God's Good 'No'
Over the last week I’ve gotten into a kick of watching one of the most popular preachers of one of the fastest growing churches in America. I’ve listened to one whole of one sermon and about 15 minutes of three other sermons. It was difficult to stomach. The man was a tremendous communicator and instantly engaging. Unfortunately, his sermons could be boiled down to, “God’s here for you.”
Most thoughtful Christians see the Joel Osteen brand of “Your Best Life Now” philosophy for what it is: man-centered, scripture-twisting, reality-neutering, Christ-denying drivel. There is a kind of prosperity gospel that doesn’t go by that name that operates on the same principles. Remember, the prosperity gospel says, “If you have enough faith in Christ you won’t have to be like Christ.” Prosperity gospel preachers promise health, wealth, and happiness to anyone who has enough faith. Subtler forms of this kind of message are espoused by men offering “your next big breakthrough.” They don’t blatantly sing, “money, money, money,” but the message is “follow God and you’ll have the kind of success that will silence your haters, give you greater opportunities, and increase your impact/influence.” Beneath this message is a foundation that puts man at the center and says we do not exist for God, but God exists for us.
Why is this a problem? It’s a problem because too often what we want and what we think will make us happy and what we think is successful would mean our ruin! On this side of God’s return, we cannot possibly fathom all the innumerable ways that God protects us from ourselves. Romans 1 provides the proof-text that God’s “yes” to our wants may serve as a form of judgment and the beginning of our end on the slippery slope of destruction.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
My children recently took interest in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. On our last road trip, they watched Voyage of the Dawn Treader. My favorite scene from any Lewis book resides in the Dawn Treader. The scene features a boy named Eustace who epitomizes self-centeredness, pride, and arrogance. Eustace happens into a dragon’s cave and discovers a treasure hoard. He places a bracelet on his arm and falls asleep in sheer delight against a treasure that assures him success and acclaim over others. When he awakens, he’s met with the horror that he has become a dragon. Lewis wrote, "Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself."
There are several kinds of “getting what you want” in the Bible with their inherent consequences:
1. Delight in God = Desire of Heart
There is a heart’s desire in the person whose delight IS God that He delights to fulfill (Psalm 37:4). The reason God delights to fulfill this heart’s desire is because that heart is most satisfied with Him. Career success and shaming naysayers is NOT what captivates this person’s attention. This kind of “getting what we want” always results in more humility, more worship, more reverence, and more exaltation of God. It will not yield a “look at me; shut your mouth all you haters” kind of attitude.
2. Desire Fulfilled = Judgment Received
This kind of desire fulfillment is God’s judgment on a rebellious people who want less of Him and more of themselves. Jonah likely thought he was pretty lucky to find a boat headed exactly in the direction he wanted to go – away from Ninevah (where God had called him to go). It just so happened that he was sailing into a storm. The scariest aspect of this kind of judgment from God is it’s cloaked in our concept of ‘blessing.’ Greed and covetousness can result in bigger and better homes and vacations; pride and self-aggrandizement may result in a Hall of Fame career; lust may land you the girl/guy of your dreams. You may be getting the very thing you want. While you think it’s God’s blessing (if you even pay Him that lip service), it’s actually the opposite.
3. Desire fulfilled = Pain That Produces Pleasure
God’s “yes” to you, when what you want is not more of Him, may be the way He designs to bring you around to Him. He may give you the very thing you want in order to show you that until what you want is more of Him you will never be satisfied. This is the message at the very heart of Ecclesiastes. Here the author pursues education, romance, wealth, and work only to discover that he continually found himself wanting. Eustace discovered this when his dragon’s hoard left him isolated and in pain. The pain we discover when we’re lost in our ambitions, by God’s grace, is used by Him to break us and bring us back to Himself. Eustace then experiences a transformation…the kind that can only come from God and is preceded by honest confession. He encounters the lion, Aslan, who is the Christ-figure in the story. Aslan tells Eustace that he must undress and swim in a pool in the center of a garden for his healing. Eustace attempts to peel his own scales off only to discover that he cannot transform himself. Aslan must rip to Eustace’s heart with his lion claws in order to bring about the transformation that’s required for his healing and wholeness. I think, very often, the pain you feel at being told “No” by God is Him operating this exact same way.
 Romans 1:24-28, English Standard Version, emphasis mine. “God gave them up” could be modernized by saying, “God said ‘yes’ to their desires, which were for more of ‘not Him.’”
 C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Harper Collins, New York, NY, 1980)
 Jonah 1:3 - But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. (ESV)