What about Christians?
Maybe the message of Jesus sounds okay to you, but you’re put off by the people who call themselves his followers. We get it, we really do. Maybe you relate to one or both of these objections to Christians.
"Christians have done some really bad stuff."
It’s heartbreaking when we hear stories of people in church leadership who have taken advantage of other people, or Christians doing stuff that is dishonest or unethical. Not only do we hate it when people don’t practice what they preach (and therefore expect of others), we find it sickening when trust is abused.
But it’s not just public news scandals. We all make mistakes – and that means all Christians. Christians don’t claim to be better than anyone else. In fact, Christians of all people should be most in touch with how unqualified they are to earn God's acceptance – knowing that the love God has for us is his extravagant gift, not our wages.
Of course, we expect to see Christians acting like Christ. Unfortunately, just because somebody is representing God doesn’t mean they always do what God wants. We’re all given the dangerous freedom to reject God’s ways and follow our own (called sin). When we put our trust in Jesus, the eternal penalty of our sin is dissolved. However, until we die, we live in a corrupted world that keeps offering the temptation to act selfishly.
And Christians do make mistakes. It’s shocking, hurtful, wrong and especially disappointing when somebody violates their own moral standards, when they don’t practice what they preach. But even though people aren’t perfect, God is.
Jesus preached and displayed a message of radical love. Most Christians fall short of anything like it. In fact, some Christians are known as judgemental and hateful. Does that change God's character? No. It just means that we're not there yet. Our failures are not God's failures. They show us how entirely dependent we are on him.
You wouldn't cut off your parents because you don't like your sister, so why would you write off God because you're hurt by his children? Don’t let your disappointment with other people rob you of relationship with the only one who won’t hurt, fail or abandon you.
"Being a Christian makes you weird."
Well… sometimes. But it would probably be fairer to say that being a human makes you weird. Christians are people, and people do weird stuff. Most of what contemporary Christians do today – in church or out of it – is not specifically what Jesus told his followers to do. They're just applying their interpretation of Jesus’ message to their time and place. And of course that’s going to get a little bit strange sometimes.
When you think about it, most things that people do are weird. If an alien dropped in from another planet and watched us, we’d look like maniacs. We spend millions of dollars to fight over a ball on a rectangle of grass with crowds cheering from the sidelines, when actually we have squillions of balls in the world – we could all just have one each without the fight. Or how about our habit of ignoring the people we’re surrounded by so we can socialise on our phones with people we’re not with? Our perception of weirdness is all to do with how foreign the activity is to us.
And yep, some of the things that some Christians do are pretty foreign. They might dress differently, use interesting language, be oddly touchy-feely, spend their time on things you don’t understand, or have strange taste in music. But then again, there are other Christians who might not be so different from you. They might be interested in the same things as you. They might do things with other Christians that you'd enjoy. How do you know without checking it out for yourself? There are thousands of different churches out there and millions of Christians trying to follow Jesus in their own way. And there is a place for you among them.
Do you dare have a look for yourself, rather than relying on generalisations or caricatures from the media? Anyway, how scary can it really be? There are no secret handshakes, and church is not weekly karaoke. It’s a group of people – no more or less weird than you – who believe they have found the source of life. And that liberating truth is worth celebrating, protecting and sharing.
Maybe Christians aren’t especially weird, or maybe they are. But what does it matter? As Jesus said, “do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” How valuable is being normal or cool if Jesus’ message is actually true and he is the only way to find true, free, full life? Would you miss out on the only relationship that can fulfil you and save you, just to avoid whatever it is you’re afraid of?
Whether you’re put off God because of a Christian you’ve heard about or known, that’s not really the issue. Your relationship with God is between you and him, not anyone else.
We can’t judge God based on people, just like we can’t know somebody based on a drawing of them. Even the most beautiful artwork can only describe a person in a limited way – or it might totally misrepresent them! Like a drawing, people can only reflect God in a limited way, and we often get it wrong. Maybe it’s time to stop being the critic and meet the subject yourself.