When Love Goes AWOL Among Christians

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?

ReconciliationOne 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.

22 thoughts on “When Love Goes AWOL Among Christians

  1. Sam says:

    How do we know we love God? It is very simple: By how much we love our neighbor. Charity for our neighbor is the truest thermometer of the spiritual life. No matter how deep you think your devotional life is, no matter how much you feel you are close to God, it is all an illusion if it is not reflected in acts of charity to others—especially those that are the most difficult for us to love.

    Love is not an option for the Christian. If you don’t have it, you don’t know God. As Jesus said, how can you say you love God who you cannot see, if you do not love your neighbor who you can see? A very good question.

    And what it is love? It is not a feeling. It is complete self-giving. It is at bottom sacrifice. Love is displayed perfectly in the Cross. In the crucifix, we see perfect sacrifice, and therefore perfect love.

    “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Love for the brethren is nothing else than sacrificing your life for another person. Of course, laying down your life can mean the ultimate and complete sacrifice of death. But more often, it takes the form of lesser sacrifices—a smile, a kind word, or sharing in the pain of another person.

    The heart of God is closest to the broken hearted and the suffering. Is yours?

    If you want to love God, love your neighbor. “If you did unto the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me.”

  2. Robert says:

    Many will say they do mighty works in His name but on that day He will say to them: ” I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. ” Yes – this may include our own family members and our fellow congregation members. It’s something we don’t want to contemplate. On the other hand, someone, who we think may be heading this way, repents. Pray for that repentance and let it go for we don’t judge individual souls to hell. That is God’s domain. Ours is to spread the Word literally and in loving service to others with an exceeding joy which God the Holy Spirit gives believers. Satan loves to keep throwing up past injustices to take our eyes off the Savior. As bothersome as it is to us, the church on earth contains weeds which our Lord himself patiently says not to pull out for when the time is right He will see to it that they are gathered FIRST and thrown into the fire.

  3. Jean Selden says:

    Ingrid,

    I relate to your frustration. How can people know God’s love without knowing him? My early years as a new Christian were spent in a charismatic congregation that was big on personal experiences. I was so confused as a new believer as all of the leadership knew not love. It was a bumpy ride for quite a few years. Their lives just didn’t line up with the Bible’s description of believers.

    I could tell you stories of rudeness and arrogance that was their way of life. My family happened to be in leadership positions, but it was made very clear that our kind just didn’t fit with their crowd. We hadn’t graduated from the approved AG colleges, so we weren’t accepted by leadership as very knowledgeable. We just hadn’t arrived. Believe me, it is very damaging to a congregation to see that accepted as the norm among believers.

    We saw this same behavior in subsequent churches, until I was injured in a fall and was unable to sit up for over six months. It was during that time that we started looking for someone on the Internet that we could listen and learn from while I was incapacitated.

    Thank the Lord that we were introduced to MacArthur ministries. We read all we could. We stayed active as possible with the few true believers that we knew and immersed ourselves in learning what the Word says, not what someone thinks it says.

    “The Gospel According to Jesus” by John MacArthur along with his teachings finally opened my eyes as to why I remained so frustrated with what behavior I was seeing in churches. I finally realized that most of those people that I was yoked in ministry with weren’t Christians, after all. Once I learned what a Christian was, I stopped expecting anything out of those professing believers who produced rotten fruit continually.

    Most churches of today have a very poor understanding of God and what His mandate to “love others” means nor do they want to know. They are content with status quo and most of today’s churches are a mockery of Christ.

    The lost seem to understand the condition of the churches. It is too bad that our unsaved neighbors and acquaintances are putting the church to shame.

    In Him,
    Jean Selden

  4. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Excellent points, everyone. Just to clarify, I don’t refer in this piece to a one time situation. It’s something I’ve mulled over for years, most of my lifetime, in fact, regarding not seeing reconciliation or any interest in it in Christian relational bust-ups. The electronic world makes it even worse, as “relationships” are with people who are sometimes treated like avatars, little figures on the screen without flesh and blood. It obviously is easier to discard people you have never met, never looked straight in the eye, never shaken hands with. My blogging experience on Slice would provide a small book of the tragedy of the electronic world I was working in for years with people who one day would be a “friend” and colleague and within hours, you could be de-blog rolled because they didn’t like a post you put up or some such nonsense. Looking back, it reminds me of video games, the horrible kind where you can shoot some creature on the screen and blood shoots out and they’re gone, done with, dead. That’s EXACTLY how it was in the Christian discernment blog/podcast/online world.

    All of this points to the need for forgiveness of those who live this way. But can I just say to anyone reading any of this out there that it is a very sinful thing to refuse to reconcile and to put a giant spiritual boulder in front of another person who has to live with what you did to them and get past something so terrible, all because you could not care less about them?

    I’m doing some creative writing on all of this. I’m in the thick of it right now, but this is the crux of what I am writing about – the needless, pointless, gratuitous emotional pain visited on others around us when we don’t want to reconcile and choose to live in some dark world where people are disposable, like paper plates or something. I never saw people as disposable. Maybe that’s why this issue is so important to me. I did value long time friends and colleagues I worked with and I value the ones I work with now. If I had a callous attitude, none of this would be a problem. Just dispose of others and move on, like they did to you. But as believers, what a totally brutal and non-Christlike way to live, isn’t it? We all let people down and hurt others, sometimes without even meaning to. But God help us if that fact, when brought to our attention and reconciliation requested, is kicked aside as unimportant. I wrote a lot here, but it’s been on my heart a lot lately.

  5. paulalah says:

    Had a friend who seemed to be the epitome of Christ’s love. THought I could always count on her. She knew her Bible inside and out and demonstrated it in her life. Yet, the one time I really needed her compassion the most, I found myself rejected because I (assume) I made a big decision that was Biblically controversial, yet, for me, was the only way I could see my way out of what was killing me, spiritually. It wasn’t a decision made lightly. I prayed for years about it. I didn’t want to make it, but could not see anyway around it. I was stunned that she could not be there for me. I was beyond disappointed. It made me cynical from that day on about those who wear their religion on their ‘sleeve’. I have come to believe that sometimes the attention and accolades and respect one seems to get for their Bible prowess and the adoration they may get as a teacher in a meg-church insidiously over rides their original intentions and becomes all consuming. We live in a time where an average person can become a wise sage in a mega church quite easily, and that becomes sort of like the quasi high school caste system that they can re-do for themselves and thereby get some sort of contentment. But there is a price to pay for everything. Even the price of a good friendship I guess. I could not let it hurt me as I was suffering enough.

  6. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    How conflict is handled shows whether love exists or not, both in church families and family families. Nuclear families die when there’s no forgiveness or nobody cares that family members are walking around in pain. Christians who know they’ve offended somebody and simply don’t care don’t have any love. It’s that simple.

  7. Paul says:

    Your article is a great reminder of how true Matthew 7:21 is “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” That’s why, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we are taught that people who join LDS church in this life aren’t the only ones who will be saved from sin and that just because someone is a member of our church doesn’t guarantee them salvation. It all depends on how well you live what you know. I’ve probably very close to every argument for or against the LDS church so I know a lot about both perspectives but it would be all meaningless if I didn’t live what I know to be true, if I didn’t show, by my desires and example, that I am trying to not just do Christ-like things, but truly become like Him, make my character like His character. Best wishes to you in your faith.

  8. Paul says:

    sorry In my last comment I meant to say “I’ve probably HEARD very close to every argument…”

  9. Carol says:

    There is no true Salvation in Christ of the forgiveness of our sins without Repentence and confessing oneself as a sinner which is the work of the Holy Spirit drawing people to the Lord, and people choosing to follow Him. There is no true forgiveness and healthy restoration in human relationships as well without the repentance of sin, again, a work of the Lord along with the person choosing to align their will with God’s. Every human has free will choice and must seek true humility. We are only responsible for our part. All people will give account before God for every action and word. Truth will prevail. Sometimes, very unfortunately, we must wait until the Judgement to see justice. Sometimes it happens on earth, but not always. It is always sad and I’m sure it grieves God when people choose the wide road and not His narrow way, whether unsaved or immature. God knows all hearts and will carry all things in His plan to completion. Unfortunately there is suffering in the process. If we suffer as Christ suffered we will also share in His Glory one day. Oh, Happy Day! Hang in there, Ingrid, and grieve when you need to. The Lord is near and is our Comforter.

  10. Jasson says:

    I went to Chicago Bears training camp a few weeks ago and I commented to my wife how there was more camaraderie and friendliness among the Bears fans that were there then with fellow “Christians”. I felt much more warmness from fellow Bear fans then in the doors of a church. I said to my wife that this just should not be the case but sadly it is!

  11. Carol says:

    Yes, it is very sad. I remember saying to someone once that a person we both knew was so nice that she should be a Christian as she would be such a good example! Maybe that young man who took your order was a Christian, though I do believe that God sends along encouragement when we need it and He can use anyone. Some people were just raised right, Christian or not. Some things in life are a mystery we cannot figure out.

  12. "Matt" says:

    I’m not going to post my real name on this because I’m about to share something that I’ve never told a soul. I’m not sure why I’m doing this — perhaps because this comments struck something very deep inside me:

    Ingrid wrote: “I don’t refer in this piece to a one time situation. It’s something I’ve mulled over for years, most of my lifetime, in fact, regarding not seeing reconciliation or any interest in it in Christian relational bust-ups.”

    I attend and have always attended theologically orthodox churches. I’ve never really struggled with doubt like some people have, except on one occasion about 2 years ago:

    A close acquaintance of my family was an agnostic 76-year old, and his son, an openly homosexual Unitarian, who is in a relationship with another man. I of course strongly disagree with their worldview and choices. Both of them had an extreme falling-out over 20 years ago over his son’s lifestyle, and many hateful and hurtful things were said, especially by the father. Without going into all the details, about 2 years ago I witnessed true reconciliation between the father and son. The father admitted wrong-doing, profusely apologized, and did everything he could to right the wrongs he did, and even made friends with the son’s partner. They now have one of the most loving relationships one will ever see between a father and son.

    The gay-stuff isn’t really the especially bothersome part to me. What’s so bothersome to me about this was that in all my years of being associated with theologically orthodox churches, I’ve never witnessed any reconciliation like this. Not even close. There seems to be little if any interest in reconciliation, yet plenty of Christians willing to discard another Christian like a paper plate. As someone in the comments implied, you can go to a bar and find more evidence of a higher power. And I saw this, and I started having these doubts if our Christian communities and our hopes are simply a powerful delusion. Anyway, I’m over this now, but it bothered me for quite a while.

  13. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Interesting observation, Matt. Thank you for posting that. This is my take: I get that there are some people who are frauds. I get that some people refuse to reconcile and have no conscience about it, (because they can blame pitch the rest of their lives), I get that there are liars, manipulators, people who are not even interested in the truth of a situation. But the fact that this kind of person wears the label Christian, drapes their arrogance and Luciferian pride in the Christian flag while convincing others of their great and deep spirituality, that is what is destroying faith and families. It is the singing of great hymns about God’s love and power, tears of emotion streaming down their faces, while they have people in their lives they have left by the side of the road in a conflict, that is what sickens observers who know that things are not right in complete violation of Christ’s commands to “grudge not lest you are condemned.” And of course faith comes under attack. What is reality? If people are living in a “Christian” environment and never see what forgiveness is, are they wrong to question the reality of forgiveness from an invisible God? Are people wrong to observe the obvious contradictions and wonder when they then see reconciliation from people who don’t even claim to be Christian? This attack on faith is the tragic true legacy of unforgiveness and hard hearts, and it is the true Laodicean sickness. A lukewarm church isn’t just circus churches and compromised theology and heretical teachings and immorality. It’s hearts like ice. Yes, like the old 80’s song said, “you’re cold as ice.”

    “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” I John 4:19-20

  14. Jean Selden says:

    Ingrid,

    I believe that the lack of forgiveness in the church and love for one another is just a result of the number of “carnal Christians” that fill the pews. I don’t believe that it has been any different throughout church history: we have just lost self-control and discipline in our personal lives and the sin in our hearts at this time is much more apparent and acceptable.

    Where there is no love, there is no Christ. With no Christ, there can be no reconciliation, but just a fraudulent form of reconciliation that the world can practice, but it is still worthless in God’s kingdom.

    It is impossible to know the heart conditions of all the professing believers we are exposed to in our lives. But I do believe that if reconciliation and love isn’t in the forefront of someone’s character, he has not God as God is love.

    Our family has been involved for a few years in a very sad situation where reconciliation hasn’t happened even though attempted by us. Any contact with the offending person just produced more drama and hurt. We had to move on and ask God to heal our hearts. We are reconciled to the fact that until this “sister in Christ” is moved on by the Holy Spirit, it will remain broken. So we cannot judge every broken relationship from the outside. Sometimes work has been done, but peace is unattainable. We just have to make sure that we have done our part to bring peace.

    In Him,
    Jean Selden

  15. Teeky says:

    Dearest Ingrid, Could you please spare 10 minutes of your time to listen to this short clip! It is a powerful extract taken from a sermon by Richard Owen Roberts confronting the issue regarding the absence of true love amongst God’s professing Church. Very convicting!! I wept sore when I first heard this….

    I have posted the audio on our webpage, here is the link:

    http://www.sanctuaryconference.co.uk/?page_id=19

    Could you please let me know your thoughts via email? Also could you give me your email address please sister….. there is something important that I would like to share with you!!

    May the peace of God, rest upon you and your family,
    Teeky

  16. Carol says:

    Teeky, What a powerful message! Thanks for sharing the excerpt from that sermon, and Ingrid, thanks for posting it! We are all priests unto the Lord, meant to bless Him and others! May we all be challenged to be more aware and sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit! We need to pray for discernment daily on who to reach out to! God knows who needs a touch and can give us opportunities if we are willing to be God’s instrument.

  17. Lynn says:

    How can you have reconciliation when the offending party refuses to address the situation? Too many Christians don’t want to talk about problems and just want to sweep everything under the rug, which in my opinion promotes fakery and phoniness. Reconciliation in the 21st Century American church is forgiving and never talking about the problems, and everything going back to exactly the way it was. Reconciliation for me is sitting down with the person and talking, praying, confessing, repenting, etc which helps to bring healing and restart building trust.

    “The father admitted wrong-doing, profusely apologized, and did everything he could to right the wrongs he did, and even made friends with the son’s partner.”

    This is absolute beautiful, but it is a VERY rare thing in the Christian community. Believers will KNOW that have done and said some very egregious stuff to you and won’t even apologize, let along try and make anything right. That’s a joke!! If anything Christians will rip you to shreds over being hurt, anger, etc which causes further harm. It’s one of the things I’m struggling with, especially when you see it happening with Christian leaders who are supposed to be setting the example.

  18. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    You can’t have reconciliation without that, Lynn. A lot of people prefer to live in delusion and are prepared to lie to themselves and others to shield themselves from the need for humility and repentance. The injured party can’t fix things until there is clear recognition of wrong doing on the part of the other person. The total lack of concern over shattered relationships is a very clear “fruit” of someone’s spiritual condition. The fact that they have put a large stumbling block in the spiritual path of others doesn’t concern them in the least. As long as their image remains intact, their Christian work unhindered and ego inflated, it’s all good.

    But the good news is that you can walk away from a situation like this. Maybe not physically in some cases, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It takes time. It takes a lot of time, but you will get there. We can’t live in a fetal position under a table, endlessly grieving over somebody’s rock hard heart. When people choose darkness and absurdly want to hoist the banner of “Jesus” over their sin, that’s their problem, not ours. We know our own hearts, God knows our hearts. When attempts to reach out to someone are scorned and blame is heaped back on your head, it’s time to walk, and you can actually do so with a smile on your face. Why? Because you don’t have to be bound by the sin of other people. I’ve only come to realize that recently, to be honest. Let those who love darkness, lies, and conflict wallow in it. We choose the light of Christ and we choose to walk in truth and love.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Ingrid, thank you for posting this. All comments have been valuable. Your last comment where you stated, ” … you don’t have to be bound by the sin of other people” is something that I know in my heart but am having a very difficult time in living. And sadly, the tiredness of the situation(s) have my emotions raw and I respond in a way that heaps more guilt on my shoulders. I feel guilty for wanting to run away from these people whom others see as being nice, upright citizens.

  20. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Anonymous – I so understand. We know this in theory, it’s harder to live. Emotional stress in these situations, particularly over the long haul, have a very destructive effect on our physical bodies/health. It says something when dealing with “nice, upright citizens” or “Christians” in many cases, as they call themselves, causes that kind of stress. Don’t let guilt get you down. We are flawed humans, we can confess and be forgiven if we are wrong. As for guilt for wanting to run away, who should feel guilty about wanting to run away from serpents? The primary thing I have learned through experience and good counsel is to avoid the trigger people if/when at all possible. We all make choices and when people choose to behave like poisonous reptiles instead of functioning humans, they will have to live with the consequences. God bless you and help you.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Ingrid, You summed the situation up very well. And thank you for the blessing as I prayerfully receive counsel. I’m trying to work past the fear of “changes” in my life. The Lord is faithful … I guess I have to listen to my own preaching, after years of attempting to encourage others with God’s Word!!

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