We had a work day at Church today. We were scraping and painting the south side of the Church. I was scraping next to one of our inquirers, so I asked him what his parents think of his interest in Orthodox Christianity. He said, “Well, to tell you the truth, they are pretty much relieved.”
He went on to explain that after being raised by his parents who are “entrenched” Evangelicals (his word, not mine), and after graduating from a famous Evangelical college with honours, and after encountering some serious life problems, he completely gave up on God for a few years. So now his parents are relieved that he again has an interest in Christ and the Church--even if it is the Orthodox Church.
Then the witty fellow working on the other side of him blurted out: “There’s our new motto to advertise our Church. The bumper sticker will read: ‘Orthodox Christianity: It’s better than nothing!'”
After we all laughed, I kept thinking about that phrase. It does seem that many people who come to Holy Orthodoxy come only after they have had a pretty serious crisis in their faith. They often tell a story of having given up (or almost given up) on the Christ they had come to know in their Evangelical (or other Protestant) world, a Christ who just doesn’t make sense in a world full of suffering, weakness and failure.
I do not want to rag on Evangelicalism. Evangelical Christianity introduced me to Christ. I am a Child of Evangelicalism. I am thankful for those “Bible believing” faithful men and women who loved me, introduced me to Christ and taught me to study the Bible. They got me on the road. However, the Evangelical road to Christ is not a very long road. Or I might better say, it is not a very deep road: it does not offer many resources (beyond basic moral teaching) to a changed heart, to transformation into Christ’s image. It does not teach prayer or psalmody, or fasting and alms giving (except as a means to get something from God). There is no worship beyond happy or romantic songs about Jesus. I like happy songs about Jesus (not so much the romantic ones), but that’s not worship, at least not like the worship we read about in the Old Testament and the Revelation: full of typology, theology, proclamation and mystery.
Especially mystery. Real life is full of mystery. We encounter God in our often confused and certainly unpredictable and generally messy lives. We encounter God in our joys, but more profoundly in our failures, our tragedies and our pain. Like the whirlwind out of which Job encounters God, we too encounter God who comes to us mysteriously in the whirlwind of our lives. This is the God we encounter, not the neat Deity of the Jesus song who makes me feel better because He loves me so much. The God of the whirlwind is too big just to make me feel better. He is so big and loves me so much that he will let my life be turned upside down and let the world beat me up terribly in order to get to my heart and change me, and through me all those around me.
If you, my dear reader, have encountered the God of the whirlwind, and you are about to give up on God altogether because the God you have learned about in church is different from the God you have encountered in life, then let me encourage you to look a little further. The Orthodox Church is certainly not the perfect Church. It is made up of God and angels and human beings, human beings whose lives are probably as messy and confused as yours. And yet, there is mystery. There is a very long and deep road. There are spiritual resources for men and women who encounter God in the whirlwind.
And, Orthodox Christianity is better than nothing.