We’ve all been thoroughly screwed up by fellow Christians.
And, of course, we’ve all thoroughly screwed up fellow Christians.
Parents damage kids, kids damage parents, pastors hurt church members, church members hurt pastors, bosses screw over employees, employees screw over bosses, and on and on. It’s a never ending circus of painful, disorienting dysfunction. Adam was the founding member of the “dysfunction club” and we’re all enthusiastic, card-carrying, duty-paying members.
When you are massively hurt by another Christian who claims the Bible as the justification for their actions, the temptation is to dismiss certain Biblical truths altogether. To associate a truth with the hurt and then come to the conclusion that it was never true in the first place.
It’s very easy to make the faulty assumption that a truth misapplied to you must not be true at all.
Let me give a few examples.
I Kissed Dating Goodbye
The book I Kissed Dating Goodbye was an evangelical phenomenon in the mid to late 90’s, and truth be told, the concepts in it were applied in a number of weird, creepy, legalistic, and outright destructive ways. Dads made their daughters sign purity contracts (seriously, WHAT?), those who did date were often shamed, and numerous unhealthy, destructive relationships were approved. Many well-intentioned people did jacked up things and a few malicious people did terrible things.
Predictably, many people now want nothing to do with the book or any of the principles taught within.
And I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t use IKDG as a manual for constructing healthy pre-marriage relationships. Please don’t misinterpret what I’m about to say.
The main gist of the book – that constant, purposeless, serial dating before marriage often leads to sinful sexual intimacy – is still true. It is a biblical principle that hasn’t changed, even though it was massively misapplied. Proverbs speaks loudly, clearly, and persistently about the dangers of playing with temptation. Those truths haven’t changed, even though they have been wrongly applied by many people.
I won’t be using IKDG with any of my kids, but I also won’t be encouraging them to casually date from age 13. What will I do? I have no idea. I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m a parental moron who is figuring things out as I go. But I know that reacting against an application of truth often swings the pendulum too far in the opposite direction, and I want to avoid that.
Complementarianism – the idea that God has called men and women to fulfill different but equal roles in life – also has a long history of being hurtfully misapplied.
Abusive husbands have used it as a justification for verbally, physically, and even sexually abusing their wives (I get sick thinking about this). Women have been suppressed in the church, girls have been held back in the home, and unhealthy and dangerous relationships have received the approval of church leaders. Many people have (and still do) used complementarianism as a justification for blatant misogyny.
In response, many have, understandably, abandoned this doctrine completely. The natural response to pain is flight, which I fully understand. I’ve done it myself.
But complementarianism, when taught correctly, is still a biblical doctrine (I realize many will disagree – that’s not the point here). Reacting violently against the truth because you were hurt by a distorted version of the truth is understandable, but ultimately the wrong response.
Avoiding The Pendulum
The examples could go on and on. Church leadership. Spiritual gifts. Same-sex attraction. Reformed doctrine. Modesty. All of us have areas where we’ve been seriously hurt and thus are tempted to react strongly against.
So how do we avoid being reactionary? How can we avoid being dragged by the pendulum of our own violent aversion to particular truths?
When we find ourselves pushing back strongly against something, we need to ask ourselves: Am I reacting to the way this was applied by others to me, or am I reacting to the fundamental truth behind the application?
Rejecting harmful, hurtful, dangerous, and unbiblical applications is necessary and appropriate. Dismissing the truth behind the applications is something else entirely, and requires an absolutely unshakable conviction that the way you and many others understand God’s word is completely false.
There are times when it’s necessary to reject something outright as false, but those decisions should never happen quickly or as a reaction to pain. Pain clouds everything and makes it difficult to separate up from down. When something hurts us, we do everything we can to avoid that thing in the future. We erect walls and dig bunkers. We do everything we can to avoid what caused our pain.
Massive life-changing, possibly eternity-changing decisions should never be born out of avoiding pain. We all want to avoid pain, myself included. There are things I’m still trying to wrestle through in my own life. I overreact to TONS of things. I don’t have this figured out and I’m not some sort of pain and grief expert. I just know my own proclivity to reject truth because it hurt me.
But it all boils down to this: Is my response truly driven by Scripture, or am I creating an escape route for me to avoid this pain in the future?
Helping Those Who Hurt
If a friend has arrived at a particular conclusion in response to being damaged by someone else, DO NOT bluntly inform them that their decision is a faulty overreaction. That’s stupid. And unhelpful. And hurtful. And just plain annoying.
Listen to them. Grieve for the injustice against them. Sympathize with their anger. Don’t correct them for their reaction. Plain and simple, they’ve been hurt in the name of Jesus, and that grieves Jesus.
There will be a time down the road for helping them sort through their response. For helping them think clearly. For helping them separate pain from truth. But don’t prematurely push for that time. Remember, you’re not the only one with them, and God doesn’t need your help.
Until That Day
Charles Spurgeon said:
Our sorrows are all, like ourselves, mortal. There are no immortal sorrows for immortal souls. They come, but blessed be God, they also go. Like birds of the air, they fly over our heads. But they cannot make their abode in our souls. We suffer today, but we shall rejoice tomorrow.
A time of rejoicing is indeed coming. When sorrow can no longer be caused by others. But until that time, let’s strive to hold fast to the truth, even through the sorrow.