Posted by: John Adams | July 18, 2007

Amazing Grace

I don’t have anything new to show you, so here’s something older.

You were once as zealous as the best of them.

You came into the kingdom a squalling infant, once blinded by the devil but now ransomed from the fire. That night, as you listened to the preacher’s booming oratory and convicting message, you threw yourself upon the mercies of God, and “Amazing Grace” became your anthem. From darkness to light, from eternal ruin to eternal life, you had been saved.

When that preacher with the booming voice asked you to come forward if you were under the weight of the Holy Spirit’s conviction, you leapt out of your seat and sped for the altar. When he hugged your neck and told you that you’d been forgiven, you believed him with all your heart. When he told you that you needed to join a church, you did so unquestioningly. He told you to find a good one, one where they preached the Word of God without compromise, where God was still feared and His Word revered.

So you did. You went and found the most Biblical church you could find. One with Acts 16:31 bannered across the wall behind the pulpit. The preacher was a wiry little fellow with a set jaw, and he laid into the congregation every Sunday morning. He preached at you like you were still unsaved, staring through you with blue eyes both cold as steel, and piercing you with a tongue as sharp as the two-edged sword he wielded in his right hand. Sometimes he pushed his message through in a low, gravelly baritone and sometimes he flailed his arms about like a palm tree in the wind while bemoaning the demise of America in a high-pitched wail. You tired of his routine after the first two or three Sundays, but you figured you deserved it. The discomfort you felt was just your old sin nature struggling to retain possession of your soul. After being in church long enough, you reasoned, it would go away.

But it didn’t go away. It gnawed at you like the unbelief you swore never to countenance. It gnawed at you during Tuesday night Bible studies at Sister Elma’s, when you learned how to “pray with power” (which usually meant talking in the active tense at high decibel levels while shaking your balled fist at some unseen enemy). It gnawed at you when they taught you how to witness and told you how important it was to do this every day, and it gnawed at you when you started applying what you’d learned at your workplace on some of your co-workers. You didn’t like the looks on their faces when you told them to turn or burn. You didn’t like the way you felt inside when they started leaving you out of the conversations. But you figured that this is what that verse about picking up your cross and following Jesus meant. And no matter how much of what you learned at church made you uncomfortable, you were absolutely sure that following Jesus was the only thing you ever wanted to do.

So you held on for several years, witnessing to your co-workers and telling hard truths and preaching the Word and listening to the pastor with the wild, flailing arms. You held out for a long time, praying secretly all the while that it would get better.

After a while, though, you started to notice that things weren’t getting better. What’s more, the “Amazing Grace” that had once been your personal anthem was moving further and further to the back of your mind as the crazy-armed preacher led you on prayer marches through town, and to sit-ins with picket signs to show gays the hard truth about the love of God. You swallowed your heart when you saw the looks on their faces as they called you a bigot, a narrow-minded fundamentalist, and a fascist. You didn’t understand – the looks of hurt, disgust, and even hatred on their faces did not parallel your own experience of repentance and forgiveness.

As you looked around at the hard looks on your cohorts’ faces, then over at the wretched, seething mass on the other side, you picked out a face that you recognized – an old friend from years back – and something finally broke. You realized that this was not where you wanted to be. You had spent years shouting at the sinners, begging the lost to be found, and at that moment, you realized that you couldn’t do it anymore. You were tired of being known as Joe Biblethumper, tired of the suspicious stares from folks you could’ve been friends with. There was no turning back. You dropped your picket sign, ducked under the police barricade, and disappeared into the seething mass.

Some of those folks on the other side recognized you. They started shouting curse words at you, jeering at you and taunting you for a few yards’ walk before they noticed something about you. They quieted down and then you noticed it, too. You were crying.

Somewhere, some group off in the distance was singing “Amazing Grace,” just beyond the point where the sidewalk bent and appeared to ripple in the summer heat. “Amazing grace,” you thought to yourself bitterly, “how bitter the sound.” You wiped your eyes and ran your hands through your hair, squinting up at the August sun to keep from crying again. The angry protesters were gone now. You were alone with the distant summer carolers.

“I once was lost but now am found,” the carolers sang.

You began to walk and then you stopped, sneering something to yourself in a bitter voice. It was almost too low to hear.

I’m not sure, but I think what you said was, “I once was found, but now am lost.”

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Responses

  1. Took a while, but this post was worth the wait! : )

  2. Is this story based on an actual person? Either way, it’s very realistic. I’m sure many weary, jaded Christians could relate.

  3. No, it’s just something I sort of made up one night three years ago. It doesn’t really have any root in my own experience.

  4. Ahh. Disillusionment. I tell you that that’s one of the best things that happened for me. It forced me to make a distinction between peoples’ perceptions of God and God himself.
    I know that I cannot know God perfectly due to my own deficiencies, but even though I may have ideas about him that need to change eventually, I know that I’ll view him more accurately the more I spend time with him and study him.
    This means, that even if I get turned off by religious fundamentalism, or human misconceptions, or just plain stupidity within the church circle, I can still rely on him and trust him, and from there, I can love both the church and the unchurched.

    Christ conquers all!


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