If you have suffered from PTCD you know it. I heard someone use the phrase last week and it immediately resonated: Post-traumatic Church Disorder.
Bad spirituality can make us spiritually sick, just like bad food can give us food poisoning. Some of you know this first-hand. You’ve got a story of a dysfunctional church life where all change is considered bad, where people cling to sacred cows and argue over who is sitting in whose pew. You’ve got flashbacks of joyless Sunday School hours and angry VBS teachers, of seemingly pointless meetings where people seem to want to argue for the fun of it.
That spirit of religion is a killer. I remember as a child sitting in church counting ceiling tiles and wondering if a person actually could die of boredom and if so, how close was I? You may have a story of church abuse that is much worse, criminal even.
Post-traumatic church disorder has a root cause. It happens when people who are sick at the point of their faith pass along their spiritual sickness by the way they behave. Spiritually sick people tend to be the angry ones in the room. They are unwilling to operate from the highest, best version of themselves and instead think, act and make decisions out of their woundedness. They aren’t interested in working through conflict. They tend to operate out of their own agendas.
Then there are those who, in the prophetic words of Pink Floyd, have become comfortably numb. They aren’t angry. They aren’t desperate. They aren’t anything. They are just there.
Lukewarm is its own kind of pain.
Maybe you have been infected by a spiritually sick person. Maybe you have been hurt by this all-too-human institution that was supposed teach you the best God has to offer, but instead showed you the worst. I am sorry for those of you who have been bored to death by a church that never challenged you with more than three points and a poem. I am sorry for you who have been confused by the hypocrisy of people preaching love, mercy, and grace, but living rigidly and angrily. I am sorry for you who learned too much about guilt but who were never given the gospel of grace.
I am sorry, and I want you to know I believe with all I am that the heart of God cries out for you and grieves the wounds you’ve sustained. And while he has chosen to allow suffering, even within his own Church, he proves his love for us by becoming personally, intimately involved in our redemption.
Thomas Merton talks about “the Christ of the burnt people” — the ones separated from him by brokenness. It is for the burnt people Christ came, for the burnt people he was burned himself. He was seared by the hatred of humanity. For the burnt people he stood in the gap so he could be our bridge into the very presence of God where we now stand holy and blameless because of the flesh and blood of Christ.
This is why, as Paul says in Colossians 1:27, Christ is our only hope of glory. I love the way Paul puts it: “This is the secret of life: Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Because Christ is the only one who can take burned-out, burned-up people and give them meaning. Christ is the only one who can take an all-too-imperfect institution and use it redemptively to bring the Kingdom in.
Christ in us. Christ in us.