Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What about those who fall away?

A few people in my life have fallen away from the Lord in the last few years.

I really hate this.  Hate is not too strong a word.

I want people to love Jesus, to appreciate His great sacrifice on our behalf, to know His peace, to look forward to eternity in a perfect, redeemed creation, reunited with God and all His goodness.  I want us all to be together, living in fellowship, community and love under the care of God Himself.

Scripture has some scary things to say about believers who fall away.  I don't like that, either.  Quite literally, it makes me feel sick to my stomach.  I don't know what these things mean, Mark 3:29 and Hebrews 6:4-6 and 1 John 5:16.  These are terrifying passages.  I suppose everyone must have a part of the Bible that makes him recoil, that he hopes does not mean what it appears on the surface to mean.

I've been taught that we can interpret the difficult passages in the Bible through the lens provided by the passages that are easy to understand.  When we do this, we must be careful not to confuse "difficult to understand" with "difficult to accept."  This requires greater intellectual honesty than most of us can regularly muster.

At the end of the day, all we can do is trust God to do what is right, because of His character which He has revealed to us through His word.  I go back to His attributes.  He is able, almighty, beautiful, bountiful, caring, compassionate, our Deliverer and our Delight.  He is eternal, faithful, forgiving, gracious, gentle, good, holy, our Helper and our Healer.  He is invisible, immortal, joyous and just, kind, our King, and full of love.  He is mighty and majestic, and near to all who call on Him.  He is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, powerful, perfect, yet quiet when He approaches us.  He is our Redeemer, righteous, sovereign, triumphant, true and unfathomable.  He is victorious.  He is wise and wonderful.

God is xerophilous--He makes life flourish in barren places.  He yearns for His children, and He is zealous for their salvation.

These are only some of God's characteristics, His attributes.  He has revealed these things to us throughout His word.  He redeems.  He forgives.  He heals.  He restores.  He makes new.

I think the one sin you cannot be forgiven for is the sin of rejecting Jesus, and I hope that this sin is not final and unforgivable until the end of a person's life or the end of our present creation.  Otherwise, why would we be given the parable of the Prodigal Son?  He rebelled.  He fell away.  He left his place in his father's home.  But he came back, and he was received with joy.

God's word teaches hope, redemption.  God's word teaches us to forgive over and over again, because God Himself forgives over and over again.  Forgiveness is His pattern, the focal point of all that God accomplished in Christ.  I cannot believe that coupled next to His great forgiveness would be the message: if you ever fall into a wicked and blasphemous attitude toward your Savior, you can never return.  What about Psalm 25:7?  ("Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to Your love remember me, for You are good, O Lord.")

I've been told that in loving and interceding for a rebel who is not availing himself of God's merciful forgiveness, one often learns a great deal about one's own heart before God.  "You learn a lot more than they do," I've been told.  My initial reaction was, "But I don't need to learn as much as they do!"

Which, of course, is the putrid unveiling of pride.  The pride in me is so gross.  Sometimes I weep before the Lord, in despair and fear, wondering what He will have to do to me, how far He will have to crush me, in order to purify the pride out of me.  I don't want my pride, but it's so insidious, such a sneaky, quiet part of who I am, that I rarely see it until after it has me by the neck in an embarrassing situation.  Oh, dear Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.

I'm digressing.  My soul is in turmoil, and this isn't what I meant to write about.

I meant to write about what keeps people who think they are seeking the Lord from finding Him.

A number of people who have fallen away have expressed that they spent quite a lot of time in anguish, begging Jesus to show Himself to them, or to speak to them, but He would not.  So they determined that He was not there.  This testimony did not match my experience, or the Biblical promises. "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart," (Jeremiah 29:13).

After pondering, I decided that the hitch must be in the part that says "When you seek me with all your heart."  You have to let go of yourself when you are seeking God.  You must surrender to Him.  You can't hang on to your own terms and conditions.  You can't demand that God be good according to your definition of goodness.  You can't say, "I'll believe You when You show Yourself to me, and You have to accept gay people in their homosexuality as You created them and let them fulfill their homosexual inclinations, because I know that they are nice people."  You can't say, "I'll believe You when You take away this problem that plagues me so I have an easy life and don't have to struggle and depend on You every day."  You can't say, "I'll believe You when You instantly change my desires so I never have to grapple with my sin nature again."

You can't tell God, "I'll believe You when You act in accordance with what I have determined is good and fair."  You simply can't.  It doesn't work that way, for He is God.  And you are not.

God, in His perfect, immutable nature is the very essence of goodness.  We, as mortal, stained-with-sin humans cannot change that.  Nor should we.  But my point is that we absolutely can't, regardless of any other factor.  Just as surely as I couldn't go out into my driveway and jump to the surface of the moon--actually, more surely than that--we cannot change the perfect goodness of God, whether we like it or not.  Basically (and this may not sound very nice, but it is the truth), if your idea of what is good differs from God's idea of what is good, then you are wrong, and if you refuse to be corrected, you will go to hell.  So that, I suppose, is the unpardonable sin.  Ouch.

People who fall away from the Lord have somehow forgotten who He is.  A root of pride has grown up in their spirits, choking out their ability to surrender to the wisdom and counsel of the Almighty Creator of the Universe.  Imagine a willful two-year-old in a state-of-the-art research laboratory, scribbling on lab notebooks, pushing buttons on equipment, spilling solutions and breaking beakers.  "No!" he screams, "I'm going to do it by myself!"  This illustrates only a fraction of our folly before God when we refuse Him.  His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God's ways higher than our ways.  This is not a cop out, a cliche or a silly platitude.  This is the literal truth.

The thing is, God loves us.  We needed Him, but we didn't know that He was what we needed, didn't even know to ask.  Yet, in His great love, He has been working since the dawn of history to reveal Himself to us.  We couldn't reach out to Him, but He reached out to us, providing His word, full of truth and promises and hope.  Ultimately, He reached out to us through Christ, the Yes to all His promises, His own divine essence humbled into human flesh, emptied of glory but full of perfection so He could die, the only perfect sacrifice that could ever pay our sin debt.  He did this for us because He is good.  He wants to save us from sin and death and damnation, to deliver us with glorious celebration into the Kingdom of the Son He loves.  Yet, we somehow think we have some human right to go back and quibble with Him over what is a sin and what is not, and what kind of comforts and indulgences He owes us before we get to heaven.  Hello?

Pride is such a stinker, such a wicked, nasty, creeping deceiver.  In every person, pride is there, striving to blind us so we cannot see God, cannot apprehend truth, cannot accept reason, cannot recognize who we ourselves are before God, cannot say we are sorry for what we have done wrong.

Oh God, send Your Holy Spirit to illuminate, to give understanding, to reveal truth so we can repent of our sins--especially our pride--and avail ourselves of Your great gift of salvation through Christ. Help us, for we cannot help ourselves.  Deliver us, heal us, cleanse us, restore us.  Dear Lord Jesus, enable us to receive Your peace and Your joy.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God 
through our Lord Jesus Christ, 
through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. 
 And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:1-2


Shannon said...

The thing I find myself coming back to time and time again is that while I understand God's perfect authority, I can also see very clearly why it is difficult for people struggling with faith (on either side of the "conversion line") to accept His authority on what is sinful.

I think that there are sins that are very obviously wrong, and I think that there are sins that are a little bit murkier. And I know that we don't have human authority to say what is right and what is wrong, but there's an empathetic corner of myself that keeps coming back to homosexuality in particular.

I think something that many Christians never consider - because they have grown up in an isolated community (and only moreso as they continue to separate from the secular world into private schools, etc., which I would argue *is* hiding your light under a bowl) - is that it is very difficult for people outside the church to feel loved by Christians as their lifestyle is condemned. They don't feel any comfort by hearing "love the sinner, hate the sin", which has turned into kind of an empty Christian mantra as I don't believe many of us really do love the sinner. What they hear is "You're going to hell as long as you are you."

What is bound up so securely with your identity as your sexual orientation?

What personal sin that we have been given to grapple with could be more painful to surrender than the person in whom we find companionship and partnership?

I struggle - a lot - with understanding this particular issue. I think there must be a line between telling God what is and isn't sin, and honestly asking Him for clarity. Isn't it normal to question? Is it disrespectful? Is it sinful pride to want to understand why He would give us the ability to love and to have companionship and then punish some of us for it?

Or do you think that when you boil it down, it's the same as addiction, or alcoholism, and any sin is painful to part with (ie: sin is sin)? I'm asking honestly! Giving up companionship vs giving up drugs seems to me to have very different dividends (I realize that I am considering our earthly existence here, but I do think that in most other cases, it is very clear that there are immediate benefits to turning our backs on our sin).

I know that this is only tangential to the point of the entry - which itself tackles a terrifying subject - but I can understand why believers who are teetering on the edge of unbelief struggle deeply with understanding why a loving God designates certain things as sinful.

How do we extend God's love and be heard and received? The way we try to do it now is ineffective. At what point does asking God for clarification become disrespect?

Ruthie said...

Let me see if I can try to answer this.

First, I don't think asking for clarification is disrespectful at all. God can handle all of our questions, and I think He enjoys meeting us in our confusion and helping us find the light, if we are honestly willing to ask Him for guidance.

The thing I'm saying we can't do with God is to hold out a condition: "I will only come to You if You meet my criteria on this point." We can say, "I'm not sure about what You require on point A or point B, but whichever way You say is right, I understand that I have to accept Your position, because I understand what it means that You are God."

Certainly any sin is difficult to part with. If sin weren't appealing, we would never fall into it, and if it weren't addictive, we would never continue with it. Satan masquerades as an angel of light; his whole strategy is to make sin look good. Remember in the garden? He showed Eve that the fruit was beautiful and delicious. He promised her that the fruit would give her benefits that God was withholding from her.

At the core of every sin is the wrong assumption that God doesn't love you enough to give you everything that is good for you, therefore you need to go outside His will and satisfy yourself apart from Him and His ways. God created us to find our complete satisfaction in Him, and when we seek our satisfaction outside of Him, that is what the Bible calls idolatry. It never leads to any good.

Sometimes it is easy to see where people's desires get them into trouble. Desire for riches, power and control lead to some heinous sins that everyone agrees are heinous (Agatha Christie said that all murders are committed either for money or for love). Desire for peace or happiness is not so bad, we think, but still, when people seek peaceful feelings or heightened spirits from drugs and/or alcohol, we can pretty quickly see the direction their path will take and the harm they will experience.

Desire for love and companionship is clearly a normal and basically good thing. However, even that good desire can turn bad if it displaces one's ability to find satisfaction in God above all else. If someone insists that s/he cannot be happy unless s/he is involved in a particular type of relationship that God has said is not according to His will, then that is an expression of unbelief in God's good will and good purposes and His ability to meet all our needs in Himself. It's placing a particular relationship above God and making an idol of it. (Incidentally, this can happen just as easily and more insidiously in heterosexual relationships.)

Now, obviously someone who didn't know God in the first place would have no idea whether or not God could or would meet his(her) needs. We cannot expect Christian behavior from people who are not believers. This is why I think it is a travesty that churches demonize homosexuality as a pinnacle of sins. I think homosexuality is more like a symptom of a culture that is steeped in many other sins, many of which do not get nearly as much press.

(continued . . .)

Ruthie said...

(continued from above)

In my own experience, God had to tear a lot of things away from me in order to teach me that He was enough. Homosexuality did not happen to be one of those things, but I had, and even still have, desires that I often feel I must have met if I am to be happy. One such idol in my life is family. Because this is my deep desire, I can really resonate to the homosexual's desire for love and companionship. I want that too! (Although in a different form.) If you read my October 2016 posts about the chickenpox, they detail a time when I struggled with God and could not perceive that He was meeting my needs. I was angry, disappointed and catastrophically lonely. I remember lying on my face on the tile floor of a bathroom one night, crying, telling God, "You have to give me someone who will come over here and help me, take care of me. I can't do this. I can't do this alone." And He told me, "I am with you." I sobbed back at Him, "I want a real person, a flesh and blood person who I can see and touch." He told me, "I am enough." I didn't like that answer. I was profoundly unhappy about it. But in the end, I learned that it was true.

By His grace, in my life He hedged me in so that I didn't have much of a choice to make. I just had to gut it out and get through. It was hard. I survived. I think ultimately it has made me a more compassionate person than I would otherwise be, better able to understand the hurts and doubts and struggles of others.

Ultimately, God wants to be glorified through our satisfaction in Him. He wants to tear away our idols and lift our hearts to Him. He wants to show us how far His glory surpasses our pitiful earthly desires. He wants us to learn that He is the only source of true joy.

Now, how we extend that hope to those bound up in a sinful lifestyle, that is a difficult thing. I think it requires mostly prayer at the beginning. Lots and lots of prayer. Over time, if you have a friendship with someone, some trust, some amity, and if you are praying, it is likely that the Holy Spirit will start to move in that person's heart, and a dialogue will eventually open. Then you need to pray even more diligently that God will give you His words, words of love and life and hope and redemption. One thing I have learned is that we do not, ourselves, ever change people's hearts. That is the exclusive work of the Holy Spirit. His path is not an easy path. "Forms of Christianity" that promise all kinds of happiness and ease of life after conversion are either misguided or deceitful. People who come to the Lord in truth must understand that they are giving up everything, to gain even more (Matthew 13:44).