I’ve been in church all my life. I’ve lived among Christians who know their Bibles and take notes during sermons. And like them, I resemble outsiders much more than I resemble Jesus.
Last Sunday morning walking into church, I was thinking about what obedience looks like in my life, in my context, in the world I inhabit. I thought maybe God, in his infinite wisdom, would take all those variables into account when I faced his judgment. I would receive grace as I struggled to know what obedience looks like here and now, even if it looks different from what I read in my Bible.
The sermon wrecked my rationale. You know it’s a good sermon when it dismantles your defenses and reminds you of everything you’ve know and don’t want to admit.
For all us church kids who know our Bibles, I’ve been trying to figure out how knowledge translates into obedience. Implicit in most sermons is one answer: Obedience is the result of having enough information. If they aren’t obeying, give them more information. Close the case. Prove your argument.
But that answer just hasn’t worked very well. Look at us. Even as we have more and better Bible scholarship, there’s more and better information in conflict too. The proportions for and against remain about the same. No, the problem isn’t a want for information.
I think obedience is a matter of mourning. We don’t need to be convinced; we already are. Instead, we need to mourn the losses of the things we love—the things keeping us from obeying, the things keeping us from God. We need to have a funeral for all the things we prioritize above God—our idols, our ideals, ourselves.
I think a church kid’s movement toward obedience can take a cue from the famous Stages of Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When I’m faced with the hard and fast lines Jesus takes against the sins in my life, I wriggle and writhe. I do a lot of things to avoid accepting it and obeying. I don’t need more information, more head knowledge. I need to deal with it emotionally. I don’t need to read more books and feel conviction. I need to cry about not getting my way, and then let it go.
The stages of grief make sense to me for this process. I might amend them a bit. Maybe something like rationalizing, resistance, compromising, mourning, and obedience. But I think the five stages as they are serve as a good guide. There are a lot of places in my life where I need to grieve my priorities and the inconveniences that will come from obeying. I need to have a funeral and bury what’s dead. And I’ll cry for a while, maybe go back and try to dig up the bones and resurrect it, but maybe after a while I’ll be okay. I’ll stop grieving over things that were dying anyway. And in their place, I’ll find things that won’t.