In the late 1980s, George Michael sang the classic words, “I gotta have faith, faith, faith.” But there’s something deeper in the lyric than perhaps the former Wham! singer intended.
After a decade of teaching atheists and three times as long listening to people who have lost their grasp on Christianity, one thing is clear: people don’t so much lose faith as relocate it to another object.
Those who see the invitation to trust Jesus as a threat to their self-determination aren’t operating from pure reason; they have simply placed their trust elsewhere—whether in a political ideology, a romance, or the “voice within.” And such new objects of trust are rarely scrutinized like Jesus is. If they were, many who thought they’d left a rocking boat for solid ground would find they’ve stepped into a raging sea. (It’s worth noting that many who walk away eventually do scrutinize their subsequent faith and circle back only to encounter the real Jesus. In fact, I was raised by two such people.)
Faith When the Faithful Fail You
Many of my friends who’ve walked away from the Christian faith blame the example of other so-called Christians. One friend was sexually abused by a trusted youth leader during an overnight event. Another found out a trusted leader and Christian media personality had been siphoning millions of dollars from the ministry she worked for. Others departed when their church leaders met honest questions with threats of eternal damnation and exorcisms to expel the demons of doubt.
It’s no small matter when people who claim to represent Christ break trust and perpetrate injustice in his name.
It’s no small matter when people who claim to represent Christ break trust and perpetrate injustice in his name. For many, that broken trust feels devastating beyond recovery. I’ve certainly experienced several ministries that made me think, If those in charge were accurate representatives of Jesus, I’d want nothing to do with him. But we’re experienced in separating babies from bathwater in other areas. Would it be reasonable to never watch a movie again because Harvey Weinstein is a sexual predator? Smash your copy of the Beatles’s Let It Be album because Phil Spector was convicted of murder? Yet when it comes to matters of faith, we understandably have a hard time not rejecting God because of the hypocrites acting in his name.
To anyone who has been burned by Christians, I gently offer a simple insight: those representing (or misrepresenting) Christ are not Christ. You probably know that, but it bears repeating. The Jesus who willfully entered a pain-ridden world—who successfully endured the heat of temptation, the sting of public humiliation, the ire of the religious elite, anxiety to the point of crying blood, screaming nerve endings as thorns pierced his temples, a splintered crossbar hoisted on his already lashed back, railroad spikes through his wrists and ankles, a spear under his ribcage, asphyxiation on a Roman cross—that Jesus is not the one who hurt you. That Jesus is the one who loves you beyond your comprehension. That Jesus, the real one, would never con, abuse, swindle, deceive, or dehumanize you.
No One Else
Faith in Jesus is miles different than putting your faith in those who hurt you in his name. Every worldview has wolves. That’s why Christianity is most fundamentally a call to yield personally to Jesus Christ, not to intellectually assent to a man-made worldview. You can scour the earth, sit at the feet of gurus, read the best philosophers, and tune in for the most enlightening podcasts—but you will find no one as challenging, enthralling, unpredictable, substantial, and insightful as him.
You’re going to put your faith somewhere. Why not put it in someone—the only one—who will never let you down?