“Faith, alive in our weakness, looks like a war,” writes Michael Spencer in Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality. “It’s an impossible war waged against an untiring adversary: our sinful, fallen nature. Faith fights this battle.”
That’s about as un-American statement as you can make. The way this is supposed to work is – gain faith, grow, be victorious – just like the whole self-improvement thing tells you. And America is not anything unless it’s the “land of opportunity” for self-improvement.
America is that. Or it has been that for most of its history. That idea is a very powerful part of our national DNA (and one reason why the Tea Party has been upending established politicians of both major parties).
But self-improvement – always getting better – always reaching newer and higher and better – is not exactly how faith works. That a lot of us think that way is an example of how culture can infiltrate faith. What we face with faith is decidedly different. Like Spencer says, “What does this fight look like? It’s a bloody mess. There’s a lot of failure in it. It is a battle where we are brought down again and again.”
Nobody tells you this when you become a believer. Often, you’re told just the opposite. You might be told about the process of sanctification lasting a lifetime – but it is usually described in terms of progress as opposed to process.
What no one tells you is that life will often become more difficult. “If anything,” he writes, “it’s a life that is far more uncomfortable than one’s life before encountering Christ.”
And what Spencer describes here has been precisely my own experience.
You study, you pray, you learn, you start doing things differently and thinking things differently, and one day without realizing it you’re suddenly doing what you always did. Bad habits. Addictions. Anger. Holding grudges. Teaching your children to do the same stupid things you do.
It often seems easier to chuck the whole thing because it always seems so hard.
And then someone comes alongside and gives some encouragement, or you’ll read about others struggling the same way, or someone will come to you and ask for help and guidance. And you realize that all of us are broken, the mending will take our entire lifetimes, and it will never be completed.
So why bother?
Because the alternative is brokenness without hope.
Nancy Rosback over at Bend the Page has been leading us in a discussion of Mere Churchianity. Last week she discussed Chapter 11; this week she writes on Chapter 12. Also see Fatha Frank’s postings at Public Christianity, and his post last week entitled “Label Me, I’ll Label You.”