Something’s really bugging me. Keep in mind that yesterday was Sunday. I’m gonna talk about Christians who annoy me. So if there are no Christians who annoy you, go play in the forums or scroll down and read about my motherboard upgrade misadventures or something.
Anyone left? Darn. I guess I’ll just talk to myself then.

I really should protect confidences here, so I’m gonna make up some names. I like Gordon, Stewart, and Andy.

OK, so I had a conversation the other day. Actually it was more like a debate. Gordon was talking about how great Benny Hinn is. Now, Benny Hinn is a televangelist known largely for faith healings. I’ve repressed most of what else I know about him–I know I had to know him for a religious studies class I took in college. Gordon could tell I wasn’t intimately familiar with Benny Hinn, so he stepped down to my level and explained to me what Benny Hinn has taught him.

Gordon won’t like the way I put this at all, but essentially he believes that Christians are better than everyone else, and that the rules that apply to the rest of the world don’t apply to Christians. If you’re sick, you go to God and ask him to heal you. OK, so far so good. But Gordon argues that God has to heal you. If God doesn’t heal you, then that means you don’t have enough faith.

He talked about having prayed for someone who died recently, and how he and the others who prayed for this person would now have to deal with that.

I was getting really annoyed, but I kept my mouth shut. Stewart and Andy jumped in. One of them brought up the Apostle Paul. It’s hard to imagine anyone with greater faith than Paul. Or, for that matter, anyone who had a greater impact on Christianity before or since. I would argue that Paul did more for Christianity than anyone other than Jesus Christ himself. Jesus founded it, then Paul ran with it.

Paul wrote, of course, of having a “thorn in the flesh,” which God refused to remove. God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Gordon jumped all over that. “That thorn was a messenger of Satan, sent to harrass and torment Paul. It wasn’t physical.”

So we looked it up. Indeed, most of our translations said “messenger,” which implies spoken harrassment. But the original Greek word used is “angelos.” It doesn’t take a linguistics genius to figure out what that word means. An angel from Satan, of course, is a demon, and when the New Testament speaks of driving out demons, frequently they manifested themselves in physical ailments. And the words “thorn in the flesh” sure sound physical. Gordon said that Benny Hinn went back to the original Hebrew and Aramaic and assures us that this wasn’t a physical ailment.

I pointed out to Gordon that the New Testament was originally written in Greek. Now, since this is a second source, maybe Benny Hinn knows that the New Testament was written in Greek and it was Gordon’s mistake. But I certainly won’t rule out the possibility that Benny Hinn doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and if Gordon can’t keep Biblical languages straight I know he’s no great Biblical scholar. (For the record, the Old Testament is written in Hebrew, with a few short quotations in Aramaic in later books, while the New Testament was written in Greek.)

We argued a bit about the thorn in the flesh and what that could mean. Paul’s eyesight was notoriously bad. He closed out his letter to the Galatians by observing how large he had to write when he wrote himself (Paul’s letters were often transcribed). We know from 2 Corinthians 10 that Paul was much more highly regarded as a writer than as a speaker. Some deduce from that letter that it went beyond that, and that Paul may have had a speech impediment. And isn’t it suspicious that Paul kept a doctor with him so much of the time? (St. Luke, author of the Gospel of Luke and probably also the author of Acts, was one of Paul’s most frequent companions. He was a doctor by trade.)

Galatians 4:13-15 refers to an illness, described as “revolting,” involving his eyes.

We can go on and on about Paul. The most important thing is this: Here was a man who had a lot of things wrong with him, in spite of how much he prayed, and he came to accept it.

Gordon shook his head through this whole thing. “There is not one place in the entire Bible where someone asked for healing and was told no,” he said.

Well, we have one recorded instance where Paul asked for something and was turned down, and it sure looks like he was asking for healing. Gordon said that’s an invalid interpretation. That was when I piped up. “There are at least three interpretations of that verse, precisely because it’s vague enough that we can’t prove one of them over the others. This sounds to me like starting with a premise–that God has to heal–and then when you find a verse that may go against that premise, you take the interpretation you like and instantly call all the other possible interpretations invalid.”

Both Stewart and Andy shot me looks at that one. I saw Andy laugh a little.

“I’ve heard many studies on this, and you can’t disprove any of them,” Gordon said.

“Then cite them,” I said. He never did.

I alluded to Kaycee. (This was before the hoax came to light… Argh.) I told the short version–being clinically dead twice, beating leukemia, then having liver failure. With her, I’d come to expect a miracle, so I pretty much expected this one. Then she died, after so many people asked God to heal her. But let’s think about that for a minute. She’s no longer in any pain. If she wants to ask God a question, she can walk right up to Him and ask it. She’s living in the mansion Jesus promised all believers. The cares of this world are gone. Isn’t that the ultimate healing? What else do you want? (Of course God won’t heal people who don’t exist, but the principle works.)

“You are God’s son,” he said, pointing to me forcefully. “Now, if you had a son, would you want him to be sick, or hurt? Not if you were a good parent!”

Well, of course not. But consider this: We live in a fallen world. We all make mistakes (except maybe Gordon). We have to live with the consequences of those mistakes. Sometimes we make mistakes without even knowing it. I lived for 26 years without knowing that the oils we fry food in quickly become carcinogenic. Will years of eating fast food cause me to get cancer one day? Possibly.

Will God forgive me for not always eating as healthy as I should? He already has. Will He spare me from the consequences of not eating healthy? He might. But He’s under no obligation to do so. Even if I am His son.

Imagine me having this conversation with my biological parents when I was 16: “Gee, Mom and Dad, I wrecked my car. I was doing something I shouldn’t have been doing, but I’m OK. Now will you buy a car to replace the one I just wrecked?”

Some parents would do that. But good parents won’t let their sons and daughters off that easily. Life without consequences is life without learning.

The God Gordon believes in isn’t a very good parent. That God lets you off the hook, but conditionally. But He doesn’t spell out the conditions very well. You have to have the faith of a mustard seed. How do you measure the faith of a mustard seed?

I sure am glad Gordon doesn’t know I struggle with acne in the winter time, that I’m allergic to cats, that I have a trick elbow, that I have a history of problems with my wrists, that I’m prone to insomnia, or anything else that’s wrong with me. What would he think of me then? I’m sure Gordon already thinks I have the faith of a weakling.

For whatever reason, Gordon segued into the Gospel of Prosperity–the annoying teaching that once you become a Christian, God will make you rich, or at least protect you from financial harm. Gordon beckoned back to a recent hailstorm that caused a lot of damage in the northern St. Louis metro area. “We prayed that God would put a shield around our car, to protect it, so we wouldn’t have to pay that $500 deductible, and indeed, God protected our car. It had only very minor damage.”

Stewart piped in with a classic argument. “What if there was someone at the body shop who needed to be witnessed to? A lot of good could potentially come from that misfortune. Maybe God was trying to lead you to someone so they could go to heaven.”

“You’d carry your Bible to the body shop and watch for someone? That’s noble of you. But that’s God’s responsibility to see to it that someone talks to them,” Gordon snapped. He looked around the room. “Would you agree to $500 worth of damage to your car to get someone to heaven?” he asked me.

“If it meant someone would be in heaven who otherwise wouldn’t, I don’t care if there’s a thousand dollars’ worth of damage to my car. It’s just a car,” I said.

Andy and Stewart smiled and nodded in agreement. Gordon looked shocked. “You really think that? Then your heart’s in the right place, but you don’t have to think like that.”

I don’t know what I looked like, but I sure felt disgusted. Here’s someone who professes love of God and mankind, but if God’s plan to save someone’s soul is going to cause him some inconvenience or minor hardship, then God has to change it.

No wonder so many people want to have nothing to do with Christians. Christians are supposed to love one another, but often the vocal ones love their material things more than they love people.

I didn’t cite Phillippians 4:10-12 right then and there (I cited it later in another context–Stewart and Andy caught it but I don’t think Gordon did), but St. Paul dealt with a lot of inconvenience and a great deal of financial hardship, and he learned to not only live with it, but even to not let it change his attitude. If there was a Gospel of Prosperity at the time (I think that’s a product of the United States’ wretched theology), Paul sure didn’t believe it.

I think we’ve all seen those bumper stickers that say, “If heaven is full of Christians I really don’t want to go.” I understood that after this conversation. Gordon believes God is the creator of the universe, yes, but he’s not willing to trust God’s wisdom or perspective. He certainly won’t hesitate to boss God around, and he believes that if he says the right words and believes the right thing strongly enough, God has to do what he says.

Wait a minute. Gordon thinks the creator of the universe, He Who Knoweth All Things, He Whose Name Should Not Even Be Spoken, is subject to his (note the lowercase “h” there) desires and whims. So if he’s above God, then where does that put me?

Not that I care. I know God knows all things. I know I don’t know very much. Fortunately, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it’s better to defer to someone who knows more than you know.

It’s a good thing people like Gordon are in the minority. The results of their arrogance sure makes life more difficult for the rest of us.

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