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But what really stood out to me as I’ve been reflecting the last couple of weeks, is the thought that Christians are perceived to be judgmental. This one really stung me because when Jesus walked this earth no one would have thought that he was judgmental. Instead most would have found him compassionate, accepting, perhaps sometimes confusing and perplexing, certainly they would have sensed an authority in him but he was not authoritarian. How is it that Christians today have moved so far away from the character of Jesus whom we are supposed to be representing?
It really baffles me…and frankly, it makes me mad.
Sometimes our culture misrepresents Christians however I think that in this case there is truth in their critique. I don’t believe that Christians are usually overtly judgmental however I do wonder if we get that label because we don’t speak vulnerably about what is really going on in our lives, in other words we cover up. We can often quite inadvertently convey to others that we have our lives all together or that we have the perfect family by sharing only the positive things in our lives and avoiding speaking out the struggles that we have. When we do this I think we could be unintentionally making someone feel like they don’t measure up to the high standards that we are conveying. I’m not saying that we should make things up if we are not struggling but I refuse to believe that most Christians have their lives completely together all the time. So why not talk openly about it?
And anyway don’t those people who go around telling you how great everything is going all the time and using Christian ‘happy talk’ in their language constantly, annoy you? I know it annoys me when I ask people how they are doing and the most they can come up with is that they haven’t read their Bible today! Come on, really!? Is that your biggest struggle today? I encounter this a lot especially in Pentecostal cultures and even though I love so much about Pentecostalism, this is something that aggravates me. I have watched as this attitude of ‘only speaking out the positive’ has fashioned a performance culture where people simply can’t discern truth anymore. I have seen this shape a people who live dual lives, one public where they lift their hands in worship and another private where they are on antidepressants and riddled with anxiety and doubt. I have no problem with people on anti depressants and riddled with anxiety, my question is only why can’t we be open about this? I have even heard about people feeling as though if they do not do acts such as lifting up their hands in worship they feel judged by other Christians!
Cover up and self righteousness are both active in Christianity today and this stops us from having the humility and authenticity of Jesus. Larry Crabb tells a very real and vulnerable story in his book Becoming True Spiritual Community which has stayed with me ever since I read it. He writes about a time when he had just finished speaking at a conference and it had gone pretty well so he was on a bit of a high. At the airport he says as he was looking at some books in order to decide which one to buy, his eyes went to the pornography section. Even though he was tempted he did not give in and he resisted. As he walked away he found himself thinking that while others may have given in he did not. Feeling quite pleased with himself and his accomplishment he suddenly began to realise that he was becoming prideful. Even though he resisted a ‘sin’ such as looking at pornography he had actually engaged in a more subtle but even more diabolical sin, that of pride. He distinguishes here the difference between the ‘diabolical self’ and the ‘animal self’ which CS Lewis also wrote about.
This incident made me realise that as Christians we might well resist the temptation to the more overt sins, however we still engage in the more culturally acceptable yet equally sickening sins like pride, greed and selfishness. All this to say that there is most definitely no perfect Christian so why then portray ourselves as such?
When I read the psalms I hear such honesty and real struggle with God. The cries of the writers are usually something like; ‘God you promised me great things why am I still struggling’? (Psalm 73:13,14) or the confession, ‘the sins I have are more than the number of hairs on my head’ (Psalm 40:12) , or what about ‘Why are you absent God?’ (Psalm 88:14), or ‘Why am I in pain’? (Psalm 13:2) or even just a perplexed ‘What am I that you would take notice of me?’ (Psalm 8:4). If these honest pleas, cries, questions and doubts are recorded in the poetry of the Bible why can’t we seem to confess the same concerns and struggles with one another today? I have a friend who has been a faithful Christian for a long time now who has just had a very horrible thing happen to her. While she waits for recovery she is waiting on God. The other day she said to me ‘I don’t know how to pray anymore’. I waited for more because I knew that this did not mean that she had ‘lost’ her faith. She then continued. ‘I mean’ she said, ‘that I don’t know what to pray or how to start. I don’t know whether I should pray a creed or perhaps should I praise? Should I start with a confession? I don’t know how to pray. But I have been reading the Psalms. And as I read them again what I have realised is that prayer is more like a wrestle with God and I have never before experienced prayer like that.’ I marveled that this mature Christian was actually deepening her authentic relationship with God through the suffering she was going through. I was amazed at how this friend who I had looked up to in the faith was only now experiencing what relationship and honesty in prayer with God felt like.
I think we can all fall into that pattern. We move in the externalities of our religion and we forget about the real relationship with a person which includes doubt, wrestling, struggle and even anger at not understanding what God is doing or not doing. We need to wrestle with God more and more importantly give permission to each other to wrestle with God without stepping in to rescue too quickly. We need to understand that an important element of faith is doubt and working through that doubt. We need to understand that it takes faith to publicly speak out about imperfections in our lives. Faith is not about ‘faking it until you make it’ faith is about being honest enough to share your joys and your flaws, knowing that God holds your relationship together and he won’t let that go. His grip is much stronger than ours.
So next time you are surrounded by Christians or especially those who are not Christians and you hear people sharing their struggles sure go ahead and say how great your life is but don’t do it unless you are also prepared to share your deep struggles because I don’t believe for a moment that you don’t have any. And when you hear that fearful whisper coming into your head ‘But what will they think of me if I say that? Won’t my reputation be damaged?’ all the more reason to speak it out and break down the isolating wall of cover up. When we get authentic in this way it doesn’t lead people away from God rather it leads people of whatever faith to connect with one another deeply and then encounter God through that connection. It is in this way that we become more human not less.