In my last post I distinguished between two initial starting points for Christian faith:
1) God and his revelation.
2) Personal religious experience.
It seems to me that #2 is, in the long run, susceptible to atheism.
It’s the difference between covenant marriage and a more transient cohabitation arrangement (living together).
One is permanent, the other provisional.
When times are tough the person inside covenant marriage is likely to knock herself out in the pursuit of conciliation. She’ll do whatever it takes to keep the marriage together.
In contrast, the person living with another has, by definition, less incentive to patch things up when the relationship is strained. An “out” is always on reserve.
The young people among whom I minister often begin with themselves rather than God — that is, #2 rather than #1.
When they grow tired of the church or its tradition, or struggle with certain teachings in the Bible or feel put off by fellow Christians or wither under the critique of the skeptics, they say to themselves something like this:
“God no longer fits into my experience or beliefs. Time to move on and move out.”
At first they have a feeling of exhilaration as the restraining cords of religion are cut away and they reassert control of their own lives.
Self-empowerment is alluring, indeed, and an entitlement of western culture.
But perhaps at some point they will feel untethered, unmoored, unsettled, and will return a bit apprehensively to the church.
Then the prodigal (extravagant) Father will hasten to them with loving, open arms, welcoming them home to a place they truly belong.