Discover more from The Quiet Contrarian
Where Real Hope Is Found
And Living in the Spiritual Tension of the Now-and-Not-Yet
I once worked for a company that sold Christian-themed products like teacups, journals, necklaces, wall art, and more. There is no such thing, of course, as a “Christian teacup” but most of the products were beautifully designed with encouraging Bible verses on them.
One of the perks of working for this company was that, in addition to my wage, I received $100 in credit every month to purchase their products. At first this was fun. I enjoy writing in journals, and it’s fun when your journal is so elegantly designed. Besides, who doesn’t love a pretty new mug?
But after a while, my home was overflowing with . . . stuff.
It was pretty stuff, but honestly, it felt excessive. So I started using that $100 in monthly store credit to purchase gifts for friends. This was more fun, but over time something else became apparent. The same Bible verses were being used over and over again on the products.
I started calling them the “happy verses” in the Bible — you know, the ones that speak positive encouragement. For example:
“Be strong and courageous . . . for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
“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.” (Romans 8:28)
Every Bible verse speaks truth, but most were written with a plural “you,” not a singular “you.” They were written to a certain people in a certain time and place, so it’s important we examine these passages within their given context. If we pull them out of the Bible and focus on them individually, then collectively, we end up with what I call the Positivity Gospel.
The Positivity Gospel focuses on the happy parts — the parts that speak beautiful encouragement. It’s pleasant and uplifting, and without a doubt, the Bible does speak encouragement to our souls. But there are other parts of the Bible that are not so conducive to easy memes or pretty Jesus teacups.
For instance, I have never seen a mug or a journal with the following verses printed on them:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)
“Though I cry, ‘Violence!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice. (Job 19:7)
“When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his [dead] concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.” (Judges 19:29)
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2)
“You have taken from me friend and neighbor — darkness is my closest friend.” (Psalm 88:18)
Yeah, we’re not likely to find these “unhappy verses” on any coffee mugs for sale.
Why are these verses even in the Bible?
If I was going to make up a religion that I wanted to be popular and widely accepted, I wouldn’t have included these passages in the holy writ.
But the Bible — in its entirety — refuses to be used for marketing fodder. The Bible not only prescribes how we are to live within God’s designed boundaries, but the Bible also describes the human experience on this side of Eden with acute accuracy.
This should be a comfort to us because it means God gets it. He understands our suffering even better than we do. And within the Psalter — the book of Psalms — the Spirit has given us numerous psalms of lament that we can pray or even sing.
The Bible literally gives us words to pray when we have no words of our own.
Between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21, which is where we currently live within God’s story of redemption, real life will involve heartache. The particulars will be unique to each of us, but we’ll all experience pain to some extent. Personally, I’m grateful that God does not skip over this reality in his Word. God speaks directly to our lived experience.
This is why, after a while, I grew weary of the plethora of products used to promote a feel-good gospel — all in an effort to turn a profit.
I need a God who allows space for those days when I am feeling down.
I need a God who understands my struggles and helps me through them.
I need a God who won’t cast me out of his presence when I am grieving.
I need a God who draws especially near when I am feeling most alone.
This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with enjoying nice things, and it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with having an encouraging verse on a journal or a teacup. I happen to collect old teacups, mostly because my grandma gave me several, and I have added a few more since (pictured above). It’s fine to enjoy nice things in moderation.
So, it’s not about the things, per se, it’s about the reality those things point to. And more than ever, I want to inhabit the spiritual tension of living in the now-and-not-yet. Because until Jesus comes again, there will be hard seasons.
Thankfully, the Bible tells us that even in those hard times, there is hope. This hope is not an easy-breezy hope scripted in a beautiful font. Hope is a Person with nail-scarred hands and feet, and with a back that still bears the marks of a hateful whip.
Hope looks like a Person who has literally been to hell and back and is still breathing.
Hope looks like Someone who has known suffering and rejection and still offers new life.
Hope looks like a Healer with healed wounds.
All of this gives me hope because I need to know that my own wounds can heal and that my scars can point to a Healer. The same can be true for you.
So, why are those “unhappy verses” in the Bible? Well, they are part of a larger story, and I’ll begin a mini-series here to help explain each challenging verse I have listed, because I never want to reduce the Bible to just the palatable parts. I want to immerse myself in the whole counsel of God’s Word because his Word speaks hope.
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