His name is not as important as his story. For four hours last week God demanded our attention on a 30-something man with a 60-something’s worth of baggage. Beat down by life and kept down by the church, he recounted years of disappointment, disillusionment and dissatisfaction. Church after church, therapist after therapist, and scene after scene had left him empty. Yet, by God’s sovereign pleasure, he still sought pastoral counsel. He had every reason not to do so. In fact, I just about gave up on the church myself after hearing the nightmare. It reminded me of the opening story in Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace? (p11).
As he reflected on what had given him hope and purpose he brightened to speak of the beach, the garden and his Prozac. Those things had given him a sense of himself and what he thought to be a sense of the “divine.” Yet, here he sat just as empty as if he’d never enjoyed those things. He sought eternity in the temporary and for decades had distracted himself from his own lonely soul. Were it a matter of biology, we counseled, then he wouldn’t have been here. He knew his problem went deeper than a serotonin level and further than the nearest ocean.
He didn’t need a pastor to tell him what dosage to take. He didn’t need a pastor to even tell him how futile his sin has been. Sin had already done a good job of that. What he needed was a gospel-minded love that is not threatened by his sin.
He was right to seek love and acceptance in the church. And he still holds out faint hope (or God causes his heart to hang on) that if love is to be found it must be in the church. Sure, he is not the prototypical middle-class, neck-tied, Bible-belted churchgoer. But it doesn’t seem Jesus ever enjoyed their company all that much anyway. Rather, the likes of this man was the very people with whom Jesus sought to have dinner and conversation.
The “narrow road” is littered with the church’s wounded. Making piety the initiative right of fellowship we have confused many about the gospel of God’s grace in Christ. In the gospel, sin never overshadows Jesus. The weary need not be made more weary. The heavy-laden do not need another barbell. They need Jesus who comforts them with a lighter load. Even now I hear myself saying, “Yeah, but . . .”. Well, that is exactly what this man has heard from the church and he has yet to worship the God of grace. So please don’t mind if we hang back a little and make sure the narrow road stays litter-free.