Monday, December 13, 2010

By the wayside

Disappointment with other people is sometimes hard to live with.

Almost two years ago the (Christian family) organisation I worked for was rocked when the recently departed director left his wife and moved in with the lover he had apparently been having an affair with for almost a year.

We all had questions about it, but ultimately we will never know why he chose to do that. The aftermath was an alienated family, broken friendships, and a sense of questioning wonder that anyone would do that and claim that God was okay with it.

A couple of months ago a couple I've known for several years split up when the husband moved out. There doesn't seem to be a reason why he left. I remember their children being born and he seemed such a doting Dad. As a couple they appeared to be soul mates.

I admit I hadn't seen much of them the past few years, but I wonder how they could have grown apart. Another couple I knew from the same church recently split for good as well, finally getting a divorce after a long rocky patch in their marriage. I went to their wedding. I remember the groom's dad giving a speech welcoming his new daughter-in-law to the family.

Did all that mean nothing?

I've learned there are two errors I can make when facing disappointment with people. Firstly, I can assume that there was something I could have, or should have, done to prevent it. Maybe if I'd been a better friend or invested more in them as people, then they would have talked to me about their problems and I could have fixed things and prevented this from happening.

It's the delusional superhero response. The likelihood is that I would have been sucked in to the row and been forced to take sides.

The second error is to assume that everything that went before was false. This is the 'John Calvin response' to people who 'fall away' - they were never saved in the first place. It's harsh, and it presumes there is no further chance of redemption, but it does provide an answer for why Christians do stupid, sinful things regardless of the consequences; things they know they shouldn't do that hurt the people they said they loved.

Having said all that, though, I don't find the Calvin response satisfactory. It's too simple.

Maybe it's that after a while people think that the rules don't apply to them? That was possibly the case in the first example I listed. It's easy to get blase about matters of faith and believe that God is your buddy who will wink and look the other way whatever you choose to do. Particularly if you're successful at all this 'Christian' stuff; particularly if you have a ministry and people look up to you.

We can forget that we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We can forget that promises matter to God. The thing that angers God the most, it appears to me, is people who break their covenants. Not just their covenants with God, but their covenants with people made in the image of God.

That's why offences against our neighbours - adultery, lying, stealing, killing - are such a big deal in both testaments. That's why - unpopular though it is to say this in church these days - divorce is regarded as a bad thing in the Bible.

I can believe that people mean the things they say and the vows they make, but then can change. I believe they can get overly familiar, even contemptuous, about their commitments, and about their faith. And I'm not so dumb as to think it could only happen to other people. (I'm fairly dumb, but not that dumb.)

When anyone lets their faith go by the wayside, that's a warning that anyone - including me - shouldn't take things too lightly. If we forget the Kingdom is a Pearl of Great Price we might cast it before swine.


  1. In the last few months 3 married couples I know have decided to split- 2 in my own family and married for over 20 years, at least 1 because of an affair, and all involving children.
    I've found myself incredibly disappointed in all of them and have come to the conclusion in my own mind that they just didn't really understand what they were promising in the first place.
    But I also think you're so right about people thinking the rules just no longer apply to them.
    Good post :)

  2. The day after I posted this, another friend told me he had been asked by his wife to move out of the house before Christmas.

    It's like there's a virus going round.