I fault the Church with presenting at most times only two binary versions of faith: being a happy, unfaltering Christian who “totally trusts” in God, and being an apostate who has “fallen away,” as the common Christian lingo goes. Both of these terms in quotes are ones I have heard many Christians use, including myself, and both want to make me throw up.

So it’s well known that I’ve been struggling with God for many years now. Right now I don’t like the way He operates — I don’t like it and nor do I have to. And yet I know He exists and I acknowledge that I’m totally at His mercy, whether I like it or not, whether I acknowledge Him or not, whether I worship Him or not. I’m at His mercy. And, thanks to my honesty, I have so often gotten the question, “so why don’t you just walk away from the faith and forget all of this?” Sometimes that has been a valid question. And other times, it has been just plain condescending. And it’s also a silly question because, if I believe He exists, me not liking him does not negate His existence. He’s the Creator of the Universe, so I need to get with His program, whether I think of him as a benevolent dictator or a sadist.

Here are my reasons why this question above is condescending and invalidates my experience and journey of faith:

For one, how many people do we actually know who would pass the bar for being the Christian who perfectly trusts God and is content no matter what the circumstance? I don’t know that any human alive can maintain that posture at all times, in every single moment. And even if someone claims to be content and fully trusting, I think that number is exceedingly small — and this group of saints is probably one that has endured a lot and has become wizened from a great deal of failure. And on top of that, who has set this mythical bar? In my opinion, I don’t think God has set this bar. I think it’s the performance-oriented evangelical church, which pays lip service to living a life under grace. Take Elijah, one of the greatest prophets of all time. After kicking some butt, “he came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19:4) God’s boy Elijah is having a breakdown. I think the church today would have kicked Elijah to the curb, and said, “Shame on you for being so discouraged after all God has done through you and revealed to you. What’s wrong with you? You’re not allowed to be depressed and have a panic attack because you are a prophet. Where’s your faith? You need to pray more and read the Bible more.” But not God. He has empathy and takes care of Elijah in the ways that he needs: “All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank.” (1 Kings 19:5b-7a) OK, just referencing this made me warm up to God a tiny bit more.

Then there is this “lukewarm Christian” idea from Revelations. “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16). That concept might argue against the idea that we spend most of our spiritual lives on the spectrum between Adherent and Apostate. It seems to imply that we are either one or the other. My guess is we have misappropriated that verse from Revelations, just in the same way we have done with so many other verses. I’ll have to go talk to some biblical scholars to understand it more fully. The jury for me is out on that one.

So for those with a performance-oriented mentality such as myself, it’s easy to be absolutist about everything. In other words, if I am not the happy Christian adherent, then I must be the apostate. Can you see how destructive and unhelpful this thinking is? And yet when most pastors preach from the pulpit, they tend to present one alternative or another. They teach the Adherent as an exemplar and means of getting us inspired to conform, and they teach the Apostate to scare the pants off of us into conforming. And yet I think we could truly benefit from folks who are struggling along the spectrum, so that we know it’s possible to exist in the middle and that the real key to this Christian life is to be on the journey to being an Adherent. We all can’t be victorious Christians all the time. It’s OK. All is not lost.

I think we live between the two extremes on a day to day basis. At our very very best, when we’re on the mountaintop, we are the Adherent. At our lowest point, we’re the Apostate. On most days, we’re somewhere in between. Maybe in the end, it’s about the average of where we land, and hopefully we land closer to the Adherent?  I think of the title from Eugene Peterson’s book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (which I’ve never read). Or maybe it’s how we choose to act regardless of what we think? I don’t know. Because then you think of Scripture where God condemns the Pharisees for their actions, and also in 1 Corinthians 13, it says, “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” So heart posture seems to matter, not just action. It’s a mystery to me and we’re all at the mercy of God. That I do know.

I am starting to realize that I have a living, breathing, dynamic faith with God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), that I don’t have to apologize for or explain, even if I don’t like Him all that much, find myself at odds with His methods, and think He’s weird. He loves me anyway. 

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