It's Sad

07.22.11 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[11]

It’s sad. 

It’s sad when people you’ve known for years as faithful followers of Christ decide it’s over.  They’re done.  Often in middle age, they decide that all that stuff their parents taught them, everything they learned in Sunday School and youth group, all the Bible memorization and the trips to the altar; all that stuff that was so important then now means nothing.  Nothing.  It was a sham.  They weren’t given the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether or not to follow a particular faith; it was just engrained in them and expected of them.  They didn’t know anything else. 

All through school they were thought of by their classmates and friends as ‘different’; they didn’t smoke in the boy’s room or sneak a beer or two Friday night after the game.  They weren’t trying to have sex with the cute blonde who sat in front of them in science.  They followed the rules.  They didn’t make waves.  And they must have believed that saying a prayer or reading the Bible or attending church three times a week would protect them from life’s troubles.  Life in a bubble without realizing there is a bubble.  After all, the equation was simple.  If you were a ‘good Christian’, if you tried hard enough and followed the script, everything would be ok.  Bad things happened to people who didn’t know the Lord.  And frankly?  Some of them deserved it. 

But over the years something happened. 

The certainty began to crack a little bit on the edges.  The reinforcement that came from associating with like-minded people and having the same simplistic precepts and clichéd scripture verses repeated over and over didn’t help when they moved away from the safe haven of their insular religious world.  And as they slowly grew up and away from what they had known as truth, what filled that space in their lives wasn’t another faith or a different philosophy.  It was largely nothing, an emptiness of shadows and darkness, not of hope or fulfillment but of disillusionment and despair.  They discovered over the years that life brings pain in many forms – a broken marriage, estranged relationships, mental illness, business reversals, health issues – and they gradually realized that what they had been taught in no way equipped them to deal with the issues they faced in life. 

I have known two people who, in the last eighteen months, have turned away from Christ and his teachings.  One is a longtime friend who, at one time and for quite a few years, was deeply involved in the Christian music business, a person who would always be among the first to defend the gospel.  At times he overreacted and acted impetuously but I attributed that to his personality and fundamentalist upbringing.  Still, he knew Christ, he knew the Word and he seemed to be someone you’d expect would always be following the Lord. 

But he’s not. 

His attitude is a mixture of resignation and frustration.  The legalistic rules he was taught growing up don’t apply.  So many Christians are hypocrites, he would say, what’s the point of trying to live an open, real life?   Everybody's a phony and we just go around trying to outdo each other with our phoniness.  So he’s willing to shrug it off and move forward without any compass other than his own intuition.  He just doesn’t believe the Gospel is the only truth anymore.  How can it be?  There are millions of people around the world who aren’t Christians.  Is God really going to condemn them all to hell?  He’s not even sure there is an ultimate truth anymore.  And besides, he’s seen enough times in his life where doing the ‘Christian thing’ only made the situation worse.  In fact, he feels resentful that he allowed himself to be forced to live in a spiritual straightjacket for five decades.

But it gets worse.

The other person is a spiritual leader, an important figure in his denomination, someone that many respect and admire.  His career in ministry has been fruitful and his influence, through his writing and pastoral work, is significant.  Yet recently he has begun to question some of the foundational elements of the faith.  He no longer believes all the things he did growing up or in div school or even from what he’s witnessed in his career.  If you spoke with him in recent years his positions would have been firmly orthodox. 

But he has allowed a mix of relativism and compromise to affect his thinking and change his once rock-solid beliefs.  Suddenly truth is not necessarily truth; it’s relative, and we have to take a lot of factors into consideration and not be so quick to claim that we have the exclusive path to salvation and eternal life.  And, he says, if you listen to these other voices, these proponents of liberal theology and narcissistic religion, you find that to agree with them is not compromise, it’s simply being open-minded.  After all, if we want to have a dialogue with people outside the faith, don’t we have to be willing to concede that our way may not be the only way?  Isn’t that reasonable and respectful of other people’s views?   

WWJD?

I wish I knew.  Whether it’s a situation where a person’s faith is ground down to nothing or another’s is challenged by rationalism and modernism, would he respond as the Lamb of God or the Lion of Judah?  Would he lovingly confront those who’ve lost their faith (or willingly rejected it) or would he rebuke them as he did Peter?  When I read through the gospels I come away with mixed impressions of Jesus.  While there are some stories and parables that relate certain actions at certain times, it’s speculative at best to say we know what Christ would do.

Why do these things happen?  Are people’s struggles with faith today any different than they’ve ever been?  In terms of the human heart, probably not.  In terms of living out our faith, maybe.  There is much more religious clutter to sort through than in prior generations. We are exposed to over 2,000 visual messages every day.  We engage in a constant stream of communication via Facebook, smartphones, texting and Twitter (although the value of much of what we ‘communicate’ is debatable).  We are bombarded with mixed ethical and moral messages in the media.  We are part of a culture that is self-centered and self-indulgent.  And in many churches today there exists an unholy mix of quasi-Christian beliefs, positive thinking and Eastern philosophy that lifts man to nearly the same plane as God.  I’m talking about evangelical churches that purport to be Bible-centered, Christ-proclaiming fellowships. 

But are those valid reasons or just symptoms of a more complex problem?

We are no longer satisfied with the God of the Bible.  We want the black and white life until it comes to our actions, then we’re very big on grey.  As much as we proclaim freedom we fall back on legalism when it comes to dealing with our enemies.  We want to be perceived as cool but feel hampered by the old-fashioned morals and values of the Bible because they conflict with the popular trends in culture.  We also want a faith that’s hip, non-confrontational and comfortable.  Oh, and could I have a double skinny espresso macchiato with extra foam while I’m waiting?

So what would Jesus do today?  Would he buy into modern methodology to try and increase his market share?  Would that produce a higher affinity score, assuring long-term relationships with followers?  Would his brand benefit from hosting a killer website with the latest Flash animation and Paypal accounts to support the ministry?  Have a talk show on E!?  Tweet?

JCSonofGod #party Totally freaked them out at the wedding. Turned water into wine!  http://bit.ly/7ywPQ3  6 minutes ago via twitterfeed  

Or would he quietly go from town to town proclaiming truth, performing miracles and the occasional healing?  No advance team.  No satellite uplinks.  No black geek glasses.  Just the Word being the Word.  Would that be enough?

The great sadness…the great hope

I’m sure many of you have experienced similar situations with children, parents, friends, mentors.  It’s hard to understand and harder to watch.  There are no easy answers when someone you know arbitrarily dismisses everything they once embraced as truth.  They’re left with nothing, actually less than nothing.  All that remains is a hollowed out shell, a vacuum of uncertainty and doubt.  Like I said, it’s sad.

Author Elie Wiesel wrote, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.  The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference.  The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.  And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference."  I don’t understand why someone would trade truth for indifference.  It’s beyond me.  But fortunately it’s not beyond God.  So we hope.  We pray.  We believe.  And we trust in the One who does all things well.  Even the things we don’t understand.

Comments

Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 07.23.11 Casey commented

My best friend in high school met a guy when she was a freshman at SUNY and they got married a year later. He wasn't a Christian and now she's totally moved away from the Lord. We were so close and God was the center of her life but not any more. If you would pray for her her name is Melissa. Thanks.

on 07.23.11 Nick commented

The tweet is really funny. But I wonder if it's that people never really made a decision for Christ or if like you say they did and then it changed. A couple in our church just split up because the wife said she didn't want to be married anymore. Her whole family goes to the church and they are really hurt and confused. Mostly because they don't understand why she did it.

on 07.26.11 Deb Ackley commented

It is very sad indeed Cecil~ Thank you for posting on this topic. It is yet another sign we are warned about~ but still so sad to watch.
We can keep the connection with the stumblers and display His love toward them. Fulfilling His plan for His kingdom and our consciences too. Each of His followers have a circle of people that He prepares us to help.
Glory to God for also providing us people to keep us on His path (c: AND RADIO NETWORKS!!

on 07.26.11 Deb Ackley commented

It is very sad indeed Cecil~ Thank you for posting on this topic. It is yet another sign we are warned about~ but still so sad to watch.
We can keep the connection with the stumblers and display His love toward them. Fulfilling His plan for His kingdom and our consciences too. Each of His followers have a circle of people that He prepares us to help.
Glory to God for also providing us people to keep us on His path (c: AND RADIO NETWORKS!!

on 07.26.11 Scott commented

I think it's a reflection of the shallow teaching in many of our churches these days. You have said it before in other blogs that the church is more interested in being trendy than Biblically true. We're going to pay for that in the long run.

on 07.26.11 Stephanie commented

I'm 27 and I listen to Family Life and read your blogs all the time. I've had friends I know and people from youth group in high school who have drifted away from the Lord. One girl, her sister was killed in a car crash and she lost it and hasn't been back to church since. She won't even talk about God.

I'm with you. I don't know what Jesus would do. Would he just love them or get mad at them or tell them this is what it costs to be a follower of mine? If people even just met Jesus on the street, would they believe in Him? I don't know.

on 07.27.11 Judy commented

Good points Cecil... everything now and then I think to myself "If my mentor that brought me closer to the Lord was to turn his back on the Lord, how would it affect my faith? I would like to say it wouldn't...

I am so sorry to hear about the one longtime friend of yours that feels like he is in a spiritual straightjacket for the past 5 years... sometimes with certain areas of my life, that is what it feels like, but lately I am focusing on Truth and not feelings... He is Good and loves little ole me! :)

But good writing... I liked Deb's comment about being thankful for the God puts in our lives to keep us on the right path... and RADIO NETWORKS... I am always grateful for the unconditional love I receive from FLN and my home church... pretty awesome stuff...

Blessings Cecil! I look forward to reading all of your blogs!

on 07.28.11 Meredith commented

I have to say your blogs always have something in them that make me laugh but they also make me think. To me it's even harder when someone who's been a Christian turns away than when a non Christian rejects Christ. It's like they knew the truth and they lived it and led other people to Christ and then they lose their faith and reject it all. You're right. Its sad.

on 07.28.11 Jay commented

The quote at the end of your blog says it all. The biggest enemy of the believer is indifference. Satan doesn't need to try and trick us into doing bad things. All he has to do is neutralize us so we're indifferent. Lukewarm. We're either trying to be up on all the trends and turn churches into 'cineplexes for the saints' (I'm from California and I attended one for awhile.) Or we go so far trying to be everybody's friend that we basically deny Christ and His teachings. Jesus wasn't everybody's friend!

I'm with you. I have hope in an ultimate answer but between now and then who knows? When I look at churches today I think if I weren't already a Christian would I want to be one?

on 07.29.11 Katie commented

I think if you're over 30 this bothers you. Most of my friends (under 30) don't see what the big deal is.

on 08.06.11 Robert commented

Just read this. You're right, it is sad. Even sadder because when a pastor or leader loses faith he can take others with him. Instead of staying in their pulpits they should just leave and take another job outside of ministry. That happened to my sister's church in Florida. It was very sad for everyone.

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