To My Survivor Friends Who Hate Religion
To my survivor friends who hate religion!
I see your beautiful heart. Every time I talk to you, I am amazed at the resilience and bravery I see in you. I know that I have only seen a glimpse into the hurt that you have experienced. I know that life has been harder on you than on many people. I see the jaded parts of you and I see the defiant spirit too; that refuses to give in and rises stronger every day.
I know when you hear me say that I am a Christian, it causes you to cringe. You expect me to judge you. You think that if I saw half of what you have done, I’d run away in fear and disgust. But that’s not the kind of Christian I am. That’s not the way a lot of us who really know Jesus are.
I am a Christian who has dealt with abuse and I have seen its power to cause people to run from light and hide in corners of hurt and self-protection. I have been afraid of being seen because of all the secrets I was hiding. I know what it is like to lay on the floor sobbing until I couldn’t move because the hurt was so deep that I couldn’t think of a reason to get up and go on.
My story may be mild compared to what you have seen. My story may not relate to you at all. When you hear my story, you may see me as a spoiled clueless middle-class white woman living in a bubble or a weak woman who let religious people shame me for the lamest things. I don’t know if anything I’ve ever experienced really relates to you. But what I do know is God’s healing heart that longs to embrace you and show you just how treasured and adored you are.
That may not be what you’ve heard from religious people who have judged you, but it is completely what Jesus taught.
I imagine that you have experienced religion telling you that your mistakes keep you from God and that you have to get your act together before you can come to him. But that’s not what Jesus taught or modeled with his life. Jesus taught about God loving us and grieving over our sins because they hurt us and keep us from seeing him.
People misuse the Greek word “wrath” when they talk about God. The word actually means “the strong emotion we feel when someone is doing something that hurts themselves or our relationship with them.” It is more how a mom feels when her child is playing in the street and not at all about an angry vindictive God wanting to squish us when we disappoint him. He cares about the sin in our lives because it hurts you and it keeps us from accepting his love for us.
It’s a love that none of us can fully comprehend.
It’s a love that Jesus describes in the book of Luke, when he told us three stories about missing things. In each of these stories, the missing thing represents people who don’t know God and aren’t following him. Each of these stories builds on the other and gives us more insight into God’s incredible heart for you my friend and how he longs to bring healing and hope to your story.
In the first story, Jesus tells of a shepherd who has one hundred sheep but loses one of them. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep who are together and goes after the one sheep who has wandered away. When he finds the missing sheep, he doesn’t scold her and say, “Why did you wander away, I should have let you get eaten by wolves.” He joyfully picks her up and puts her on his shoulders and carries her back home. Then he calls all of his friends and celebrates with them, because he is so happy that he has found her. Jesus says this is the same way the father feels about you, my friend.
He continues to tell another story of a woman who has ten silver coins (which were much more valuable in Jesus’ culture than silver coins today). When the woman lost one of the coins, she lit a lamp and searched feverishly until she finds the missing coin. When she finds it, she calls all of her friends and neighbors to celebrate with her because she is so thrilled that she has found the coin that was missing. This is another amazing glimpse into how much God misses you when you aren’t walking through life with him.
Then, in the final and most beautiful story, Jesus develops a picture of a young man who does everything imaginable in ancient Jewish culture to insult his father. The young man defies convention and asks his father to give him his inheritance while the father is still alive. This was an unheard-of slap in the face to the father. It was if the son were saying, “I wish you were dead because I’d be better off and I can handle things better than you do.”
Then the young man takes his inheritance, which was supposed to be used to further his family’s estate and heritage in Israel, and he takes it to a foreign land where he wastes it all on “wild living”: sinning, breaking the religious rules of his people.
The young man finds himself so bad off that he takes a job feeding pigs (which is a disgusting job in any culture, but for an ancient Jew, it was as rock bottom as you could get. Pigs were unclean animals that Jews were forbidden to eat. Association with them made a Jewish person ceremonially unclean).
This young man was so desperate that he longed to eat the slop that he was feeding to the pigs.
When he finally came to his senses, he realized that even the lowest servants in his father’s house were better off than him. He decided to return home, apologize for all the mistakes he had made, admit that he was no longer worthy to be called a son, and beg his father to take him back as a servant.
For the people in Jesus’ day, the story would have been shocking and the expectation would have been for the son to be punished extremely. Before Roman occupation, a son could be killed for such defiance.
But Jesus tells a different story. I think perhaps the most beautiful words in all of the Bible are “while the son was still a long way off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son…”
Jesus painted a completely different picture of God’s heart for people who aren’t following him. He gave us a beautiful picture of God longing to have a relationship with us. The son was still a long way off! He hadn’t made amends. He was simply on his way home and the father ran to him!!!!
This is the true picture of how God feels about you, my friend! It’s so hard to fathom that those of us who believe it constantly struggle to live it out for ourselves and towards others, but it is what Jesus taught!
The story continues and to say that the father embraced the young man and kissed him.
The young man was fully aware of all the wrong things he had done and he said to the father, “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But, the father completely restored the son to the position he was meant to be in. The father had his servants honor the son by putting the best robe on him. He gave his son a ring that showed his position of authority in the family and he put sandals on him which showed that he was not a servant.
Then the father had a huge celebration with his friends and neighbors to rejoice over his son coming home.
And that is how God sees you! Yes, he is hurt over the sin in your life because he loves you and wants the best for you. When he looks at you, he sees his beloved daughter. He wants you to know who you are. He wants to restore you to your position as his child with the full authority and honor that comes along with that.
That is the God I follow and he misses you.
Blessings my friend!