If You've Ever Been Hurt by the Church
If you’ve ever been hurt by the church I’d like to say I’m sorry. I’m not apologizing, though, on behalf of whomever or whatever hurt you or disappointed you or made you angry. That’s a burden the guilty party has to carry. What I mean is I’m sorry that was your experience.
For clarity’s sake, when I say “the church” I don’t mean it simply as an institution with programs, politics, doctrines, and a building. Nor do I mean “the church” as an idea. What I mean instead is the group of people who fill in the walls of a church building, who are called its body, the people who make it up and call themselves Christians.
Chances are, at some point in your life, a Christian has left a bad taste in your mouth from something they did or said. I know that’s been true for me. And it’s possible, too, that when it happened you had a hard time looking past their faith and at their personhood instead.
That’s true for me, too.
What’s disheartening is you received a distorted version of what a Christian is. Christians are suppose to be people who imitate Jesus and what they believe to be true of him—being people marked by love, by peace, by generosity, by hospitality, by kindness. Any experience you had that didn’t reflect this wasn’t right.
The colossal side effect of an experience like this is a damaged view of God.
You might not believe in God, though. Or maybe you’re on the fence about it. You might actually call yourself a Christian. Or maybe you’re so fed up with it all that you’ve grown cold, bitter, distant.
So in an effort to keep your distance and stand your ground, you might point to the Crusades’ monstrosities; but I might point to the genocide committed in the name of atheism masked in politics.
You might submit that our universe came into being through matter that eternally existed; I might submit that nothing that exists can explain it’s own existence and therefore must have a cause.
Or you might say you “see through” all of this; and I might ask, what do you see then, since the point of seeing through something is to see something through it?
We could continue to go back and forth, but I suppose none of that might matter to you anyway. What’s been done is done. How could you ever get behind a person who calls himself or herself a Christian and yet acts in such a foolish and hurtful way? I get it. I’ve been on both ends.
All of us who have a declared belief in Jesus have committed to a narrow and, at times, lonely road. It’s a way of life counter cultural to everything we know, everything society has shaped our thinking to believe is true and valuable and productive. We have chosen to believe, or have been compelled by, something culture tells us is foolish in exchange for the hope and conviction that our true personhood and identity will be regained.
But growing more in the likeness of Jesus through this way of life is a process involving fractured people. It’s made up of people with baggage who have to take it a day at a time, and often find themselves taking one step forward and two steps back. And if we judged anyone by their worst examples, who could stand?
I say this because even though from the human condition can stem words and actions that merit being labeled “non-human,” it changes nothing about who God is. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow—and everyday after that. Our relationship with—and feelings toward—him shouldn’t change anymore than with a close friend in another country after getting in a fight with a coworker in town.
People will hurt and disappoint us. That much is true. People closest to you and people with whom you have only seldom interactions with will miss the mark. But God doesn’t. He's unchanging in who he is and cannot contradict anything in his nature. He’s a God who sees you and loves you, who is close when you are lonely and offers peace when you are restless. He’s a God who longs for you and gives up everything to bring you to the place you can call home.
And when you arrive, there’s feast thrown in your honor and a celebration to be had by all.