When I read my friend Neil’s blog post, The Christian Finish, I couldn’t help but think of “Christian Instagram culture” — the types of posts that feature open Bibles next to mugs of coffee (guilty), with a story of hardship and how God came through in the end.
As you know, being an Episcopalian and all, I do think “the Christian finish” (a tale of sadness and woe that ends with godly provision) is possible. But, I would say it’s more possible for certain demographics of people over others.
That’s because, in my experience, the phrase “But God!” tends to refer to tangible provision of some kind, whether it’s money, a healing (albeit after rounds of chemotherapy), or something that the faithful would consider a blessing.
I can only guess about the socioeconomic backgrounds of strangers who post this stuff on Instagram, but in Bible studies I’ve participated in, 90% of the members were all upper-middle class. They were people with social and economic safety nets, who may have experienced legitimate suffering in terms of illness or a lost job or an unexpected death, but at the same time, they had resources to get through it. They had community. They had what a lot of people in poverty lack.
I think a lot of the time, those resources are considered to be God’s intervention. And while I firmly believe that the Gospel is relevant to all of mankind, regardless of socioeconomic status or culture, these “godly finish” stories simply…aren’t. They are inspirational for other wealthy evangelicals, but that’s about it.
I came to this realization when my husband was laid off, and remained unemployed for nine months. We were only able to keep our house because we had, first and foremost, a healthy savings account. We also had the privilege of wealthy relatives who could help us when those savings started to run out.
As much as I wanted to say that God “provided” during that stressful time, I also know that things could have ended very differently for us if we lacked certain connections and resources. The places we could have ended up — a homeless shelter, our car, the street — would probably not be the average Christian’s idea of godly provision.
Were our resources gifts from God? Maybe. But what gifts of provision does God give to the family who can’t afford health insurance, and are forced to choose between rent and insulin?
All that to say, the kind of Christianity I have chosen doesn’t need the”finish” to still be considered worthwhile and good. I don’t think the “godly finish” is the point, necessarily. Sure, a “finish” is nice, but I think suffering is too interwoven in the Christian narrative to be avoided completely.
Rather, I think suffering is a critical piece of the story. But it’s not the end.
In this, Judaism unexpectedly shows up. I come from a long line of lament-ers. Jews are really, really good at lamenting — we even have an entire book of Hebrew Scripture called “Lamentations”! And Jews are also good at “praising God in the storm,” to borrow the Christian lyric. The Psalms are a beloved mix of praise and despair. All of the Hebrew Scriptures seem to flip back and forth between the two sentiments.
Christians — at least those in 21st century America — seem afraid of lament. Perhaps they think that God can’t handle it, or is offended by it. But the Christianity I chose — the Christianity of Joan of Arc, as she lay in her drafty prison cell waiting to be led to her execution by fire; the Christianity of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which enabled him to take a stand against evil when he could have chosen a comfortable private life — that’s the kind I chose.
Not the kind that promises to make you rich. Not the kind that rewards good behavior with a spouse or a fancy car.
No, I’m talking about the kind of Christianity that leaves an impact, even if we’re not around to see it. The kind of Christianity that allowed Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament from prison, to write Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He wasn’t talking about winning a football game or becoming Employee of the Month; he was talking about finding contentment in all circumstances, be they rich or poor, good or evil.
In so many “godly finish” stories, the God I hear about is a God who provides contentment through bettered circumstances.
I believe that is missing the point.