Rejecting Perpetually Sunny Theology
Throughout my years in and around the Christian church, I've witnessed a strange phenomena that doesn't seem to be isolated to just one "lane" within Christianity. It's a cross-denominational kind of thing, in other words.
The phenomena I'm speaking of is what I would describe as "Perpetually Sunny Theology." This kind of theology instructs that no matter what is happening in your life, you should never question, never complain, never lament, never wonder why.
Perpetually Sunny Theology lifts up the notion that not only is God "in control" of the situation that you find yourself in, but that God also caused it or at the very least allowed it in order to teach you something.
[So, Rejoice Therefore!]
In the extreme, I've seen people who embrace this destructive belief absolutely refuse to accept their own agency in the dire circumstances they find themselves in.
In other cases, I've seen people resign themselves to "God's will," or give up altogether because they believe they must have done something to deserve whatever is happening to them. There's no sense in complaining, after all. There's no reason to ask questions.
Then there was a couple I met years ago, who declared that they never once questioned God, never wondered what God was up to, never doubted for an instant that no matter what they were going through was God's will for them.
They were perpetually sunny, and everyone admired that about them. Heck, even I kind of did. I remember wishing that I'd had their experience. The problem is those two sweet people are not most of us.
You see, most of us wonder, most of us question, most of us have doubts and most of us have been made to feel guilty about that because the purveyors of Perpetually Sunny Theology are legion, and they are intractable in the belief that you should just slap a smile on your face, keep your mouth shut and give glory to God.
I read an amazing quote from Fr. Richard Rohr the other day:
When we gradually learn to live the pattern of the Trinity, we see that God is both All Mighty and All Vulnerable in equal measure. This alone allows us to deal with the full human situation—and know that God is not watching suffering, or even just allowing it, but it is somehow actually a part of it…
Fr. Richard reveals the part of Perpetually Sunny Theology that falls short: It can't imagine for an instant that God is suffering. It can't fathom that God is present in the midst of the chaos, or the hardship.
Perpetually Sunny Theology is grounded in the notion that God is outside of the hardship.... even causing it, or at least allowing it, and that if we can only get closer to where God is, we might be free from it.
In other words, if you can just get holier... you won't suffer. This, my friends is bullshit. I'm sorry to cuss here, but it deserves a cuss.
The good news is that we can choose something else other than Perpetually Sunny Theology.
In the same passage I quoted from earlier, Fr. Richard goes on to say this:
We have been largely been dealing with half of God up to now, as most official prayers begin with, “Almighty God.” Even though the All-Vulnerable God was clearly revealed on the cross, the human logic and resistance could not and would not allow it.
If we want to experience the fullness of God in our lives, and to be fully integrated human beings, we need to embrace the All-Vulnerable God who is with us in our struggles, mourning with us in our grief, crying out to us in our doubt and loss.
If we choose to resist the pressure to be perpetually sunny, here's the amazing thing that will happen... when we acknowledge our pain and give voice to our struggles and cry out for help, we open ourselves up to the presence of a God who is very, very near to us in those moments.
And that is a joy-filled, peace-bringing feeling, my friends. A light-filled feeling, if you will... a sunny one.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.