Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Boundaries of Grace

It is a bit complicated . . . how I came to this question, and it is a real question. What I mean, it isn't rhetorical as I have no idea of the honest answer but one of those questions that bounce around inside my feeble mind.

First, how I got here.  Recently I heard a devotional by a gentleman, who isn't a close friend . . . but close enough. The devotional was done extremely well, with confidence, form and articulation. Beyond all of that . . . sincerity.

It wasn't that long ago that I was with the gentleman in a private setting . . . I guess you would say a "share group."  Soon after our introductions I learned more about him than I would ever had guessed nor expected to know.  Apparently he has suffered from a life-long history of sexual addition . . . his words not mine. What makes his story even more difficult was him sharing the impact his obsession has had on his life, and unfortunately others.

You see, he was a theology school graduate and became a pastor of a fairly large church.  His obsession wasn't one that led him to a life of fantasy, wishful thinking or even porn. He acted out on his obsession with, unfortunately, young women in his church.  There was a string of them. They were all of legal consenting age so it wasn't criminal, although highly destructive to his pastorate . . . and marriage . . .  not to mention the lives of the young women.

He also self-professed that he continues to struggle with the impulses.  He is re-married and his new wife seems to understand obsession better than his last. She actually supports him financially as he can not get a new pastorate, nor do I think he wants one. Maybe her understanding is a good thing . . . maybe not.

But he certainly isn't in my category of hypocrite.  He is aware of his obsession as being destructive and sin and seems to want to get better. He shared how he had sought a lot of counseling. He is repentant in my view, while possibly still vulnerable to stumble in the same area.

What I would put in my hypocrite category is an old Nav friend who confided with me many years ago, after a bottle of wine and my own deep honest conversation, that he has molested his children and had multiple affairs with men . . . which his wife had no clue about . . . but on top of that was still comfortable as a leader in his church because "God had not convicted him of it yet."

No, this guy, who did the devotion, is definitely convicted about his obsessions.

So here is my question, how, psychologically, can you preform so well, such a great confidence in those circumstances?  What I mean is . . . I could not comprehend the depth of this sin. Not saying that my is not just as bad, or worse. But I can't comprehend having a long sting of affairs, and being attempted to continue, and yet having the sanity to stand up in front of a large church and share anything.

If you don't know me, you would think that I'm sounding a bit pious and condescending. That's not what I mean. I know that I'm capable of doing horrible things. I think my question is born more of my own psychological deficits.

Like many of us who error on the guilt and anxiety side, I struggle with the sense of inadequacy, especially in the church setting. I haven't done much from the pulpit in many years. When I was a "godly" evangelical, I felt much more comfortable speaking or preaching. Now, after some of my own struggles with depression, anxiety . . . and sin, I can't get my head around it anymore.  I mean, even my falling out with my old pastor makes me feel creepy, while on an intellectual side, I know I did nothing wrong.

So here is my question.  While part of me might be tempted to question this devotion-giver's sincerity . . . I have this suspicious that he is the one who understands grace and forgiveness and it is I who can't grasp it. Could that be true? But this isn't just about me. It is the much larger question. What is the boundary of grace?

Maybe that is the great lesson of the gospel . . .  even if I do horrible things, day after day, yet come to the Lord with a sincere heart . . . then all is well. Yet, psychologically, if I had done what this man had done . . . I would want to crawl up into the mountains and died a slow death where I would never hurt anyone again.


Anonymous said...

I don't think the average Christian is any better than the average non religious person as far as being moral goes. Maybe even a little worse. Maybe even a more than a little worse. I read an article a few days ago about a study that found that people who believe in heaven are more apt to commit crimes than those who don't. Wish I had the link, but forgot where I saw it.

Anonymous said...

Found it:

jmj said...

That study was very interesting. If I read it right, the societies in general, which believed in hell, committed less crime, while those societies that believed more in heaven committed more crimes. Then what is even more interesting is that those in the study who are Christian and said that they believed in a forgiving God tended to over pay themselves for being in the study. While those who believed in a judging God, paid themselves less than the norm for being in the study.

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