Walking the medieval streets of Prague’s Old Town and touring the stunning Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest, I spent this Chinese New Year holiday doing things I’ve dreamt of since high school. Perhaps those sound like odd goals for a high-schooler, but what can I say? And I’m happy that Anna enjoyed my dream destinations as much as I enjoyed hers last year: a small village in the mountains of northern Thailand, sitting and singing with Christian hippies. (I’ll be a little embarrassed if they find out that I called them that.) But this vacation was far better than the last one for me, and it wasn’t at all because of the location.
Last year, in Thailand, I sat across from a Christian counselor over the course of a few days and expressed my anger, hurt, and moral and intellectual objections to the church, the bible, and God. “When Christians say all those vile things about gay people,” I told him, “they aren’t just talking about guys gyrating in their underwear at gay pride parades! They’re talking about the 14-year old kid who feels like a freak and prays in vain every night for God to change him, who’s bullied by his peers but can’t talk to his parents about it because of his very legitimate fear that they will only add to the suffering he’s already experiencing! And it’s really hard to follow Christ when it seems like those who don’t are a whole lot more loving and moral than the ones who supposedly do!” At the end of the day, I wanted to believe. And I was trying. I surrounded myself with Christians, went to a Christian counselor, and read books from converts who had once found Christianity absolutely abhorrent. But with every word of wisdom I heard, an immediate rebuttal would form in my mind. I was beginning to think that this whole thing was an elaborate hoax, and I’d wasted a decade of my life!
This year, even while so many things are uncertain, and I’m still trying to sort out my faith in the aftermath of a near meltdown, at least this was clear: Jesus is good. And he’s on my side. I can trust him. That made my European vacation all the sweeter.
But even now, usually late at night, I find myself wondering, what if? What if the fundamentalists and ultra-conservatives are right about God and his character? What if the culture warriors are actually doing Christianity right? And what if people like Denny Burk are right when they say that, by just experiencing unwanted same sex attractions, I am already in sin, regardless of how I react to those attractions when they arise?
But I can’t linger there.
That would mean death for me. Not the dying to self that Christ calls us to. By his grace, I try to do that daily. No, it would mean a spiritual death that I want to avoid at all costs. If that was what God was really all about, I don’t think I could have a genuine devotion to him. Perhaps I’d still give following him a half-hearted try, out of fear. But loving him with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength?
No, my only hope is that Jesus is the kind of God who comes and sits at the table with this sinner and lets me know that I’m loved and valued by the one who made me, even as the religious stand at the door with stones in hand. He’s the kind of God who isn’t afraid of being misunderstood or maligned for sitting at the table with me, giving me a dignity that only comes from the one who has the right to give it. He’s the kind of God that calls me to follow him in a way that’s so winsome that I want to, even if part of me has to die in the process. It’s this God, Jesus, who wouldn’t let me go last year, when I just couldn’t find it in me to hold on to him. It’s this Jesus who won’t break a bruised reed or put out a smoldering wick. This Jesus, who contains infinite power in gentle hands, he makes me want to follow him. And so, with many missteps and falls, I will. And whether it’s Prague, Pai, Budapest, or Shanghai, he’s there. And he’s on my side.