Victory ... over everything?

My back hurts. Right now, at this moment — and it doesn't matter if you read this now or two months from now — it still hurts.

When I was a kid, I used to wonder why in the world so many older people talked about wanting to go do Heaven. Now, when I wake up stiff every morning — the result of a bad accident I had more than four years ago that broke two vertebrae in my lower back — I have no problem relating to the desire to depart this earthly life and enter into eternal rest.

Oh, I'm not suicidal. I enjoy and embrace life. It's just that, increasingly, I understand how wonderful Heaven must be. For one thing, my back won't hurt anymore.

Yet, there are those who would tell you that my pain only exists because I lack the requisite faith to see myself healed. I hate getting into areas of doctrine and/or theological differences, but — and this is not as gently as I could put it — that's a bunch of baloney.

Let me put it another way: making a decision to follow Christ is not a magic wand. I don't repent of my sins, ask Jesus to direct my life and live for Him and — voila! — life is perfect. It just doesn't work that way. I'll still have flat tires, broken bones, arguments with my wife, bounced checks. That's not living in defeat vs. living in victory. It's reality. It's living in a fallen world.

For instance, I spent, oh, around 10 years living apart from a daily walk with Christ. I became a Christian at a young age, but as I grew older I grew distant with God. The end result of that lifestyle choice was that I embraced a life of sin as readily as I had once embraced a relationship with Jesus. I lived carnally, viscerally. I drank copious amounts of alcohol. I abused drugs. I spoke harshly with people. I dishonored my parents.

When this prodigal son returned and I embraced a relationship with Jesus after my accident, He forgave me of those indiscretions. As the song says, He tossed my sin as far as the east is from the west ... from one scarred hand to another. But He did not cast a magic spell and eliminate my memory of who I was. I still painfully remember the life I led. I'm still street smart. I still can close my eyes and see things in the portals of my mind that I would rather forget ever having seen.

One of the most tragic consequences of Adam and Eve's ill-fated decision in the Garden of Eden was their loss of innocence — "Who said you were naked?" — and the byproduct of it. We are therefore not only tainted by their (and our) sin and the curse it heaped upon humanity, but we have lost our collective innocence. Yes, we are born with an innocent mind -- tabula rosa -- but we were born into sin nontheless, and it only takes living into a world largely governed by that sin to strip us of a beautiful state of being ... that of innocence. Yes, God restores that innocence at the moment we decide to confess our sins and live our lives for Him, but that's only part of the equation.

See, I believe that the only part of our innocence that's restored is in our hearts. Our minds, tragically enough, are forever tainted. Again, Jesus doesn't remember my sinful state, but I do. I am no longer innocent, and cannot be until that time when God fulfills the promise Jesus made when He said, "Behold, I make all things new." When I enter into His presence at the end of my life, I will be made new — free of the taint of sin both on my heart and on my mind.

Yet, when some Christian leaders talk of "total victory" — when they say that all you need to do is follow Jesus and He will heal your broken back, give you that Lexus and make your estranged father talk to you again — well, that's dangerous because it sounds as if being a Christian is like winning the lottery. Again, it doesn't work that way. Now, God is very capable of making all of those things happen. But just because He can doesn't mean He will. The beauty of His omniscience is that He understands what is best for us even when we don't.

That's why I wholeheartedly agree with the video above.

If you believe, as Joel Osteen does, that total victory means a perfectly wonderful life if — and only if — you have the requisite faith to fix all your problems, i.e., that you "claim" that victory ... well, that flies in the face of scripture. Let's look at some examples.

2 Chronicles, chapters 14, 15 and 16 recounts the story of Asa, the great-great grandson of King David. Here was a guy who, as king of Judah, turned God's people away from false gods after yearsof sinful living. What was his reward? His country was attacked by a massive army. Yes, Asa defeated the Cushites (modern-day Ethiopia), but undoubtedly hundreds of his people were killed in the battle.

How about 2 Corinthians 12:7-10? Here we see Paul, probably the most important man in the history of the early church, praying to God to take away a "thorn in his flesh." Scholars have debated for centuries what this "thorn" was, but it's irrelevant to our discussion here. The point is, here is a giant of faith, a pillar of Christ's church, and he is sorely afflicted. Yet, despite his entreaties to God, he was not delivered. Why couldn't he just "claim total victory?"

Later, in the first chapter of Philippians, Paul, writing from prison, is clearly a little depressed, talking of how his "suffering in my imprisonment" leads him to "desire ... to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." Being in prison doesn't sound like "total victory," especially considering he eventually was beheaded.

Then, there's Peter, who not only recognized that trials and tribulations are a part of the Christian's life, but that, indeed, they are necessary. In 1 Peter 1:4-7, he recognizes the joy of the Christian life, but instead of saying that joy is found in daily living, Peter calls it an "inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (emphasis mine.) He is therefore saying that the fullness of joy isn't to be revealed until the last time, i.e., until you are dead! In the meantime, life's not a cakewalk. Further, Peter writes that trials and tribulations actually serve to make us stronger, that our faith is "tested by fire." Why? So that it "may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

Oh, and read Hebrews 12:3-13, too.

Now, contrast all of that with Joel Osteen's contention that "whatever I touch will prosper and succeed." That's rubbish. As Christians, our treasure is stored in jars of clay — not jars of gold.

Then there's the cultural perspective. We Generation Xers are naturally a little jaded about things. It's no wonder that many of us view this Deepak Chopra/Oprah Winfrey style of theology that Osteen espouses as more than a little suspect. At best, we dismiss it. At worst, we are offended because we feel patronized.

Now, don't get me wrong here. I'd hate for anyone to leave here with the idea that life sucks and that Christians are no better off than non-believers. That's certainly not the case. Life in Christ is joy, and we would do well to remember that so long as we don't lose sight of the fact that our joy can never be complete while we live here, in this body and on this plane of existence.

Furthermore, the wonderful thing about having Christ in your life is having that blessed assurance that when life does suck, we have peace in the hope that is found in Jesus.

So, in the end, it's not that we suffer that matters. It's how we react to that suffering. Do we sulk, or do we seek?

(copyright andrew j. beckner, 2007. all rights under copyright reserved worldwide. e-mail ephesians514@gmail.com for reprinting information.)