I’ve been moving house for the past few weeks, and part of that enormously intensive project is dealing with my collection of books. As many of you must also feel, I am emotionally connected to my books because I have memories, experiences, and much of my past life wrapped up in their pages.
One of these volumes from my past is the only devotional I truly enjoyed as a Christian: My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers (1874-1917). I wasn’t one for fill-in-the-blank Bible studies with banal questions and cookie-cutter insights. Chambers seemed challenging to me at the time because he wasn’t part of the current generation; his thoughts (though nebulous at times and without organization) weren’t bogged down by current culture and the trends of the most modern Christian movements.
So, in a nostalgic tribute to this former chaplain and my former life, I’d like to quote two passages I used to agree with and now critique.
December 19, The Focus of Our Message
“I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)
“If a person cannot go to God, it is because he has something secret [sin] which he does not intend to give up. We must reach down deep in their lives to the root of the problem, which will cause hostility and resentment towards the message.”
I used to think: Non-Christians didn’t believe because they just wanted to sin, and following God meant one had to stop doing certain things one enjoyed. In order to reach the rebellious lost sheep, I needed to get into the business and intimate issues of someone’s life, even if they wanted to be left alone.
Now i think: The hostility is created because we are told we must go under extreme “treatment” for a disease that doesn’t exist (sin). There are many reasons why people lack belief in the Christian God. It’s childish to play the “if I have to give up ___ then she does too!” whiny card when clearly we do not believe in the same authorities and standards.
January 7, Intimate with Jesus
“Jesus said unto him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known me, Philip?'” (Matthew 10:34)
Once we get intimate with Jesus we are never lonely and we never lack for understanding or compassion.
I used to think: This promised closeness was what motivated me to try and be a better Christian. Every time I would feel peaceful in life, I would think I was especially close to Jesus. But when things got rough–and they always did–I would doubt myself and be disappointed that I had fallen away yet again. the cycle would continue and the roller coaster of my spiritual walk would rattle on.
Now i think: This idea of perfect compassion and understanding is sweet, but unrealistic. One could hope for it forever. We can’t attain these qualities outside of ourselves; we can only try to grow into better human beings as we are. I think this perceived “spiritual intimacy” is as internally based as any other emotional response. That doesn’t mean the peace one feels isn’t real, because it’s experienced like any peace. I do not believe that being close with Jesus gives us these idealistic experiences. Unfortunately for Christians, the loneliness will return, and we will lack in compassion. This is because we are humans dealing with humans. There is no need to feel disappointed in yourself for being so.
See also: Separation from God: It’s your fault