Stumbling Blocks and Living Room Elephants

                                                                                                Elephants in the Living Room
Recently, a friend described her grandson's preoccupation with a Bible verse that talks about the Unforgivable Sin. This excellent teenager had become obsessed with a fear he had somehow committed it.

He had a stumbling block. A concern so big, so foundational, no other thought could get past. If he HAD committed that sin, what would be the point of discussing anything else? No argument about grace or atonement or the new birth, no distracting music or compelling sporting event, could break through "unforgivable." The fear cut off all other thought at the knees, and caused the thinker to... stumble. The logical formation, “If P, then Q,” became, “If that, then nothing else matters.”

You can't reason with a stumbling block. You can't get over it with a stile made of arguments. You can, sometimes, build a monument on top of it. A political party, a denomination, a school of thought. Our societal landscape is littered with stumbling blocks. They are the elephants in our living rooms, bringing along their baggage.

I once saw a yellowed newspaper clipping about a church that split over the issue of...wait for it... Adam and Eve's belly-buttons. One group called themselves the Navelites; the other moved across the street and became the Non-Navelites. No doubt both factions saw a life-or-death issue in this argument.

Real life-or-death issues are at stake with some stumbling blocks. Yet, usually there’s a deeper issue beneath the religion or the politics or that seething offense over Christmas dinner.

I used to be part of a Bible ministry that said Jesus was the Son of God, but not God Himself. That was a stumbling block to, well, pretty much the rest of Christianity. They said we weren't even saved; we said we knew better than everyone else. It built a major barrier between fellow-Christians. Whatever the merits (or lack of merits) of my group's arguments, many of us embraced them because we were part of the iconoclastic 1960s, and we liked thinking we were superior to other people. You see, the stumbling block had underpinnings. I think some of the people who shunned us, back in those days, enjoyed seeing themselves as part of the righteous in-crowd, Defenders of All Truth - (heck, what's not to love about that?) But the heat and fury with which both sides of this dispute argued should have given us a clue that we weren't just defending the Faith, because we were unable to love each other. Which is supposed to be the hallmark of our mutual belief. Instead, I cultivated a force-field around my heart when I met another believer, bracing myself for the moment when he would discover my affiliation and tell me I was going to hell. Which happened regularly.

No sermon or argument got me past this. I stayed stuck behind my force-field. But years after leaving the group, I heard a fellow-refugee say: “Y’know who I love? Billy Graham… and Oral Roberts!” Years of distancing myself fell away with this one remark. I wanted to stand up and say hallelujah. My stumbling block was blown up. I had thought I had a doctrinal problem, but this remark got me past deeper problems – fear and pride.

Lots of times, what we think is the issue, isn’t. Our obsession with our pet stumbling block avoids the real problem, usually something we’re scared to look at. We’ve rolled the block over a wounded spot in our soul. It doesn’t matter if it’s something we’re afraid to look at, or something we look at obsessively – the point is what we’re not seeing. Sometimes we don’t know anything is there.

God looks at the heart. That’s a truism, and a truth. He isn’t distracted by what we think our issue is. And when He slips in, like a surgeon, to help us, we are frequently surprised at how The Almighty doesn’t seem to get our point – until we think about what He said.

I curate a list of examples:
The gospels are stuffed with records of Jesus blowing up stumbling blocks. “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” BAM, to self-righteousness. “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and follow me.” BAM, to materialism. “You whited sepulchres…” BAM, to religion. The list could fill up the page. If you go read the records, you’ll see He seemed, in each case, to have missed the point. Wasn’t it the woman’s adultery? The rich young ruler’s impressive eagerness to join Him? His own lack of adherence to the Pharisee’s traditions? No, in each case He addressed the real issue, and left what people thought was the issue at the side of the road.

Of course, He Himself was, and is, the ultimate stumbling block. He said so. We can’t get around Him; we each of us have to decide whether to give Him our life or keep it for ourself. Remember, too, that He is not only the stumbling block to end all stumbling blocks, but is also the Cornerstone of His Church – not a building or denomination, but an organic group of people who decided He could be trusted with their lives, and who move forward, sometimes haltingly, faultily, stumbling-ly – in His footsteps. We rely on His words to heal our wounded hearts, to remove our stumbling blocks.

Have you ever had a stumbling block blown away? I love to hear from readers.

I say it every time - thank you for taking time to read.

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