Our experiences, perhaps more than anything else, powerfully shape our lives and our beliefs. There’s a reason “love at first sight” is a cliché, but “love after multiple, rational deductive tests” is not.
If you’ve been hurt by a church or by Christians, you know what I’m talking about.
The hurt can range from the slow, deadly suffocation of boredom to the sharp, intense suffering of sexual abuse. When pastors embezzle money, manipulate and deceive “the flock,” and live hypocritical, corrupt lifestyles, it is no surprise when people walk away from both their churches and their faith.
When we’re feeling angry or bitter over how we’ve been hurt, the last thing we want to hear is an argument. No matter how strong the premises, how sound the conclusion, or how kind the tone, an argument just doesn’t feel right.
When the real issue is our pain, an argument is insensitive. Even as we comprehend the message, we keep the messenger at arms-length. In fact, the better the reasons, the worse it is, because that just makes the whole experience even more annoying. Not only am I hurting, but now you’re telling me I’m wrong? We’d rather have the argument be so embarrassing that we can brush it off and move on with our lives.
One of the habits which is all-too-common among “apologists” is a failure to listen. When we don’t ask questions, when we don’t give you the space to share your thoughts and your heart, when we forcibly make our point whether or not you want to hear it, we do damage. It can be more about us sounding right than you experiencing love, care, and someone admitting that what happened to you was wrong.
Sometimes apologetics should be about apologies. I remember talking with a student about his church experience growing up. After he had shared the whole story, I told him, “If that had been my experience, I wouldn’t go to church either.” I wouldn’t. The mean-spirited nature of that faith community would have driven almost anyone away.
I don’t want to be misunderstood: I think almost everyone believes in the power of facts, reasons, and logic. But we need to acknowledge that these good things can turn sour and give off a foul odor when our lives are wounded. To mention another cliché, it really is true that we don’t care how much people know until we know how much they care.
If you’ve been hurt by arrogant know-it-alls (or maybe they were well-intentioned and immature), I’m sorry. Given my own slow and continuing journey towards love and maturity, its possible that I was the guy who caused the hurt in the first place. But even if we’ve never met, I hope that today you receive some encouragement and some hope to hear a Christian acknowledge that arguments can sometimes be among the worst forms of help.
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