Forty is a magical year for humans. It’s the stereotypical year that many humans experience a sudden flash of enlightenment regarding the previous years and, upon such enlightening, either regress into an embarrassing replay of adolescent fantasies in broad daylight or, magically, feel like an adult, gaining wisdom and understanding about themselves, their limited world, and their own beliefs. Or they might proceed in complete denial that they in some way contributed to the visible wake slicing watery impressions behind them, unchanged.
Well, I can’t recall who said it now, but the debatable fact that no one should publish their writings until after the age of 40, seems less debatable when examining it from the rearview: I would tend to agree now.
Just like the Israelites walking around the same mountain in the wilderness for 40 years, we all prove stubborn in our flesh. There are some things we just won’t believe until we prove them to ourselves… or lightening bolts from heaven prove them for us.
This is where the tender mercies, compassionate touch, and the extravagant patience of our Father in heaven proves His great wisdom and understanding of humanity. Not every disbelief is rebellion-at-heart; sometimes, it’s just great ignorance…
And, as the human race, we all bear our moments of ignorance.
“Belief makes things real,” crooned Gavin DeGraw in his album, Chariot, and there is a great deal of truth in that even when it isn’t true…
Wheatberry. I can still feel its rolled firmness between bites of the perfectly glutenous bread I ate in my twenties, accompanied by large glasses of 2% milk…
Chicken quesadillas, fried and slathered in cheese dip like only the local Mexican restaurant could deliver, accompanied by large glasses of perfectly syrupy-sweet iced tea…
Chinese to-go orders. Generals Fried and Spicy, please… and do you have their sidekick, Sweet Tea?
Spaghetti, Alfredo, and homemade chicken quesadillas on rotation and repeat…
Weekly salads drenched in ranch dressing; hibachi chicken drenched in that pink stuff; and how can you live in South Carolina and be a proper southerner without eating Zaxby’s? Never has any company so nefariously devised the supreme fat-to-salt-to-carb-to-protein mixture as in one of their chicken baskets with genuine Texas toast (a menu item no one in the Midwest seems to understand, le sigh)…
But I would have told you I ate ‘healthy’. I would have told you that because I wholly, however ignorantly, believed it!
It was wheat bread, after all…
And how could so many celebrities be wrong about milk?
Cheese was a great source of protein, and I didn’t eat out every day. Besides, I ordered salads often enough when my friends were ordering steaks and ribs and other things I knew would kill them (eventually).
And I took very high doses of vitamin C and E, and I took my colloidal silver for a time…
How could my diet not be healthy? McDonald’s was considered a treacherous splurge I only indulged once a year (and eventually weaned myself from completely), and my friends sure didn’t seem to mind eating fake chicken nuggets and pink-slime-meat far more frequently.
I was doing better than them, right?
We do not have the audacity to put ourselves in the same class or compare ourselves with some who [supply testimonials to] commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they lack wisdom and behave like fools.2 Corinthians 10:12 [AMP]
(Ah, nothing like the Amplified Bible to make things clear… and painful. No, the context of this scripture is not McDonald’s, but it’s still apt commentary in general.)
I know what some of you are thinking: You’re thinking I just lacked the proper nutritional education, but not so. I was well-read, in college, and my mother had gone through a very stringent health food phase when I was a kid; I knew what was what, for my part. So, what on earth was going on in my brain?
Denial. Plain and simple. It’s easy enough to read now.
(40-year-old magic: Ta-da.)
Curious about this or that food, vitamin, or health issue, I would pull up Livestrong.com articles and absorb all I could. These articles, along with others, always pictured the most picturesque of healthy diets: A piece of toast with an avocado spread topped with a slice of fruit, grapefruit and cottage cheese, or a handful of nuts —
Who eats just a handful of nuts? And blanched almonds at that!
Ew. I’ll say it again: EW.
No salt? No sugar? How do people live like that?
I even once ranted about how a 2-TBSP serving size for syrup was absurd… bless my little naive, diabetes-free heart.
Clearly, my mind reasoned, these articles and health gurus are showing me the ideal but not the reality. I didn’t know anyone that ate like that… or I wasn’t sure that I did anyway. It certainly wasn’t ‘normal’.
Did you catch my environmental situation?
—–> I didn’t know anyone who ate like that. <—–
So, rather than taking the truth of what was being told and shown me in these articles, I based ‘reality’ on what I saw in the people from my general social group. If I perceived everyone in that group as eating far less healthy than I, then it would stand to reason that I would perceive myself as eating far healthier — whether that was objective truth.
I literally could not accept that these mythical people who only ate avocado toast really existed (that was a later Millennial phenomenon I wouldn’t see in prevalent existence, and on many menus, until my 30s…lol). My own thought and feeling at the time on this subject would have been, Impossible —
That’s not reality.
That’s not possible.
And yet… I have known many since who indeed eat this way, far healthier than I.
You know what this reminds me of? — This reminds me of the response I used to get from peers in my youth about cussing. I didn’t cuss. They didn’t believe me because they didn’t believe that was possible. Their belief was as alien to me as mine was to them. I didn’t cuss, and they couldn’t understand that any more than I could understand their incessant seeming need to hurl those needless projectiles from their mouths.
As I was in denial about what went into my mouth, they were in denial about what came out of their mouths.
What an impasse!
Perimeters of Possibilities
Since then, I’ve noted this same phenomenon between some who are Christians and some who are unbelieving. Some who are shown pictures or articles concerning Christian belief, lifestyle, and practice, no doubt think to themselves: That’s not possible; that’s not reality.
And how can the compassions of God not be stirred up when meeting such disbelief?
For what it’s worth, sociology studies did help put into perspective one thing for me: The environments, the ‘norms’, with which we are raised greatly effect what we believe to be possible or impossible in life, real or imagined, whether based on truth or rooted in superstition. In terms of environment (our surroundings) and nurturing (how we were raised relationally), we do not all begin at the same starting line… and many of our hard-nosed judgements against others (both from the believing and the disbelieving) stem from ignorance of this fact. We assume everyone understands what we didn’t say when we say what we say.
Here are a few non-religious examples of what I mean:
Some believe you cannot be a hard-working American with a job AND on welfare; I would tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about and should get to know people from other social classes living in other regions of the U.S. than themselves before engaging the infamous rudder (James 3). Our society (intentionally or unintentionally) punishes stay-at-home moms and one-person incomes, but should we reinforce that punishment with our poor opinions of the families who opt for that hard way too?
There are some black youth who believe that white women aren’t only the standard of beauty but that white women must also believe this about themselves (that they are indeed the standard). This was a heartbreaking (false) belief that appeared as a wall between me and some of the children in my care at a residential facility.
It took time and care to dissolve such things, to prove beyond words the truth: “No, sweet girl; that’s what the world told you to believe in a thousand advertisements and product-sales, but it is not what I believe.” (I am thankful to see at least this illusion being laid to rest, though I am disheartened by the lies some have chosen to replace it. Why does one have to be superior to the other? God made the human race like the colors of earth; they each have their benefits.)
Now, let’s return to Christianity:
How many times has belief in God been suspended on the face of the accusation, “Christians sin too!” This great farce of equalization means to say, “It’s impossible for you to be all the things you claim I have to be, so I don’t believe you, hypocrite.”
But let’s step back for a moment and think of the examples potentially absent from their lives and all-too-present Christians (true or false) in the headlines. If your only experience with Christianity is what the media or textbooks portray, that will paint a very different ‘reality’ than if you grew up with Christian parents in a reasonably peaceful home without abuses under good teaching. If your only example of a Christian was an adolescent girl who slammed a door in your face for cussing, well, that’s going to leave a mark. Likewise, if your only example was an angry, abusive ‘Christian’ home, that too will distort the truth.
For some of us, consideration of such things is rare and hard to imagine at times. Some of us grew up in church and have never had any meaningful relationships outside of that blessed body. Our best and worst times are there; our firsts and lasts are there; our hearts and desires are there. Learning about God was not a hardship but a joy. Getting to know God through the book He left for us was not a heavy task but an adventurous and exciting journey. Sure, there were rules we didn’t always understand and imperfect guardians of the Gospel attending our souls; nevertheless, some of us still have a more favorable impression of these things than what we imagine a life outside of them could have been… as some people have favorable impressions of bar-hopping (though that sounds perfectly miserable to me).
We all go through hard times. We are all mistreated by someone — within or outside of ‘organized religion’ or institutions. Well, as someone I once knew often said, “You’re pained if you do and you’re pained if you don’t.” We all experience a mortal existence here, rife with challenge… only some of us can’t imagine facing those challenges without Christ. Despite the popular tune’s proud boast, there are some things a beer cannot fix. (Many things, actually.)
Anyhow, in light of such disparities, how can impatient arguments in quippy meme form win over the soul who only reads the scandalous headlines, attends church on Easter, but otherwise believes that fanatics like myself are simply brainwashed, ignorant, or lying to themselves? As I tried to imagine the ideal, clean diet and couldn’t reconcile it with my ‘reality’ — I couldn’t even accept such a lifestyle as believable — so too the world read our words but cannot understand our lives as a Christian.
Sometimes, we don’t help ourselves. We say to the world, as to an addict, “You must give that up” — everything you think makes life manageable, pleasurable, and fun. What aid have we given them to do so — a form of religion without power, perhaps (2 Tim. 3:5)? The broken man can’t even make it to work on time, won’t quit his vices even for the sake of his children, or speak honestly; he feels the weight of his own self-destruction pushing him down, nearer the ground, and we might as well have said, “You should grow wings and fly.” For that is the interpretation he hears through the filter of his own environment and experiences:
I speak less of the rebellious here and more of the despairing ignorance of souls. I just want that to be clear. (I realize this is a limited scope, though I am not remaking the wheel here: Paul would have simply said that the god of this world has blinded their eyes…)
So too, we must alway permit the sovereignty of God’s discernment concerning all souls. We are not capable judges of mankind’s deceptive hearts, but He is.
We all have blindspots. Perhaps, that is to keep us humble.
Debtors to God
“And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”Jonah 4:11
Salvation did not originate with us, we were not healed by our own stripes and blood, and we have not gained anything from Christianity that the Good Lord didn’t give to us.
Jonah was angry with God for sparing the people of Nineveh because they repented after hearing Jonah’s words. Think of that! Too many in Christian circles are of this same spirit today — a little too delighted at the prospect of some peoples, nations, religious sects, or lost sheep’s destruction.
Where are the weeping saints? Where are the people of the Savior’s heart — our Savior who said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”? Where are the prophets who rend their garments in agony (rather than parading themselves like lords) and plead with fasting and prayer on behalf of the lost sheet, the lost house, the wayward sons? Where are the daughters of God, who while serving a godless master, seek to do him good by saying, Master, there is a prophet in the house of Israel, a God who can heal – (2 Kings 5)? Where is the patience of the fruit of the Spirit?
We all have ‘skin in the game’, so to speak.
Our beliefs are on trial in this world. Our reasons and reasoning challenged. Our pride, perhaps a reputation, is at stake. Some of us have years, decades, invested. And we all share space. Online or offline, in the marketplace, in the laws of the land, we are all constrained or liberated, punished or rewarded, upheld as the ideal or silenced as the rebellious, judged as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ — sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly.
But all of us, every last one, are debtors to God. When we lose sight of that, we lose sight of God’s desire for mercy.
The Parched Environment
This is not an argument for tolerating blatant sin in the Church, any more than it is an argument for telling lost sheep that ‘it’s all good’ because following the Shepherd is an unrealistic expectation for sheep; neither would be Biblically supported. This is merely a reminder, for the saints, and an argument for patience, compassion, and, when possible, for discernment between what is rebellion and what is ignorance.
Today, many grow up in a parched environment, never hearing the Word of God in purity (even some in church), ever-doubtful of people’s motives, knowing only the abuses or judgements or equalizing compromises, and without personal likenesses of modern day Paul’s and Timothy’s to draw from. Like none. 0.
As with all spiritual battles, these won’t be won over by physical means. (And just like a virus, all of our battles are the product of a spiritual unseen war.)
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.1 Thessalonians 1:5
Some don’t know, have never known, and will not know such examples of faith unless we, the faithful, remain among them and go to them, enduring in patience…
Have you ever read one of those rare news clips or heard personal testimony of that rare bird who shares the Gospel with their tormentor, kidnapper, or mugger on the spot? Or the legends of young lambs who forgive their murderers before they are killed (the murderer, later repentant, recounting it)?
These are hard things, saints. They are hard to hear and hard to imagine and hard to bear. But they are the ways of a compassionate, patient God — a God who has not asked you to call fire down from heaven upon the heathens, as the disciples once wished to do, but who has given you instead the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn in your hearts, provide comfort, and grant discernment (to know what to do or say) in times of great chaos, confusion, and difficulty.
When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.Matthew 10:19
…and in every situation, for every person, if we ask Him.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.2 Peter 3:9
Perhaps, like me, you’ve been too eager to call down fire from heaven to consume your enemies. With me, then, let’s repent… and remember the great compassion our Father in heaven has shown to us (on multiple occasions!). He has shown great patience with His creation since the flood, and He still hangs rainbows in the sky. So let’s be like our Father in heaven and ask God for this dear gift — the fruit of His Spirit to endure a little while longer with the heartaches and failures of mankind in compassion.
The day of the Lord will come… and we want all who will repent on the winning side. Don’t we?