On those who have walked away

In the last few weeks, I heard news stories indicating that two well known and highly visible Christian figures have announced that they have in some measure walked away from their faith in Christ.

That anyone would walk away saddens me and has caused me to think about a proper response. For what it’s worth, my train of thought is outlined below.

These defections highlight the need for the church to be honest and open about the difficulties in applying Scripture to the world around us. There are things that we struggle to understand. But, in some segments of the church, raising honest and valid questions is discouraged.

Two categories of such questions come to mind.

The first category contains questions that are inherently difficult because we are finite creatures trying to comprehend the infinite. The question, “how can a loving and all powerful God allow evil in the world?” is a question that falls into this category. The question can be answered, but not simply. And we need to acknowledge the difficulties surrounding it. The questions in this category are difficult because the answers are nuanced and hard to understand.

The second category of questions are those that are difficult because they are counter cultural and offend our sensibilities. An example of a question in this category could be, “How can we accept Biblical teaching on marriage and the family in light of the way western culture is moving?” This question is not difficult because what the Bible says is hard to understand, it is difficult because it is hard to accept.

It should not surprise us that prominent people struggle in their faith. And in our everything-in-the-open social media culture, word gets out very quickly when popular people announce their struggles.

So how should the church respond to those who walk, or are walking, away?

First, keep in mind that the story is not over. Looking at many of the heroes of the Bible, we might question their hero status based on a snapshot taken during one of their periods of failure. God has not stopped working and prodigals are welcome to return.

Second, in light of the potential return of the prodigal, it would be wise to continue praying for those who seem to have walked, or are walking, away.

Third, Jesus warned us that there would be tares among the wheat so we should not be surprised if some (even in leadership) declare themselves to no longer orthodox in their belief.

I mention the third thought reluctantly because too often someone who expresses doubt is written off as not ever having been in the faith. Caution is required because only God and the person know if he is in the faith.

Honesty demands that we admit our struggles to work out our own faith. Real faith is at times a gritty mess and we all face difficulties in our beliefs. My experience is that God remains faithful even when we are faithless, as Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:13.

Feeling doubt and even expressing doubt does not automatically disqualify someone from being relationship with God. If it did, the number of believers would be really, really small.

What do you think? I’d love to have you express your thoughts in the comment form below.