The God-Forsaken Church

Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention. And she named the child Ichabod, saying,“The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” 1 Samuel 4:19-22

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

old-church-2It was actually more years ago than I can remember…I was sitting with a church leader while her church was in the midst of turmoil and conflict and she was sharing the litany of painful circumstances that had befallen her church. It was just one horrible thing after another after another after another. It was startling. And then she said this: “It feels like God has written ‘Ichabod’ over our door. We are a God-forsaken church.” I had a vague recollection of the biblical reference but will admit to you now I had to go back and read the story again out of 1 Samuel.

Eli (the priest) had sent his two ungodly sons into war with all their Israeli brothers in arms to fight the Philistines. It did not go well. Both sons were killed. Israel was horribly defeated. and the Arc of the Covenant (in which lied all the power of Israel’s sovereign God) had been captured. Truly, all was lost. The elder priest, Eli, had a heart attack and died when he heard the news. His very pregnant daughter-in-law went into traumatic labor when she heard the news. Just before she died giving birth, she named her newborn son “Ichabod”…”for the glory of the Lord has departed Israel”.

It got me thinking…was her worry plausible? Does God remove “His glory” from a church? Does He write “Ichabod” across the door if we behave badly enough for long enough? Is there a point in our rebellion as a church when God finally slams the door…like the door of Noah’s ark slamming closed for its last horrifying time before total destruction comes?

I know so many of your stories. I know that many (maybe most) of you would answer this question with a resounding “YES”. And you make a good point. While scripture certainly teaches that God’s mercies are everlasting, it also shows that our sins and rebellion bring their own consequences which God permits as a means of disciplining us. I believe that, if we as God’s people simply refuse to become the “house of prayer” we were called to become, if we continue to cling to the ways of the world to resolve all our problems and conflicts rather than leaning on Him and His ways, if we continue to allow our own selfish ambition and discord and fits of rage and other such “fruit of the flesh” to inform our relationships with one another…I do believe God will permit the consequences to follow. I believe we will lose whatever divine authority or power He had once given us. I believe God will finally say to us, “Fine, have it your way.” I believe, when that happens, we will be left looking an awful lot like the rest of the world looks. In fact, I believe we can see evidence of it around us already.

This week, I am meditating on Matthew 27 and the crucifixion. I am realizing that, as painful and humiliating as that entire experience was for Jesus (and we each and all have our own “crucifixion” to experience as His faithful followers), I believe the pain and discomfort reached its climax for Jesus in v.46, when He expressed the reality of God (the Father) having turned his back on Him (the son). It was a first for Jesus. For the first–and only–time EVER, the perfect union of the Trinity was disturbed…they were something other than “one”. Covered with the sins of a broken world, Jesus was, for a moment…God-forsaken.

The good news is this: Jesus experienced being God-forsaken so that we, as His church, do not have to. We, as a church, can always choose to walk in fellowship with Him. Even in our failures and flaws and brokenness…even in the midst of chaos and conflict…we can return to Him and know the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering. And when it seems clear to you that your own church is falling apart at the seams and that perhaps God has forsaken it…you can reflect on the fact that Jesus’ work on the cross paved your way (and your church’s way) back to Him. Be encouraged. It is not too late.

© Blake Coffee
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