I once sat at a table, looked a professing Christian in the eye and asked them to help me to see what the power of God looks like in healing a broken relationship, because I could not heal it myself. “We talk a good line about how God does the things others say is impossible, and that there is nothing impossible with Him. I need to see it in my own life, please help me,” I said. It was a relationship in profound need of repair.
Instead of seeing God’s power, there ensued the most amazing display of the power of darkness I’ve ever witnessed. I got to see what evil looks like close up and the various forms it takes– sometimes blatant, sometimes so insidious it slithers. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, but destruction was left in the wake of the consuming fire that followed my request. I can still see smoke rising if I make the mistake of looking back over my shoulder.
What are we to make of times like this? What do we tell our children? Do we tell them not to ask to see God’s power heal things in the lives of Christians? Do we tell them that when we need to see the reality, not just hear the rhetoric, of Christian living, not to hope for too much, or rather, not to ask at all, because they may get to see the reality of something very evil?
One thing I have learned in life is that we sometimes get what we need to see, rather than what we want to see. It’s a good thing to want to see healing, to see reconciliation, but I will be perfectly honest here and tell you that in my life I have seen very little of what that looks like among Christians. I know what divisions are, fractured situations, I know what it is to get blown off when you reach out to someone, I know what it is to get rejected and repudiated and devalued and scorned, but the hug of someone who once hated me or reviled me online or slandered? I don’t know what that looks or feels like. So what did I mean when I wrote that sometimes we get what we need to see, rather than what we want to see? Who needs to see division when Christ was supposed to represent unity, a family of God, love and acceptance? Answer: All of those who want to know what the real state of things is. And what is the state of things? That few, at the end of the day, value or love each other, and I’m referring specifically here to those calling themselves “Bible-believing” Christians. The reality is that there are many, many like me who are at a loss as to explain the magnitude of callousness, the total disregard for Christ’s commands about love, and the near total absence of anything like spiritual power to heal things between people. Love seems AWOL many times, even from those who claim to be at the front lines of promoting Jesus to others.
I have a friend who is a bartender. I’ve known her for 20-odd years, and we’ve stayed in touch. Her father passed away recently, and she commented about the love she got from her bar patrons who cared about how she was doing and kept checking up on her, donating time off so she could be with her family. It touched me. I’m glad that she’s gotten support at a hard time in her life. She’s the kind of person you would go to if you were down and out and needed a place to stay or a few bucks, and people know it. She has a better sense of right and wrong, a better eye for the fakes and abusers than many highly devout people I know. I would head for her door if I needed help, and there are a number of “Christians” I would not go to, because they wouldn’t open their doors. (And I hope she would feel welcome at my door as well.) So the question is, are bars like my friend’s safer and healthier than churches when you peel back all the church superficial prettiness, when you shut off the flowery rhetoric, the grand claims and pious platitudes? If this is the case, what exactly is being peddled to the masses? A religion where an invisible God is loved, but people around us are of no value? I find it all very sad.