The other day I pretended I had cancer. I don’t do this a lot. Tuesdays are typically not Cancer Day (that’s Ebola Virus Day).
I went through my phone to see who I could call about it. Out of so many numbers, I came up with just a few names. Everyone else: too dramatic, critical, self-centered, unhelpful, unpleasant. Maybe I was being harsh. But still, no thanks.
I imagined other scenarios. God forbid I had just cheated on my future wife, let’s say. Or caught with porn at church. My future kids run away from home. Unforeseen debt. Got into a fight at the bowling alley. Wife miscarries. Doubting God again. Miserable about family, life, faith. Wanting to quit ministry.
Again: only a few names from the phone. Everyone else: too judgmental, snappy, quick to fix, short tempered, too religious. Was I being just as critical?
But an even weirder, troubling truth was that I felt safer talking to non-believers like my mom and brother instead of good old-fashioned church people. Because they wouldn’t be so fast to throw a Bible at me, or spiritualize everything, or connect it to the mysterious sovereignty of God.
I was sure they’d talk to me like a human being, with grace and dignity, capable of seeing past my poor choices.
No, they couldn’t offer Bible verses or Christ-centered counsel. But they wouldn’t look at me like some anecdotal success-story waiting to happen. Not just some damn discipleship project they could brag about at church like God would turn it around by the end of the episode.
And I knew then that something was wrong with this.
We so easily approach people with the objective of religious transaction instead of seeing them as living, breathing, love-stripped people. That’s our relational quandary. If you look through your phone while pretending you just got shot in an alley, you can almost see the lines drawn in the sand.
You’ll also know if you’re the guy that no one would call. Some of you wouldn’t even call yourself.
Unfortunately we go to God the same way, thinking He’s just as judgmental. Many of us treat Him like a commodity of exchange where our performance buys Him closer or buys Him away, instead of seeing God as our Perfect Pastor, our Friend, our King.
Do that long enough and we’ll base God on our achievement or lack of it — which is ridiculous — and then we’ll falsely believe He’s like everyone else.
Jesus isn’t like your critical religious buddy. He’s heard it all, seen it all, and had the worst of all done to him, yet still loves us like crazy. He loves us during crazy. If you put God in the same box as the number you can’t call, you’re losing out on the Only Love who can comfort you in that circumstance and who can call you out of that sin.
He’s the true confidante. Where you are, he’s already been.
Is it no wonder we float to those Christians who have gone through some hard things, feel half-embarrassed to share them, and hold earnestly and innocently to God’s Word without making it an exegetical study?
I’m trying to get why a non-believer gets this. Maybe because they live with both feet on the ground. Maybe they relate more to the human condition. There’s no pretension, no condescension, no smug superiority. Maybe they just love better. Even if they have no direction in the end, they totally keep it real upfront. And of course, they haven’t been tarnished by all kinds of false holiness and church-driven maintenance.
They are more like Jesus than they know.
I know: If I really got cancer, it’s not about me, it’s still about God. All the listening ears in the world won’t do much by themselves. But if your friend did get cancer, or the Ebola Virus, or got shot in the street, what’s the first thing you say? Do you climb on a spiritual mountain and declare God’s Will, as if you knew it was? Do we Fix-It-With-Bible by dropping Proverbs and prayer and pastoral intercession? Is your friend just a sermon illustration or blog post in the making? Do you even care what’s happening to them when it happens?
If you’re like Jesus, you’ll love and listen first. If you’re not, don’t expect many phone calls. And if your friend does get judgmental on you, we can’t be so quick to cut them off. Demand their understanding. You might be their wake-up call from religion to restoration. Help a brother out.