The Disappointed Christian

by Bill Ireland

If youíve spent much time around Christians, youíve probably known some who embraced the faith, only to abandon it later on. Itís a horrible thing to witness. When they reject Christ after a short and superficial fling, itís easy enough to dismiss. But what about those who were sincere, earnest believers, who gave years of service to God—and then walked away? Thatís harder to grapple with.

In my observation, some of these folks have made genuine, deliberate, permanent decisions, and are probably beyond reach. (Were they ever really "saved"? Or, is their apostasy proof that they were never part of Godís elect? Weíll let the hard-core Calvinists and Arminians hash that out among themselves. The rest of us can move on.)

There are others who are not so much apostate as disappointed. They accepted the Christian faith as the answer theyíd been looking for, and gave it their all. And then everything fell apart. Their ministries failed. Their friends betrayed them. Their businesses went bankrupt. Their spouses or children spat in their eyes and rejected them. Their prayers seemed to go unanswered.

In other words, it didnít work.

Before we pronounce judgment on these people (or worse, try to tell them what they need to do), itís worth asking: How does God view them? Thankfully, we have some indications in the Scripture.

Remember Doubting Thomas? He expressed his unbelief after Jesus had died, and came to represent all skeptics forever after. But itís worth remembering that Thomas was one of the twelve—the inner circle who had traveled with Jesus for three years, who heard His most intimate teachings, and were entrusted with the future of the faith. His renunciation was appalling and momentous—as in our day, when a prominent pastor or an elder of the church falls away.

The other disciples were trying to tell Thomas that the Lord was in fact alive—they had seen Him. But he was stubborn: "Unless I see the nail marks in his hand, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it" (John 20:25 NIV).

Note the resolute language: Thomas didnít say, Oh, really? Iím having a hard time believing that. It was, "I will not believe."

What had happened to turn a true-blue disciple into a cynic? In short, his world had fallen apart. Along with the other disciples, Thomas had a vision of what life would be like, now that theyíd found the Messiah. Jesus was the real thing; he was sure of it. And soon, everything would fall into place.

It didnít happen, of course. Instead, when Jesus came face to face with the establishment—the powerful people he had been challenging—they had won. He, on the other hand, was humiliated, exposed as an apparent fraud before all the world. And then, they killed him.

It was all over. Thomas was honestly expressing the deep disappointment any of us would feel.

When the risen Jesus finally encountered him, there were no sermons. The Lord simply addressed Thomas directly at his point of need: "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe" (John 20:27 NIV).

Then Thomas did something he may never have done in all the previous three years: He touched Jesus.

How many of us embrace Christianity—the shared beliefs, church events, calls to service, and social interactions—and never get around to communing intimately with the Lord Himself?

The Lord knew that Thomas and the other disciples would lose their faith for awhile. Somehow He was still able to say, "None has been lost, except the one doomed to destruction so that scripture would be fulfilled" (John 17:12 NIV).

Jesus was able to see beyond his own cross, and theirs, to a glorious future. As He had died, they also needed to die—to their own aspirations, dreams, ambitions and imaginations. For Thomas and the others, that happened over the course of a week. For many of us, it takes a lifetime.

Thereís life on the other side. But we canít skip the cross. And we canít rush it. Knowing that may give us patience with those who are still in the middle, and behaving as human beings do when pushed to the limit.

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