Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I’ve been accused several times of always seeking out the easy way in any given situation. This is probably true. Before Christ, this meant that I’d lie, cheat, or try to fox my way around in order to avoid any sort of difficulty. Since putting my faith in the Lord, God has altered situations so that I can still choose the path of least resistance without having to lie or finagle. And so I still take the easy way when I can. Am I wrong for doing so?
Every time I read through 1 Chronicles, one story always gives me pause. This is the story of Jabez:
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).
Jabez is an interesting guy. He is honored in the Bible by God for asking the Lord to bless him and to keep him from pain. Basically, he asked God for an easy and prosperous life. I’m not gonna lie, I prayed his prayer the first time I read the Bible. And yet, I often hear Christians- nay, pastors- talk about how blessed they are to suffer. They sometimes even envy each other’s illnesses because apparently it brings great understanding or something (I have no idea, it sounds outright masochistic to me). My pastor even noted that the worst suffering in his life helped him to better preach and understand the troubles people feel. Upon hearing this I suddenly felt guilty by wanting to avoid pain. Is it the Holy Spirit trying to get my mind in the right place? The enemy trying to knock my faith down? My sympathetic conscience feeling for others? I’m not sure, but whenever I hear a pro-pain sermon, something definitely stirs.
I see from the pulpit a lot of folks proclaiming how awesome God’s “tough love” can be. Usually they’ll cite Romans 8:28 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”) and I don’t think they’re wrong in that. I mean, look at the living hell Paul went through in order to show the power of the Gospel. He lists,
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).
I find that to be a particularly humbling passage. Later in the Bible Paul notes to believers, “Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). Does this suggest that suffering brings you closer to Christ through the medium of pain and anguish (since Jesus suffered before and on the cross)? Peter seemed to think so as he wrote, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13). According to Peter (and Paul), when we suffer, we share in Christ’s suffering, and this somehow improves our connection to him and …makes being a Christian better? There’s that masochism again. And it’s not like these guys were seeking out hard times either. It was actually the Lord’s plan that Paul would endure all that he did. When pre-Christian Paul was blinded by the light, the Lord sent a believer to heal him. That believer argued with God since Paul had been a strong enemy of the church. What was God’s answer? We read,
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16).
Really, God? You outright planned to make Paul’s life a world of nonstop pain? But history shows that Paul had an extremely powerful ministry (one that continues today through his writings in the Bible). So who am I to argue?
Yet in my own experience the opposite has been true. Early in my marriage it was not my great faith through hard times that amazed my wife. Rather, it was that no matter what came against me, it would be immediately diffused and I remained protected. She’d even comment, “God really loves you.” To which I was able to respond (through the Holy Spirit acting quickly), “God loves all of his children; you just have to let him love you.”
Even last summer, I experienced an amazing thing that opened up the Gospel to a non-believer. During the rainy season I never used an umbrella. As I ran around the city, I never got rained on. While inside, it would pour cats, dogs and everything else. Then when I had to step out, God would stop the rain. When I’d go back in, the rain would start again- at times it would follow my schedule almost to the minute. This caught the eye of one of my colleagues (a businessman and a Buddhist). When he asked why I didn’t carry an umbrella, I explained that God kept it from raining on me. He even tested it one day and went out for a walk with me over lunch- sure enough, no rain. Because of this our conversations became increasingly religious and he grew more interested in the Bible. A similar thing happened this year during the rainy season too where several people realized I didn’t need an umbrella and asked me about it. So in my experience, God has used my life to preach to others of resting in him. The Lord has used my life as seen by others to be a living example of Hebrews 4:9-11,
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
I trust my God to take care of everything, so he does. It’s a pretty cool message to a very stressed out world. And it’s not like this isn’t a Biblical concept, Jesus himself said,
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
According to Christ, our lives are supposed to get easier when we trust in Jesus, not more difficult.
Even today as I write this, I feel like God is holding back an ocean of troubles and letting me casually walk through. Should I be guilty that I encourage the Lord to do this? Am I missing out on something? Or is it okay to proclaim a Lord who is willing to open all the doors for you? I mean, I know that the Bible notes, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24). However, my crosses thus far haven’t been all that heavy because I let Christ carry them. The Bible says that Jabez was more righteous than his brothers because he had the guts to ask for blessing and ease. If there’s nothing wrong with it, and it is commendable, then why does everyone seem to think that it’s a bad thing? Is it wrong to want an easy life in Christ?
I welcome any input from you. Honestly, I was hesitant to post this article, but I’m curious as to what others in the faith have to weigh in on this topic. So please, comment and share your opinions, experiences, or stories. This is something I think we can all learn from and discuss.