25 Mar (#6) PEOPLE IN PAIN
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” – Colossians 3:12
My goal in this Christians Might Be Crazy project is to help you lovingly communicate why Christianity is both true and good, offering help in responding to objections raised by people who are made and loved by God. But I don’t want us to lose sight of the real people from our study who inform our conversation— because they reject the thoughts and feelings of the world you and I must engage: your co-workers, your neighbors, your in-laws, and your community.
Several focus group participants expressed great negative emotion toward Christianity, like the Phoenix man who said, “I had a friend that actually got born again and evangelical, and it broke my heart.” But it is perhaps the story of a lesbian woman from Austin that best displays the deep pain behind some of the objections we hear to the Christian faith. She explained that her problems were not theoretical or historical. “It’s very emotional for me,” she said. “I lump all religious people of any kind together…. I probably do stay away from them because of my experiences…. I have a negative association with even the word God. I don’t even care for that…. I’ve had many negative experiences with religious people, but one person in particular, and it’s very vivid in my mind.” And then this woman told her story:
“When I was about 14, I was walking down the street with my girlfriend, holding hands. We stopped and sat down on a curb. We were having a discussion…. I had a really tough upbringing. Some lady came around the corner in a Suburban and was screaming out of her window, ‘You’re going to hell,’ and cursing at us every profanity and got about two inches from us in her Suburban and tried to run me over. ‘F–you’ and ‘You’re disgusting,’ and all these things. ‘You’re going to hell.’”
She continued sharing with a mixture of fear and graciousness:
“I realize it’s a very dramatic example. I feel like even on a much smaller level that most religious people have those thoughts even if they don’t act on them to that extreme. That’s just one example…. My family is all very religious. They think I’m the one who has gone astray, and they keep telling me I’m going to be saved one day. The clouds are going to open up, and I’m going to and my true self. Honestly I will. I appreciate whenever they tell me, ‘I’m praying for you.’ I say, ‘Thank you very much. I need all the prayers I can get.’ I don’t know that I believe in all of that, but it couldn’t hurt.”
Most people would agree that her encounter with a hateful SUV-driving Christian was extreme. But her painful story lets us see beyond our own assumptions into a world where religious people are considered anything but safe.
BAD CHRISTIAN PARENTS
After the focus groups were complete, I spoke with the facilitator, Susan Saurage-Altenloh. I wanted to hear her personal insights on the project. When I asked if anything surprised her, she replied that she was taken aback by the impact of parents on participants’ religious views and feelings. The habits they set in the home deeply and often negatively impacted their children as they grew into adulthood and started having kids of their own. “I wanted to go back and talk to an awful lot of mothers and fathers,” she said. The men and women she talked with “were individuals who were formerly engaged in a relationship with their church or their faith and who had turned away. They might still maintain a spiritual component in their worldview— even appreciating or respecting spiritual considerations—but they have turned away or never been involved with the church because they’re fighting a lot of bad experiences.”
If you’re a Christian reading this, these realizations should make you more compassionate and understanding toward people who display strong and even emotional opposition to Christianity. For some, past experiences have so hurt them that they see the Christian faith as something unhealthy, unwanted, and even evil. As you begin to understand the passion with which some people hold negative views about Christians and Christianity, I invite you to see them through God’s eyes and consider some of the hurt behind their remarks so you can learn to listen differently.
People who have had painful experiences with religion tend to engage on an emotional level, and their pain makes their beliefs highly compelling. Christians who lack firsthand experience of those hurts tend to engage on a philosophical and theoretical level. That doesn’t make their responses untrue, but it often makes them unhelpful because they’re received as devoid of compassion, grace, and love. Worse yet is for a Christian to respond to someone’s objections with anger or offense. That only reinforces a person’s fear and pain. I can tell you that I have been guilty of that, and God has used
Susan’s insight to convict me of that in my own Christian witness. Our goal should be to serve, engage, and endure with the valuable people God has created, meeting their intensity with love. Because you and I both know that God does that with us.
One final remark about this project from a personal perspective: It has been a labor of love amid the demands of being a husband, father, and pastor. But, I believe it was critical, because I have a lot to learn on how to better speak to the real issues of people’s lives and how to help other believers do the same. The questions that drove apologetics in the last century occupy fewer and fewer minds and hearts. If we are answering questions that
people are no longer asking, we are wasting time. We are on mission. We need to come to grips with the fact that we have lost many of the battles of the culture wars. But that’s not a reflection of the power of the Gospel. It’s a call to go back to the heart of Christ and reengage our culture with our feet firmly planted in His grace and truth. Learning how we can better be loving messengers of biblical Christianity is the task before us—and it has eternal implications. The answer isn’t thinking that we have to edit God’s Word in order to truly love people. God commissioned Christians to be His messengers, not His editors. And it’s time for us to start spreading the true and life-giving message of His Word and leave the results in His hands.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
So, what are you going to do now? Our research and my own experience show that the Unchurched and Dechurched have serious and personal problems with Christianity. They certainly take issue with Christians. But they do often have the same hang-ups about Christ. We can get dragged into all kinds of arguments that do not help them interact with Jesus. We can expend all kinds of o -topic energy and still not compel them to consider Jesus. So it is crucial that we distinguish between Christianity and Christians on one hand and Christ on the other. They are not the same thing, and we cannot expect the people we meet to have a firm grasp on any of them. Finally, I’ve undertaken this with the expectation that many readers will be Christians trying to navigate how to live out their faith in a culture that mistrusts and even maligns biblical Christianity. But that doesn’t exclude other readers who might be coming from a different place. As you read this you might be:
If you fall into one of those groups that take issue with Christians and Christianity, I hope you’ve seen by now that my heart is not to attack you or bully you into belief. My hope for you is that you’ll see through the caricature of Christianity through some honest conversations and encounter Jesus Himself.
- a person who is Unchurched or Dechurched
- a Christian with a foot (maybe even two feet) out the door
- a Christian who feels overwhelmed by the objections to your faith and unsure how to respond
- a ministry leader trying to provide helpful answers to real people
- a parent or friend concerned for loved ones and wanting to get a resource like this project and book into their hands
This series of 30 daily devotions are adapted from the first chapters of Pastor Mark Driscoll’s new book “Christians Might Be Crazy” available exclusively at markdriscoll.org for a tax-deductible gift to Mark Driscoll Ministries. For your gift of any amount, we will email you a digital copy of the book (available worldwide) and also send you a paperback copy of the book (U.S. residents only). Pastor Mark also has a corresponding six-part sermon series that you can find for free at markdriscoll.org or on the free Mark Driscoll Ministries app. Thank you in advance for your partnership which helps people learn that It’s All About Jesus! For our monthly partners who give a recurring gift each month, this premium content will be automatically sent.