Sometimes somebody gives you a book at a time that when they think that it would be very beneficial to you for that part of your life, and while you read it, and appreciate it, in a way you simply do not get it. However, years later, you pick the book up again, and while what is said in this book may sink in a bit, the theoretical knowledge that is conveyed does sink in, and hopefully, with that theoretical knowledge, the practical applications of the book will begin to work itself out. This, I have to say, is one of those books.
Years ago, when I have become despondent with the church that I was attending and had sunk back in to a drug addicted life style, and would rage about how unfair people were and how unfair my church had been, a friend of mine gave me this book, and I read it, and I liked it, but in a way, I simply did not get it. Okay, what I did appreciate at the time, and still do, is that Yancey talks about real people in real situations as they struggle with life and with God. Yancey himself is an evangelical Christian, but he simply does not write like your typical, everyday, evangelical Christian. He is against abortion and he believes that the homosexual lifestyle is not the life style that the bible condones but through his writings you come to understand that he does not condemn people for these things and indicates that despite the fact that they have sinned, or even continue to sin, there is still hope.
Okay, a part of me wants to say that we have here a guy who appears to have lived a pretty charmed life, is a successful author, has lots of friends, is invited to meet with the president of the United States, and looks like this (I didn't know he had an afro):
What does he know about what it is like to live in this world? Sure, he meets with the down and out, but unlike them, he gets to go back to his loving family and his nice house where he has food on the table. The fact that he is a best selling author, and the fact that he can afford to give bucket loads of money to various charities makes me wonder if he really actually knows what it is like to struggle. However, despite the fact that he openly admits that he receives truck loads of hate mail from one-eyed Christians whose only concern is to impose a theocratic state where they dictate the behaviour of everybody, for me to go down that road will simply demonstrate that not only have I learnt nothing from this book, but also that I am no better that those one-eyed Christians that really do not understand the nature of grace and the nature of forgiveness.
The book is about grace and it is about how the world in which we live is a world of ungrace and that only thing that sets Christianity apart from all the other religions is the act of grace. The truth is that without grace, Jesus would be no different from the many other incarnate gods that had visited the Earth over the millennia, and without grace, the resurrection would be no different to the many other resurrections that dot our religious history. It is the fact that God came to Earth in the form of Christ, ate and drank with the lost and the forgotten, and then willingly gave up his life so that everybody may have the opportunity of becoming right with God.
One thing that I got from this book is about how a lot of Christians have walked away from the church (in the same way that I have done in the past) because of the perceived lack of grace, only to discover that the world outside is even worse. I can personally attest to the fact that being a part of a church is not a pleasant experience at times, and some of us are in the situation where there is no real alternative. I would probably beg to differ with regards to Adelaide, but when you go to a church for so long and you receive the teaching that they are the only real church in Adelaide that teaches the Bible, then you begin to feel imprisoned. Simply walking out of the church to find a new one becomes a really difficult task.
I personally have questioned why the church fails to discipline its members, and why it seems that I am being pulled up for minor infractions while others are running around full of pride and bullying those around them. This sad truth is that any institutional organisation will attract those who hunger for power. I also have questioned why it is that when the church claims to have community that the only time the community seems to exist is on a Sunday morning (or night) and that as soon as you walk out of those doors you are forgotten for the week. The thing is that this is a sad fact of life, however the problem is that if we resent them for it, and let our anger and hate rise up we only end up destroying ourselves.
Granted, I have, and still hold to the fact that many churches, even evangelical churches, have a desire to control and manipulate its congregations, but the sad truth is that this institution is probably the best institution that you are going to find this side of the restoration. The trick is to remember that you are a beloved child of God, and not let those around you dictate your relationship with God. The thing is that the spirit of God will work in you, and as you grow, you will come to understand things more and more, however to hold grudges, to rage with anger and hate, simply helps nobody. One should not respond to hate with hate but to hate with love.
There are people at the church that have big mouths, and there are people at the church that try to dictate and determine who you are and what your destiny is. There are those who are so drunk with power that they try to squash, destroy, and ridicule anything you say and do. However, there is always the temptation to blame God for these people. Why is it that this organisation, this institution, that is supposed to be full of the spirit of God, seems to lack the very characteristics that defined who Jesus was and who his followers were. Why is it that in many cases, even inside the church, you are still very much on your own. These questions, and these problems, are not going to be solved overnight, and nevertheless, may not even be able to be solved by one person, however the one characteristic that we can show, and that we can display, is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not easy. To forgive makes one vulnerable, opens one up to abuse and ridicule. Indeed, sometimes to forgive makes one appear to be a fool. Personally, I believe that there is a fine line between not letting yourself be ripped off and pushed around, and letting anger and hatred fuel up inside of you. If a person shows that their character is of a certain type, then I am still inclined to say that one should be wary of them, and one should be aware that they behave like this. It can be difficult though, to love and not a trust, but I do not believe that love and blind trust are the same thing. Love is hold out that hand to help them up when they have fallen down, but it is also saying no when they ask if they can borrow your car, knowing full well that they will, in all probability, bring it back in pieces. Love is giving somebody a place to stay when they have nowhere else to go, but saying no when they ask you for $500.00, knowing full well that it is going to be used to fuel a gambling addiction. However love is also acknowledging somebody and welcoming them back despite the fact that they have hurt you, abused you, and have shown no sign of remorse.
This thing is that I can't necessarily say that I am that perfect person. There are people back in Adelaide that have hurt me significantly, and a part of me still feels that pain. It is easy to say 'don't let the past drag you down,' but it is hard to actually put it from your mind when you had been criticised, condemned, mocked, and looked down upon. It is hard to look these people up again and say 'hi, I'm in town and I thought that I might drop by and say hello.' It can even be humiliating when they look you up and all you can say to them is that your eight years at university has basically got you a job in a glorified call centre earning minimum wage. However, sometimes it does take the tough actions to make the first move to heal a rift and to take that step to make the world a better place to live.