I’m taking a break from my series on youth ministry because I want to type about something else tonight. This won’t be a major post…at least I’m starting out with that idea in my head, but who knows what will actually happen.
Two nights ago, a student commented on Facebook that he “hated religion” but that “he loved God.” I wanted further explanation from him on his statement because I know he 1) attends church and 2) claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ. So he explained to me that he was tired of how church seems to be more about politics than spirituality, he feels burned by the church and hasn’t felt very religious in a while. Ultimately, his congregation frustrates him and he isn’t sure how to deal with these feelings.
We all go through this at some point. One morning, we wake up and we realize that the golden glasses we once viewed the world with were not accurate. Elders who were once seen as Champions of the Faith are now seen as imperfect. Preachers who are our spiritual guardians are revealed to be struggling and just as helpless as you or I. Youth Ministers who show energy and excitement at youth group but then it comes out that they have been battling with depression and feelings of isolation. And we think, “Was it all a lie?”
I understand these feelings. I completely get the disillusionment that comes with becoming an adult and realizing the world is darker than you once thought. And it is easy to come to a point where we make the claim that we “hate religion” or “don’t believe in organized religion” or “want to walk away from the church.” It’s been the hip thing to do for a while. Church makes an easy target. It’s filled with hypocrites. And it’s easy to point that out and claim that it’s all phony because we fail to see genuine change in so many of us. Or we fail to see genuine “true” change in ourselves.
I get these points of views and yet I am also tired of them. I hope I don’t come across as ranting here but let me be clear, you can’t love God but hate the church and still have Biblical faith. You cannot do it. The Church is flawed. It always has been. Have you read the New Testament lately? It exists BECAUSE the Church is flawed. It is filled with people who are still sinners. It is filled with people who are on a spiritual journey that isn’t complete yet. They make really dumb choices, just like you or I do. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced a genuine connection to God. It simply means they are still growing. And just because you struggle and don’t feel like you’ve truly changed, doesn’t mean you haven’t. It simply means you are still on a journey, still growing.
I don’t think you can hate religion and love God. For one, religion at its most basic level is the belief and pursuit of a higher spirituality. It’s certainly ok to hate HOW people’s religious pursuits affect you, Jesus certainly seems to have. But you must be careful in these thoughts. These kinds of thoughts can very quickly turn into the villianization of those within the religion. You cannot hate people and love God because God is love and God LOVES the Church, in spite of its’ flaws.
It is easy to lose your love for the Church when you begin to see the dark sides of the humanity that makes it up. It’s easy to get lost in the pain and hypocrisy. It’s easy to blame the church for its failures (and accurate). It’s easy, when some poor excuse for a historian (who read a book once and now thinks she is the expert on all things religious) comes along and makes wild claims about the church to agree with him because deep down you’re already struggling with faith. It’s very easy to let failures overshadow successes. We do it all the time. But when we come into these places, we are not living in love. When we choose hate (of any kind) we are living in the way of death and not the way of life. When we get lost in our frustrations at the church we become cynical, dark and can very quickly begin to slide into the way of death. The teen even acknowledged that if he kept going down this path he would lose his faith. He knew, in spite of exceedingly great frustrations, that the way he was going was leading to the way of death.
So if you find yourself in that camp; the camp of once loving the Church but now overwhelmed with disappointment. If you find yourself wanting to walk away or hopping on the ever increasing, yet magnificently shallow bandwagon of “hate religion, love God” allow me one suggestion. Change your perspective. Focus on the Cross and the Resurrection.
I don’t follow Jesus because I like the Church. I follow Jesus because of the Cross and the Resurrection. I follow Jesus because He reveals the God is enters into human suffering, validates it as a real experience, takes it onto/into Himself and then defeats it once and for all. If you want to know God, know Christ. Colossians attests to this truth, Hebrews 1 attests to this truth. Jesus, Himself, attests to this truth. Trust in Jesus not in the flawed humans who live in His name. Trust that for as frustrated you are with the Church, Jesus is even more so. Trust that Jesus died in spite of these frustrations.
The Resurrection of Jesus gives us hope, hope that God IS moving to bring about His kingdom. He is coming!! The Resurrection changed all of history. It adjusted the course of creation. It’s affects are still felt today. The Resurrection moves to bring life into places of death. It moves into our time to heal the sick, to point to the end of the journey. And the journey in this life will end one day! Everyone knows this. But we know the end of the story is not a day of death but a day of true and overwhelming life. On that day, the weak, the broken the oppressed, the lonely will be picked up. The self-righteous will be cast out. God will make things right. God’s justice will prevail. The system of sin will be fully overcome.
Has it been fully overcome yet? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that we know the ending of the story and no in the sense that we haven’t gotten to that point yet. We’re still waiting. We’re still living in a world that holds the shadows of things to come. We live in an era of road signs pointing to the coming kingdom. But we haven’t arrived. We, like so many little kids on long road trips, are asking, “are we there yet?” And we’re not asking this because we believe we have arrived, we ask because we’re desperate to get out of the car. We’re desperate for the journey to end. And in these moments, hear the voice of God say, “Soon my children, soon.”