Many of us have been wounded by organized religion. Many of us have been hurt, insulted and offended by the Christian church. And as a result, many of us carry bitterness toward pastors, elders, bible study leaders and other fellow Christians. I count myself among those who have spent the past several months angry with God, largely because I am angry with His people.
In the midst of my depression, my most recent bible study leader told me that she wasn’t sure I was really a Christian. “You have a lot of head knowledge about God, but you don’t seem to have ‘heart’ knowledge. If you really believed that God is good and sovereign like you claim to believe, you wouldn’t still be depressed.” Psalm 42, lady. Our emotions don’t always follow the rationale of our minds.
And then there are those Christians who try to guilt you into changing your attitude (you think I want to feel this way?) by asking you in a sickeningly sweet and often condescending voice, “Aurora, what would Jesus do?” Clearly they have forgotten that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.
Past church leadership wouldn’t allow me to sing in the choir because I hadn’t been baptized by immersion as an adult. After confirming that they don’t believe baptism is necessary for salvation, I retorted, “So I can be a member of the Kingdom of Heaven but not a member of your church choir?” They had no response, but I still wasn’t permitted to participate.
Since my broken engagement, I have visited three different churches. One was comprised almost exclusively of married couples. One had the compassionless bible study leader mentioned above. And at the third, I was invisible; no one noticed if I came or not on a given Sunday. So I have largely stopped going to church. I know deep down that it’s not a long term solution, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to suffer the throes of organized religion again just yet.
As hurtful as the church can be, I know that staying away because I’ve been hurt is a false excuse because people are messy, and pain is inevitable. Churches are filled with sinful, fallen, broken people because we are all sinful, fallen, broken people. The very message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that you don’t have to clean yourself up before you come to Him; He meets us right where we are, in the midst of all our mess.
I believe that we were created for fellowship. I believe that Satan wants to isolate us. I believe that lies become louder and bitterness becomes more deeply entrenched the longer we withdraw from community. So I have known all along that I would return to church services someday. I have just been taking my time, nursing my wounds. And today, God sent someone to tap me on the shoulder, saying it’s time to get involved again. I know it was God tapping me on the shoulder, because it was a Muslim inviting me to a Christian church.
Alim was born in Iran (no surprise, given that I am a Middle Eastern magnet) and moved to Canada as a boy. He recently came to the United States for a job at the same company where I work, and he and I have run into each other at a couple of networking events in the past, although I never seem to remember his name. He saw me in the cafeteria this afternoon and came over to talk. He remembered that I am a Christian, so he asked me where I’m going to church. When I explained that I’m not actively involved in church right now, he said, “You should come to church with me. Want to come this Sunday?”
Alim was raised Muslim but, upon moving to the Bible Belt of America, couldn’t help but be curious about Christianity, so he started visiting churches as a part of his self-described “exploratory phase.” And so God used this Muslim-turned-Christian-church-attender to invite His wayward Daughter to attend church services again.
God certainly works in mysterious ways.