Hearing and Obeying in Conflict

In the last post, I rambled on about the structure of story and the meaning of conflict and suffering in life. In short summary, I tried to illustrate how Christians are often tricked into believing that God lives in the safe, familiar part of the story, rather than the adventurous, conflict-filled part of the story:

Now I want to tell a bit of my friend Craig’s story.

Craig is mentally ill and absolutely hates the suggestion that he might be mentally ill. We’ve had the conversation a few times. It’s tough. I really love the guy, and it’s hard to see him suffer when his illness alienates him from the very people trying to help him.

Recently, Craig came into The Outpost. It became his routine to visit in the early afternoon and ask for a cup of coffee. This day was interesting in that a couple more of our friends had stopped by, one of whom is also mentally ill and often aggressively quarrelsome just for the sport of it. In these situations, Craig wisely stands or sits in the other room and tries to avoid being drawn into an argument. 

At the end of the day, when it was only Fleenor, Craig, and myself, Craig asked if we could talk about some scriptures. He mostly wanted to talk about the end times, the antichrist, the rapture, etc. We disagreed on some points but agreed on a lot more. Turns out, Craig knows the Bible pretty well. He bemoaned the fact that Christians often treat him like he’s stupid, even though he knows more about the Bible than they do. 

“Do you go to church, Craig?” We asked.

He shook his head. “I have trouble being around a lot of people,” he confessed. “I get to where I think people are talking about me and sometimes that causes trouble. It’s not them, it’s me. But, I do listen to a lot of sermons on my phone.”

He went on to tell us how a recent sermon convicted him to stop drinking alcohol. At the time of this conversation, Craig had abstained from alcohol for several weeks. He said he felt much better and was thinking more clearly. 

God has also convicted Craig to stop stealing, to lend money to the poor (remember, Craig is homeless), and to tell lost people about Jesus and his return. He had been faithfully obedient in all these things. 

Craig does not view his recent faithfulness as a stack of bartering chips with God. He doesn’t expect God to say, “Craig, you have been faithful, you can finally have a house.”

Instead he sees God’s presence, and his own ability to hear the Holy Spirit, as the best blessing he could possibly receive.

I know this sounds like a sweet, heartwarming story about a homeless man who was able to find a simple faith. But please, don’t see it like that. Craig’s story is one of a man who has heard from God and obeyed what he heard. 

And that is the very essence of what it means to walk with Christ. 

Our faith is not a matter of pondering the finer philosophical points of the Bible. Nor is it a matter of overlaying our worldly lives with “biblical principles.” 

No, faith is a matter of hearing and obeying. God reveals himself and we respond to the revelation. This is the “work” of faith that James describes:

Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:20, ESV)

James gives the examples of Abraham and Rahab, two people who were seen as historically righteous, not because they followed rules or principles, but because they responded faithfully to what God revealed. 

They crossed the faith threshold and decided to trust God. Each of them faced tremendous conflict. One endured the pain of nearly sacrificing his only son, while the other’s life was spared in a devastating attack on her city.

Take a look at Hebrews chapter 11, the long list of the faithful of history. 

Not once does the passage reflect on someone who pondered the principles of the Bible and used them to save up a nest egg for the future. (Though there are scriptures that talk about such things, like Luke 12:13-21)

Instead, it’s a list of people who believed God’s revelation enough to act on it. Even when, as in Craig’s case, that action meant more testing, more suffering, more conflict.

Often, we only want to follow God’s revelation as far as the principles and rules. 

That’s easier to measure. I know I’m growing because I’m following the rules. 

When Job followed the rules, God tested him. When Noah followed the rules, God asked him to build an ark. When Paul followed the rules, Jesus turned his religious philosophy upside down and called him to a joyful life of suffering for the gospel. 

The faithful are those who cross the threshold and believe God. They hear and obey. They are tested and they grow. 

I’m thankful for Craig’s example of this faithfulness. It gives me perspective, and a hope that faithful living does not require any trapping of any economic class of this world. 

(This blog was written in February of 2020. In a spirit of transparency, I want to note that Craig has fallen back into some sinful patterns, which only exacerbates his mental illness. This does not mean he has walked away from his faith or failed at being a Christian. Indeed, it is the hard reality for each of us. “For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” -Romans 7:19-20. None is exempt.)

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