How a Global Pandemic Could Stop Christians from Gaslighting the World
The Corona virus reminds us that the world is broken. It is harsh and unforgiving. The systems we've built to sustain ourselves are fragile. The economy can be destroyed so quickly. The limits of our ingenuity can be reached so easily.
Why would we need this reminder? Isn't it obvious that the world is broken? Don't we all see it? Aren't we subject to the brokenness of the world every day in our relationships, our bodies, our environment, and even our own thoughts?
Who needs such a terrible reminder of the brokenness of the world and the limits of our power? Sadly, the church.
Every day, men and women who love God willfully deny the suffering of their neighbors so they can defend a distorted theology of redemption. Christians repeat concepts that they don't entirely understand, inadvertently gaslighting the very people they are trying to love. They share their well-intended platitudes and feel shocked when their uplifting words don't encourage anyone.
Redemption is real, but our understanding of it is faulty. Jesus came to redeem us from sin and death. He died to set things right. He rose again to restore creation to its rightful place. And our rightful place, as God's children, is in relationship with God, our Father. Jesus made all of this possible. He set it all in motion. But, the work that Jesus began on the cross, the work of redemption, is still being unfurled.
Six years ago, my son died a month before Easter. I begged God to resurrect my son like He resurrected His own son. Only as I walked away from my son's burial did I finally set aside my hope for his healing, beginning the long, hard journey of reconciling the disappointment of my faith. A month later, we dressed up in party clothes to sit in church on Easter morning and sing about God's resurrection power. Song after song celebrated Jesus' triumph over death. The pastor spoke about Jesus overcoming sin and the grave for us. My mind wandered to the mound of dirt that still hadn't settled over my son's tiny coffin. Someone handed us Easter lilies.
And Easter became a holiday of dissonance for me. I have wrestled with the dissonance. I have found a way to hold the paradox. God's redemption of the Earth through Jesus' death and resurrection is a beautiful truth, and the continued brokenness of the world is a harsh truth, but both are true.
When the pressure of holding a paradox becomes too great, we ease the tension for ourselves by ignoring the dissonance. We pick the truth that offers us the most comfort, and we let go of the other one, hoping it will leave us alone. When the uncomfortable truth we dismiss persists, we work our theology into an elaborate excuse. I don't believe we are attempting to excuse God. We are hoping to excuse ourselves from the pain of holding onto a paradox that threatens to rip us in half.
Many in the church have excused themselves from holding onto the paradox that the earth is broken and Jesus has defeated sin and death. The pastors proclaiming prosperity can not hold both brokenness and redemption; their arms are too weak. So they let go of the truth that the earth is broken. They declare from pulpits made of wood, or plastic, or metal, or airwaves, or wifi, or invisible 1s and 0s that Jesus has perfectly redeemed the world, and we have only to access that redemption, through faith and righteousness.
Prosperity preachers create a system where the holy, acceptable children of God can live in a world made right for them. If the people of God sometimes witness a little pain and suffering, it means only that the faithful have not quite persisted as they ought in manifesting the redeemed world purchased for them. If suffering people insist, merely by existing, that God's beloved children witness the brokenness of the world, these sufferers can be told the good news, that a perfect world has been purchased for them, they simply have to receive it as perfect - a gift from God, accessible by faith.
The church of prosperity intended to hold onto the more comforting truth. They offer the "perfection of the world" to us like a warm blanket. But it doesn't comfort me. It is a threadbare rag that does not keep the cold dissonance from seeping through. We feel the chill, try as we may to cover ourselves with a singular truth.
When I know something is wrong, I want people to acknowledge it. I'll never forget calling the cable company to tell them that our business internet was barely working. It dropped out frequently and was slow as molasses when it happened to work. The customer service representative on the other end of the phone looked at our account and reassured us that our internet was working just fine, our speeds were great. The internet was not broken; it was working just as it should. We knew that wasn't true. The frustration of our broken internet was only amplified by the assertion that it was working fine. Gaslighting does not feel good. The psychological manipulation often feels worse than the initial injustice. No one is comforted when we call broken things whole.
We can all tell that the world is broken. It doesn't help anyone for Christians to say, "No, no, the world has been redeemed. This is how God intended things to be." When we hold onto the easy truth that Jesus has redeemed the world, but let go of the harder truth that the world is broken, we are not offering comfort. We are frustrating people who are suffering because it was too hard for us to live with dissonance and carry the paradox.
The Corona virus reminds us that the world is broken. At first, when faced with this global pandemic, the prosperity preachers did what they have always done: they assured us that this too could be overcome. They would reach into heaven for us and pull down a cure by faith. Some prophesied that the virus would be miraculously removed from the earth within ten days, only allowed to persist that long so the world would witness the miraculous rescue and turn to God. When the ten days past, and the brokenness of the world in the form of this virus refused to go away, they set their sights on an Easter miracle. As long as suffering continues, they will continue to revise their prophecies. Or, they will resort to finding scapegoats of wickedness to blame the brokenness on, promising the people of God that they will be spared, so they can keep on living in their perfect world and abandon the sinful to the brokenness.
But there is another way. We could embrace the dissonance. The bible does.
In Hebrews Chapter 10 verses 12-14, the bible refers to Jesus as "the priest" and says, "But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy."
Jesus' work is finished. He is not still working. He has sat down. In this sense, the work of redemption is complete. Jesus famously declared, "It is finished." However, this verse also says that Jesus is waiting for his enemies to be made his footstool. The work of redemption is complete, but the result of redemption is still being unfurled. The process continues, even though the work has finished. Verse fourteen says that we have been made perfect forever but it also says that we are still being made holy. We have not arrived. The work is done, but the result of the work is ongoing.
So I can confidently say that Jesus has done all the work that is required for the world to be redeemed, and as we wait to see that redemption, the world is still broken in many ways. If I am willing to hold on to both of these truths, I do not have to excuse myself from the sufferings of the world; I can enter into them.
I can partner with God to show his redemption to the world, offering compassion and generosity. I can sit with people who are hurting and not deny their pain but let my tears mix with theirs, as we all look expectantly to the day that is coming when death will have no sting. That day is not here yet. The bible refers to that day in the future tense in 1 Corinthians 15:54 saying, "When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.'"
Death has not been swallowed up yet. The world is still broken, and I can offer people comfort by acknowledging the brokenness of the world. I can choose to say, "This is not what God wants. He agrees that this is wrong. He has done the work that needs to be done to stop this. While we wait, can we comfort each other with the love God has given us for one another? While we wait, we will redeem what we can, as a picture of the redemption that is on its way to us. And we will be the first to celebrate every moment of grace we are privileged to witness when a portion of that redemption is miraculously unfurled before our eyes."
One of my favorite songs offers this kind of comfort. It was, appropriately, released on an album about Easter. I hope that you will listen, singing along with the affirmational responses of the choir as a way of practicing holding onto the paradox. This song begins with, "Do you feel the world is broken?" And the chorus answers, "We do."
I am thankful that the Corona virus is a reminder that the world is broken because it forces us to acknowledge to our neighbors that, yes, we feel it too. "We do feel the brokenness of the world," is a powerful statement. "We do" can begin to heal gaping wounds. We have ignored many wounds and carelessly created others by choosing to sing about the redemptive power of God to overcome death, instead of wrapping our arms around grieving mothers and saying, "We are so sorry. We feel it too. This is not right. God loves you and has already done the work that will one day heal this brokenness, and until then, I'll sit with you and acknowledge the pain you feel." I know the healing that is possible in the simple words "we do" because it is a healing I longed for with empty arms on Easter Sunday, six years ago.
Amy Noel Green is a Ted Speaker, author, and video game designer. She received international press attention for her work on the video game "That Dragon, Cancer." The video game tells the story of her son Joel who died from cancer at the age of five.
She is the author of the upcoming book, "Dear God, How Could You?" (When Joel died of cancer after years of miracles, Amy questioned God. She shouted her betrayed, angry questions at the God she no longer understood. She buried many miracles with Joel. She buried her relationship with God too, but God’s love for her refused to stay in the grave.) Subscribe for updates on the bottom of her about page, to be notified when her book is published.