How many famous, infamous and unknown people have kissed Christianity goodbye recently? Media is flooded with news about their exodus, dissecting the role and sometimes abusive nature of the church while looking for answers. Evangelical nationalism blends the blood of Christ with white and blue, and the fervor for political action often eclipses the burden to demonstrate and proclaim the love of God to our neighbors. Size and not depth is the measure of success for the church. So many denominations, so many failures. Is the right response to leave God?
All of us have doubts if we were to be honest. The ways of God defy understanding, yet we expect Him to accommodate our present culture. He has been dealing with mankind since day one (well, day 6). Notably the majority of those He interacts with are losers from a human standpoint. That’s encouraging for us! He talks with Adam, whisks Enoch right into glory, warns Noah of impending judgment (complete with the blueprint for escape), is the Friend of Abraham, the God of Isaac, wrestles with Jacob, promotes Joseph, has a dramatic interchange with Moses (well, several, actually), gives signs to Gideon, speaks to Samuel, loves David, takes Elijah to heaven in a flaming chariot, feeds prophets using birds, pointedly speaks to one through a donkey, disciplines another by making him an appetizer for a great fish (apparently not to its liking), gave battle plans to kings and prophets, then finally incarnates Himself into humanity. He was joyfully greeted by his cousin in utero, missed by the theologians, worshipped by foreigners, despised by the religious, embraced by the common people, and ultimately executed by the Gentiles after being betrayed by the Jews, and rose victorious from the tomb. Is this really the God you want to walk away from?
We arrogantly expect Him to adhere to our notions of what a good God should look like – reasonable, amenable to current scientific knowledge, rational, doctrinally predictable. We look at our little blip on the timeline as the “norm” for absolute morality, basking in our self endowed ‘evolved’ superiority. Why isn’t God on board we wonder? Some question Him, most express doubt by finding fault with His people. Low hanging fruit if you ask me! Why is forgiveness is such a huge deal with Jesus? He left us each other, knowing full well that for us to come together and actually represent Him in any meaningful way was going to entail offense, disagreement, real and imagined hurts, real and imagined guilt, competition with the ways of culture and common sense, the ambition of gifted individuals, and just the general certainty that we will make mistakes. (Look at HIs twelve disciples!) Add to that our fishbowl arena of social media frenzy for “likes” and “follows” and it is infinitely more difficult to functionally remember that trying to win the approval of man disqualifies us from being servants of Christ. (Ga 1:10)
We go to church expecting to see God. And sometimes we do. Other times we see broken humanity instead and assume that we can now justifiably dismiss the reality or diminish the character of the Lord. At one time we gave our lives in service to the King, but if He pours them out like the Bethlehem water David poured to the ground after his devoted servants risked their lives in love to get it, we get are offended. We are disillusioned with God for seemingly betraying us, and we transfer that skepticism to His people – the tangible targets. We are rightfully repulsed by the carnality, misguided fervor, hypocrisy, incorrect dogma, or personality of the pastor or leaders. Perhaps the church culture is just wrong. And it all may be true. So the response is to walk away from the eternal, omniscient God?? Really?
We are obsessed with our ‘brand’ – our identity forged in the fleeting and fickle applause of a society that is evaporating into a shadowed wisp of humanity. We are programmed to equate a keystroke with worth. Like a vampire sucking the lifeblood out of its victims and leaving in their place hollow shells, social media has rewarded those who create the best facades. We carry this mindset over into our churches, seeking to be relevant, socially acceptable, applauded and cool. So afraid to mar the image, so willing to accuse our brothers and even our Creator to appease the social media gods, is it any wonder people are walking away? And if they happen to be famous, it shakes our faith even more (faith in what exactly?). Josh Harris, whose formerly acclaimed purity principles became questioned and labeled hurtful by some, was in agony about the pain he caused. Unsure of how to respond, he said that social media pushed him over the edge. Not only did he repudiate his ideas but his God as well. I know it is easy to oversimplify a situation with many complications, and my heart genuinely hurts for him, but God is not the culprit. Should we walk away from Him because He lets us make mistakes?
Did we really think that when we signed on, gave our lives, our talents, our dreams and our families to God that it would necessarily end with the approval of our friends, family, or culture? (Jesus did warn us, btw) We followed that fervent pastor, demanding leader, gifted preacher, or cutting edge church believing there was a unique vision of God’s kingdom. Then it went off the rails and we were blamed, ashamed, wounded, betrayed, used, abused, embarrassed, disillusioned, and devastated. And to your horror we find that we have unintentionally been a wounder, a betrayer, a user, a manipulator, an abuser. So now what? You leave God??
What would Joseph counsel if you could ask him? Job? Elijah? David, who often had to flee for his life despite God’s promise of his enthronement? “In God I have placed my trust. I shall not let fear come in, for what can measly men do to me?” His words at age twenty two would probably summarize the counsel of every one of God’s servants, all refined by severe trials.
True, God is not fair by our standards, but does that give us mere mortals the right to redefine Him? Maybe He has been misrepresented by your church, your mentor, or your culture. Maybe in your fervor to demonstrate your allegiance to those you have hurt you are tempted to justify yourself by throwing God or His people under the bus. Just a thought, but maybe your focus is culturally skewered. Just maybe you should be more concerned that you don’t offend God rather than your media ‘followers’. What will you say when you see Him in person? Perhaps over-valuing success and affirmation have clouded your relationship with your Father. Maybe failure is repulsive because your accomplishments and not your connection defines you. Maybe you are offended because of pride disguised as principle. Whatever wrong or betrayal you have faced, remember your Jesus endured more, was more misunderstood, suffered more, and even bled out to prove His commitment to you. Are you going to walk away from that?
Very relevant and needed message!! Thank you Cheryl.
My friend, sister, mentor in Jesus Christ. I appreciate what you have to share. Risky business, you know, allowing God to give you the courage to speak up, speak out, live out of the power and direction of the Holy Spirit. Oh, and you don’t just embrace the courage, you take action! Hallelelujah for this act of faith.
As I read the scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, I have a million bajillion questions of why?! I have recently made the decision to stop trying to judge God. I don’t know that my life will ever be the same again, honestly. I can’t let Him down because I’ve never been holding Him up, have I?
A quote by Robert M. Brown: “Be it hereby enacted: That every three years all people shall forget whatever they have learned about Jesus, and begin the study all over again.”
I’m learning it all over again and choosing to live as Brennan Manning states: In season and out of season, in success and failure, in grace and disgrace, the courage to risk everything to become the signature of Jesus.
I will close with this by Winston Churchhill, “Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts.”
Thank you so much for your kind words. I am not going to publish them since they are so personal.. We really tend to put God in a box, our theological box, and then blame Him when He doesn’t perform like we want Him to. My article was strong in its advice not to leave God, but I am sure that you have had, like me, times in your walk that not only does He seem distant, unavailable and disinterested, but there are times when we seem to be betrayed. I do not discount the difficulty of the journey, but that was not the theme of this consideration. When I was in the grips of just such a dilemma, a reading by Oswald Chambers that I cannot now find spoke of this very thing, that God sometimes seems to betray us. It was amazing to me (again) that just when I needed it, God spoke just the right thing. His voice has been my anchor as I have gone through this winding journey. To me it was not courage that made me write, it was frustration with the attitude that we need to change God to fit our morality or we won’t believe in Him. How demeaning to our Creator! How arrogant of us. And these days people are running from their only hope and justifying it. Anyway, love your thoughts about relearning Jesus etc. “The Chosen” has done that for me. Keep looking up, our salvation is near!😁
So great and perfect for us to read at this time.