Pilgrim’s Perils: Musings on Deconstruction

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Deconstruction is a loaded, yet deceptively calm, word for the shattering spiritual reality it equates to. I’ve seen this topic exhausted in recent weeks, but I have been reflecting and ruminating on this, even before Josh Harris’ news broke across the Christian sphere. It’s sad and disheartening to see, but his story is no more shocking or less heartbreaking than any other Christian I know who has walked away. His faith may have seemed more sure, because of his stature or his wisdom or his conviction in speaking gospel truth, so his abandonment shakes us more. But in the end, he is a man and a sinner. The church today is (rightfully) shocked and hurt when another pastor falls to adultery or scandal. But remember that the great men of God did not have squeaky clean records, even after they had demonstrated genuine faith: David was an adulterer and murderer, and Solomon had a harem of women along with their idols. Still, David was called a “man after God’s own heart” and Solomon wrote books of Spirit-inspired wisdom. This isn’t to soften anyone’s sin, but to remind us that we cannot stake our faith in any man, and God can use any wretched sinner.

I know no one’s heart but my own, and even then, I know how easy it is to self-deceive. But I dare say the line between faith and apostasy is perilously thin – some of us, perhaps more introspective or sensitive, feel it more keenly. Slip, slide, party a few weeks away, and we feel far off the beaten path. It is the sheer grace of God that keeps any of us. Here is another one of the great tensions in the Christian life: to take care and examine ourselves & to rest in the assurance that Christ loses none of His own.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)

&

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)

Then, why do some walk away? I have seen 1 John 2:19 deployed, sometimes coldly, in the face of deconversion. It is a true verse, first because it’s God’s Word, and it’s reality is evidenced in the world. There are plenty of wolves in sheep’s clothing. But I trust there are also many who, as sincerely as they can tell, believed in Christ at one point and stopped at another. Were they self-deceived? Will they come back one day? All I know is that there is hope while life endures. God knows the truth of every heart and judges righteously. Solomon did his share of wandering and returned in old age to write Ecclesiastes.

These are just some personal musings on the perils of the pilgrim’s journey. 

Is it the warmth of friendship with the world? Not the cruel, bullet-ridden and bloody face of it, but the sound of social justice marching down our streets and knocking on church doors. How we crave the praise of man, and no people-pleaser ever wanted to live on the wrong side of history. John Lennon’s words in Imagine sound like a balm for today’s divisive rhetoric: no heaven, no hell, and a brotherhood of man.

Or a knife in the back from a Christian who treated you far worse than any of your so-called pagan friends? At least they have never worn the mask of holiness over a heart of hypocrisy.

Or a man who won you over with his love, though he loved not Christ? Surely, you could still press onward to the prize. Surely, you will change him, and not the other way around.

Did suffering slash into your life without warning, and your old theology felt like the house on sand, washed away in agony? Everyone quotes Job, but words don’t stop the pain. You would rather have relief than answers, but God is silent in both.

Did Scripture seem foolish in science class or rudimentary in philosophy? Supposedly, they are blinded by sin and unable to believe, but they seem like the enlightened ones. You don’t want to be the butt of their jokes, or the lone defender of Scripture every time.

Or the mindless cycle of work, parties, gym, rinse and repeat, simply (and devilishly smoothly) made you forget? An empty life can feel good when it forgets about the emptiness.

Maybe the endless immersion in Christian activities and service ballooned in your life, and the cost was quietly sitting at the foot of the cross. How frightening to be close to Christian things and far from Christ.

I’m not enumerating an exhaustive list, or suggesting any singular reason causes someone to walk away. These are just some of the things I’ve observed, and most I have felt the alluring tug of to some degree, in my own life.

We are a people always and desperately seeking to answer the Why? When an awful shooting happens, we need to understand the motives. We always assume there is one. There is some confluence of psychological and circumstantial reasons as to why people do what they do.

In the end, we are limited in what we can determine. I believe there is validity in some analyses of people who abandon their faith in patterns, attitudes, or influences in their life. But we cannot see into another person’s heart of hearts. There are telltale signs in the fruit they bear and the conduct of their life, but that is the extent of human measure we have. We coin words like “deconstruction” and “deconversion,” because on a horizontal level, that is how we’re able to describe the phenomenon we see. We don’t know the authenticity of every apparent conversion, or the true end of anyone’s story.

The watching world may use stories of deconversion to scoff at Christianity, that Christians who are “in deep” can “wake up” and free themselves from bondage to religion. The reality is, testimonies are powerful both ways – those who come to faith, and those who walk out of it. But we do not stake our faith in any person’s story, but the finished work of Christ. There is no true freedom outside of it. We all adhere to some authority, we all worship something, we all construct a worldview to live by after deconstructing another one. Let us not fall for the arrogance of our culture: it crowns the Self as the supreme authority on morality and truth, and cloaks that in a guise of humility and tolerance.

For Christians, I hope the shockwave of public deconstructions is the impetus for critically examining our own hearts. As the Psalmist cried, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24) That is a scary prayer for any sinner to pray.

But thanks be to God, that even as we see the wickedness and wandering of our own hearts, Jesus promises that He does not lose any of His own. We must be steadfast in our faith, but He is the one who holds us fast.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 20-25)

 

As I said, I’ve seen this topic exhausted in recent weeks by many writers. If you happen to be here reading, I should point you to a few others who wrote insightfully on this, from a couple of different angles.

Faith Without Sight is the Only Kind There Is at Sayable
An Open Letter to Someone Considering Renouncing Their Faith by Brad Hambrick
How Not to Fall Away at Reformation21
On Caution and Keeping: Friends Reflect on Joshua Harris’ Deconversion at The Gospel Coalition

 

Photo by Timothy Meinberg on Unsplash

The Truth About Your Fairytale

Yesterday, you told me about a boy who wears a crooked grin and plays with hearts like they’re poker cards. We sat in a rundown coffee shop, our piping hot cappuccinos blowing smoke into your tired eyes. Like Han Solo, you said, and a ghost of a smile reached your lips. I wasn’t sure if it came from a memory or the knowledge that I’d appreciate the reference.

I’m sorry, I said, before you even told me the story. Because you are like me—not a Princess Leia, who looks stunning in white and inspires men to die for good causes. No, we are Meg Ryan from Sleepless in Seattle, closet romantics until our idealism gets stomped all over. We are the ones who believe in soulmates, first love, and forever. We are from a generation raised on a diet of fairytales, and the first broken heart we meet is our own.

Yesterday, I told you about a boy whose antics could put Nora Ephron to shame. He wasted gas, sleep, and dreams on me. He made August nights perpetually sound like Ed Sheeran and my apartment smell like Calvin Klein. But it’s not like the books, I murmured. The sweetness comes with scars, and the idea of having eternity in one moment is a myth. If we could, why do we always want more? How absurdly helpless we are to squeeze the infinite into a flickering breath.

Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Yes, you whispered, adamant, but I know that’s your romanticism battling down your grief. That was always my response too—almost born more out of principle than conviction. Almost, but not quite. Because I think I would have loved him anyway, knowing it would end. I might have judged you, but for that realization, I ached with you instead. We are all fools in love, I offered, drawing upon the inimitable wisdom of Jane Austen.

Young, innocent, and a little heartbroken: it makes a cocktail of daring and desperation.

Yesterday, you told me you were waiting. Waiting for the pain to pass, waiting to be the Cinderella in your fairytale. Waiting for the one who would sweep in and make all the past a distant thing. It’s like I’m holding onto a single glass slipper, waiting for someone to knock on my door with the other one. I don’t know if he’s lost, stuck in traffic, or nonexistent. We laughed, and sometimes I think that is our greatest answer to agony.

The coffee burned in my throat going down. I don’t think he’s coming, I said.

Perhaps it is better to have loved and lost, but it is best to love and never lose. I think that’s what we’re made for, and that’s what our fairytales are grasping for. We are not created for tragic romances and hurting hearts. Romeo and Juliet sagas romanticize a broken reality, but Cinderella stories reach for Eden-like eternity. We don’t have the words that follow happily ever after because we haven’t lived that tale yet.

Someone who will cover all your scars and never leave you with another one—he isn’t coming.

He’s been knocking on your door for a long time already.