God’s Antibiotics

Give me a pill or shot any day and it won't bother me one bit, but try giving me the liquid form of any medicinal relief and you are in for a fight. I absolutely abhor the stuff. Always have, probably always will. Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve this struggle. As parents do, my mother and father were patient and firm in explaining how medicine would make me feel better, how it would eventually make the pain go away. But in the moment none of that mattered. I wasn't buying it. As a youngster battling Strep Throat -- still my arch enemy to this day -- or Pneumonia, which resulted in hospitalization every so often, it seemed that the doctor always prescribed liquid salve of some sort that, along with rest and hydration, promised to restore me. And they were right. It always worked, quite beautifully I must say. Even so, however, now many years later as an adult, while cognitively I know it to be for my good, I still don't like it.

With inclement winter weather bearing down on various regions of the country like Frosty the Snowman's rogue cousin, I happen to be sick right now (Strep Throat is from the devil!) and am dreading that in a few hours I will be due for another two-tablespoon dose of medicine. Good 'ol liquid antibiotics, long time no see. You should see me, really. I am a sad sight for sore eyes, having to hype myself up with enough kinetic courage to do what I know is right. Dying to your fears and discomforts isn't easy, even if you know that doing so helps to usher in heath. I find some similarities between this area of life and my faith.

The Bible provides instructions and guidelines that don't come naturally to those who follow God. This is why the Spirit's empowerment is so essential to our growth. Without it we are lost. Bent on autocratic control, we exit the womb already possessing the requisite tools to injure ourselves and others. It is in our DNA. Part of Christianity's misconception is that of a whitewashed, easy breezy faith, which couldn't be farther from the "actual factuals." We, believers, are clearly expected to do some pretty hard things, in broad terms to model a lifestyle that though lived within the pressures and realities of life as everyone knows it, is itself otherworldly. Talk about risky business. This is as risky as it gets.

Jesus teaches us to do good, especially to those who spew hate. We are also taught that whatever we give to others should be given freely, out of love. Although never a popular idea in any era, we are to be walking epistles of mercy, exercising restraint because of unmerited favor we have already received. And of course, judging others is off limits. God alone audits souls, separating wheat from chaff. Honesty is to be our rule of life, not an exception, no matter the consequences. We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned without partiality. We adhere to principles increasingly viewed as obsolete like the 10 Commandments.

An absolutely strange bunch by definition, believing in a God we haven't seen (but still profess to have met), convinced that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."[1] When society pronounces God dead, another victim of postmodern crossfire, in faith we humbly point to an empty tomb and let the risen Christ speak for himself. Rapper Eshon Burgundy translates this notion well, saying, "Jesus is the answer / the devil is a dancer / moving provocative with a shovel and some handcuffs..." Professor and pastor, A.J. Swoboda adds to the conversation in his book, Messy: God Likes It That Way:

I think maybe, when people come forward to the altar, we should look them in the face and say, "Do you want to follow Jesus?" And if they say yes, we look at them with a sense of genuine compassion, and then with all of our strength, we should punch them square in the face. Then we should say, "Welcome to the kingdom of pain. This thing sucks. Hope you're ready." And we should do that because following Jesus is hard. Really hard. And that bruise on the face is the mark of discipleship, the pain, the gore, the strain, and toil.[2]

Putting childish temper tantrums and other impulses behind us, God equips us to share spiritual truth that people will likely reject and persecute us for. Get the picture? All of this is much weightier than any conundrum Scandal can offer. Christians are the ultimate anomaly, an outlier of ragamuffins leading fellow ragamuffins to redemption.

Following the whole counsel of this "Good Book" we embrace is no easy task, so God prescribes antibiotics for the various hardships that make us sick. It is difficult to recognize joy if you are unfamiliar with pain. Who can represent peace if they have never experienced hate? To truly embody self-control, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, and other byproducts of the Spirit[3] is only possible by enduring challenging times, learning to trust God in the process. Whether God causes our individual calamities, I can't say with confidence. My hunch is, most times no. Regardless, though, somehow "all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."[4] Of that I am sure.

It is through tough times that I now know that all things that glitter aren't gold and, furthermore, that taking medication, according to the doctor's orders, is an issue of life or death. Not enjoying the feeling of something on the front end that is intended for my good, pales in comparison to the other side where transformation and healing await. If you are committed to strengthening your relationship with God, know that a cushy, comfortable life is incompatible with that aim. To follow God means taking antibiotics, even the liquid kind, from time to time. It won't feel good, but is for your good.

Bring on the antibiotics.

[1] Ephesians 6:12.

[2] A.J. Swoboda, Messy: God Likes It That Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2012), 39.

[3] Galatians 5:22-23.

[4] Romans 8:28.