One of liberal Christianity’s favorite shibboleths is this: God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.
The proof text is the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus, recorded in Luke 16. Take a moment to read it yourself.
This parable, read in isolation, seems to indicate that anyone who enjoys comfort in this life will spend eternity in torment, while those who suffer will inherit paradise. Lazarus gains admittance to heaven based on nothing more than his earthly suffering; the rich man is sent to hell for no other reason than having lived in splendor.Now, I realize this is a very narrow reading of the passage. The Rich Man may have been condemned for his indifference to Lazarus’ suffering, not his wealth.
But the underlying paradox remains. If the afflicted are God’s favorites, and conversion alleviates affliction, is conversion a bad thing? Is this why liberal churches downplay conversion?
To illustrate this paradox, here’s a parable of my own:
Thomas returned from war and quickly fell into alcohol and despair. Homeless and hungry, he wandered into a soup kitchen where he heard about God’s love. Thomas was immediately baptized, gave up drink and gained meaningful employment. Over the years he became a faithful churchman, married, and built a comfortable life for himself and his family.
In my parable, is Thomas the rich man or Lazarus? If the afflicted are truly God’s favorites, would Thomas have been better off to remain a homeless alcoholic? Did his conversion, which resulted in earthly comfort, undermine his eternal reward?
What do think? Please leave your comment below, particularly if you consider yourself a theological liberal.