I seriously contemplated staying home yesterday morning, as I do many Sundays. I finally remembered I needed to pay for retreat and return a friend’s tupperware that I had stolen accidentally, so I decided I should go.
I laughed with old friends and hugged some new ones and introduced myself to some even newer ones. We all sang with and for and to each other and I looked out the window at the perfect day and thanked God that I’d decided to come to this place today.
And then I glanced at the sermon notes on the back of the bulletin and took it all back.
When the first bullet point on the sermon notes is “Unbelief and Punishment” and the second one is “Unbelief and Love,” and you’re sitting in a reformed church, you know you’re in for some hell-fire and predestination.
I don’t care if you believe in predestination or if your understanding of divine Justice is different than mine. My understanding has changed about every 5 days for the past 5 years, so I probably have believed or will believe what you do at some point. I’m open to other interpretations of scripture and by no means do I have sovereignty and love and justice figured out. I am learning to trust that God is fair, however he makes all this work.
But if you’re going to talk about God hardening the hearts of the people we live with and love as a punishment for their unbelief and then, afterwards, punishing them for their unbelief eternally, you have to say it with more than a tear in your eye or I must conclude that you don’t understand what you’re saying.
You’re saying that there are people I love who God knew would never turn to him. You’re saying that because of that, God hardened their hearts so they could not turn to Him, and then you are saying because they do not turn to Him, God punishes them with eternal conscious punishment.
If you can say that and believe that and not weep, you must not know any such people or you must not imagine eternal conscious punishment in the same way that I do.
Where are your feelings in church today?
Where are my feelings in church today?
Because I listened to this sermon yesterday and I did not weep. I shot angry glances at the pastor as he spoke, with a tear in his eyes and a catch in his throat, and I read the passage in every available translation of the Bible on my phone to make it say something else. It didn’t, not even in The Message. So I listened and watched for anyone else to show any feeling. No one did. Not even me.
It is decidedly uncool to sit in pews and weep. Crying in church is reserved for sweet motherly Sunday school teachers, people who have suffered recent tragedy or hardship, and small babies. But to the irregular church attendee walking into service and hearing this not-so-good-News preached, with every nod of our head and whispered “Amen” we bury the gospel under our facade.
If some doctrine bothers you, cry, damn it! If it makes you angry, stand up and leave (and write blog posts that say “damn it”). If it makes you doubt, don’t stand when we sing “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus” after the sermon. Find someone to talk to about your questions. If it makes you uncomfortable, maybe don’t nod along as the pastor speaks.
And if you’re totally cool with it, get to know some people who don’t go to church.
I started to write this post with what I felt was righteous anger at all of you invisible unloving, judgmental Christians out there until I found myself right smack in the middle of your camp. If I’m going to say this doctrine makes me uncomfortable in theory when I’m behind the invisibility cloak of the internet then I need to be ready for it to make me uncomfortable sitting next to my nice church friends on Sunday mornings too.
Let’s approach difficult truths with a tear in our eyes and with humility in our hearts. Let’s extend grace to those who disagree with us and let’s grab hands as we step forward in messy faith.
Anything else would be a step back.
Photo by Carol Von Canon via Flickr.