Who is closer to God?

Farmville Enterprise column March 22, 2017

The other day a grandmother said something profound to me. We had been praying for one of her grandsons who was in the midst of a very rough patch. Some unwise choices plus a possible substance abuse issue were adding up to a bad combination. Most friends and family recognized that things were not going well for this guy. His grandmother commented to me that actually he was no more lost than a few of her other grandchildren. Sure. By outward appearances his cousins had their lives more “together.” They weren’t in bad relationships or struggling with an addiction.  They lived responsibly and had good jobs.  Spiritually speaking, however, they were in the same boat as their cousin.

It often is easy for us to mistake a person being down and out as being far from God or being “successful” in the world’s eyes for being closer to God. Appearances can deceive people into thinking they are spiritually healthy. The truth is that inevitably there always will be some inside the church whose hearts are far from God. The Pharisees were religious leaders who frequently missed the point of The Law completely. Jesus said, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” (Matthew 15:7-9)

There are those outside the church who disregard spiritual matters altogether and others who value the inner aspect of life. Inside or outside the church, feeling socially or religiously acceptable can lead to smug feelings of self-sufficiency. Sometimes worldly success can be a stumbling block to us recognizing our need for God. The clean-cut, well-educated individual with the outstanding job has as much need for a Savior as does the alcohol-addicted homeless person. Jesus made it clear that we had to become like little children to accept his gift. We could not attain it on our own or believe we were deserving and able to stand on our merit. In this vein, it seems that some who are down and out might have fewer barriers to recognizing their need for God.  “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did.’”  (Matthew 21:31-32)

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