“Other Things”

Last week’s issue of U.S. News & World Report, to which I am a subscriber, quoted Barack Obama on why he believes religious beliefs to be important in a person’s life. According to U.S. News, at a mid-April forum at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., Obama said:

Religion is a bulwark, a foundation when other things aren’t going well. That’s true in my own life, through trials and tribulations(4/28/08, p. 14).

What’s your reaction to that statement? Does that assertion reflect your view of your faith as well? If it does, you’re in big trouble.

Now I don’t want to pick on Barack Obama personally or as a political candidate. I certainly do not believe any of the other presidential candidates are any more or less on target than Obama when it comes to the Christian faith. So that’s not my point of interest here at all.

My interest here is in the eventual life crash that will certainly come your way if you in any way share his view. Because if you see your faith as “a foundation when other things aren’t going well,” then in truth your faith is no foundation at all. At best, it is a second best—the undesired thing you turn to only in unfortunate times—“when things aren’t going well”—“through trials and tribulations.” But to you, fortunate times—times when things ARE “going well” in your life—are those times when you don’t really have to turn to religion.

In other words, if your faith is what you turn to primarily “when other things aren’t going well,” then God is not your first choice—he’s no greater than your second. Your greater desires are for other things. And you regard your life as “going well” when you don’t really need to turn to God.

But life will eventually crash ashore on the sharp rocks of reality for us whenever God is not our greatest desire. Our lives are, in reality, NOT “going well” if our greater desires are for other things than God. And we can tell what our greatest desires really are when we consider what it is we would describe as when our lives ARE “going well,” and what it really is when we think “things aren’t going well.”

And we don’t get the Bible’s message at all if we think of God primarily as the One we turn to “when other things aren’t going well.” If that’s our perspective of what it means to have faith in Christ, then we’re trapped in an illusion where our view of reality is the exact opposite of reality. We think “other things” are better for our lives than God.

In his excellent book entitled Lost in the Middle, on p. 52, Paul Tripp offers some penetrating questions that expose where our greatest desires in life are really focused—how we personally define when our lives are “going well” or not. Here are just a few to consider:

What is it that keeps you going?
What makes your life worthwhile?
What are you convinced you cannot live without?
Why do you call one day good and another bad?

It is not overly spiritual to say that, if any of our answers to these questions omit God, then we’re trying to build our lives on an ever-crumbling foundation of “other things.”

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