Righteous Tension

I was recently involved in a discussion about money and faith. As we talked through this, a tension quickly arose: How do we handle money responsibly as stewards of a gift, but also be radically generous people?

On the one hand, I have to be responsible for my family and commitments, on the other hand I am called to extravagant giving. And I don’t know about you, this has always been my struggle with money.

But we often present tensions like this in dualistic forms: Which one am I to do? Should I be responsible with my money? Or sell all my possessions to the poor?

And we ask this question in dualistic terms because we don’t want to make the wrong choice.

And we don’t want to make the wrong choice because we have been handed a view of Christianity that tells us God is only concerned about whether we make the right choice or not. When we really start to examine this, it becomes pretty obvious that we are buying into a version of Christianity which looks a lot like “perfectionism.”

Anne Lamott says this about perfectionism:

“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

When we see our faith as black and white, we have to take a perfectionist approach. Faith is supposed to give us answers and map out the path, so I can “get it right.” If I do not see the path clearly, then I am obviously doing something wrong.

I see this most vividly in college students as they ask questions about what to study, where to work, who to marry. There is a great fear that God has a very specific mapped out plan for their life and one wrong step along the way derails everything God has for them.

They trust a version of faith that provides all the answers and are often just sitting and waiting for those answers to fall in their lap.

But faith is about trust, not about answers. In fact, as I was reminded recently, faith often causes more tensions and raises more questions than it gives answers.

Like the money example. My faith raises significant tensions with how I view and use money. So in this particular case, faith creates more tensions than gives answers. Which causes a significant amount of stress if we think God is only found in the right choices.

But the Beatitudes ask us to see the world in a whole new way.

Notice what Jesus says: Blessed are those who HUNGER and THIRST for righteousness.

Hunger and thirst imply a desire that has not yet been fulfilled. Hunger and thirst are also essential elements of life. If I am hungry or thirsty, I will pursue food and water above all else.

Jesus doesn’t say: “Blessed are the righteous” or “blessed are you when you make righteous choices.”

Jesus says God is present in the hunger and the thirst. God is present in the desire and the pursuit. God is not found in making the right choices, God is found in the tension of trying to make right choices.

rubberbandTension is a good thing. It is a reminder you are in the game, you are paying attention, you want your life to head in a certain direction.

Our worry shouldn’t come from making the right choice, our worry should come when we don’t have tension. When we think we have arrived or have the master plan. God is found in the tension and the questions.

So if you are asking the question: How do I responsibly use money while being extravagantly generous? You are hungering and thirsting for using money in Christ-like ways. This questions can get answered in hundreds of ways. But what is truly important is that you are asking the question at all.

When Jesus says, “you will be filled” he is freeing us from perfectionism. He is telling us righteousness is not found in all the minor decisions. Righteousness is found as we struggle and wrestle and question and doubt our way down the path of Jesus. We are being righteous as we ask the questions and try to move forward.

Perfectionism is about avoiding death. Righteousness is about finding life.

I will never be able to avoid death, but Jesus promises that I can find life even in the face of death.

The questions and the tensions mean we are trying to head in a certain direction. We are no longer watching our feet in order to make all the right choices in order to avoid death. We are running, stumbling, and wrestling towards Jesus, and it is on this path that we find life.

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