I was listening to preacher Kenneth Copeland a couple days ago. He told a story about when he was sitting in the waiting room to see the dentist, and he overheard two dental assistants talking. The first said that she asked God for patience, and the second replied that she should go to God and take that back, for now God will put her through all kinds of turmoil to teach her patience!
Kenneth Copeland did not agree with the second woman. He said that God corrects us through his word and out of love, whereas the woman was seeing God as rather harsh and untrustworthy. He also stated that the woman was mixing the law-oriented system of the Old Covenant with the (presumably grace-oriented) New Covenant. Copeland was about to say something to the second woman, he narrates, but he said that God told him to keep his mouth shut!
I liked this story for three reasons:
1. I never cared for the platitude that we should never pray for patience because God would then put us through horrible experiences to teach us patience. I agree with what Kenneth Copeland said about this in his sermon: it doesn’t present a very flattering picture of God! But because that platitude is somewhere in my mind, it discourages me from praying for patience. The thing is, I need patience: the ability to stay inwardly and outwardly calm when I am not getting my own way. I have reached a compromise: rather than simply asking God for patience, I ask that God might give me calm and peace through specific situations. God does not have to manufacture those situations to teach me patience. The situations are already there, and I am asking God to help me to cope with them.
Platitudes that comfort some people may turn other people off. I one time heard somebody say that he never cared for the platitude of “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” He did not think that God laughed at his plans! He put a lot of thought into his plans, as we all should do! Why would God laugh at that?
The platitudes may be getting at something edifying, though. God may teach us patience by giving us things to be patient about. Or God may have plans for us that differ from our own plans, and that we did not anticipate. But these platitudes can be taken in directions that are not exactly edifying, at least not to everyone.
2. I could somewhat identify with what Copeland said about law and God’s grace. He could have fleshed it out some more, and he may have elsewhere. But my impression is that there are many versions of Christianity that mix law and God’s grace. They may proclaim, “God is loving, but…” or “We are saved by grace, but…” They believe that God forgives, but they also see God as one who condemns people for their flaws and does not fully accept them. It is almost as if people need to pass some test to get God’s approval. Christians who love to focus on grace, however, maintain that there is no test: God accepts us. Our goal now should be to grow spiritually within the context of God’s acceptance.
It is not the case that Copeland dismisses moral standards. As he said, God corrects us through his word and out of love. God has to have standards if God is to correct us according to them. But keeping the law is not the pathway to getting God’s acceptance, for nobody is perfect in keeping the law. Rather, for Copeland, God offers his acceptance freely through Jesus Christ. God does not condemn believers for their sin, I presume is the case in this model, but God corrects them.
I can see some wisdom to this. I question how biblical it is, though. Perhaps it is consistent with aspects of Paul’s thought. But, this morning, I was thinking about Jesus’ statement that the narrow way leads to life or salvation, and that only a few will find it (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24). I recalled listening to a tape in which Lordship salvation advocate John MacArthur was responding to someone who claimed that, if Lordship salvation (only those who obey Jesus as Lord are saved) is true, then only a few people will be saved. MacArthur’s response was that this is exactly what Jesus said was the case: narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it! I had to laugh at MacArthur’s wit and use of Scripture to refute a Christian thinker. But it kind of splashes cold water on any notion I have that Christianity is about a God of unconditional love. I feel as if I need to keep some law to be assured of salvation, and that does not make me feel that good, for I am far from perfect, or even righteous, for that matter! Maybe there are ways to understand Matthew 7:13-14 and Luke 13:23-24 in manners that are consistent with God’s love and grace.
3. Copeland said that God in the waiting room told him to keep his mouth shut. I find that to be appropriate for certain situations. Even if I am right, people do not need to hear me express my right opinion in every situation. I had to respect Copeland’s humility in recognizing that it was not the time or the place for people to hear his opinion, in that setting.
There are times, though, when I am silent and I later wish that I had said something. In a Bible study group, for example, I may choose to refrain from mentioning my doubts about Christianity as we discuss a devotional DVD about Jesus’ life. I do not want to disturb the spiritual flow or rain on people’s parade. But, when people in the group later express that they are baffled that there are people who believe differently from them about Christianity, they fail to acknowledge that there are reasons for other points of view, they manifest an “us vs. them” mindset, they scream “persecution,” or they wage the culture wars (i.e., about people saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”), I may have to say something. I hope that I have the courage to do so.