Together with John, I am camping on Canna, a wild and virtually uninhabited island off the coast of Scotland. Will our argument from the previous day be resolved?
At five o’clock in the morning, I am wide awake. The first thing I think about is our argument from last night. John didn’t move his tent somewhere else, he just went to bed early without talking. The sun is already up. Here in the north of Scotland, the nights are short. I decide to lie down for another hour, but by six o’clock, I’ve really had enough. There’s no sound coming from John’s tent. I whisper his name a few times, but he’s not awake yet. I put on my shoes and decide to climb Compass Hill.
This is one of the highest points on the island. A mountain full of iron, so your compass spins in all directions. It’s not a difficult climb. The rock walls on the side of the mountain are full of nesting birds flying back and forth. I see hundreds of puffins.
“John cries for minutes. I put my arm around his shoulder and let him cry it out.”
I lose track of time, and when I finally get back to our tents, it’s much later than I had planned. John seems to be up. His tent is open, but I don’t see him. Where could he be? Suddenly I see him sitting on the rocks in the distance, looking out over the bay. When I sit next to him, I see that his eyes are bloodshot. He has been crying. I don’t know what to do, so I just sit silently next to him. We sit like that for about half an hour.
“I met Jesus last night.” As John says this, he turns to me and looks at me. “Jesus was here last night on the island. He was here all night. He forgave me everything.” I see John glowing as he says it. All sorts of things go through my head. “You can’t get off that easy, buddy. It’s very simplistic to now suddenly claim that Jesus has forgiven everything. I could do that too.” I notice that I want to make some nasty comments out of my cynicism, but I just manage to hold back. Luckily, John can’t read my mind.
‘You can’t get off that easy, buddy. It’s very simplistic to now suddenly claim that Jesus has forgiven everything.’
“Jesus showed me everything I’ve done wrong in my life. Everything…” John starts to cry loudly. “He showed me how much pain I’ve caused Him and other people.” John cries for minutes. I put my arm around his shoulder and let him cry it out. I can tell that something has really happened in John. It affects me too. “Jesus showed me everything and then completely forgave me. He forgave me. I feel so clean. I feel like a new person.” John starts to laugh through his tears. He just radiates. “I feel totally reborn. Oh, how good God is!”
“Jesus doesn’t hold anything against him anymore. That’s easy! God is too soft and too good! I rage and rant. Why does Jesus visit someone who doesn’t deserve it?”
I don’t know how to react to John. Of course, I believe in grace and forgiveness, but to see it happen right before my eyes in someone who really doesn’t deserve it, brings up resistance in me. John is forgiven. Jesus doesn’t hold anything against him anymore. That’s easy! Years of consciously or unconsciously abusing others are wiped away in one night. Does this mean John can now go back to the Netherlands and just take his place there as if nothing happened?
I feel like the older son in the parable of the waiting father, who doesn’t want to celebrate when the lost son comes home. I find in myself that I can’t celebrate with this laughing and crying John. I want to punch and hit him and let him know that he can’t get off that easy. I want to wipe that grin off his face. I want to hurt him seriously. Of course, I don’t do that. I keep my composure, but meanwhile…
‘I want to punch and hit him and let him know that he can’t get off that easy. I want to wipe that grin off his face.’
I need space. I leave him sitting on the rocks and climb Compass Hill for the second time that day. I’m furious, and at the top of the hill, I scream at God. I accuse Him of being too soft, too easy with his forgiveness, and too good. I rage and rant. Why does Jesus visit someone who doesn’t deserve it? When I’ve let everything out and sit exhausted on a rock, I feel words coming to me. It’s as if God is speaking to me. “Don’t I know that Jesus is with me every day? Would I want Jesus to also show me all my mistakes and shortcomings?” I shudder at the thought. “Would I really want God to be less good? Less good to me? Am I just like the man who has been forgiven millions and is now angry that the king forgives another? Isn’t it God’s responsibility how He deals with his goodness?”
Yes, that may all be true. But I don’t find it fair. I’ve been trying to faithfully follow Jesus for years. I’ve fought so hard against my own desires. Every time John gave in and made himself bigger, I tried to stay strong and now he gets a visit from Jesus. He does, and I don’t… I wish Jesus would also come to me on this hill now, but He doesn’t. I’m here alone. Maybe He’s with John on the rocks, but not with me. My anger grows again in me. It’s not fair!
There is no miracle for me. No angel visit, no words from heaven. I’m all alone on the mountain. I have to get through this myself. I need to find perspective. For the first time in my life, I understand how Cain could kill his brother Abel when he felt rejected by God. I feel rejected by God. Although my emotions rage through me and I want nothing more than to storm down the mountain to beat John up out of my anger and jealousy, I have to solve this with God.
“I feel my anger sink into a desire to be very close to Jesus, to experience his grace anew.”
I have to return to the grace I receive every day. John may have exalted himself in front of the people around him. I’ve exalted myself in front of God. I haven’t been aware for a long time that I also need God’s grace and forgiveness day by day. I’ve considered myself so much better and holier than John. John is forgiven by God, but I need that forgiveness just as much. I also have to return to the point that there is only grace and forgiveness for me; to the fact that Jesus is just as much here with me on the hill as with John on the rocks. Something breaks in me. I feel my anger sink into a desire to be very close to Jesus, to experience his grace anew.
I feel a deep peace come over me and suddenly become aware of God’s loving presence. This is a holy place. These islands on the west coast of Scotland near Iona are indeed fording places, spots where heaven and earth touch. I can see the beautiful view again. To my left, I see the Outer Hebrides islands Barra and Uist. Straight ahead are the snow-capped peaks of Skye, and to my right, I see the wild mountain peaks of the island of Rhum. For the rest, there is only sea and sky. I enjoy…
‘I’ve considered myself so much better and holier than John.’
When I get back to the tent, John is already boiling water for our evening meal. We greet each other cautiously. “Tonight it’s instant kale with reindeer bacon bits. Makes your mouth water, huh?” I give him a smile. John continues: “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’ve been crying a lot today too.” My eyes are probably just as red as his. I give him a friendly punch. “I have a good idea. Let’s walk to the harbor for dessert. There’s the only shop on the island. It’s also a small tearoom where they sell the most delicious cakes. After a day like this, we could both use it.” John nods in agreement. “After this kale, any dessert seems delicious. Can we skip the kale and go straight for dessert?”
So it happens that five minutes later, we are on our way to a real hot cup of tea and the biggest piece of cake we’ve seen in a long time.
Read some background articles on why Evangelical leaders fall:
- The Anatomy Of A Christian Leader’s Downfall
- The Hidden Perils Of Spiritual Hero Worship In The Church
- The Prelude To The Downfall Of The Christian Leader
- Unmasking The Soul: The Authenticity Struggle In Leadership
Have you read some my other articles:
- Part 1: Evangelicalism’s High School Traits: Can Trauma Be the Key?
- Part 3: Please God Strike Evangelicalism On It’s Hip
- Part 4: Only By Facing Our Trauma Can The Evangelical Movement Reach Real Fatherhood
- Part 5: Why Evangelicalism Needs ‘Limping Courage’ On The Road To Maturity
Matt Vlaardingerbroek, a former seasoned church planter and pastor in Holland’s inner cities, brings Bible stories to life through ventriloquism and magic. He’s authored three books, and founded www.creativekidswork.com, providing over 1,500 innovative Sunday school activities worldwide.