A Christian Beginning-Finding My Purpose
I learned compassion from my parents. Inspired by experience as a houseparent in an orphans’ home, my father made a career in child welfare. When I was a child, many of our dinner-table conversations began with a story of an abused or neglected child. One of my father’s favorite scriptures was James 1:27 (NLT), “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”
As I pondered my personal mission, it seemed that God was calling me to help people see his goodness and regain confidence in him.
Late in my Christian life, I looked for a focus for my own ministry. I wanted to concentrate my efforts in an area I was passionate about that would use my skills and inspire my enthusiasm.
On numerous occasions such as in Sunday school classes, at retreats, in public testimonies and personal conversations, I observed other Christians confessing they often felt unloved by God and they had difficulty trusting him. Though certainly not an exemplary model of faith, I never lacked confidence in his love and I seemed to find it easier to trust God than most of the people I encountered.
As I pondered my personal mission, it seemed that God was calling me to help people see his goodness and regain confidence in him. I saw this as a ministry to believers, but even more to unbelievers. I felt that if non-Christians could be made aware of God’s longing to fill their lives with peace and joy, their barriers to faith would be broken down and they would open their hearts completely to him.
On a Mission to Demonstrate Evidence of God’s Love
So, I began looking for examples to demonstrate God’s care for the world. Christian professions of God’s love weren’t enough. Those professions needed to be supported by evidence within the church. If we failed to help people with their physical needs, non-Christians would be justified in feeling that our love was superficial and our concern was not for their welfare, but only in increasing our church attendance or “numbers”.
If we failed to help people with their physical needs, non-Christians would be justified in feeling that our love was superficial.
I was also aware that to influence non-believers, such love and genuine care for others needed to be associated with faith and selfless service to God. It couldn’t be a self-serving act you would expect from believers and non-believers alike. As Jesus points out in Matthew 5:45 (NIV), “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
To build faith, demonstrations of love need to come through people helping others in service to God. And so I searched for evidence of this God honoring, selfless, compassionate service to others.
Discovering The Church’s Lack of Compassion
What I discovered was disappointing. The vast majority of church activities revolved around teaching rather than serving. In every church I encountered, relief of suffering was subordinate to indoctrination.
What I discovered was disappointing. The vast majority of church activities revolved around teaching rather than serving.
I then looked at church budgets. Again, I was disappointed to see that the great majority of church dollars were spent on church staff, property, and internal operations. Another portion of the church dollars supported external ministries, such as missionaries and their churches. Only a tiny scrap was given to relieve suffering among the poor and oppressed.
My wife and I wanted to shift the balance in our own way. To help demonstrate God’s love for the world, we began giving part of our tithe to Samaritan’s Purse. Samaritan’s Purse implements the model of the Bible story of the good Samaritan, and follows Jesus’ teaching to come to the aid of the world’s poor, sick, and suffering. These types of Christian organizations seem to be the exception rather than the rule.
Does God Care About the Poor?
Not long ago I posted a Facebook comment supporting health care financing reform. A friend commented that God intends for the church to help the poor, not the government. I responded that if that’s true, God apparently doesn’t care much about the poor.
Let me explain. To be fair, some Christians make amazing sacrifices to relieve the suffering of others. However, I’ve observed a “body of Christ” that provides no convincing evidence that God has any interest in whether or not people have food, health, or freedom from exploitation.
A Church Too Focused on Evangelism
As a charismatic Christian, I believed that the Holy Spirit lived in every Christian, teaching and inspiring him or her to do God’s will.
I was troubled by the prevailing attitude among evangelical Christians that serving people’s needs was secondary to “saving them”.
I’ve often heard this attitude defended with the argument that the gospel offers eternal life, which is much more important than our present physical needs. I understand that perspective, but I am unconvinced that it justifies the church’s focus on evangelism over compassion and service.
I remain unconvinced of the approach for two reasons:
- I don’t feel suffering unbelievers are concerned about anything failing to improve their current lives. We need to provide what they know they need (food, shelter, human dignity) before offering something they don’t yet consider relevant (salvation).
- I feel that real love includes all aspects of life, not just the “spiritual” life. 1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” When I see a Christian church having no pity on people in need, I have to ask the question…”Is the love of God IN the church and its people?” The evidence would suggest not.
Effect of Human Sin or Failure of the Holy Spirit?
In my 40 years observing the teaching and activities of a great variety of churches, I’ve seen a consistent pattern of neglect rather than compassion.
To me, it’s a failure on the part of the Holy Spirit.
To me, this is not a trivial question explained away as an effect of human sin. To me, it’s a failure on the part of the Holy Spirit. It’s one of the unanswered questions that weakened my conviction of the truth of Christianity. It eventually contributed to the loss of my faith and belief in God.
In my view, the church will never be convincing in its professions of love for the world until it demonstrates real compassion for suffering people. I doubt this will ever happen. I see Christians as merely normal people, rather than “spirit filled” agents of a powerful, compassionate God.
A Call to Action
We can do better than we have done in the past:
So, here is a challenge and a call to action to Christians worldwide. Represent a compassionate God by truly serving those in need.
- We can inspire each other to pay more attention to the plight of suffering people
- We can work together to supply food to people who are chronically hungry
- We can provide protection for exploited people so everyone can pursue a better life
So, here is a challenge and a call to action to Christians worldwide. Have compassion and pity on those less fortunate than yourself. But go several steps further. Turn those feelings of compassion into selfless action. Represent a compassionate God by truly serving those in need. Don’t just give your money. Give your life in sacrificial service to others as Jesus instructed. Then, and only then, will non-believers start to see evidence of a God worth believing in.
Epilogue: Why is an Atheist Writing for a Christian Website?
I’m here to help Christians understand why some people don’t believe in God.
I was a Christian for over 40 years, and the great majority of my friends and family are Christians. I want them and you to understand that the loss of my faith was not a rebellion against God. It was due to a failure to find God, and a failure to see the gospel lived out among Christians.
I also want to make it clear that I speak only for myself. There is not one atheist viewpoint just like there is not one Christian viewpoint. Many non-religious people have very different attitudes and opinions than mine.
I see this ministry as a serious attempt to challenge Christians to greater thoughtfulness and integrity.