Audio version read by the author.do-you-want-to-go-away-also.mp3
“Do you want to go away also?” Jesus asked this question of his closest companions just after “… many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him any more.” John 6:66 This is a contemporary question in the wake of the departure of several prominent Christian figures who can no longer believe that “(He) has the words of eternal life.” Peter and his compadres realized that although they did not quite understand His teaching, which seemed tantamount to cannibalism, and though they watched huge crowds depart, yet they “…believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” It is remarkable that Peter makes this statement at a time when Jesus offended many, and rather than explaining Himself to recover the allegiance of the crowd, He further antagonizes them by adding “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh profits nothing; the words that I speak to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe… For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to the Me, unless it has been granted him by the Father.” It was at this point, and as a result of these words, says John, that they walked away.
What a tragic heartbreak in any age to hear of a disciple “unfollowing” Jesus. Our hearts are broken for the angst and uncertainty that bring a person to this point. Our hope is for recovery, because contrary to the belief (or rather unbelief) of some, Christianity is not just another religion. If you look at the church today it is not hard to imagine how a person would get to that place of departure. Harsh legalism, cowardly compromise and apathetic self absorption are rampant. Abuse of power and moral failure in leadership are all to common. Certainly it would be easy to blame the church. But there are probably other issues as well that entice a person to walk away. If you are committed to serving God, there is a price to pay. Remember both Jesus’ and Paul’s warning that anyone who pursues godliness will be persecuted. The price is high. The fear of being perceived as harsh, shallow, and narrow can prove to be too much. Scriptures warn that the fear of man is a snare. Or perhaps offense comes from being wronged by the power structure of the church you serve. God knows there is enough failure to long for Jesus to come with whips and cleanse the temple again. That day is coming, as judgment begins at the house of God. Justice is inevitable! Waiting for it is the difficulty.
Then again, it might have more to do with some hard questions. Why would a loving God encourage destruction of people and cities in the old testament? Why would He not prohibit slavery? Why would He prohibit sexuality outside of monogamous marriage? Is monogamy really Scriptural? Is homosexuality really a sin? Is the Lord a ‘violent’ God Who was ‘pleased to crush Jesus and cause Him grief to make His soul an offering for sin’? (Even Peter withstood Jesus on the way to Jerusalem for this very idea, and was called “Satan” for his efforts – an adversary to the plans of God, savoring the things of man rather than of God). What about the role of women? Can we trust the divine revelation of the Scriptures? And of course, the age old question about how can a loving God allow so much suffering? And there are many more issues to cloud the glory of the Son and test the faith of the follower.
I would love to say that I can answer all these objections, but I cannot. One answer is to conclude that there needs to be a reconstruction of our view of God. To do this, the Bible must be viewed as a literary compilation of the writings of different authors filtering God through the lens of their respective cultures – not to be trusted as divine revelation. First we doubt His word, then we distrust His character. For me, too many Scriptures have to be restructured, discarded, or twisted to fit the redefinitions. Although proponents make God more agreeable to modern emerging values, it seems they are making the same mistake they are trying to correct – just using the present culture as their filter. The God Who with a word brought a vast universe into existence is the only one large enough to reconcile love and justice, betrayal and reconciliation, and to sift religion from faith. We tend to forget that our perspective is profoundly limited, as we are merely specks in the spectrum, and all our knowledge is tainted. It is safe to trust the Eternal Who doesn’t need our understanding or approval.
Another explanation, easy to dismiss as irrational and erroneously claimed in previous generations, proposes disaffection as a signal that we are on the brink of the Lord’s return. Jesus says this era is marked by delusion and apostasy (as well as the other phenomena that we could categorize as climate change). Wrong is called right, and any question or objection is deemed hateful, unacceptable or ignorant. In an environment like this it is very difficult (at best) to propagate Christian values and espouse traditional morality. It is no surprise that those on the front lines, the leaders who take the heat, would want to walk back things that twenty or even ten years ago were culturally acceptable in a less permissive society, and now want to disassociate themselves to maintain their reputations. Many, not few, will fall away.
Jeremiah found himself in a similar situation. God instructed him to call His people to repentance, for they had left the path of devotion. Their response sounds familiar: “It’s no use trying to persuade us. We have our own thoughts about how we should live, and each of us is firmly committed to our own way, evil or not.” Jeremiah 18:12 Voice The list of today’s discontented disciples is going to keep growing and doctrine is going to be redefined to fit the current narrative. Every one of us has some tough questions to sort out.
In John 6 Jesus throws out some very offensive teaching, and many left Him. He could easily have explained His meaning to recoup some of the loss, but instead He seemed to double down, driving away many who had once followed Him. His question to His disciples is one we must also answer – will you too go away? Does everything we read in Scriptures make sense to us? Are there contradictions? Do we require the affirmation of the culture to follow Him? We, like many before us, have to decide whether we can trust an unfathomable God or settle for what we see and can explain. Scripture predicted a Savior born of a virgin. Contradiction? An easy logical “yes”, but it turned out to be true – one of many fulfilled illogical predictions from a so-called story book. Does the God Who created the immeasurable universe need to explain Himself to us? Does the potter answer to the clay? Faith is not blind, but there are many truths hidden from us, with only a hint of the true nature of things.
If you are like me, you have personal reasons to doubt. We crawled out of the boat, walked on water for a bit, then like Peter we focused on the waves, and began to sink. It looks like the Lord has failed us. Look at Job and many others who refused to lose faith despite God’s apparent abandonment. We can choose to walk away like the offended crowds, or decide to say like Job “Though He slay me, yet will I trust HIm.” We can say like Peter “..to whom shall we go? “. Or we can succumb to the inevitable testing of our faith and yield to doubt and fear. Darkness wins. Seek answers, of course. But first seek the One Who gives them, and trust Him to right the wrongs as He sees fit. After all, He is the One Who is God.
I want to be like Jeremiah, a man who stood for God in the midst of unbelievable opposition: “Commander of heavenly armies, You test the righteous; …You see my deepest thoughts; You know my heart… I am trusting my cause, my future to You.” By the grace of God I want to answer “NO” to Jesus’ question “Do you want to go away also?”. What about you?