Parishioner Prevan: "The silence is too loud. The darkness is too bright. It blinds me. It deafens me. I am left blind, I am left deaf... in the darkness... in the blackness."
Pastor Gregalt: "Why not try a little work? Maybe that will help the... blackness."
Parishioner Prevan: "Am I to live in blackness?"
Pastor Gregalt: "If it will help you work, yes."
How many times have you gone to church with the weight of the world on your shoulders only to leave with a to-do list? More and more people are answering, "One time too many."
Kids in the Hall
I have a lot of friends who have stopped going to church. Some used to be pastors, worship leaders, youth directors, etc. Some are Parishioner Prevan who have had enough of Pastor Gregalt. Many still live in the Christian house (as described by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity), they have just moved into the hallway. The rooms (churches and denominations) got too dark, so they left. They are God's kids in the hall.
These people aren't slackers. They tried more than a little work. They hoped that religion would illuminate the darkness. The Law of God told them what to do, when and where to shovel, but it couldn't lift one finger to help. In fact, the looming shadow of the Law is what reveals the darkness (Romans 7:9-13), and more demands just lengthen that shadow. The gospel of Gregalt turned out to be no gospel at all.
"The fundamental problem is the same everywhere. You hear the law and not the gospel. What you hear, if you distill the many words, is always the same: Here is what you should do, you are not doing it, so get out there and try harder. This is the 'three-point sermon' of the churches. I sometimes suggest to clergy that they carve over the main door to the church the following words: 'Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.' If you are looking for comfort and release, you had better hold that hope until you leave church."
And those looking for comfort are leaving the church. Statistics reveal the rise of the "Nones," those with no religious affiliation. They aren't leaving because of the liturgy, the music or the stage lighting. They aren't leaving because they have no interest in holiness or because the church isn't missional. They certainly aren't leaving because they haven't been told over and over again to try a little more work. People are leaving churches because they aren't hearing the good news of God's unconditional love for those burdened by darkness. They aren't seeing the light of the true gospel of radical grace. (Don't just take my word for it, check out this message from Dr. Rod Rosenbladt.)
Grace for Angry Pastors
Of course, a pastor can't give what he doesn't have. Grace in Practice points this out:
"Preachers require a history of grace in relation to their own personal sin and sorrows. Unless preachers have individual knowledge of their own form of original sin and total depravity, they have nothing to offer to which anyone else can relate. Grace has to be the core of preachers' own story in order for their sermons to carry any impact. If this is not so, they will preach the law and exhort. Then they will become angry at their own dispirited and paralyzed listeners."
Therefore, the message is the same for Pastor Gregalt and Parishioner Prevan. Jesus, the light of the world, entered into our darkness to satisfy the demands of God's Law once and for all (Romans 6:10). He stands at the doors of the churches and knocks. He goes into the hallways, and even leaves the building, offering rest. He carried the cross on his shoulders, so we don't have to carry the weight of the world on ours. God gives in Jesus what he demanded in the Law. He alone holds out hope.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
- Matthew 11:28-30
Rest & Light
On the cross, Jesus said, "It is finished." That's enough. In his life, death and resurrection, God has done for us everything he required from us. We can rest in his finished work. "We who have believed enter that rest ... for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest..." (Hebrews 4:3, 10-11). Yes, that takes faith, but even faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). "And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Romans 4:5).
You may ask, "So, what am I supposed to do now?"
Well, Jesus said that he came to set us free, so what do you want to do?
Whatever that is, you really can put down your shovel and walk out into God's marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). You may even break your silence and shout out the good news about the rest that's ours if we would only take it. Only a fool would keep shoveling away in the darkness... in the blackness.