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Lament as Apologetic

Updated: Oct 15, 2019

This is part three of a three-part series on the nature of suffering and God's discipline. Read part one here and part two here.

The discipline of Christian apologetics means arguing for the Christian worldview as true, rational, and pertinent to all of life. This includes both responding to objections to Christianity as well as presenting positive arguments in favor of Christianity. The goals of this enterprise are to strengthen the faith of Christians and to bring non-Christians to faith in Jesus. Often, engaging in apologetics means engaging in the realms of science, history, and philosophy. But the example of a life well lived for Christ can also be an apologetic to a watching world.

Truth and Experience

Culture is constantly looking at Christians to see if their life matches up with their theological convictions. They want to know if they actually believe the things they claim to believe or if their Christianity is merely a private set of beliefs that does not inform their daily actions. While it is impossible for a person’s worldview not to inform how they live their life, it is possible to have a disconnect between one’s stated worldview and their actual worldview expressed in their words and actions. Our lives are an overflow of our deepest heart convictions. As Christians who profess to know ultimate truth we want our lives to line up with our theology.

This is so important in a consumer-driven, relativistic culture that promotes constructing one’s own personal truth that fits with their life and desires. In this secular arena, one’s beliefs are their own truth which serves the purpose of bringing them meaning and fulfillment. But as soon as there appears to be any tension between their beliefs and the experience of their circumstances they are likely to abandon said beliefs for others to deal with their situation. This shows that they did not really believe in the truth of their worldview but only relied on the existential meaning and comfort it provided. This can be seen by the many people who have left their religious faith or converted to another faith when their life circumstances challenged their worldview. It is possible that their circumstances led them to reexamine the truth of their beliefs and they adopted different ones not to accommodate their experience, but because they believed the new beliefs to be true and the previous ones false. But, often, I think the case is that there is some sort of cognitive and emotional dissonance between their professed worldview and their situation. The adoption of a new set of beliefs is to provide therapy and peace of mind, not to pursue objective truth that stands even in the face of seemingly contrary experiences. But there is something intriguing and compelling about a person who firmly holds onto the truth of their worldview even though their life circumstances challenge it or make it difficult.

Does Christianity Work?

We do not come to Christianity because it will “work” for us to maximize pleasure, minimize pain, and help us achieve our dreams. We come to Christianity because it is true. Either Jesus rose from the dead or He didn’t. And if He didn’t then our faith is pointless, we are still in our sins, and we have no lasting hope (1 Cor. 15:17-19). But Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20) and we can have an eternal, abiding hope that begins in this lifetime. However, this does not guarantee us a carefree life or a fix to all our problems. What it does guarantee is that we can be confident that our sins are forgiven, and we will enjoy eternal bliss with Christ.

With so many people approaching religious faith wanting it to “work” for them, holding on to the gospel in the face of suffering lends credence to its objectively true nature before a world desiring truth and yet starved for it. It also thwarts the powers of evil that would want us to abandon the gospel when times get hard, and shines light into the darkness of this fallen world. This is what C.S. Lewis says through the words of the senior devil, Screwtape, in his book The Screwtape Letters, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”[1] Knowing the truth of the gospel of Jesus can help us in trials and suffering to say along with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn. 6:68-69). We might be tempted to abandon Christianity or change what we know is true about the gospel during suffering, but is there really a better alternative than clinging to the Author of life?

The Better Way

As pastor and author Joe Thorn says, “The Christian life is not easy, but it is better.”[2] There is nothing easy about confessing sin and repenting, growing in Christlikeness, cultivating spiritual disciplines, being graciously disciplined by the Lord, or facing trials and suffering with faith and endurance. But the Christian life is better because we get to experience and proclaim the truth of God’s goodness and grace toward us in Christ, not just our positive personal religious experiences. We get to receive the Holy Spirit who works in us to reflect God’s holiness and through us to do good works. We get to love others the way that Christ has loved us. And we get to enjoy a beautiful relationship with Christ Himself. We can lament and cry out to God in suffering, but we should do so from a foundation of faith that professes that He is good, faithful, and trustworthy. All other worldviews and ways of life pale in comparison to the truth and beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Holding fast to the gospel in the face of suffering might just be the apologetic God uses to convince someone that Jesus really is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14:6). As we face suffering and lament well with the strength and grace that only God provides He receives the glory He deserves as the one true God, we come to look more like Jesus, and the eyes of the world are fixed on us and their curiosity is piqued by a compelling life, a transformative message, and a glorious Savior.

-By Kevin Tapscott

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001), 40.

[2] Joe Thorn, “It Is Not Easy, But It Is Better,” Tabletalk, February, 2016, 60.

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