I've been sharing about a process commonly called (in the US) 'deconstructing one's faith', used to describe adults in their 20's-early 40's who were raised in church, and now reject church and for many, the Lord.
The Rich Young Ruler
The Rich Young Ruler is found in Matthew 19:16-22 examining his faith and his relationship with his parents.
He came to Jesus asking: "Good master, what thing must I do to have eternal life?" And Jesus responded: "Why are you calling me good? There is no one good but God." Right at the start Jesus seeks to settle the issue. Who do you think I am? Am I Lord, liar, or lunatic? By calling me good, since there is none good but God, are you calling me God? The young man was silent. So Jesus approached the question from another angle.
In this one exchange we find the dilemma of those deconstructing their faith: Those who reject what they grew up with, but don't yet know what to do. In their heart of hearts they only know they still want eternal life, even if they won't admit it openly, down in their heart they are afraid of dying and want their destination secure.
In anger and hurt they may lash out at their parents, their church, or openly state they reject their 'religion', but in their hearts there is fear, confusion, and again, knowing more what they don't want than what they do want.
Having tried the constraints of 'religion', they enter a world of dysfunction. Sometimes that dysfunction is evident by the broken relationships and instability in life. Sometimes dysfunction is hidden behind pursuing all the gold and glitter the world offers, leaving them empty inside - they know this, but aren't at peace, and they aren't at a place yet where they can humble themselves and return to their childhood faith.
Consider the young man
This young man was rich and we are told later in the conversation, had many possessions. Not just money, but possessions too. Yet for all he had, he knew he did not have eternal life. He told Jesus he did all that was required of him in his religion, and his parent's religion no doubt - yet he knew he didn't have eternal life.
He was searching for something to do. "What must I do?", he asked. He had kept all the commandments since he was a child, but was empty. He knew that religion did not hold eternal life, did not fill his heart with purpose.
The adult who has left his faith is wrestling with the claims of Jesus. Many times they don't reject Him, but rather the church package through which Jesus was presented. If they could only know the Lord without the packaged show of the auditorium church and its culture. This young man had a form of religion, but he was smart. He knew it was appearance oriented, performance based, and it left him empty though he kept all the commands since he was a child. He was deconstructing his faith. He was trying to figure it out. What must I do?
That is what they are wrestling with; the claims of Jesus
The role of parents in the lives of their children include the fact that every 'first' their child experiences in life (to a certain age) will come through their parents. The stove is hot - that first time learning that fact came through their parents. Eat your vegetables they are good for you - that 'first' came through their parents. Brush your teeth to keep them healthy - that 'first' came through the parents.
As I child ages a parent wants their child (or should want their child) to learn of the topic of sex from them, not their school, and not their friends, and not from a porn site. A parent wants their child to learn about money and budgeting and working hard and saving from them, not leaving that education to be taught by the world's advertisers and friends. Parents want their children to understand the proper context of the issues of life - from eating properly to sex and money and relationships. Parents put everything into proper context and understanding. Including God.
A parent presents their child with 'this is God' and 'I want to teach you about Jesus, who loves us and died for us' - and that is fine until that child becomes an age where other people have other ideas about God. Even if that child had genuine experiences with the Lord, making Him 'their own' doesn't automatically happen.
Many of us know friends or relatives who perhaps as a child or teen experienced the Lord
But they aren't walking with Him now. Sometimes we wonder how we were so changed by the same experience and they weren't? It's because one can have an experience with God, but they let it be just that - a moment in time. Just having an experience with the Holy Spirit doesn't mean that person gives their heart and life to God.
And that's the plight of the rich young ruler. He had kept all the commandments. He was a 'good boy' by all measurements of what a good Jewish boy was in the first century. He was probably a teen here, late teens perhaps, yet still searching. Here he comes face to face with God in the flesh and then walks away.
God or the world?
"Sell your possessions and follow Me" to him, meant putting all his wealth and the pride that goes with it, on the sacrificial altar of his heart, and walk away. Many men grow up thinking becoming a Christian will make them weak. They think faith is for women because they've never reconciled being a man of faith with being able to work hard and get ahead in life for themselves and their family. To many men, their faith is expressed by working hard and providing for their family which is well and good, but doesn't contradict being a man of faith.
This rich young ruler was confused as well. Was Jesus God? He hadn't answered His question. He is good, but would the young man go so far as to say Jesus is God? And if He is God, I want God, but not to the point He will change my life. He would weaken me as a man, as a person wanting to be successful in life. I like the world. How can I be a person of faith and still be successful? The young man couldn't reconcile those questions.
Verse 22 says the young man "went away sad, for he had many possessions."
The word 'sad' does not properly convey this man's emotions. It is from the root Greek word 'lupe' which means 'to be in deep emotional pain, distress, and grieving'. It is used to describe the pain in childbirth.
It is used again in II Corinthians 7:9 to describe someone who is repentant to the degree they are in agony over their sin. It is used in Ephesians 4:30 when Paul tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit - don't cause Him deep emotional distress by our actions. It is used in John 17:30 of Peter who was grieved, deeply emotionally hurt that the Lord had asked him 3x if he loved Him.
The rich young ruler was devastated over the question of Jesus and what he would have to do to have eternal life - he loved the world and his status and his possessions. The thought of returning to the core of his faith, of leaving the show and appearance of religious acceptance for the genuine, caused him deep emotional pain - like childbirth in his soul.
This pain describes what many are going through who were raised in faith, have experienced the world, and know down in their hearts 'mom and dad are right', but are too proud and too much in love with the world to humble themselves and return to their faith. They are not happy people. They mask their pain, they mask the wrestling going on in their hearts. They may be angry and need to be left alone to wrestle within themselves - they need the time to process and will at some point future, return to ask questions or reconcile.
But there is hope...
While today, the Lord may not require everyone with possessions to sell them all, He does require us to 'sell out' to Him in our hearts. The question becomes; "Do we add Jesus to our busy life, or do we give our busy life to Jesus?" Sometimes it starts as adding Him to one's life, and over time becomes giving that life to Him.
Church tradition says this Rich Young Ruler was the man we know as Barnabas, ministry companion of Paul. In Acts 4:34-37 it says Joseph, who was such a good man and 'bridge builder' in relationships, the apostles instead called him 'Barnabas'. Barnabas means 'one who calls people together to closer intimacy and comfort'. We see in Acts he sold all his possessions and gave the money for distribution by the apostles so that the needs of others were meant. In Aramaic his name means 'son of a prophet'.
He was the first one to approach the former Saul of Tarsus to discover if his new faith was genuine in Acts 9, and then introduced (Paul) to the apostles. They sent him to Antioch in Acts 11 as their representative to check on new Greek believers there.
We cannot prove Barnabas was the young man of Matthew 19 by chapter and verse, but still, we see young men like him 'selling out' for the Lord. Men like Matthew himself who was a teen or pre-teen when he met Jesus. The apostle John is estimated to have been about 17 when he became one of Jesus' disciples.
The Lord works over time, deep in the hearts of people...and next week we'll look at another who wrestled with the faith of his family, and had that moment when scripture says he 'came to himself'. May it be so with all our wayward children! Until next week, blessings,
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or John@cwowi.org