The week before Christmas I heard the best argument against Christianity I’ve heard in years.
I met with a professional woman who had worked seven years for near minimum wage in the administration of a Christian ministry. When they decided to move their headquarters, they abruptly dismissed her with two weeks’ severance. She felt used and discarded.
And she felt anger: How could they treat her so callously after seven years of sacrifice? She said, “If they believed God would judge them for their callousness, they would have treated me more generously.”
She added: “What’s so bad about works righteousness?”
I hate the presidential election season, the rhetoric, emotional responses, hushed conversations, and mud-slinging candidates. I especially hate those damned, political phone polls! Don’t worry, this is not about the election. It’s about when good Christians do bad things.
And yet, weeks after the elections, the rhetoric is still meteoric and the mudslinging has not abated. Friends of mine from both political camps willingly participate in this mud bath. And it gets nasty. Winners ooze smugness and losers dribble bitterness. We all get spattered.
And both believers and non-believers, from the right and the left, hurl slurs. Their opponents are racist or communist, uncaring or unthinking, dumb or dumber.
This absence of distinction bothered me. I had hoped Christians would handle their victory or defeat with better grace. But we didn’t. Just this morning a thought raced through my mind:
A “good” Christian knows that our atheist neighbors are often better people than us.
The author continues, “For any generation to lose the gospel is tragic. But the generation that assumes the gospel … is most responsible for the loss of the gospel.” That generation is us. We are most responsible.
Three years ago (this month) I repented to God for something dinky. I hadn’t stolen candy from a baby, oppressed a widow, or coveted a neighbor’s cow. I had simply failed to control my eating.
During the previous six months I had lost ten pounds. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I found them again in cookies, pies, and chocolates (and only once in the hand of an infant).
So I prayed, “God, I’m sorry about my poor self-control; I’ll stop eating between meals, and I’ll stop buying those tempting snacks.” I sensed God sigh, “Stop!”
I thought, Okay, I get it. That’s not the only area I lack self-control, so I prayed, “God, so-and-so is irritating the heck out of me, and my thoughts are like untamed beasts. I will begin being patient and start to domesticate my mind.” And God said, “Stop!”
A flood of other uncontrolled areas came to mind, and I willed myself to do better. I felt God shout, “STOP!” This time I stopped, and this time I shut up.
I once talked with a group of college students, and one of them asked, “How do you explain Westboro Baptist? I can’t stand Christianity because of churches like them.”
Westboro fan protests
Have you heard of Westboro? They picket military funerals in protests against gays. Their website is, God Hates Fags dot com (I can’t bring myself to type the link).
Westboro Baptist is a tiny church. Where they fail to attract many members, they excel at attracting the media. And where they fail to represent the True Church, they excel at representing what’s wrong with the church.
I’ve never met a soul from Westboro—and I’ve never met anyone who’s met someone from Westboro—and I cannot say anything about any of its members’ hearts.
But I can say this: if we don’t understand churches like Westboro, we’ll never understand grace.
Hurricane Sandy was the second most devastating hurricane in United States history. On October 29th, 2012 it stormed ashore in New Jersey, leaving a wide wake of destruction.
But the destructive path was random and arbitrary. Huge clusters of homes were annihilated while houses right next door were unscathed.
A week after the hurricane, I saw a post on Facebook. It showed the picture of a man standing in front of his unharmed house, while the scattered remains of his neighbor’s house lay completely destroyed by the storm.
Under the picture was this caption:
The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous (Pr. 3:33).
I never met the man and I don’t know his heart. I hope his insensitivity was simple naiveté, and that the judgment of his neighbor was unintentional.
But it smacked of smugness. It reminded me of the ugliness of religious-righteousness.
A few years ago a client came into town for a series of meetings. He asked for a restaurant recommendation, and I suggested my favorite restaurant, The Gandy Dancer. The next day he came to my office and raved about the restaurant. He was going to recommend it to every one of his colleagues.
I asked him what he’d ordered. “Nothing,” he said, he’d been too busy. But he had “stopped by and studied the menu, and everything looked incredible.”
I thought he was nuts.
But I’m beginning to think that most of us believers are equally “nuts.” We read the menu and miss the meal. We nourish our Christian lives by feasting on a cardboard menu of untasted truths.
The cardboard menu is a link to a spiritually nourishing banquet, but too often we simply chew on the cardboard. Is it any wonder our lives look like cardboard-cutouts?
Frankly, cardboard is neither life-giving nor nourishing. Even with a dash of salt.