Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Like, We Are Never Getting Back Together. Like, Ever.

Photo credit: Clarence Ji / Foter CC BY
Who knew one could so readily find inspiration for a blog post about apostasy in the lyrics of a Taylor Swift breakup song? If the oft-repeated marketing slogan of "Christianity is a relationship" has any truth to it, then apostasy is a lot like a breakup. Maybe that's why I often find myself relating to the sentiment of breakup songs. Lines like "since you been gone, I can breathe for the first time," or "so often times it happens that we live our lives in chains and we never even know we have the key" resonate with my experience. I find this to be the case with the aforementioned T-Swizzle ditty.

Let me clarify a bit before I confuse the reader. See, on my end I hold open the possibility that some form of Christianity may indeed one day somehow seduce me to return. I admit that it seems highly unlikely, but I'm not ready to say "never." The brain is a very curious and often fickle organ, susceptible to all kinds of things. Injury, delusion, hallucination, chemical imbalance, narcotics, or any number of things can completely alter cognitive processes. Not to mention the growing list of cognitive errors everyone remains susceptible to. And who knows? Maybe some form of Christianity has it right and I will discover this and become convinced of its truth. Maybe I'll reach a point where it just doesn't matter to me whether or not it's true and I embrace some iteration of it. I consider all of those things possible. I'm talking about what the Bible says, and the Bible agrees with the sentiment expressed by Miss Swift.

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. - Hebrews 6:4-8 (ESV)

Seems pretty clear, right? It is impossible for apostates like me to ever be restored again to repentance. That's what it says, right? Plain as day. Here's the problem: many Christians don't seem to believe this. Well, they believe it, they're just able to find ways to work around it so that it doesn't always apply to certain people they favor. Somehow my fellow apostates and I often find ourselves among those exceptions. This can be a real drag. Why? Well, it really complicates things.

If all Christians would just accept that apostates are eternally damned and beyond redemption, they might have some closure that would make things easier. Let me explain. When people announce their apostasy they often face repeated attempts by believers to get them back into the fold through various means. On one side of the spectrum this can be overt tactics like shunning and completely cutting off support and contact so you will, “feel, in whatever way, the consequences of your actions in hope that your pride will break and you will come back,” as one of my Christian friends so lovingly put it. It can also be subtle things like inviting us to the Christmas musical or asking us to pray over a Thanksgiving meal...again. *sigh*

From a practical standpoint I tend to appreciate the "love 'em back to Jesus" approach over shunning, especially among family members, but this still really complicates the relationship. See, the apostate will always remain suspicious of the true motives of the believer. On the other side, the believer is likely to become resentful or despondent when these attempts repeatedly fail. The believer will feel guilty for this, of course, but I suspect it's an unavoidable aspect. I've seen this in my own experience with people who took the "love 'em back to Jesus" approach. After a certain period of time, when it became apparent that this thing was for real, they started to get all weird and either distance themselves or become increasingly belligerent and pushy. This is not a good foundation for a relationship, nor is it sustainable.

What's needed here is closure so we can move past this and relate to each other as human beings and not as projects for your redemptive efforts. Christians need to re-categorize apostates in their mental social circles and I think the Bible already offers them that in passages like Hebrews 6. Look, we're damned. We're done. Stick a fork in us. It's over. There's no going back. Accept it. If it's too painful for you to be around us knowing that we will most certainly be tortured by your god for all eternity, so be it. Tell us so. We'll understand. I wouldn't want to be around some hopeless case either, especially if they ever did try to repent and ended up being rejected like Esau with no chance to repent, even though they seek it with tears. That's fine. At least we'll have some closure.

If you can accept our fates and handle being around us, great! Let's enjoy the time we have together on this earth and try to accentuate the commonalities that we share as human beings. Do you trust that your god is doing what is right and just in torturing us forever? Do you believe his word that there is no hope for us? If so, you really need to just accept this. Or maybe...I don't know...ask yourself why it's so hard to accept our fates in the first place and why you have to work so hard to try to make us into exceptions to this rule and then try to win us back.

Otherwise, it would probably be best if you would just give up on all this "Will they or won't they?" crap.  The breakup is final. Our ex even said so and his word is supposedly authoritative to you. We'd like to remain friends with our ex's friends. We'd like to have normal family relationships with our relatives who still remain enamored with our ex. We don't even mind if you talk about how great he is around us, provided it's sincere and not because you're trying to persuade us to get back together with him. If you can't be friends with us because of your allegiance to him, or you can't treat us like real family because you can't bear the thought of us being without him, so be it. Take it up with him. But you need to understand, the healthy and helpful thing for all of us is most likely for you to accept that, when it comes to our spirtual ex-boyfriend, we are never, ever, ever getting back together. OK? Now let's move on.


  1. I actually like the video for this song quite a bit ;) And this was an amazing post to go with it! -- Cas

  2. how did I not see this post before- it's brilliant! Although I cannot stand T Swift, the song captures the sentiment perfectly.

  3. I'm sure we're all aware of times when people are sorry, not because they have broken trust or relationship with someone, but rather they are sorry because they got caught and lamented the consequences. The first type is other-focused, the other is self-focused. This point dovetails well with what is read in 2 Cor 7. And this is why Esau's "repentance" was not accepted. His tears were for selfish loss of material gain; not because he recognized and repented of the rejection of God's blessing that came through a right relationship with his father. When we read "...though he sought *it* with tears", what is the "it" that is being sought? Again, it wasn't a rightly repentance. Rather, "it" was was the blessing itself! Over and over again, scripture draws this dividing line between the spiritual, and the material, and compels us with making a decision between the two. God's way, vs the world's way. Selfless vs selfish. Eternal vs temporal... That warning we read in Heb 6:4-8 is certainly a sobering one. But also take note there is a lengthy list of prerequisite lines one must cross before such an irrevocable fate is bestowed upon the unregenerate. Can we really know when all have been crossed? In light of so many other scriptural examples of God's seeking to forgive and restore us, I think it would be hasty (and poor exegesis) to take such a conclusive stance upon this one passage.

    1. It seems pretty clear to me from both from Gen. 25 and Rom. 9 that Esau never had a chance from the womb. I would also argue that 2 Cor. 7 doesn’t really apply here as it contrasts two kinds of sorrow, not two kinds of repentance. Furthermore, Esau’s disposition toward his father in Gen. 27 has nothing whatsoever to do with his not receiving the blessing. Go back and re-read the story and be careful not to confuse birthright with blessing. Nothing in that passage suggests the rejection of the blessing was a result of issues with his father. Isaac very much wanted to bless Esau. Jacob’s deception foils this. Now, you can maybe argue that Esau’s foreign wives vexed Isaac, but that didn’t stop Isaac’s intent to bless Esau, and Esau doesn’t even figure out that his dad was pissed about the foreign wives thing until AFTER the whole blessing thing goes down, so you can’t really fault Esau for that. Once Isaac pronounced the magic words over Jacob, there was no going back. The spell was cast. Isaac is pretty clear about that, which is why he starts freaking out when he figures out he’s been tricked. See my notes on this here: http://apastasea.blogspot.com/2014/10/mistakes-of-moses-expanded-universe_12.html

      There’s nothing in that passage or the allusion to it by the writer of Hebrews, to suggest if only Esau would’ve had “rightly repentance” that everything would’ve been restored. On the contrary, the writer of Hebrews is using this as a stern warning against immoral and godless people. This is why the antecedent of “it” probably leans more toward “repentance” than “the blessing”, though I admit the text can be interpreted either way. Even if “it” is “the blessing”, the point still stands. Esau had no opportunity to repent. He was hated by Yahweh before he ever did a thing. We could even go further and allow that Esau was rightly hated because of what he eventually showed himself to be. That’s fine. It still makes the point point. Through their actions, apostates have shown themselves to be likewise rightfully rejected, and like Esau there is no hope for them.

      By giving Heb. 6 the interpretation you have, you’ve taken all the teeth out of a supposedly “sobering” passage. You’ve made it practically worthless as a warning against apostasy. If no one can know if the line has been crossed, what is the point? “Oh, hey guys, there’s this point of no return where it’s impossible to again come to repentance, but nobody really knows where it is. Never assume that you or anyone else has ever actually crossed it. There may actually still be room for repentance after all. OK?”

      Wow. That’s…not really that sobering. It doesn’t make the consequences of apostasy seem grim at all, by comparison. From a practical standpoint, this kind of interpretation places apostates right back in the exact same category as any other unbeliever who may or may not be a reprobate. Was that really the intent of the writer here? Doesn’t he seem to be placing apostates in a completely different category from which repentance is impossible and in which those apostates are worthless and a complete waste of his time and effort?

      Like I said in the original post, “many Christians don't seem to believe this. Well, they believe it, they're just able to find ways to work around it so that it doesn't always apply to certain people they favor. Somehow my fellow apostates and I often find ourselves among those exceptions.”

      By going outside of Hebrews to look for an interpretative answer that’s preferential to you, you’re really just illustrating my point. See, I WANT my Christian friends, family, acquaintances, etc. to stop treating apostates like me as projects, and instead to relate to us as fellow human beings. But as you’ve shown, they’ll always be able find ways to avoid that. I admit, it’s wishful thinking on my part. I merely pointed to Heb. 6 as an example of how at least one NT author offers a means to make relating to us as something other than a redemptive project easier for them, not that they’ll ever actually take that writer at his word.