The cliché police are active at every Christian conference, ready to exchange secret gestures the moment an over-trendy, over-used phrase is wheeled out by the speaker. Most over-used of all is a trinity of distinct words, which all seem to mean the same thing. All good Christian leaders are taught how to rise to the challenge of each word: Empower, Enable and worst of all, Facilitate.
Facilitate, if I follow those who over-use the word, means essentially to empower, to enable. In reality, to facilitate is to make something ‘facile’. That is, easy to achieve but of little value! The disciples who hunger and thirst after convenience already dictate too much in contemporary and apparently ‘emerging’ patterns of church.
As always, there is a faint hint of legitimacy in the cry for ‘facilitation’. I suspect that it arises from a proper desire for Christian truth and life and discipleship to be simple. Simplicity is a necessary element of the Christian life, but it is worth reflecting upon what it means to be simple.
For many, it means that all that we do and say should be immediately comprehensible to the most simple-minded. No effort should be expended in a quest to get to grips with difficult aspects of Biblical truth. If it is true, it is simple, and if it is simple we can understand with virtually no effort at all.
But what if simplicity is understood as the fruit of hard work rather than a substitute for it? Too easily, a desire for simplicity rapidly degenerates into the unreflective veneration of sound bites, slogans and clichés. Hardly the kind of truth that is likely to set us free. But there is something deeply liberating about wrestling with Scripture. Engaging instead of ignoring difficult portions, struggling to understand and to ‘live out’ the hard texts that form part of God’s Holy Word. But only by engaging Scripture in this way do we encounter flash points, moments when a penny drops, where something finally makes sense.
Think for instance about those naughty psalmists, who frequently are asking God to avenge them and slay their enemies! Why on earth should such bitter people receive air time in God’s Holy Word? And then one day you are find yourself in their shoes – wronged, and hurt and longing for revenge. An experience common enough if we are honest, but one that is buried away as plain wrong if we subscribe to the clichés. ‘Let go and let God’ just doesn’t cut it. ‘Take it to the foot of the cross and bathe it in the blood of the lamb’ sounds simple but gets you nowhere.
And then you read those naughty psalmists who have resisted taking revenge into their own hands, and in worship are struggling to leave it in God’s. Those vengeful psalmists become our companions, and free us to worship God ‘in spirit and in truth’.
Simple truth is the product of, not the alternative to, asking difficult questions. The Word of God does not ‘facilitate’ Christian life. Scripture is Holy and requires us to engage and struggle and wrestle. It is ‘Penuel’, where Jacob wrestled an angel, and in so doing encountered God himself and earned the name ‘Israel’. Is that simple enough?
Published in BT, 2008