My sister and I went to different churches over the winter. For one, none of them were quite as humble as my home church, but they were also more vibrant, more expressive. I’d grown up always thinking this was a bad thing because of how evil and deceptive feelings were supposed to be, but now I’m wondering about that train of thought.
In the last few years, I feel like my soul’s basically died in an attempt to fit into the expectation of the emotionally disciplined, controlled Christian.
- …being joyful was being Biblically obedient. Joy was a command, not a feeling.
- …feeling “moved” was dumb and just meant I was being emotional which was an opening for Satan to manipulate me. After all, the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
- …being expressive was being inconsiderate to the other people around you at church.
- …I was required to fit into a certain formula of Christianity to be a “good Christian” for God.
- …the doctrine of God’s love was shallower than the doctrine of total depravity.
At the same time, I believed (and still do) that…
- …Christianity is the only thing that makes sense in this weird and kind of crappy world.
- …God is good and wants nothing but the best for His children whom He has adopted into His family (John 1:12; Romans 8:15-17; Ephesians 1:5) and sealed for eternity (Ephesians 4:30).
- …God’s Goodness and God’s Justness do not contradict each other. In fact, you cannot have one without the other. (Romans 3:21-26; Romans 5:6-11)
- …God is not a Cosmic Killjoy who wants His children to be miserable.
I’ve had a lot of difficulty reconciling these two sets of beliefs.
I am an emotional person. Because of this I avoid certain types of movies, certain types of books, I cut back on caffeine and am ever so grateful that my eternal security is placed in an Unchanging God (James 1:17; Numbers 23:19) and not on “how I feel,” because that can change at the drop of a hat (Romans 8:38-39).
But I’ve been really miserable. I want to be part of those churches that are bouncing up and down and excited for God and have a compassionate heart for the hurting and for the lost. I want to be a part of those groups that emphasize God’s grace and how there is hope in an otherwise hopeless world. But no, I could never be a part of that. After all, every time I was in a church that seemed happy, it was stamped “shallow.”
So, accordingly, I’ve equated happiness = shallowness. I can’t count how many times I’ve been cautioned against relying on my feelings or been told to be careful at churches that seem too charismatic. Etc. Etc. But at the same time every time I’ve asked church people for advice regarding how to help and encourage my friends who have been struggling really hard with depression, I’ve just been told “they might not be saved if they’re depressed, because if they’re saved they have no reason to be depressed.” Or my favorite, “well, they need to repent. Depression is a sin.”
Then if joy is a command, and struggling with hopelessness is a sin, where am I allowed to feel? At all? Is struggling in itself a sin? Then apparently I am doomed to never get out of that cycle, and to “live in sin,” and if I am “living in sin,” does that mean I am not a believer and will never be able to truly achieve eternal life? Is it not meant for me? Am I not elect? God is Love, but is that Love then not for me, because I’m too emotional? Do I have to learn to not be emotional?
Am I going to always and perpetually fail and always be “that person”?
These are things I’ve fought with most hard for the last four years. But in the last maybe, I dunno, six months, I’ve started to see something a little clearer…
Maybe the Christian walk isn’t quite as cut and dry, black/white as I always thought it was.
I’ve met people from many different denominations and backgrounds whom I’ve discussed theology with and they don’t seem off their rocker, but they still approach life differently. Why? Because God made everybody different. Different things work for different people, and there are a lot fewer, direct, commands in the Bible, and many, many more principles to live by than I’d always thought.
As believers in Christ, we are no longer bound by a “list of requirements,” i.e., the Law. Now, we are free from the Law and free from being controlled by our desire to sin (Romans 7:4-6; Romans 8:1-4). This is where the Hope comes from. And different people are/can be reminded of this Hope in different ways.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 says,
“We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
This addresses multiple types of people who have trouble in different areas. Maybe a “remember where you came from” church is good for the unruly, and maybe the “God loved you, reached down and rescued you, now go out and tell everyone!” churches are good for the fainthearted.
No church will be perfect, but different churches have different focuses, and maybe different focuses aren’t so much “bad” as they are meant for different sort of people carrying different baggage. Maybe Joy and Depth aren’t mutually exclusive, but some people might need to take a different path to find that relationship.
All that to say, I’m not endorsing shallow Gospel. I am not endorsing “fluffing someone’s pillow on the way to hell.” I am not even endorsing “well, that’s good for you, but not good for me” regarding salvation issues.
What I am endorsing is to know people and to realize that they’re different. For some, maybe their desire for just…some encouragement and a reminder of grace isn’t just some desire to avoid their sin, it’s a desire for encouragement to face their sin, because Christ has taken it, and in that they have been given hope.