First, a couple of disclaimers. I know my posts are growing more religious in tone, but I’m rarely motivated to blog unless I’m really conflicted about something (or really excited, and if you know me, you know I’m not excitable). The experience of living out my religion conflicts me, so you get to read about it. If you don’t want to read that sort of thing, I totally understand and suggest you skip this post and the next couple. Also, this post refers to no one in particular, but intends to consider what I see happening with many people I’ve known. My anecdotal evidence is, therefore, vague because it tries to describe the aggregate of many individual experiences. Also, I’m always open to different ways of thinking, resolving, and interpreting issues, so if you don’t agree or if you just have something to say that you think I should’ve said, please do share. That said:
When I share the Gospel with others, I expect their lives to be better for it. Predictably, this expectation is both supported by scripture (e.g. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt 11:28-30, emphasis mine) and in direct contradiction to it (e.g. “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” Matt 10:34-35). Regardless of whether or not my expectations are justified by an appeal to Christ’s own words, I do assume that offering others the option to accept Christ into their lives will result in blessings. And, like any mortal, I expect those blessings to be immediate and obvious. But you know, sometimes that isn’t what happens. Sometimes an attempt to come unto Christ actually appears to make someone’s life harder. I have seen more than one person, faced with extreme difficulties as a direct result of newfound faith, decide to give up on Christ (or church or religion or whatever signifier they’re using) altogether. It’s just too hard for them. All they have to show for their foray into Christianity is a broken heart and a bitter taste in their mouth. Sometimes they also have strained or broken familial relations and shattered careers as well. Having watched various friends’ struggles over the past several years, I am left wondering, was it such a good idea to share the Gospel with my friends to begin with?
I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and this weekend I stumbled upon a familiar parable that I hadn’t dusted off in a while. Surely you’re familiar with the parable of the sower (Luke 8, and other places)? To review– a sower goes out to sow his fields. As he sows, some of the seeds land in the wayside and are tromped on or eaten up. Some of the seeds land on a rock and wither as soon as they sprout because they lack moisture. Some of the seeds fall among thorns and are choked out by the weeds. And some land in the furrows and grow up into good plants. Christ provides an explanation of this parable to his disciples. Pertinent to my thoughts is the allegorical connection between the seed that fell into thorns and those people who “when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection” (Luke 8:14). Maybe you can see where I’m going with this. Many of my friends who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ only to turn away from it are like these seeds among thorns. Real tragedy strikes and they feel abandoned. The balancing act of being in the world but not of it is too hard. Something happens, either in themselves or in their context, so they bring no fruit to perfection. This happens to all of us, of course, at one time or another, but my concern is for the people who are so overcome with “thorns” that they just check out altogether, for those people who lose their way and never make it back.
I’m not really content to just leave it there, though. I can’t just say, “Ah, well. Too bad my friend isn’t good ground for seeds. Sucks to be him.” And that explanation doesn’t really answer my question either. If anything, it would suggest that hearing the Gospel isn’t necessarily a good thing. Only one fourth of the options presented in the parable are desireable.
I’ll tell what did work for me, though (and it might not work for you). The realization that, since the seed refers to the word of God, the ground in this parable corresponds to our own hearts. We decide what kind of ground we want to be, and, I think, we get to decide what grows there. If I want to worry about (to take examples from my own life) what my friends will think more than I want to follow Christ, then that’s my prerogative. If I want to hang on to the grief and bitterness of an abusive marriage more than I want to let Christ’s charity enter my heart, then that’s my right as well. If I want to keep on doing the things I’ve always done rather than change my habits and become a new, better person, then nothing can make me do otherwise. So if people decide that they’re done with the whole church thing, it’s their choice. They’re not being suckered into anything, just like they weren’t suckered into joining the church in the first place. It’s a choice they’re making, and while I don’t have to like it, it’s important that I recognize their right to make it.
Right after Lehi (I’m in the Book of Mormon now, non-LDS readers) tells his children that the purpose of our existence is to have joy (2 Nephi 2:25), he goes on to explain how important choice is to us, and what it is we’re free to do. Updated with some gender neutral language, Lehi says, “Wherefore [people] are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto [them]. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all [humans], or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27). The same sort of thing is said elsewhere throughout scripture. We can choose to follow Christ or we can choose not to, and it’s a choice that each person makes with every other decision we face: will this action bring me farther from or closer to the Lord?
So why then is evangelism a good thing? Because it brings people to a knowledge of the choices they have. It’s not my job to ensure that, after people have made a choice to follow Christ, their lives are perfect. Nowhere in the scriptures (and Mormons have a lot of scriptures) does it say anything like “Only share the Gospel with people who you know will endure adversity well,” or “You personally are responsible for making everyone’s life happy and easy, particularly people with whom you’ve shared your beliefs.” Neither of those things are true. What the scriptures do say is that it “becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” (D&C 88:81) and that those who seek the Lord early will find him, and will not be forsaken (D&C 88:83), whatever we may think at the time. People who fall away for a time can always choose to come back, but it’s their choice.
Sharing the gospel with someone is as much an exercise in faith as accepting it is. All my life, I’ve known of Christ’s love for me. My entire testimony rests on that one unshakeable rock. I don’t think I’m all that great, so if Christ can care for me like the idiot sheep I am, then surely he will do it for others. Christ stands at the door and knocks, he stretches out his hand after us, he tries to gather us like a hen gathers her chicks, he invites us to a feast, among so many other metaphors– all I have to do is tell people he’s there. I introduce one friend to another. It’s that simple. And if I really have faith in the Lord’s goodness, then when I’m presented with the opportunity, that’s what I’ll do. It’s my choice to share my testimony with others. They decide how to respond to thorns.