The funeral of a lost acquaintance both reunited old friends and ripped open scarred places in the recesses of my soul. Wounds I thought had healed. They are bleeding again. People who were once so close, companions in the trenches of spiritual warfare, had so easily been made enemies by mistakes (mine and others’), sin (mine and others’), and lies trumpeted on the internet. The accusations of victims, real and imagined, were too compelling to permit attempts at reconciliation. Compounding the original problems, angry words stirred up strife, destroyed lives, and closed doors. Lost is the opportunity of working through the misunderstandings on this side of eternity. Too much time has passed. Opinions are entrenched. Families are fractured. Lives have scattered and followed divergent paths which will probably not coincide again until we meet on the other side. Ultimately there will be the accurate disclosure of motives and retribution of the transgressions. Forgiveness has been offered and received to varying degrees. But I have a slow leak, a Ransom-styled injury (C.S Lewis’ hero in his adult science fiction books), a suppressed pain that one has almost forgotten. Almost. The questions of “why” this could not be resolved, and the stabs of absolute incredulity that co-laborers could be quickly turned to suspicion and animosity resurface, but thankfully now with little force. This ground has been covered. Forgiveness has been practiced. God has given His promise. Repentance has been deep. Hope for reunion here is gone, but hope for justice there prevails. Before we pass around the Kleenexes though, let’s see what God has done with that scar in my heart. He has had to become my only source of comfort. He has been unfailing. He has had to be my hiding place. He has been the “lifter up of my head”, the “binder up of my wounds’, my strength, my song, my rock. He has become my source of significance. I might have learned these things without such a painful rift, but I doubt it.
I would love to say that my story is an isolated incident in the realm of Bible believing churches, but alas it is not. The exception is the church that has not been ravaged by power seekers, sin excusers, and easily offended backbiting churchers. What would Jesus do? A question that we used to flaunt on jewelry and ask repeatedly in our personal responses to life seems to be absent from Christian leadership. Instead it seems like business models are the strategic functioning game plan. Build bigger churches, put more people in the seats, do better entertainment and buy state of the art sound systems and call it success. To achieve this, the ministry must satisfy the sensibilities of its donors, which calls for compromise and spiritual comfort. And then there is the pressure of cultural accommodation, which seems like it is increasing and will punish those who dare to defy society’s dictates – so more compromise. What church can afford to lose tax exempt status? Can anybody say “…you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and do not know that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:”? Jesus did in Revelation 3:17 to a church in a similar condition.
Now I remember again why it is so hard for me to come into fellowship with a church. Past scars. Why I hold myself aloof from relationships. Past wounds. Besides, these are hard to develop in the lobby between services. I must be the pursuer, and I find enthusiasm for that is often difficult. Been burned. People are loving, but companionship is forged in the furnace of commitment and labor. The social hall talks are nice, but shallow by necessity. Not their fault – but to press for spiritual discourse might make me seem to be a fanatic or maybe a subversive. And yet….
It was Jesus’ idea to leave us with one another as a group to represent Him on earth (now there is a leap of faith!!). He recognized us to be the flawed failures that we are and unequivocally required forgiveness for His followers. Hmmm – maybe I should just stop whining and try to make things better. The history of the Bible, among other things, reveals that God works with individuals then groups whose only consistent characteristic is failure. So the church is His plan for now, and I am called to gather with it. We each have something to contribute to fill in the gaps in each others’ lives. Am I so enlightened that I do not need the irritation of being with other believers who are as defective (and irritating) as myself? Remember how the pearl is formed, after all. Google says that natural pearls form when an irritant – usually a parasite and not the proverbial grain of sand (I refrain from comment here) – works its way into an oyster, muscle, or clam. As a defense mechanism, a fluid is used to coat the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating is deposited until a lustrous pearl is formed. So we all have had our irritants, but what we do with them makes the difference between a pearl and a crusty old oyster. The coating is layer upon layer of God’s grace to us and through us. Plus He speaks His healing word into our hurts and grows us into imitators of Himself. After all, He came to demonstrate that it is safe to be insulted, demeaned, disregarded, set aside and misunderstood. Not pleasant to our earthly perspective, but invaluable in preparing us for the impending age. Maybe my unique ‘tragic’ experiences, lifted out of the mire of pain and quicksand of self-pity can make me useful in the church and those scars will become cherished.