1 Dear friends, don’t believe every spirit. Test the spirits to see if they are from God because many false prophets have gone into the world. 2 This is how you know if a spirit comes from God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come as a human is from God.
Scholars will tell us that the context of this passage is a controversy over the nature of Jesus. In ancient times, people wrestled mightily with the idea that Jesus was human – that he really suffered and died on the cross. Apparently, many taught that he only “appeared” to die, hence the name for this heresy: “docetism” (from the Greek word meaning “to seem”).
Even today, the thought of a suffering God makes us uncomfortable. We want to speak of God as all-powerful, victorious, the ruler of all things. Those are the hymns we like: Easter hymns. Good Friday hymns we will tolerate once a year. But we don’t want to sing them all the time.
Why is that? Well, if we acknowledge that Jesus had to suffer, then we have to admit that there’s some suffering we’re probably going to go through as well. And that’s hard. No one likes to think about that.
But it’s true that the Jesus of the New Testament repeatedly calls upon his followers to take up their crosses. Not to embrace the suffering, per se, but at least not to run from it.
When we test the content of faith, one question we must ask is this one: “Does it deny the reality of human suffering?” So often, the church preaches a feel-good message that fails to acknowledge the reality of human pain. We preach the thrill of victory without ever acknowledging the agony of defeat. But when we do so, we’ve failed the test of faithfulness to Jesus Christ, who demonstrated by his life, death and Resurrection that God is faithful – even in the hardest moments of our lives.
By Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
Do you know anyone who tends to focus exclusively on the “bright side” of life? (Cue the Monty Python song here, which ironically comes from a scene of crucifixion.) What are the upsides to this approach? Have you ever experienced any of the downsides? (Because I believe there definitely are some!)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us today to face life as it really is, in both its beauty and struggle. Help us to know that you stand with us, even through our suffering. Amen.