I haven’t had a lot of kind words for Christians lately. As a Christian, I know that Christians are quick to judge someone who makes such derogatory statements as deceived and in need of salvation. I don’t want to be associated with a group of self-righteous, intolerant religious people who seem to believe that God’s eye twinkles when he looks at them, but not when he looks at me.
If I were ever a lost soul seeking salvation, I would be more disillusioned than ever after being “welcomed” into a fold of the faithful followers of Jesus I have known in my life. We are told that salvation is free. We don’t need to change; we just need to accept redemption. Once we have prayed the sinner’s prayer and are baptized, we are gradually told about the things we are no longer allowed to do and how we are supposed to behave now. If we don’t change, we will lose our salvation. We will lose the salvation that we received and which we were told we were told was ours for free.
We live in a pretentious society. People smile and lie as naturally as they breathe. It’s practically considered normal. But when Christians pretend to be people we can trust with our lives, with our children, with our darkest secrets and fears, turn out to have deceived us, it can shatter our faith in God. It can make us wonder if we were wrong to believe in God in the first place. Yet, Christians don’t seem to care if someone has been hurt or deceived by their pretense. I have seen them continue to preach and pray, never giving a thought to anyone who has been damaged by their lies.
I’m grateful my experience with Christians isn’t the same as my experience with God. God has shown me he is real lots of times and in a variety of ways. But the behavior of Christians has nothing to do with whether or not God is real. I’m not an easy believer. I don’t want to be deceived. If there is no God, I don’t want to spend my life believing there is one. So I wonder, I question, and I pray. I think about the ridiculous and shameless hypocrisy of Christians, and it makes me doubt. I think maybe I still believe in God, but not in Christians.
One morning, over thirty years ago, when I was an evangelical Christian, I spent some time praying and reading my Bible. I prayed for the Lord to lead me to the scripture he wanted me to read. That’s how I always read and prayed. I asked the Lord to show me what he wanted me to read, and he always did. That morning he had me read Joshua 1:8.
Joshua 1:8King James Version (KJV)
8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
I knew that was what the Lord wanted me to read that morning, even if I didn’t know why. So I read and prayed some more and went about my day. After I finished reading and praying, I turned on the Christian radio station to listen while doing my chores. The station played music, but they also had a lot of Bible lessons and messages. When I turned on the radio that morning, they were about to broadcast a sermon. The speaker said, “Today’s lesson is going to be about Joshua 1:8.” My ears perked up then. I grabbed my Bible and sat down to listen to the lesson. I don’t remember the lesson anymore, but I sure do remember being blown away when he said he would talk about Joshua 1:8. I knew God wanted me to trust that whatever his plans were for me, they included me trusting him, and in that verse.
I wrote the verse on a piece of construction paper, and I taped it to the bathroom mirror. Everyone always says to tape reminders to the bathroom mirror so you will see it every day. To be honest, it just got in my way, but that’s beside the point. Haha.
On Sunday morning, when I walked into the church, I noticed the pastor was wearing army BDUs. I was late, and he was already preaching. He was an enthusiastic evangelist type with a lot of energy. He never stood still. He charged from one side of the room to the other with his fists raised high and with unbridled passion. I took my seat in the second row. I was close to the action, and I could swear he was moving so fast he created a draft when he walked by.
On the shoulder of his uniform, I noticed a patch. It said, “Joshua 1:8.” There it was again, for the third time! It had only been about a week since I first read the verse in my Bible while I was at home reading and praying. From the moment I opened my Bible that morning, I knew that verse was what God wanted me to read. Still, if I had any doubts, I wouldn’t have after seeing the verse on the pastor’s uniform.
Joshua 1:8 is only one of many ways God has confirmed his existence to me. Years have gone by, and I never did learn why the Lord wanted to impress that verse upon me, but I know he wanted me to know it. I’ve faced a lot of difficulty since then. My son Michael died when he was twenty. My husband Billy suffered more than I had ever seen anyone suffer and died of alcoholism when he was only 53. My youngest son, Justin, has lost a lot of loved ones who died unexpected deaths. Justin is an atheist. He has witnessed a lot of the pretentious behavior of Christians too. It did influence his belief system.
I am critical of people who are quick to condemn others but are unashamed and unapologetic at their own pretense and how it affects the lives of other human beings. I don’t have tolerance for liars. I wish Christians’ behavior and how they treat others didn’t affect whether or not people believe in God, but it does. The truth is that Christians are just as messed up as anyone else, but we view them differently.
When I start to doubt the existence of God, I remember Joshua 1:8, and I know he is real. That knowledge is what empowers me to speak against hypocrisy. I’m not judging anyone, but I won’t be silent about it.