Stumbling Others

Rob Bell (Love Wins), Brian McLaren (Naked Spirituality) and I (Stumbling Toward Heaven) all released new books in March. All have drawn fire for questioning aspects of the faith, mine in sparks compared to Bell’s inferno.

It is one thing for non-believers to point out Christianity’s paradoxes and problems but quite another for insiders to do so. Especially those who are, or have been, trusted pastors and teachers. What right do we have to betray those looking for spiritual guidance?

The Apostle Paul scrupulously avoided causing others to stumble:

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” 1 Corinthians 10:31-33.

And there is Christ’s stern warning in Luke 17:1-3:

“Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.”

So why raise thorny issues and harmful doubts that can trip people up? I hesitated to do so for years and mostly kept my aberrant thoughts to myself. But over time my life-experience broke down my reserve, and when I decided to write about my cancer I resolved to be completely candid. Autobiographies that leave out the messy stuff strike me as disingenuous. I don’t mean to be controversial by sharing personal struggles; I just don’t sweep them under the rug.

Turns out I’m not alone.

On Balance

The scriptural warnings about stumbling people are balanced by other texts. The book of Psalms is full of complaints, doubts, frustration and whining. Ecclesiastes is so steeped in empirical arguments and skepticism that some think it shouldn’t be in the Bible—but it is.

Many Bible luminaries had periods of questioning God or his ways, e.g., Job, Moses, Gideon, Elijah, Jonah, the list goes on. These men all received some sort of resolution in this life—but not everyone does.

Painful circumstances or unfulfilled expectations can breed doubts. Second thoughts about Jesus plagued John the Baptist after he was thrown in prison. The disciples were undone by the crucifixion until the risen Lord consoled them. It took Thomas a little longer to come around because his experience lagged behind theirs.

Many saints have agonized through the “dark night of the soul” and we draw encouragement from their transparent writings. Not all waited to voice their confusion and concerns until they could do so in the past tense. Neither must we.

Some of us who chronicle our faith-journeys in real time believe that sharing our painful struggles and honest questions will be more helpful than harmful in the end.

Only God knows if we’re right.


9 thoughts on “Stumbling Others

  1. Hi Mike, good day. Past couple days, I’ve been drawn to child prodigy paintings online.

    2 favorites:

    1. AGE 8, second thumbnail, Jesus portrait
    Besides green color, eyes looked a little funky to me, but still a remarkable picture drawn by a child. Returning to same picture another day, I notice red ting in corner of subject’s right eye. I look at funky left eye again … then realized an 8 year old drew subject with tears in his eyes!

    2. AGE 11, second thumbnail, Angelic Love
    Text to right of painting describes setting. Click Enlarge Image. Note expression on subject’s face!

    It’s hard to describe how I feel looking at this child’s artwork.

    Handy Randy

    Also, artist on YouTube:

  2. Hey, Mike —
    It sounds as though you have already had some feedback from others who have said something along the lines of what I have been thinking; namely that, while it is totally legit to go through the kinds of doubts and questions you (and I, too, after a fashion) have, it is not a good idea to put those ideas out there for public consumption. As I have said in many conversations of late, if you (generic “you”) are going to be a universalist, you should keep it to yourself. If you speak up about it, you had better be right, because if you’re wrong, you may be doing incalculable damage.
    Having said that, I can appreciate your published candor better than that of Bell and others, for the very reasons you mention–that you are writing in a global way about your journey with the Lord through cancer, et al.
    There is one thought that kept going through my mind as I read this post: You point to many biblical examples in order to “balance” things out on the subject you are addressing. But you have already (in previous posts) declaimed the authority of Scripture. How can you now use it as a justification for anything you do?
    If you’re interested in reading a little something along these lines, I would point you to a recent post of my own. It’s here:
    If you go to it, make sure to check out the interaction in the comments. I am sure you will find it very interesting.
    Well, thanks again for another provocative post!
    Shalom, brother!
    — KC

    1. To question some things in Scripture is not the same as “declaiming” its authority. It’s part of the process of trying to understand it and to sort out content from interpretation. Scripture has been used to justify everything from slavery to chauvinism, but “it ain’t necessarily so.”

  3. I grew up being taught the answers to all the God questions. Always being prepared to defend the faith. Always being sure of what is absolutely true.

    I found that God wasn’t there. He was in all the in between places. He was in the questions more than he was in the answers.

    Are things still true? Sure. But my hope is now in the things that are beyond what I know to be true.

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