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When Grief Triggers a Crisis of Faith: How to Avoid the Trap Josh Harris and Marty Sampson May Have Fallen Into
Teresa Neumann-Opinion : Aug 15, 2019 Breaking Christian News
Too often, we understand grief only as it pertains to divorce, or sickness, or the loss of a loved one. But it can also be caused by feelings of abandonment, rejection, being wronged, or left out of a group—even the death of one's dreams. Likewise, failed expectations can induce grief, as can failed interpretations of truth—a big one in the case of Sampson and Harris. Unresolved, it can prove catastrophic.
The disturbing news of Josh Harris and Marty Simpson's crisis of faith prompted many responses from the Church this week, including an excellent, hard-hitting piece by Skillet lead singer John L. Cooper, who said, "What is happening in Christianity? More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once "faces" of the faith are falling away. And at the same time, they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?) as they announce that they are leaving the faith ... when it comes to people within my faith, there must be a measure of loyalty and friendship and accountability to each other and the Word of God." (Image: Unsplash-Priscilla DuPreez)
Cooper nailed problems in the Church today and how to correct them. But I found myself wondering what exactly precipitated Harris and Sampson's crisis of faith in the first place. After all, apostasy doesn't happen overnight and no true Christian deliberately turns their back on Jesus unless they are seriously deceived. What drove them to the edge where they finally took the plunge? To my great surprise, the word "Grief" came to me.
Who's the Top Kahuna in your life?
Understanding grief requires understanding self. It's where all of our problems begin. As Skillet's leader Cooper also noted, "I'm amazed that so many Christians want the benefits of the Kingdom of God, but with the caveat that they themselves will be the king."
The choice to follow Christ demands we willingly surrender our sovereignty to Him. He reigns supreme, not us. Conversely, the alternative—to crown oneself "Top Kahuna of the Universe"—leads to a host of unintended, self-destructive consequences. (Those who lived hedonistic lives before they were "Amazingly Graced"—unlike Harris and Sampson, who grew up in the Church—attest to this.)
Oh, the many life decisions I regret when I reigned supreme before begging Jesus to rescue me! Simply put, it's the John 12:25 Christian Paradox: "Anyone who loves their life will lose it..."
Equally selfish at heart, our society reinforces our worst nature, trying to convince us that there is no God. The "Never Jesus Christ-er's" want us to believe that there are no absolutes; no black and white moral code. They want us to embrace "Grey"—which is nothing more than a murky, all-inclusive, non-judgmental, spiritual dead zone. It's the color of surrender, and like quicksand, notoriously deceptive. Wade in and you disappear into the abyss of group-think.
Sure, not rocking the boat of political correctness in the Church is always easier than going against the flow. Especially for young people desperate for acceptance and recognition. But the color Grey represents lukewarm-ness. As such, it's a swamp where many enter, get lost, and lose their footing, whether from weariness, doubt, hopelessness or grief. No wonder Jesus warned us about it.
Grief: Insidious, universal and more entrenched within us than we realize; Defined as "deep and poignant distress caused by, or if as by, bereavement; keen mental suffering; sharp sorrow; painful regret; a reaction to loss—grief can be a silent, insidious threat to our faith.
Too often, we understand grief only as it pertains to divorce, or sickness, or the loss of a loved one. But it can also be caused by feelings of abandonment, rejection, being wronged, or left out of a group ... even the death of one's dreams. Likewise, failed expectations can induce grief, as can failed interpretations of truth. For example, in a 2007 video, Marty Sampson—reportedly reared on End Time theology—thought for sure Jesus was going to return to Earth by the time he was 15.
I'm not implying, of course, that we should never grieve. Most times, done properly, it's an essential element of healing. In fact, running away from grief—ignoring or denying it exists—is just another manifestation, or phase, of grieving. Nor am I saying grief is at the heart of every fall from grace. But, I would venture to guess that somewhere, somehow, unchecked or misdirected grief may have had a role in the chain of events that led to Harris and Sampson's decisions.
The danger is that unchecked grief hardens the heart. It births anger and bitterness. It coddles unforgiveness. It toys with the mind. It fosters anxiety and depression. It turns us inward, and in the process drives us to find fault with, and reject, the outreach of loved ones and run into the arms of those we think will "grieve" with us, but in reality only want to wallow in their own grievances. It assaults our faith.
How do I know? Because I've been there.
My first personal experience with spiritually debilitating Grief
My first experience with grief was gut-wrenching. It happened when my husband and I tried for a third baby. After two years, I had to come to terms with the fact that my child-bearing days might be over. Suddenly, however, I did conceive. I was on top of the world and so elated that, when I was in my 8th week, I told everyone. "God is so good!"
Days later, I miscarried. The emotional pain of that loss was beyond anything I had yet experienced. My heart hardened immediately and turned ice-cold toward God. I stopped going to church. How could I praise a God who had deceived me so? I wouldn't talk to any of my friends. After all, they couldn't possibly understand what I was going through. I went through the motions of mothering my other two children and resigned myself to a future of barrenness. I changed so radically, that even I—able to see what I was becoming as though looking in a mirror—was unable to recognize myself anymore. To top it off, it was three weeks before Christmas, my favorite time of the year.
My husband—no doubt, in a panic about my dire condition—suggested we get a babysitter and go to a Christmas play at a local church. When I refused, he insisted. It was a night that forever changed my life. The play was called "The Gift" and it was about a girl whom the Holy Spirit comes to and gives her His Seven Gifts for safekeeping.
"Of all these Gifts" the Holy Spirit says, handing her a final tiny package, "this one is the one you can NEVER, EVER lose or allow to be stolen from you. It's called 'Faith' and it's the most important of all the Gifts. Guard it with your life."
The lights dimmed and the next scene revealed satan rummaging through the girl's room looking for The Gifts. When she awakened, seeing what was happening, she grabbed her Gift of Faith, hung on for dear life and succeeded in keeping it. Every other Gift had been stolen, but in the end, it was Faith that brought her back from the brink of destitution.
I sat there in the audience and wept. And wept and wept. Because that girl was me.
I determined then and there that although I felt I had been plundered, I was going to hang on to my faith no matter what. In my grief, I resolved to start back at "Square One" in my relationship with God.
"I don't understand why I lost my baby," I told Him. "I don't know why You let me get pregnant after trying for so long. You waited until after I told the whole world how good You are. I told them what a 'miracle' it was that I was pregnant. Then You took my baby from me. But here's the one thing I DO know, beyond a shadow of a doubt: You're real. Jesus, You existed. You walked this earth and what You said and did was recorded for us to learn about You. I believe You are who You said You are. I won't ever deny that. But I need to feel Your Love again. I need to know You care. I need to see Your goodness.
Immediately, His Peace and Love inundated me. No matter what happened, I knew life would be GOOD in the shadow of His wings and I rested in that knowledge. Two weeks later, right about Christmas Day, I conceived again, and my youngest child, Hannah—now 30—is a testament to His love, goodness and faithfulness to me. Subscribe for free to Breaking Christian News here
Check for Part 2 of this article next week in which Teresa describes 3 more of her personal experiences with grief and lays out a roadmap for avoiding the same traps she faced.
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