This week my pastor preached about Exodus 32 and the Israelites’ betrayal of God. While Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites felt abandoned. They couldn’t feel God’s presence, so they took the gold that God had given to them in Egypt and used it to make a golden calf. Or as Aaron the dufus put it, “They gave me the gold, I threw it in the fire, and out came this calf!” (v. 24) He’s like the kid who claims he didn’t punch his brother in the face; his brother simply “ran into his fist.” The only appropriate response to this Exodus story is a Homer Simpson-esque “doh!”
Even though I’ve heard this story countless times, something new struck me about it this time. In response to the Israelites’ unfaithfulness, God became angry and essentially slaughtered all the unfaithful. But that’s not what surprised me. What surprised me was the extent of God’s anger even though He knew ahead of time they would betray Him. It’s not as if God was caught off guard when they started worshipping idols. He knew it was going to happen, and yet He responded with the kind of anger of someone who’d had high expectations but had been stunningly disappointed.
And that got me to thinking. The story of Exodus happened thousands of years ago. It continues to happen today. God knows we are going to royally screw up over and over again, but He gets angry about each act of sin and disobedience as if it’s the first time. Why hasn’t God become disillusioned with us? You’d think that at some point He’d wash His hands of the broken human race and walk away. That way He wouldn’t have to go through such pain and depth of emotion each time.
But He doesn’t. In spite of the fact that God knows we will mess up, and in spite of the fact that His justice compels Him to feel betrayal and wrath in response, His love and mercy compel Him as well. He perseveres with us. He loves us unconditionally. He pursues us even though He knows we will forsake Him. He never becomes disillusioned.
For us young people, this is a powerful example. Disillusionment is an attribute that frequently defines our generation. As a group, young adults are generally more idealistic, which also means we’re more prone to get sick and tired of political corruption and religious hypocrisy. In response, it’s easy to wash our hands of it all.
While there’s an extent to which our faith in secular institutions should certainly be limited, there’s no excuse for washing our hands of the church. In view of God’s great mercy, disillusionment is revealed to be nothing but a cop-out. We are not in more of a position to be disillusioned with God’s people than God. If He will not forsake His people, if He will not stop loving them, then neither should we. And more importantly, if God has not stopped loving US in spite of our own infidelity, then who are we to do less for others?
This truth holds me accountable for my attitude and the state of my heart. I do get frustrated with other Christians, and there have been times when I’ve wanted to walk away from it all. But we cannot do so and remain faithful to God. The two options are incompatible. Remember that the next time you hear someone say that they walked away from the church as some sort of spiritually superior move. As 1 John 4 reminds us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (v. 19-20) You can’t love God and hate His church. You can be disappointed with people in the church, even angry at times–clearly so was God–but you cannot walk away, nor can you give into feelings of bitterness or self-righteousness. The love of Christ compels us otherwise.
So a catholic or a mormon for example, should remain a catholic or mormon regardless? I guess you’re not saying that but ‘bearing with one another’ is different to rejecting hypocrisy and refusing to allow it to hold authority over you. There’s a difference between a deceieved and well meaning church leader and an unethical one. And an unethical (and decieved) one can destroy many peoples faith.
God destroyed the israelites. He didn’t ‘suffer long’ with them. When they went over the mark there was judgement. Severe judgement. At times Moses had to beg for their lives although an entire generation still died in the wilderness because of their rebellion.
I know you’re not saying that we should suffer long with sin, but I still think there’s a cut off point with other christains. When a christian refuses to follow the truth (as a lifestyle) they can become not only spiritually stagnant, but dangerous as well. Deliberate sin generally feels the need to justify itself, and a well practiced christian can often do this quite skillfully.
So I agree overall with what you’re saying, but I just wanted to make that point. The bible tells us not to associate with some people who call themselves believers because of their hypocrisy. I think patience and longsuffering is called for in some instances but I also think it’s still largely situational. To not put limits on our acceptance of other christians is not only unbiblical but unwise.
I think what Sharon is saying is that we should be careful not to get disillusioned with the Church as a whole. We are certainly called to hold other believers accountable in the face of sin and hypocricy. But too often, people get frustrated and overwhelemed with the problems in the church, and walk away from it all together. Of course the church is imperfect, its made up of imperfect people. But the church IS the body of Christ. Together, we are the light of Jesus in this world. God hates the sin and hypocricy of his people, but he loves his Bride. And so should we.