In a recent article “Teen Atheism on the Rise” Professor Reginald Bibby gives all of us some tough news to chew on. It is especially tough for us in the church as it gives a stark outline of the growing work that we must do, not simply to stay connected, but to actually re-connect with a society and culture that is increasingly moving in a very different direction from us.
But the news is tough even for those who don’t think much of the church or her mission. It’s tough to chew because it points out some troubling numbers for society in its head-long rush to villify the Christian Church … It seems the numbers show that as people increasingly leave the church behind, they are less nice to be around! In his study Prof. Bibby found that only 54% of non-believers considered having concern for others to be highly important. Only 44% of the same, thought that forgiveness was important. And only 35% thought patience ranked highly as a value to hold.
Gee … you think? As if we needed the numbers to tell us the obvious.
There are those who argue that you don’t need the church to teach such values … fine I say … then you can start any time! Anyone who has ever had to stand in line at a store check-out, or wait at a red light, knows how well the world teaches patience. Anyone who has ever made a mistake, been the victim of a grudge, or a vendetta, knows how highly society holds up forgiveness. Anyone who has ever walked down the main street of any town in any province of our country can see for themselves the kind of concern most people have for those in need. Yes, I suppose you can teach such values without the church getting involved, but I have yet to see any proof of it.
But lest you think it is only the athiests at fault consider these statistics from the same article (which I would argue are perhaps even more disheartening) Only 55% of Christians polled valued patience highly. (That means nearly 1 out of every 2 Christians seems unconcerned with using this gift given them by the Holy Spirit!) Only 72% upheld the importance of being concerned for others. One in four apparently thinks it is OK to care foremost about oneself, despite all that the second table of God’s Law says to the contrary. And only 72% of Christians valued forgiveness as highly important. Forgiveness! That one precious gift bought with the blood of Christ upon the cross. Forgiveness, the one and only way that anyone will ever see the gates of heaven unlocked! Forgiveness, the foundation, and substance of the Christian faith … and nearly a quarter of the Christians polled didn’t think it all that necessary!
As tough as this news is to chew, I suppose that it does make the story of this Holy week so much more important to believer and athiest alike! More important and therefore maybe easier to swallow. The bitter suffering and rejection of Jesus at the hands of friends and foes alike, the impatience of the religious and secular leaders to be done with all annoyances, the debt of sin and selfishness that could only be paid by the innocent suffering and death of Jesus on the cross … this is not just some tragic story of what might have been. It is the story of what had to be. It is the story of how God was concerned enough to rescue us from ourselves. It is the story of how God was patient enough to bring everything together all at once, so salvation could be gained once and for all. It is the story of how God loved each and every one of us – selfish, impatient, unforgiving so-and-so’s that we are, to send His only begotten Son to suffer and die and thus earn us forgiveness. It is a sweet piece of news we could all chew on for a while!