I Don’t Know What (Or How) to Believe – Post 2 – The Spiritual Laziness Issue

It happens every day. I hear something, I read something online, is it true? Then see its immediate rebuttal. “It’s not a true story!” He’s lying, “The media is making it up for the gullible.” or “It’s factually inaccurate and empirically unverifiable.” Statistics, study findings and a touching anecdote to reply to the posters. I find myself thinking way too long about what is true and if relevant and what should be done. For me, this results in a stalling in what to think, and therefore what to do.

The previous post described the frustration of trying to buy a burr coffee grinder on Amazon and how this simple experience illustrated the decision-making process and belief formation in countless other things. The post concluded with the idea with the idea that Jesus may be the ultimate answer but what if you’re not actually asking the ultimate questions? What about all the normal, everyday things that range from extremely important, fairly significant, important but temporary, all the way to trivial and fleeting? Merely shouting “Jesus!” to such things may not actually help our faith or bring clarity and instead, may actually be a form of spiritual laziness. 

Spiritual laziness can be seen in many forms. Perhaps the most common is moving through life in this heavenly-minded, cruise-control. It’s the consumer-Christianity, the going through the motions, the mindless easy-believism,  “If it feels good, do it” and “just give my piece of heaven” sort of thing. This is the type of spirituality that slips away from sacrifice, refuses to answer the door commitment and avoids suffering at all costs. Think of the religious leaders who cross the street to avoid caring for someone. I loathe this type of spirituality because I know first-hand how easy it is to slip in and out of it.

Another aspect of spiritual laziness is the “quick to arrive at conclusions.” Some might call this efficiency and encourage me to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (I did read it, this isn’t what he means). I’m criticizing going with the first decent answer, insert convenient, somewhat workable philosophy here, and settling too soon if you will. While I am not suggesting that we agonize over every decision, the opposite process proves to be unwise as well. There is a temptation to cut to the chase and “just believe.”  There is a satisfaction to it, there’s closure, no more wondering, wrestling and at times, no more worrying.

And while there are probably more versions and aspects to spiritual laziness, one of it’s biggest problems is that it deludes us and those around us into feeling more Christian and loving than we really are. It disguises itself in a piety that when examined or challenged, false apart fairly quickly. Further it sabotages opportunities for growth because it prefers never to struggle, suffer or grind – again, because it’s lazy.

For example, a few weeks ago someone posted a status update that contained tragic news. Many wonderful and sincere people offered their support and sympathies (the situation did not call for condolences at this point). One person chimed in with a “Chin up – God’s in control!”

I assume this person was a fellow Christian, probably a wonderful person. I’m certain this person will track me down and I’ll hear all about how she single-handedly saved their church nursery ministry, led the entire congregation to Jesus, including the pastor, and then later foiled a terrorist plot. Indeed, this person is a saint, in the tradition of Jack Bauer. That said, on this particular day at that particular moment, the saint acted umm, to put it politely, less than saintly and more insensitively and flat out lazy.  The triteness of the update was not encouraging, it felt more like, “Get over it, keep you eyes pointed to the heavens (literally), your pain is of little cosmic significance and God is still alive and good.” 

Of course God is in control, in the sense that He is sovereign over all things, we believe this to be ultimately true but in the moment what we need to remind each other is that God is here in the midst of the pain. God being in control does not necessarily mean that our particular crisis will be solved. God being in control does not guarantee that our loved one will be cured or that there will not be another terrorist attack or school shooting or any other of our countless nightmare scenarios.  God being in control ultimately means that those who put their trust in Him will abide with Him but that does not mean we will win every battle until then. 

This I believe. Not only does none of this feel lazy to me, this feels anything but as the lazy thing would be to avoid any sense of pain and struggle and settle for a more optimistic sentiment. Still, there’s more to confronting the spiritual laziness issue which I’ll keep unpacking in the next post. Have a thought or pushback? Know that I’d love to hear it. Thanks for reading.


  1. Amy Paulsen-Reed says:

    Hi Tim,

    I so appreciate your thoughtful approach to difficult questions and issues. As Mike has mentioned, we have thought a lot about theodicy and God’s sovereignty, which are both intimately connected with the oft-used phrase “God is in control.” I personally am not sure what I believe about God’s sovereignty, since, as you point out, it’s hard to understand how He could allow certain evils or not step in to stop them. I am very interested in hearing more about what you think about this issue, and upon reading this post, especially the second-to-last paragraph, my question is: in your opinion, what DOES it mean that God is in control? Because if nothing happens outside of His control, He has a lot to answer for! Many people say that God has a reason for allowing evil, that wherever He does not intervene, it’s because He has a higher purpose. You can hold that view with some evils, but others push that belief beyond stretching point. What about children who are raped every day for years – surely there could not be a greater good worth putting a child through that. Personally, in order not to attribute such things to God, I have taken a step back from such a strong belief in God’s sovereignty. But I’m not sure where this leaves me. I know that I could choose to hold paradoxical beliefs in tension, which is a very biblical thing to do, and maybe that’s what I should do, but I’m not there at the moment.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Amy.
    So to be clear, I do not normally use “God is in control” (used above with a qualifier and only used to engage with those that do use it) and absolutely loathe the phrase, “There’s a reason for everything.” for precisely the same reasons you raise.
    In short, I believe that God is ultimately sovereign, and I believe that God is so good that He is capable of bringing good out of even the most evil/tragic of situations. Otherwise evil would be greater than God.

    What I mean is this: I do not believe that after a natural disaster that God fails to exist because He did not stop it. Nature is broken, the same sun that gives life, also gives skin cancer. It’s all broken. But I do not believe that something can happen that removes God’s ultimate sovereignty. God can still be sovereign and as N.T. Wright says, is offering us hope in a new world (Have you read Surprised By Hope?)

    In my mind, tragedy and evil do not remove His sovereignty. That said, I foresee that for a long while that I will wrestle with God’s agency and the nature of providence in everyday instances such as a child/anyone being raped, natural disasters and all these moments that take life away.

    So far what I’ve found is not a satisfying answer but a hope that the Lord is near to this pain, perhaps even nearest to the person who is suffering, at times bringing a healing, whether it be spiritual, emotional, or a physical type, that I cannot fathom. More to be said here for sure, but that’s a start.

    To the idea of everything has a reason. I just don’t buy that, and frankly find it to be unBiblical, and painfully trite. And so to use your example, I DON’T believe that God puts the child in that situation so one day, he/she will discover Jesus or share Jesus with another or something like this. I think the evil-doer puts that child in this situation, I believe God will judge that evil-doer, I believe that if/when possible that we are to join the work that captures/punishes the evil-doer and rescues/provide after-care for the child (thus I love agencies like IJM and others). People can find Jesus in the worst of situations but I do not believe that God creates the evil and puts them there in order to find it. Therefore I believe in God’s sovereignty, God’s foreknowledge but not in for-ordination. It’s too micromanaging for me. I need some free-will, even if it is limited, to make sense of the depravity and brokenness that we find in Scripture and throughout our world.

    And so to reiterate from above, I also have my hope that God is nearest to the vulnerable, to the one that is going through this hell. This reminds of the story of Pranitha Timothy – google her when you can the chance (it’s the example you mention).

    I have a few old blog post about this that began after a football player dropped a game winning touchdown and blamed it on God. Long story short, I unpacked a bit of this everything has a reason thing. http://blackcoffeereflections.com/?p=2988
    That posted started a “Everything has a reason” thread – you can use these links or they are from December 2010 Archives.

    These posts are over 4 years old (and had a different audience in mind at the time, and I’m a bit different too) but they’re a start.

    http://blackcoffeereflections.com/?p=3005 – Part 3 – “Everything Has a Reason” Contradicts a Loving God Who Grieves

    http://blackcoffeereflections.com/?p=3013 – Part 4 -“Everything Has a Reason” Makes God Sound More Like a Soteriological Mad Scientist than “Emmanuel”

    http://blackcoffeereflections.com/?p=3018 – Post 5 – “Everything Has a Reason” – What About Divine Providence?
    http://blackcoffeereflections.com/?p=3021- Post 6 – “Everything Has a Reason” – Why Does God ALLOW Evil?

    To be sure, I don’t have final answers for you or for me. Further, I am highly suspicious of anyone who has closure on the issues of suffering and evil. Part of me thinks it’s part of the heaviness of the cross we bear in this life. But I do think that grace, perspective, and the Lord’s presence can be experienced on the journey (and this has strengthened my faith in some way). So I don’t say this in a cheesy way, but I appreciate you journeying with me here.

  3. Amy Paulsen-Reed says:

    Thanks so much Tim! I think we have similar views actually. I believe that God created the world, including free will and the possibility of (choosing) evil. Thus, this makes him ultimately responsible for evil on a macro level, but not personally responsible for each individual act of evil, since that is due to the free will of the person who acted. An interesting question, then, is that if God is hands off regarding evil, is He hands off regarding good? At first glance, it would seem the answer is a shocked “of course not!” But when you see “blessing” or good things distributed quite randomly, divorced from the virtue of the recipients (Ps 71), it’s hard not to wonder. So, for example, I find it hard to get on board when I hear someone say, “If I hadn’t been running late and missed my train, I would have died in the 911 attacks. God must have saved me for a reason,” I think, “What about the people that DID die? If God intervened for the first guy, why not for the others? If God is responsible, in a micromanaging way, for everything that happens, both good and bad, then He seems quite unfair. I feel that it makes more sense that God allows free will to be enacted in a fallen world, which accounts for both bad and good. And God is with us through all of it, like you said. But He’s not the one that allowed abuse on the one hand or gave us that job on the other. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. =)

  4. Thanks Amy. I do think we’re tracking similarly as well.

    I too find it hard to figure out where was God in the 9/11 examples. I don’t have conclusions but here’s where I am.

    So living in north Jersey for those years, we literally heard “Had this happened … I would have been there.” Further, we know people who were there and very easily could have been among the 3000 who perished. And even closer, we are a family that places a high value on privacy but we have people we describe as very close in one of the towers when the first plane hit. I imagine you (and others) have similar personal attachment points which makes this conversation very real and personal.

    When I thank God for sparing my loved ones and the many others like the man I met at the gym (true story), I am sincere in my gratitude. In some way, this represents the idea that all good and perfect (better translated as “complete” – quote from James 1) and I think it’s important to direct gratitude to someone/some place (as self-sufficiency can make a god out of you and trick you into thinking this is true) and to willfully reject that goodness is arbitrary (which is another question we can get to).

    I also put stock in how Jesus describes the father in watching the sparrow and clothing the lillies of the field. I don’t see this as micro-managing, I see it as a God who truly loves us (which is among the reasons I reject deism. Prayer too, I don’t think I’d ever understand the discipline and maybe even the authenticity of prayer if I was a deist). A micro-managing God controls the sparrow’s life. A loving God cares for the sparrow. The distinction is profound for me.

    Getting back to your question concerning what about the one who perished versus the one who was spared. I find myself thinking a great deal of Jesus’ ministry and some of the parables he used when it came to some perishing and some being saved. Hard to unpack on the blog but just to say I start there. But on a different layer, I believe that God is with “both” (and with all, particularly those who seek him). Those who were spared and those who were in the hijacked planes and those who were in the towers/Pentagon. I imagine some who jumped to their death offered a similar prayer to the thief on the cross and of course, I imagine some felt more like the other man being crucified. I wonder the same who were on the plane and my heart aches for the ones who didn’t know any evil was coming. I still hold out hope that God had mercy on them which is a big theme for me.

    If I can show more mercy and love than God, then He’s not that great of a God which disqualifies Him from being God. And frankly, I would potentially make a better one and this cannot be. This of course is a similar line of thought that someone you know also has expressed in some form. In short, since we were created in God’s image, we have a sense of divine goodness. That said, of course, I reject the notion that I or any of us would make a better God, but I’m counting, and I mean I am really counting on the hope that God is not just as merciful as I want him to be, but even more so. This is a big hope, that I have very little evidence for, I just think that if God is love, he has to be something like this and of course, I imagine him to be more. This hope is among the landing points that has held my faith together, and maybe even strengthened it.

    A couple years after 9-11, I heard a story of a man who survived the attack but later died in what felt like a meaningless and very avoidable car accident. Tragedy. I do not think he was cursed, I do not think God was out to get him (I know you don’t either). I wonder if he cherished those days since 9/11 more so, or as many 9/11 survivors, fought forms of depression and other health issues. I don’t know. I just look at this and believe that God was still in the midst of all this, in the midst of the tragedy, with the victims, and with the survivors (even with the hideous hijackers in some way) and is doing more than I can imagine, more than loved ones can detect and even more than our very own hearts can know.

    More to say in why we wonder about such things as it relates to our own tragedies, past ones, coming ones, our sense of preservation for ourselves, loved ones, strangers, and our sense of justice, etc. but this feels like a good place to pause. And more to say with how we view this life as well.

    Appreciate your heart/mind Amy – grateful that it’s people like you pursuing the path you’ve been going down.

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