friends (other prosperous people whose righteousness has not been declared by God) come to visit.

On the plus side they do just sit in commiseration for 7 days which is more than a lot of us would do.

Unfortunately, it’s all down hill from there. They each try to fix Job and the gist of all their fixing is that it involves diagnosing what part of the formula Job missed. Each of them is very confident in their own version of the same basic formula, a still popular one today: Do what’s right and you will be guaranteed a prosperous and pleasant life. This is insidiously self-righteous. It makes it easy to despise those who are not as happy, rich or established as we ourselves. After all, if they’d simply follow the formula that has worked so well for us, all would be well for them.

Here’s the kicker though: Job indicates that prior to his own recent misfortune, he was in complete agreement with their formulas. But now that he is in the middle of it, he sees it as false because he knows he changed nothing in his own life. It’s less threatening for his friends to believe he is lying than to recognize their own formulas they are counting on for continued comfort might be empty.

All formulas look irrefutable until reality refutes them.

So if we can’t count on formulas, what can we count on? In Job 19:25, long before any resolution, while Job is still struggling he says, “I know that my redeemer lives.”

That’s the point.

The best of Christianity is not the teachings of Christ. The best of Christianity is Christ. 

As simple as this statement sounds, actually being convinced of this changes the way we live, love and think.

 davidAbout David

After 23 years as a small church pastor, I am now a pastor without a church, and I am currently on my own personal pilgrimage of discovering what’s “next”   You can read about this and my other ponderings and short stories over here.

 The Hidden Life

Sometimes it’s as if the life we’ve been seeking has managed to elude us. We wake up and ask ourselves, “Is this what life is all Hidden life book cover kindleabout?” Life has not turned out exactly the way we expected or hoped. We were promised certain things, by parents, culture, by church, and, as Christians believe, by Christ Himself. Were we lied to? Did we misunderstand the promises? Scripture actually tells us the truth: that life is hidden, not always obvious. This book shares one pastor’s story of walking through such disappointment and the principles of hope he learned. Along the way, we explore the nature of the Hidden life and where to find it, and embracing the Incredible GIFT of God. (Grace, Identity, Faith and Training) At least once in their life everyone thinks they are a failure. Through the counseling and conferences of the last 20 years, I have been able to see people who were stuck in their past, mired in their failures, or simply run out of steam, catch a fresh take on life and find confidence of the God they’d always been hoping existed; a God who truly loves them and needs no cajoling to bless. No one’s life will be “fixed” by reading this book, but this book will give people hope. Hope can transform burden to freedom, despair to faith. Such faith and hope can turn ones eyes back to a God who does save and redeem and to the revelation of the hidden life.
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