~ In Question of “Inspirational” Literature ~
A famous radio evangelist was asked if he ever felt any doubt, questioning of God’s will or a feeling of spiritual distance from God. He emphatically answered, “No, never once in my forty year ministry.” While he was attributing this to the “faithfulness of God,” one could hear him talk only Christopolitically correct “testimonies” during the interview, which were really about himself. Like so many high profile evangelists, his ministry was named after himself. I wonder about that too.
Then we are familiar with the guest testimonies in churches, prisons, treatment facilities and the like where someone talks twenty minutes about how bad, tough, violent, drug-addicted or corruptfully successful he was. I generally observe a loud, boastful presentation. The end, usually half or less the time given to himself, often announces how God rid him of all his negative character and behavior within a night or a day of his saying a simple “sinner’s prayer.” Cheers of “Hallelujah! God is good!” ring out. That’s the Christopolitical thing to do, or else people will look at you strangely and talk about you later.
Later, however, many people (I know from experience) anguish privately. “I struggle, I pray, I wait, and God doesn’t work in my life like that. What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t God do that for me too?” When I think it is helpful, I’ll remind them of what Jesus said about these “Hallelujahs”: “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ He replied, ‘… Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’” (Luke 10:17,20, NIV).
These “inspirational” testimonies, stories and feel-good writings can create confusion and even despair among those who suffer, strive and bear contrite (wounded and bruised) hearts. They may even cause a loss of faith when they are only partially true or even contrived. The evangelist who never had a spiritual struggle in forty years, the person who never wrestled with the question of God’s will and suffering, are saying they are more “spiritual” than the chosen prophets and the writers of the psalms. The guy who responds to another’s pain by exclaiming, “I’m too blessed to be stressed. God takes care of everything” is implying his example is more inspirational than that of Jesus! He stressed, He anguished, cried, mourned, struggled and even got angry. Those of us who don’t always feel so “blessed” and consistently joyful can take inspiration and comfort from Jesus’ life in human flesh.
I sense a dishonesty in some inspirational literature about the exemplary devotion of the “great ones.” Our portrayal of them may well exceed the Christlikeness they themselves would admit. The saintly and ever-laboring Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India wrote much about her doubts and long bouts of spiritual dryness. Yet these admissions are difficult to find and, as of this writing, haven’t been published in the retail market. Perhaps the guardians of her journals believe they would “tarnish” her saintly image. I believe they would enhance it.
A short biographical sketch of the courageous and faith-filled Walter Ciszek, a Jesuit missionary to the former communist Soviet Union, was all positive and inspiring. One hint, however, of a possible negative, was glossed over in one quick sentence: “Finally exhausted with the charade of interrogation and the limits of his endurance, he agreed to sign a confession.” Actually, maybe this even would not have been mentioned except for the necessity to explain how he was sentenced to fifteen years in Siberia. What was happening to him spiritually during his “exhaustion” and “limits of endurance”? Is this not very important, if not critical, information about the spiritual journey for us all to learn? To what did he confess? How did he regain his spiritual strength and faithfulness during the years of suffering and labor in Siberia? His own writings may address these questions, but his biographers and quoters seem to ignore them. This is the norm for many books that present overviews of the inspirational religious, cultural or social-political heroes.
Another notable pastor also imprisoned by the communist reign wrote this letter, in his mind, to his young son: “Mihai, the end has arrived. I cannot bear it any more. I have saved thirty pills. The torture has become too painful. I am afraid I will crack. I will take the pills and go… to that one who said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’… I have no idea why I have had to suffer so much… Choose, Mihai, the way of sacrifice. I cannot. I am deserting to another world. Do better than me, Mihai. Bear what I could not bear. Love Jesus and endure to the end. Mihai, make Mother happy. Tell her that I loved her and that I am sorry I have sometimes been unkind to her” (Wurmbrand, R., With God in Solitary Confinement, 1969).
Wurmbrand could not complete his plans because his jailers removed the mattress from his cell in which he had hidden the pills. After years of more suffering, he was ransomed and brought to the US where he and his wife began what is now the international aid ministry, The Voice of the Martyrs.
Wurmbrand’s thoughts to his son and of confusion and defeat, along with his confession of occasional unkindness to his wife, which he courageously wrote after his release, isn’t quoted nor commented upon. It does take away from the more “inspiring” stories of Christians “dancing in their chains with joy,” which Wurmbrand also reported as an occasional occurrence. But I trust I am not alone in finding tremendous inspiration in Wurmbrand’s struggles and honesty.
Here is another non-Christopolitically correct thing Wurmbrand dared to write: “The two daughters of a Christian martyr – Christians themselves – became prostitutes to support their younger brother and sick mother. [The communist state did not give jobs to children of Christian prisoners.]… [later] his daughters were no longer prostitutes, as they received jobs by complying with the demands of the secret police. Don’t just say that this is ugly and immoral – of course it is – but ask yourself if it is not also our sin that such tragedies occur, that such Christian families are left alone, and are not helped by us who are free.” [Italicized emphasis is Wurmbrand’s.] (Wurmbrand, R. Tortured for Christ, 1998.) I maintain that self-accountability is also inspirational, more than feel-good greeting card poetry.
What does “to inspire” mean anyway? Are multimillionaire athletes and celebrities who “made it” really inspirations to poor children in city ghettos or rural regions like Appalachia? How many times have they been told, “Honey, you can be whatever you want, even the President.” Not without millions of dollars and tons of political connections you can’t. There are the few historical exceptions we hail as inspiring “proofs” of self-determinism. In reality, they are a necessary part of the feel-good endeavor.
Here’s some more inspiring accountability from Wurmbrand: “If the Father abides in me, every time anyone in the world says an ‘Our Father’, he addresses the Godhead within me, too. I feel the prayers of all mankind addressed to me, as if my address – Cell number eleven in the prison of the Ministry of Interior Affairs in Bucharest – is in fact God’s address. I used to wonder why the Church repeats the Lord’s prayer so often. Now I understand. Every time I say it, I am reminded that mankind expects me and my brethren, the bearers of Godhead, to make his kingdom come – his kingdom of righteousness and joy. We have to see that his will is done on earth. We have to provide the hungry with the bread of life. We have to forgive” (p.163, With God in Solitary Confinement).
Let me support Pastor Wrumbrand with a declaration from Revelation: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of Christ. For the accuser of our brothers [Satan], who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (12:10-11, NIV, emphasis mine).
It’s good that the Christopolitically correct inspirational writers haven’t revised the Scriptures. I find the biblical honesty about human struggles and sinful character flaws truly inspiring and comforting. The father and patriarch of Israel, Abraham, didn’t take a chance on God’s promise, so he fathered a son with his wife’s servant-slave. King David had a son by adultery and murdered to cover it up. Noah cursed his son for his own drunken behavior. Moses got angry a lot and wasn’t permitted to enter the Promised Land. Jonah and other prophets had their arguments with God. Matthew deliberately breaks tradition and “contaminates” the royal ancestral geneology of Jesus by adding four women. Of all the famous mothers he could have chosen, these four would raise Jewish eyebrows since Tamar, Rahab and Ruth were not Israelites (Bathsheba was Hittite) and all four gave birth to sons through immoral engagement. More than once Jesus rolled His eyes in frustration with His disciples rhetorically asking, “How long must I put up with you?” and “You of little faith!” Paul admitted being fearful.
We are like them. They are like us. They are the exemplars of our faith walk, stumbling, striving, ever learning to be less themselves and more Christlike. Not all of us can become a famous celebrity in either the secular or spiritual worlds. But all of us can become adopted sons and daughters of the Almighty and All-loving God and brothers and sisters of the Christ, the Anointed One. Though flawed and disordered, all of us can grow in holiness and perfection. Our lovely inspirational prose and poetry has the power to transform death and suffering into life and joy as much as do the words “Everything will be ok” from a rescuer to a person watching a critically injured loved one being loaded into an ambulance.
The wonderfully honest and truthful Scriptures are inspired and inspirational. They speak of the only institution in the cosmos and beyond that is truly “equal opportunity,” the Kingdom of God; a realm where the poor, oppressed, hungry, flawed, weak, meek and wounded reign. Take heart and inspiration in that, brothers and sisters, and in His unconditional, infinite love. He considers the least of us to be the greatest. I think that’s what Jesus meant by “joy,” along with His other marvelous mysteries.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © March 1, 2003
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com
What's New/Article Index <>< Home/Welcome Page <>< Weekly Reflections Listing