When I tell people parts of the chapters in my story where I was burned by the church, by ministry, pastors, leaders, and organizations, I get the same response almost every time: a dropped jaw and the question, "How on earth are you still following God?"
In many ways I'm still trying to find the appropriate response to that question because sometimes I wonder myself. Sometimes I'll answer that it was because I found a really good church that gave me hope, trumping all the ways I'd seen it done wrong. Sometimes I'll credit the people in my life that made me feel okay and gave me space to be angry; trustworthy people who demonstrated true care and love. Sometimes the answer feels like that it's because God followed me during those betraying times. Other times the answer feels like God rescued me from the church, ministry, pastors, etc. While they're all true in some way, I'm wondering what grace or encouragement any of those answers truly give to the hearers.
That question, "How on earth are you still following God?" is rising out of some part of someone's story (maybe theirs). I wonder if what they're really saying is, "How on earth are you still following God after going through all that when (fill in a name) went through the same thing and they're/I'm not following God now?" Maybe they're thinking, "I couldn't go through that and still trust God." (Because the only ones you follow are those you trust). I don't know what people are saying, what underlying scar or memory is crying out under that question, but it makes me think about my answers to that question.
If the answer to how I can still manage to follow Him is because of a good church- where does that leave the one who can't bear to be in a church parking lot because of the anxiety and panic it gives them? Where does that leave those who are still afraid of church and what church might say or do, or how church might turn and betray them? Where does that leave those who can't find a good church? Well they're up shit creek without a paddle.
If the answer is having the right people in my life- where does that leave the people who, after having left their church, were ostracized (excommunicated), left completly isolated and alone? Where does that leave the ones who keep getting burned by all the wrong people? Where does that leave the ones who can't tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys? They're on their own with just them, their pain, their memories, and the emptiness.
If the answer to sticking with God is God sticking with me- where does that leave the people who feel abandoned by God? Does that mean that you can't find God because God left you? Well then why'd He leave?! What in the hell does that mean for you and everyone else?! They're left confused and hurt, feeling more abandoned than they did before.
If the answer to being able to still follow God, no matter the burns, is because God rescued me from those people and places that burned me- what does that say to the people who can't recover? What does that mean for the people who feel like they had to rescue themselves? Does that mean that God chose not to rescue them but did choose to rescue others? Does that mean God simply didn't want them? Where does that leave those too battered to save themselves in need of a someone to save them aka a Savior?
So whereas these answers may console and bring some sort of resolution to me, they utterly destroy my fellow wounded veterans of the church. It doesn't make them any less true, but it does make them less appropriate. None of those answers have much chance of affirming someone else's journey, just my own.
So what do you say to a question like that? Someone has resonated with your story, with your experience, and yet cannot comprehend its ending...what do you say?
Simply put, I don't know how to answer that question except to let the question be- to let it echo into The Void in hopes that it will collide with something somewhere and bounce back to them whispers of life. I can't answer how on earth I am still following God without risking collateral damage. But this I can say that God is not okay with what happened to me, to you, or to us. He is bothered by what happened. It does not sit well with Him and it does not go unnoticed, you do not go unnoticed. And regardless of how, the very thought of that makes me want to follow Him a little while longer.