When Sinners Act Like Sinners

We have such great expectations for church, but people get hurt so often! What’s wrong with the Church?

Brother Lawrence, a layman who cooked for the Carmelite monastery in Paris during the late 17th century, wrote one of the great mystical books of Christendom called “The Practice of the Presence of God.” In it, he observes that he is never surprised when a sinner acts like a sinner.

He was talking about people who did not believe the Christ, and who were still completely in their sins. But the truth is, even those of us who do believe in Christ still manifest our wicked nature sometimes. When we’re together in churches, we’re in a room full of other people who, like us, manifest their wicked natures sometimes. Some of them don’t even recognize their actions as wicked.

The secret to surviving hurt in the church is simply to remember that every one of us is a sinner in recovery. It is no surprise that in a church full of recovering sinners, sometimes we get hurt, and sometimes we hurt others despite our best efforts not to. That’s actually to be expected.

What’s great about the church is that God is there to help us pick up the pieces, resolve the hurt, and do better next time. In fact, He’s still there even if we flub the recovery. We might get offended and run off to another church. That’s silly, because we’re carrying at least part of the problem with us when we go. But God’s there at the new place, and He does not abandon the project of reforming our character just because we stupidly ran off.

The remarkable thing is that sometimes, we or our church-mates do genuinely good things by the Holy Spirit. When that happens, the world becomes a vastly better place for somebody. That makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

Do not expect the Church to be sin-free. You’re in it, and so am I, so we know it cannot be sin-free. But let’s devote ourselves to creating more instances where the Holy Spirit has directed our actions and produced life.

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