Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Futility of an If-less Life

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 
-- Matthew 4:3.

I was reminded today how difficult it is for Christians to be Christian. Usually such reminders come by accident, or seeming happenstance, though, as a Christian, I have to accept the fact that today's unsought, unwanted, unappreciated but unavoidable meeting with one of the church leaders from a mystifying moment in my past might have been purposeful, as in God-ordained. Taco to taco.

That's so . . . God.

I have been "blessed?" to witness the worst and the best of Christian behavior, ranging from the wrap-around of real extended grace to the messy and misguided attempts by Christians to go all-out WWJD, most often with people who could care less what Jesus would do because their lives are crying out for us to do something. When we respond from behind our Christian masks instead of risking our Christian skins, our blessings are scorned by the rejecting responses of those we quickly label as rebellious and on ruinous routes to hell. We can easily find that our "you" is showing and our "me" is rising to the surface, as in WWID, major emphasis on the "I."  We don't see the hurt in the other's eyes because of the great pain we ourselves are feeling when our efforts are disdained by those who don't trust or revere us. Believe me . . . I've seen this from both points of view.

We Christians are all, after all, only people, washed and clean but heading smack-dab back into the ever-alluring mud of life. We may forever hope to avoid that slippery slope, but it seems to be a fixed point on many a personal compass. Like moths brought to light or dogs to a fight, we flit about and find ourselves burned or bitten. Indeed, the ever-present inner flaw that leads us into repeated desperate situations is one of the best arguments against evolution. If we were evolving, surely we would do better by now.  Common sense is not much of a savior. Good sense is not really that dependable and certainly not that common. So we find ourselves in and out of situations, depending on our skills at manipulation, even before we realize how God might have intended them to unfold.

That's so . . . human.

When I look back at some of my most drastic falls from grace -- as we humans might characterize them -- I realize that I was always falling into grace, not out of it. Still, no matter how healing the landing might eventually become . . . the fall gets the attention, as we ricochet against the treacherous walls of whatever abyss we have been dancing along the edge of. Looking up from the hard and cold and dark and enveloping bottom of our pit of choice, we ask "why?"  In other words, God, if You really love me, why don't You stop me?

Better yet, we want to know why what we do has to be constituted as a fall in the first place. Could not God have created a constant plane and set us upon it to travel throughout a life that cannot trip us up? Why all these bumps, these curves, these hills and valleys, these disturbing and deceitful detours? If You really are God . . .

That's so . . . shall we say . . . Satan?

If we did not fall, would we ever call?  If we did not slip, would we ever grip?

And there's the rub: that little word "if."

If we would just call, might we not fall?  If we would just grip, might we not slip?

If only. Then perhaps those drastic "falls from grace," would never take place.

For instance, what if in those desperately-seeking-someone days of discovering adulthood I had thought of my Christian friend as a brother and not as a potential source for satisfaction? What if I had seen him as God sees him and not as I wanted to see him? What if I had been to him what God wanted me to be instead of being a me that just wanted? If the if had turned a different way would I have avoided decades of distancing acts that often made God seem but just a shadow? I think I see clearly how those bumps and valleys we call tests and trials emerge onto the paths on which He lays out His plans for us.

What if we open this door . . . instead of that one?

What if we listen to this person . . . instead of that one?

What if we close our eyes and ears and refuse to see or listen to God at all?

What if we choose to stray instead of pray?

What if we hide the Word somewhere far removed from our hearts?

What if we give up and give in instead of giving ourselves to Him?

What if we refuse truth because it confuses the world-skewed view we have learned to accept of ourselves?

What if we demand of God and then use His response to justify our rebellion because He does not turn our invited stones of life into pillows to give us rest?

What if we judge Him by the actions of His people?

What if we pile onto Him all the pain and all the rejection and all the confusion and all the delusion and all the wandering and all the wondering and all the sorrow and all the loneliness and all the fear and all the hate and all the emptiness and all the deceit and all the craving and all the lies and all the arrogance and all the judgment and all the shame and all the guilt and all the hopelessness?

Really . . . what if we did that?  What if we just said to God:  "Take that!"

He would.

He will. It's not a matter of if.

If I were 25 or 35 or maybe even 75 and had never struggled with sexual brokenness, this is the place in this story where I would tell you to just give it all to Him and you won't have to struggle anymore. And you could slap your palm against your forehead and say "duh" and get on with your life. But, as a Christian who struggled and fell so often that down seemed up, I won't do that to you. I know how it feels to be lectured by plank-bearers who cannot see you through the cloud of disdain that replaces grace with grey.

But I will tell you this. The Bible is not joking when it tells us to take up our cross daily and follow Him. That doesn't mean bear the burden; it means die to self and surrender to Him. Every day. It's not a miracle cure; it's a daily dose.

Actually, when Jesus said it, He began with . . . "if."

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 
-- Mark 8:34-35

That's an if we can all live with . . . and an if we cannot live without.

Okay . . . back to the taco. We made a little small talk, asked a few tentative questions, perhaps made a little progress? Perhaps. Perhaps we turned a few stones into bread . . . or burritos.

God Bless,


If this post was helpful to you or to someone you know, I hope you will order a copy of  my book, Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do.  The book is also available on Kindle or Nook at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com.  Thank you.)


  1. Thanks for the reminder that its not suppose to be easy. Its a daily seeking that I so easily forget. Daily taking up my cross and seeking strength for the day in Christ.


  2. Thanks, Thom, for reminding us to keep looking to the One who loves us supremely and who never leaves us when we stumble and fall. It's not easy, but it is worth it! - Michael McIlwain, Cape Coral, FL