Do you have a friend in trouble? Maybe he–could be she but I’ll just say he–is struggling with sin. Or maybe he’s discouraged because being a Christian hard. Perhaps he’s ostracized because of his faith. His colleagues at work don’t like him. His neighbors think he’s a little strange.
Imagine your friend tells you that he’s wondering if being a Christian is really worth it. He’s tired of having to be discriminating with the movies he watches. He’s tired of fighting the temptation to wander in and out of porn. And frankly, he’s tired of being told that he shouldn’t live life for himself. He sees what he could be making if he was willing to walk on people on the way to top like everybody else. He thinks about the nicer car he could drive if he didn’t give ten percent to the church. Your friend says, “It’s not fair.” He’s feeling a bit angry with God.
What’s more, he’s tired of always being the odd man out when his extended family talks about abortion or homosexuality. He’s doesn’t want to be the seen as the narrow-minded, judgmental, prudish Christian anymore. He’s ready to quit defending the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in a pluralistic world.
And on top of all this, he’s weary of serving others and trying to love people he doesn’t like. He wants to blow his top like everybody else and harbor feelings of revenge. He’s flat out tired of suffering for being a Christian and tired of fighting the fight as a Christian. He’s not sure all this hassle is worth it now or that it really will be worth it later.
So you sit down to write this Christian friend a letter. What do you write him? Would you tell him that, above all else, God wants him to be happy, that God wouldn’t ask him to do something that would cost him his friends or his money? Do you tell him that Christianity must change or die, that God’s truth takes on different forms in every generation and so he shouldn’t cling to outmoded beliefs about sexuality and eternal punishment? Do you assure him that whatever suffering or hardship he experiences is not from the hand of a sovereign God, but that God hurts with him as he hurts? Do you tell him that it’s okay for him to be angry with God for the things in his life and that, in fact, his doubt and bitterness toward God are actually an indication of how strong his faith really is? Would you write back and say, “Thanks for sharing your story. We all have our stories and it was great to hear yours.”? Do you tell him that faith is an adventure and he should enjoy the wild ride? Do you figure that the last thing a hurting person needs is theology, so you simply tell him that faith is a mystery and isn’t it wonderful to all be on this journey together? What would you write to your suffering, struggling, almost compromising friend?
If you were the Apostle John writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you would write to him about God.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (Revelation 1:4-8)
It’s amazing how few of us talk to each other about God. Not about church or about being a Christian, but about God. I’m not sure if we are scared of being irrelevant, or scared of being too spiritual, or if we just plain don’t think that knowing God will help much of anything–but for some reason our initial reaction when friends are struggling or suffering or wrestling with temptation is to tell them about something other than God.
But it should not be this way.
The churches in Asia minor were facing pressure to succumb. Some were suffering for their faith and some were comprising their faith. God was calling them to overcome the struggle, overcome the temptation, and be victorious through Conquering King Jesus. So God gave a revelation to Jesus, who made it known by an angel to John, who then wrote the struggling churches of Asia Minor. And the first thing John told these Christians was of the majesty our Triune God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
What you and I need most is not the affirmation of our stories, nor content-less, shapeless platitudes about the mysterious journey of faith, nor a morality pep talk, nor the undermining of God’s sovereignty. What we need is a glimpse of God in all his terrible splendor and wonderful weightiness.
After that, we need friends, and to be friends, like our friend on the Isle of Patmos.