Privilege, Pain and the Tragedy of Triumphalism

man standing on rockThis is a composite of various thoughts that have been swirling around my head for the past few days. I’ve been in a somewhat disconcerted state, continuing to reel from issues that plague my soul, wanting relief and wrestling with God. The persistent tug of war between despair and hopeful expectation of God’s working all things out gets exhausting at times. Just when peace settles in something comes across my radar that upsets the apple cart, so to speak. Honestly, I’ve gone through a period of feeling abandoned by God and feeling left to my own devices to figure it out. Well of course that is NOT the reality but at times I have trouble convincing my humanity of that. Thank God for the promises of his word.

When I saw this clip from Tullian Tchividjian, it so resonated with some of the things that bothered me regarding how pain and suffering is treated not only in our corporate gatherings but also the wrestling matches with ourselves individually.

What he speaks to is something I’ve encountered throughout my Christian life, the need to look victorious in spite of how circumstances are warring against our soul. Because after all, doesn’t Paul say that we are more than conquerors? Unfortunately, I fell into this mindset at a time when I was taking a pounding from life and detached from how certain realities in my life had impacted me. Because of the Charismatic teaching that I had embraced, there was this philosophy of warring though the difficulties and engaging in radical praise. Be triumphant even when you don’t feel like it. Be strong, when you are weak. The problem with that mindset is that it doesn’t allow a realistic evaluation and may encourage dishonesty in our spiritual walk.

Privilege is one of the thoughts I’ve been wrestling with lately and I think it presents an artificial burden placed this need to present triumphalism. While all regenerate persons are accepted by God equally (Gal 3:28), the reality is that some are better situated in life than others. Some have more stable upbringings that others. Some are better educated than others. Some have not been marred by the unfortunate acts of broken humanity. Some are better loved than others. The less broken impose upon the more broken a standard of triumph because the reality is there is a lack of relating to how much that person has really been impacted by life.

I’ve observed that the more privilege tend to impose triumphant standards on others. When I saw this post yesterday by Rachel Held Evans, I gleaned from her statements that privilege tends to evoke language that does not accommodate the realities of the less privileged. I’m not co-opting her categories, only making a general application related to my previous paragraph. In other words, those who have not been impacted with the stressors of others can very short-sighted and wonder why those who experience greater difficulties don’t just get with the program. The less privileged can feel compelled to measure up and look like they have the same easy go of it.

The reality is that we don’t want to look like Christian losers. We want the appearance of success. We want to let people know that we are actually walking in the victory that positionally we have in Christ. But there are times when we have to say as Tchividjian said “life is hard and pain is real”. That doesn’t make us losers, it just makes us honest.

And that’s the tragedy of triumphalism. It does not afford honest praise or sincere worship. It gives a facade of Christian victory through dependence upon exterior representation instead of an interior joy. It’s holding a sign up for all to see ‘look how well I’m doing’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all exterior symbols of triumph are insincere. But what I am saying is that when we insist on an exterior presentation that does not match an inward reality, it can have damaging consequences.

For me, it ended up in a deferred impact that I’ve had to sort through pretty much the whole time I’ve been in seminary. What I’ve learned is that when life hits, its better to put our hands down and look for shoulders than to maintain a facade of victory for the purpose of maintaining Christian victory. If we can pray Psalm 23 then we should be allowed to pray Psalm 88 when the situation demands it. While that may sound depressing, I don’t believe it need be permanent and it does allow the Lord’s strength to lift us up instead of our own victorious stance.

As Tchividjian reminds us, victory is in Christ not what I do to look like I’m in Christ. The joy of the Lord is his and must come from him. Yes, Paul does remind us to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil 4:4). But I believe that is an exterior symbol of triumphalism but a heart reflection on our identity that is sourced in what he has done and what he has provided. This is why the gospel is a foundational reality that must be preached and enforced regularly. The gospel encourages us to look to Christ, not ourselves. That should fuel dependence and sincerity, not the need to wear a smile when we’re frowning on the inside or proclaim blue skies during storms.

5 thoughts on “Privilege, Pain and the Tragedy of Triumphalism

  1. eajohnston January 20, 2013 / 8:43 am

    Excellent, Lisa. A feigned “victory over circumstances” is just that–feigned. Life IS hard and pain IS real. You hit that nail on the head: “That doesn’t make us losers, it just makes us honest.” I so appreciate that honesty and the glimmers of hope and echoes of Job 13:15 that I infer from your reference to “an interior joy.” I have struggled intermittently with depression since I was a teenager. That interior joy IS real regardless of the battles we face. Joy is not happy-happy, goosebumps, and cotton candy. Somehow I think it is an attitude of worship when there are no accompanying feelings. At least one aspect of joy must be that. I cling to Psalm 43:5 “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

  2. Leslie J. January 20, 2013 / 8:47 am

    Thanks, Lisa. I desperately need this message these days in my life.

  3. ljrobinson January 20, 2013 / 3:24 pm

    Leslie, glad it was a comfort to you. Praying for you brother.

    Elizabeth, great response. Love that Psalm passage. Unfortunately, I think there is still a taboo about depression. We are far more accommodating when someone suffers physical ailments.

  4. eajohnston January 20, 2013 / 3:39 pm

    I agree, we are more understanding with physical issues. That is probably one reason Psalm 42-43 blessed me so much. If David (or whoever the author is) was cast down, and he prayed openly about it, I could, too. I WILL yet praise Him!

  5. Greg January 22, 2013 / 1:41 pm

    I have known the calm assurance of Psalm 23 and I have also known the wretched depths of Psalm 88. Having battled depression, off and on, most of my life, I have also been on the receiving end of the well meaning (?) but torturous brethren that have told me to just ACT triumphant and you’ll begin FEELING triumphant. If only it were that easy.

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