Unleashing Courageous Faith
- Thursday, February 05, 2009
Sometimes we evangelical men are good in the worst sense, when our virtues become so excessive that they become vices. We may not sleep around like the younger brother in Jesus' preposterous story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11), a revealing of God's grace that is so extravagant and illogical by human standards that God the Father comes off as a seemingly crazy old fool with white and tangled mad-scientist hair that flails in the wind as he runs half-robed down the dirt lane to embrace a son whose decision to return contains not one edifying quality. He's the heartbreaker, the broke and selfish druggy in the family whose God is his appetite and who turns to God, not because He is good and worthy of honor, but because all other options of filling his churlish belly are gone. Prayer, wrote Twain, is the last bastion of a scoundrel, and we need to look no further than the prodigal son for proof. And if we're honest, ourselves.
Unlike the prodigal, we evangelical men are often too dutiful and rule-bound to be so spirited and uninhibited. We're too governed—but by what? Does our goodness come from a love of truth, or from the fear of living, of exposure? Do we refuse to chase after skirts, not because we love our wives and fear our Lord, but because we don't have enough guts to walk on the wild side? Some of us avoid adultery, not because we're gallant and committed, but because we're afraid to.
Do we come home after work, not because we long to fervently know our wife and kids, but because home is where the comfort is, where our bread is buttered? If so, then men who have never darkened the doorstep of a church do that as well.
I fear our "goodness" has a lot more to do with Pavlov's slavish behavior modification than soulful transformation. We're the dutiful older brother, who isn't enslaved by a host of deadly sins, but by a collection of virtues gone deadly. We're the ones who refuse to take part in the party even when God pleads for us to [Luke 15:32]. Instead of gluttony, we killjoys have our "principles" and our practice of self-denial that leaves us and others stone cold.
We're the charitable ones who don't take, not because we fear being a burden, but because we don't want to be obligated. To receive is to be inferior, so we hide behind a charitable spirit instead. Instead of pride, we're falsely modest, pretending to possess a level of humility that is a churchy rouse. Instead of rage, we're indifferent, which gives the appearance of gentleness—the Gold Star of Sunday school behavior today. And instead of being slothful, we're hyper-concerned with other people's business, not because we care much about them, but because we fear what they're behavior might do to us.
The older brother, my fellow evangelicals, is too often the image looking back at us: joyless, trivial, bored, angry, and trapped by religiosity. God implores both brothers, the law-less and the hyper-lawful, to change.
So I fought the knee-jerk reaction to correct my son the way the older brother might and instead affirmed my son's inner heat.
If someone did mistreat or abuse Haggis, I hope Elliot would be angry—I hope he'd be indignant (which means "much to grieve"). If I can't feel grief, I'm either spiritually ill or spiritually emasculated. Grief is essential to a courageous, muscular faith and to a loving orientation toward others. You'd never know it from how we treat it today, but indignation actually is an indicator of a balanced and loving soul. (We'll look at grief in chapter 11.)
So instead I said, "He's probably okay, pal. Someone will take him in. They'll see our posters and call us."
That night, around three o'clock, which is maybe the hardest hour to keep one's courage screwed on, I stepped out onto the same porch and called for Haggis through the slight and dry summer wind. He didn't stir through the bushes or come running from down the street, haggard yet unharmed. No prayers were answered that night.
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