Desperation is not the virtue of the righteous. Often we have heard in songs and in sermons, “It is when we have nothing left, in our moment of greatest need, in greatest desperation, we reach out and touch God.” Does it sound familiar? It’s a play on Luke 8:45 when Jesus was walking among the crowd and he suddenly asks, “Who touched me?” The Disciples, not understanding the question, responded, “We’re in a crowd, people are obviously going to be touching you.” Soon after, a women comes forward and claims it was her. In her twelve years of discharging blood, despite the physicians being unable to heal her, she reached out, touched the robe of Christ, and was healed. But we are forgetting something terribly important. It was not her desperation that healed her, it was her faith in who Christ was. It was a response to the truth of Christ. Often times we say her desperation drove her to stretched out her hand and touched Jesus’s robe, it was not desperation. Desperation was what drove Saul to stretched out his hand and comfort a Seer (1 Samuel 28:10).
This book was recommended to me by a friend with the greatest of intentions, and I intend to respond with the greatest of motives, for the subject is tender. The book When Heaven Invades Earth is written by Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church, and has served to comfort many of my friends who have suffered greatly – death of family members, great trials in family cohesion, crumbling of dear relationships – and have sought out comfort with the most noble intentions. Even the forward is written by a man who had lost his dearly loved wife of more than 47 years. But upon reading this book, I felt deeply concerned with its content and its message. It seeks isolation by pitting doctrines and corrections of theology against the communion of Christ, it seeks to divide man’s head from man’s heart, it seeks meaning without understanding. It is, in short, to break God’s creation at the core.
I was forced to ponder many questions as I read through each chapter. Among these were,
“How far can a theology diverge from Christian Orthodoxy before it becomes dangerous?”
“At what point does bad theology become an impeachable offense concerning those who seek the office, or hold the office, of a teacher of God’s word?”
In other words, I had to ask, “Is this book encouraging a response in faith or encouraging a response in desperation?” This review is going to be difficult to write, but it is with the enduring hope that truth will be found that I will tend to my case as carefully as I must.
But, as I know how “way leads unto way”, to quote Robert Frost, and so I won’t know when the semester will permit me another evening to lay out my thoughts with any order, allow me to say something important concerning the nature of the path before me.
My younger brother once played youth football for the local elementary school. The linemen needed help learning techniques, and so I was asked to help out.
The drill was simple, as were the consequences. I placed a hitting back before a single line and told them, “I will give you one of two types of numbers. Even numbers, you hit the bag with your head on the right side. Odd numbers, you hit the bag with your head on the left side. If you hit the back with your head on the wrong side, you will run to the fence and back (roughly 250 yards round trip).” I gave a momentary pause, “Any questions?” No response. “Does everyone know their odd and even numbers?” No response. “There is no such thing as a dumb question. You may ask them now, but in the drill you will run for doing it wrong.” Still no response.
I began the drill and, sure enough, a child would hit the back on the wrong side. They would look at me and I would simply ask, “What number did I call?” They would reply, “Two.” I would continue, “Was that even or odd?”
“What side was your head on?”
“Go to the fence.”
And off they would go, one by one. But there was one particular child who kept messing up again and again and again. The first time, he ran without being told. The second time, I asked him what he did wrong, and then he ran without responding. The third time, you could see his frustration as he jerked himself from the bag and took off running to the fence. On the fourth time, facing a total of 1,000 yards of running in a span of 15 minutes, he ran over to me, began crying, and mumbling inaudibly something about not being able to do it.
I bent over and firmly grabbed his face-mask, just as my coaches had once done to me, and calmly said, “Stop.” Tears were in his eyes, and he bent slightly backwards as he took in a deep breath. I then asked, “What did you do wrong?” He replied that his head was on the wrong side but he couldn’t do it right. Ignoring his response I calmly asked, “Can you do this for me, right now?” He stood there for a moment, and quietly replied, “Yes.”
I let go of his face-mask, he ran back to the line, and did the drill correctly… Again, and again, and again.
Pain is a cruel teacher, frustration a despot, but, grasping out in desperation, crying out that you cannot do it, is not the mother of growth or the father we are to reflect. I believe we have much to learn from the exchange between Elijah and God in 1 Kings 19:11-12:
And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
I can imagine the fear and frustration of Elijah as he recounts the destruction of the alters, the deaths of the prophets, the forsaking of the covenant, the realization that he is all that is left. But we cannot forget that God did not respond in-turn. He responded with a still small voice.
If I could, for a moment be extraordinarily ambitious, allow me to say that God’s response is a model of how we should respond during these times. I hope that my book review will be as though a still small voice for those who have grasped upon this theology in their time of destruction, of death, of being forsaken, and believing they are alone.
There will be strong winds, there will be earthquakes, and there will be fire, but that is not where I hope my voice will be found.