Not by Works

Late last week I briefly overheard some coworkers discussing a pretty deep subject. Across the cubicle walls I heard the phrase “Christianity is the only religion that has a ‘Savior”. Being unable to contain myself on such an interesting topic, I popped my head up and added that Christianity is also the only religion where one’s actions have no bearing on their salvation. To which I received a response about that probably being the reason why Christianity has the only Savior – after all, if salvation isn’t dependent on the sum of your actions then you would have need of a secondary mode of salvation, thus a ‘Savior’.

The whole topic got me thinking about this major difference in Christianity vs all other mainstream religions…and yes, as with most things in life nowdays, it got me thinking of how that all ties in with infertility and miscarriage. First, let’s tackle the whole Savior vs actions thing and then I’ll make the connection.

I do not claim to be ‘well versed’ in world religions. I took a comparative religions class in college (which I loved). I have had my fair share of teachings on other religions via Sunday School’s and church. I have even done some research on my own out of sheer curiosity. I have a working knowledge of quite a few religions, but am no expert in any of them. So, please pardon any errors in assumptions/statements as I have no ill intent to misrepresent any particular religion. I’m just going on what I know and I don’t feel like running an entire research project prior to my little blog post. That said, one of the major themes I see in most religions is the idea of Karma. Do good and more good will come to you. Do bad and more bad will come to you. In all honesty, we tend to like this concept regardless of religion. We would like to think that our actions in some way sway our future fate. Not only can we do good things in order to get more good things, but we can make up for past mistakes by doing even more good. Likewise, we tend to enjoy the thought that people who have wronged us will eventually eat their just desserts as it will come around to hurt them in the end. Actually, we love that…not because we are mean and vengeful, but it seems to be a ‘fair’ system. If I were making a new religion, this would be a main tenant – as it is for just about every world religion. It inspires people to do good, discourages bad behavior, and gives everyone a sense of justice that they can control.

What makes Christianity so different? Yes, Christianity encourages us to treat others the way we would like to be treated (“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12). BUT, and this is a huge but, Christianity makes it very clear that our actions in no way affect our salvation (“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9). If this is the concept that separates Christianity from all other religions, I’m guessing it’s a pretty important distinction. Not only does Christianity make it clear that actions do not impact salvation, but there are a number of examples throughout the Bible that make it clear that actions do not affect God’s love for us, nor the level of blessings here on earth..not even the level of suffering we will experience in our lifetime. No matter how many times I hear those words, though, they just don’t sink in…it’s a foreign concept, an ‘unjust’ system if we cannot in some way do something to bring more good upon ourselves. It is even worse when those who seem least deserving receive the blessings that we desire. We have a hard time even processing what this means to separate action from consequence. Are we really sure that’s the way God’s system is set up? Here are a few examples that solidify it for me…

The Parable of the Prodigal Son – everybody loves to focus on the prodigal son in this story. As this is the case, I never really related most of the time the story was taught. I never had a problem following the rules…at least when it came to the big rules. I never strayed far, so I never had the need to understand that no matter how far I went that God still loved me. The son I related to was the prodigal’s brother – the one who found it unfair that his brother was being celebrated in spite of his wayward ways. THAT I could relate to. After having done everything right, why was the prodigal son getting this party and being given the best of what was to offer. The son who stayed, put in all the effort and continuously did the right thing never got high praise for his actions. Where’s the justice in that? Even Sunday School teachers and Pastors struggle with this one as they will point out how the faithful son needed to be more forgiving, but the unspoken message was that one could hardly blame him for pointing out the obviously injustice of it all. The main message against the faithful son was one of learning to forgive. It wasn’t until my college years when I heard an author (Steve McVey) take another stance on the faithful son. McVey pointed out that both sons had the same problem – that they both assumed that their actions (good or bad) would sway the father’s love for them and the blessings they would receive. They were both mistaken. Instead, their ‘sonship’ was solely dependent on the fact that they were a child of the father. This isn’t a story about God’s love for us when we do wrong and us learning to forgive as we have been forgiven. The point of having BOTH sons in the story was to point out that no actions good or bad affect God’s love for us. He loves us because we are His children.

Job – I won’t go into this that much considering I just did a pretty big post that talked about Job. But, in general the Bible states that Job was blameless and upright and yet God allowed him to lose basically everything. In the end, Job was blessed with even more than what he had at the beginning of the story, but the Bible does not say it was a result of anything that Job had done, it is simply what God chose to do in the later part of Job’s life. Again, his valley in life was not a result of wickedness nor was his mountain a result of his good deeds.

David – David, the man after God’s own heart. He had the faith to kill Goliath, he was God’s chosen king, yet he spent years fleeing for his life and watching his oppressors prosper. David even pointed out this disparity in Psalms 10. Didn’t his amazing childhood faith warrant some easy times as an adult?

Rachel – Through no fault of her own, Rachel was thrust into a plural marriage with her older sister. Not only must she adjust to life as a second wife, but the relationship between the man she loves and her sister becomes painfully evident with each and every child her sister bears. Was Leah more righteous than Rachel…was she more deserving of children? The Bible gives no indication of such a dynamic and I believe it is because it did not exist. The ability to bear children is not dependent on one’s righteousness…as is evident to every infertile woman watching drug addicts and unwed teenagers bear child after child.

The Disciples – Yes, these are fragile and often broken men who failed often throughout Jesus’ ministry. Yet, when it was ‘go time’ (after Jesus’ resurrection) they set out to change the world – to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations. These were men of incredible faith and yet many of them were killed for their beliefs. These are perhaps the greatest men in history. Not only did they walk with Jesus himself (you would think they would hold some sort of soft spot in God’s heart), but these are the ones God chose to spread His message to the future generations – and yet they were jailed, beaten, stoned and crucified for doing so. So much for the employee protection program.

The list can go on and on, but like I said, I don’t want to do a research paper on suffering and blessings in the Bible. I just want to point out that the Bible never states that pain/suffering and happiness/blessings will be handed out according to whomever deserves them most. Unlike in every other religion, a Christian cannot control God’s love for them nor their prosperity in life simply by following a set of prescribed rules and behaviors. Yes, doing things ‘God’s way’ will save us some heartache (there is, after all, a reason God says to avoid certain things and to do others), but I’m talking about the big things of life/death, injury/illness, etc. Where we as Christians get into trouble is that we rejoice in the fact that our bad behavior is forgiven instantly and yet we expect (as is our human nature) that our good behavior somehow warrants extra blessings in return (or at least for us to be saved from certain heartaches). This is evident all the way from people thinking they can accept Christ and suddenly their problems will disappear to veteran Christians who think that their years of faithful devotion to God makes them exempt from any type of human suffering (I fall under the latter category when it came to my faith and fertility). We know in our head that Christianity doesn’t work that way (there are too many verses to the contrary) and yet we find it extremely difficult to remove the connection of behavior and outcomes from our hearts. It just isn’t natural. The karma concept is the natural and easily embraceable concept.

I’m guessing by now you can see my connection between this whole thought process and infertility/miscarriage…especially since I touched on it with the whole Rachel paragraph. As difficult as it is for me to process, my good behavior does not exempt me from pain and suffering. Even though I ‘did it right’ by waiting until marriage to have sex, that doesn’t mean I am automatically entitled to a life free from infertility. Nor do my years of faithful devotion save me from the heartache of miscarriage. As difficult a pill as that is for me to swallow, it is the truth…just like it is the truth that none of my bad behavior caused these things to happen. That just simply isn’t the way God works. I am immeasurably grateful that my bad behavior doesn’t cause me more pain/heartache, but I also need to be constantly reminded that my good behavior does not entitle me to all of my heart’s desires. Honestly, I am thankful for both dynamics. First, I am thankful because while following the rules tends to be easy for me, it also led me down a hard path of trying to always be perfect (a daunting task) and never feeling that I was good enough. Second, I am thankful for this dynamic because it is what sets my beliefs apart from every other religion on the planet. It is illogical and thus I count it as one more reason to believe it as truth beyond this world – seriously, who would make up such an irrational belief system?

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2 Responses to Not by Works

  1. Tanya says:

    I wrote a similar post (Rest: posted on October 4th) about how there is nothing, outside of eating well and taking care of myself, that I can do to end my infertility journey. In the end, it is up to God when we are blessed with a child. If God want me to get pregnant and have a child, I will; if not, then I won’t. I’m still grappling with how I feel about that…

  2. Diane says:

    I was married 38 years, and wasn’t blessed with my own children. God had other plans for us. There were 2 children out there who needed homes. As often as I cried and yet prayed,God’s answer to me was no, not even a maybe…His unfailing love for me and my husband prepared us for the 2 children we adopted. God had placed in our hearts such love for them and a knowing that this was His plan for us. We fell in love with our children and feel as if we bore them ourselves. My advice to anyone who struggles with infertility, is wait on the Lord. He alone knows every need or want we have. He alone can and will meet that yearning in the heart of any man or woman who wants a family. Only believe that He knows what’s best for you. I remember sitting in church during “baby dedication”, and wanting to run out, and cry, “Why Lord, Why Me?” His reply was always, “Be patient, I have a plan!” He does have a plan for you, and He will meet that yearning in your heart, only it will be in His time and His way. Thanks for letting me share…..

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