Before we get too far out from the Labor Day retreat, I want to respond to something which appeared as an undercurrent during the course of the weekend. That is the idea that if we are Christians saved by the grace of God and being transformed into the likeness of Christ, then it will show through on our countenances and we will look and feel different from the unsaved out there who have no hope of anything beyond this world.
Pietism and revivalism have filled us up with the idea that Christians are on a different spiritual plane from the rest of the world. Our faith is some kind of magical force that fills us up and raises us up to a place where physical sickness, financial poverty, doubt, depression, anxiety, loneliness, or any other sort of mental/emotional struggle simply don’t exist.
I won’t deal with the issues of physical or financial distress, because it is mostly the extreme charismatic or word-of-faith churches which teach that believers are exempt from physical or financial distress (if they have sufficient faith). But as for the rest, this is something which is pervasive throughout almost all of evangelical Protestant-dom.
And it has got to go.
As quickly as possible.
First of all, it is just not good for anyone to go through life happy all the time. That would be just like going through life high on drugs all the time. And we all know that that is not good. As human beings, we are capable of feeling a wide range of emotions, we were meant to feel a wide range of emotions, and we will feel a wide range of emotions during the course of our lives, whether we care to admit it or not.
So what do we do when the storms of life invariably come? (And they will come, no matter how strong your faith is or how close you are to God.) In the present evangelical culture, there is little if any room for anyone who is experiencing doubt, depression, disillusionment, etc. to engage with those feelings except from the standpoint of an outsider to the faith (i. e. These songs/sermons don’t apply to me, it isn’t working for me, I can’t do this). Surely this is not a healthy way to engage with these feelings–to say that they are a disease to the Body of Christ, or that I am a disease to the Body of Christ because I possess these feelings. Can you imagine what it would be like for any believer to walk with feelings like that for any significant length of time? The invariable result is that believers who struggle with doubt, depression, etc. become two-faced; they have their shiny happy face that they show in any environment where believers are gathered together publicly, and their not-so-happy face that they show in private because that is the only safe place for it.
Think what this does to our communities. Any community that is founded upon deceit, where being somebody other than who you truly are is a necessary survival tactic, is not a healthy community and it will not last long. Any believer who is truly honest with himself or herself, or who strives for such honesty, will not want to be part of such a community.
For the sake of our communities, and the believers who are gathered together in these communities, we need to do some serious housecleaning and get rid of the lie which says that we are above any sort of doubt, depression, disillusionment, etc. and that anyone who experiences these things is no different from the rest of the world. We need to make our churches and communities into safe places for people to express the way they feel when things do not work out for them, and then walk with them as they work through their doubt, depression, or disillusionment.