If there's one thing we can't escape as Christians it's that how we live and what we say affects how people view God. God kinda set it up that way with his people long ago, calling first Israel and then the church to be his image-bearers and ambassadors in the world. I so often wonder why he did that as I think we often end up preventing people from having a fair chance of seeing God for who he is.
When this image-bearing goes right, it can be a really powerful thing. You can have people who don't even believe in God questioning their beliefs or at least willing to talk with you about the possibility of God's existence. When we live like Jesus and love and serve and protect and sacrifice and love and love and love, people can be drawn first to us and then to him.
But when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong. It devastates a person's desire or ability to seek God or to follow him. It creates animosity. It creates barriers. And over time, the wealth of injuries the institutional church has caused to humanity's ability to see God is overwhelming. It seems like it's impossible to get over.
I had a conversation with my atheist friend yesterday--a really long conversation and I'll probably have post after post of things to say as I process the conversation. But this is the first of many things that sticks out to me. His objections to God are actually objections to the God that the church has preached through her actions and through her words. It's not the God that I know or run after. But I find it overwhelming and nearly impossible to think of how to overcome all that history of all of us Christians who have lived lives aimed at having as little pain as possible and protecting ourselves from what we perceive as the taint of the world.
God, we have failed you. We have put our need for comfort and safety above all things. We have so often been filled with a passion to preach or convert but not to love or to serve or to sacrifice. We have not cared about justice. We have not loved the outcast or outsider. We have wanted our own place in society to be preserved at the cost of inviting and sharing and being hospitable. We have been threatened by people who believe differently. We have allowed race and social class to divide us. We have been like the pharisees instead of like the fishermen. God, transform us, the church. Make us over in your image and in your likeness so that we can be the picture that we are supposed to be of who you are and what you care about.