On Justifying Self

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As I woke up this morning, I was having imagined conversations with some people in the church and who were once members of the church. I wanted reasons for their actions. I was asking the question every young child asks: Why? For instance: why do you attend that other church? Why have you stopped attending church altogether?

I imagined answers. Some I heard from their lips. Some I imagined based on previous passing conversations with various people. Some I considered plausible based on lifestyle. Answers like “I am not being fed”, or “I like the music better, it's more my style,” or “they have a program that fits my children’s needs” or “it’s hard to get up Sunday morning after a late night”. I am sure you add your own. This time the answers did not matter. My mind took another turn.

I wondered why the answer would be satisfying to the person herself or himself. You see, to my mind, there are times we may give “reasons” for our actions that we are quite wrong. So rather than justifying ourselves, we find ourselves confessing our sinfulness. Or we may give our reasons and find them lame, inadequate, insufficient justification. We may do it anyway because we want to, but we know that we are just being selfish. But some answers we find sufficient. They satisfy us. And not only us but our friends and fellow congregants. Answers like “we are all sinners,” or “sometimes we just need a change in scenery”. But I asked like a two year old: Why? Why do some answers satisfy and others not?

And then I wondered: would the answers we find satisfying today have been satisfying a century ago? Or in another part of the world today?

As I thought these things, it struck me that perhaps our answers reveal more about our culture than we like to admit. The answers we find satisfying are often the ones our neighbours would accept. For instance, to be “very busy” is a justification for many things today. It allows us to fall through on obligations we have made. Because everyone is, and everyone thinks it a good enough reason, we find it satisfies our need for a good reason. But the answer reveals something about our culture, our time and our way in the world.

And this makes me ask the next question: are we blind to how God would answer our reasons? If the narrow way is counter-cultural, one that sets us apart from the crowd, would not our culturally satisfying answers be unpersuasive to God? If as it happens so many of our satisfying answers include the sovereign “I” (my needs, my tastes, my busyness) in them, would God not challenge our answers? What happened to “God’s will” and divine call? What happened to role of the community (church) in our life (I Cor 12) – which challenges the sovereign “I”?

Around this time, I got out of bed to start the day among God’s people whom God has called me to love.

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What is often over looked is the Holy Spirit's leading of individuals to worship elsewhere. How painful it often is to leave a worship community and join another! There needs to be room for those who do not leave out of ilk or for a new "God experience", but because God has asked them to move, perhaps for reasons not yet explained. There must be room in this discussion for the acknowledgement of the cost of discipleship. Our denomination can be very hung up on congregants staying for life at one church and can often promote the idea that moving around is wrong - even self-indulgent. Is this truly reflective of what our role as church is?