Let’s face it, the most beautiful and awful endeavors have been done in the name of God. Not a Doubters’ Club meeting goes by that I’m not reminded of the Crusades and the larger-than-life lifestyles of those who unscrupulously collected money from the oppressed. Many of us have found comfort in our faith. Others have found despair. To some, it’s a shelter. To others, it’s a storm. The sobering reality of religious intentions was summed up well by the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz when he wrote, “The Great religions are the Ships, / Poets the life Boats. / Every sane person I know has jumped / Overboard.”
People we love will oftentimes choose to jump overboard, and our response in that moment has the potential to win influence or reinforce any spiritual trauma that knocked them off course in the first place. When I was disrupted by doubts and questions, I needed a thoughtful mind and a hopeful heart. A professor I had listened to my disbelief in the Bible and all things Christian. And when he did speak, it was as someone who knew the power of companionship and the necessity of friendship without ulterior motives. His assurance, “I don’t care where you land as long as you’re honest,” is the language of someone who is committed to the detour, regardless of the destination. Of course, he wanted me to believe in God and follow Jesus. His friendship, however, wasn’t based on whether that happened. He was truly my detour guide.
The Jesus of the Gospels is compelling for this very reason. He was a detour guide in a tour-guide profession. Tour guides inform guests of historical and cultural heritage on an organized, predetermined route. Jesus’ peers were convinced they knew the most efficient route to pleasing God and saving people. Detour guides, on the other hand, give companionship to the spiritually homeless. This intentional companionship may influence them toward a predetermined destination—or it may not. One is conditional, the other is committed despite the conditions.
Have we become tour guides to the world?
We go from soapbox to soapbox, pontificating the rightness of our historical faith, treating the world like visitors in a museum. We ooh and ahh through the organizational structure of a building, leadership pipelines, and other highly efficient models that build cultural cooperation. I don’t know about you, but museum tours aren’t nearly as exciting as self-guided tours. And what fun are self-guided tours without an ally who shares in the excitement!
Inquisitive people prefer the “enter at your own risk” type of adventures. Their curiosity attracts them to the “Do not trespass” signs. “Don’t try this at home” is a legal safety net. It actually means “Be careful.” Would you consider yourself part of this crowd? If so, we are not rebellious, just human. J. R. R. Tolkien knew something of the human spirit; he wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Wandering is unavoidable.
Not desirable; just unavoidable.
Not justified; just unavoidable.
Not the Christian, or non-Christian, thing to do; just unavoidable.
We are, as Robert Robinson wrote in 1758, “prone to wander.”
Lord, I feel it.
I’ll speak on behalf of the Christians I know, myself included. Most of us are restless, on the go, vagabonds who are unsettled in most things outside of life with Jesus. Personally, I’ve moved so many times you could respectfully call me a gypsy. My parenting techniques are less consistent than my breakfast routine. My friends are transient. My love is errant. And I lost my wedding ring . . . again.
Real life is not a tour. Tours are nice and organized. Comfortable and planned. They are administered by someone who knows all the answers to the questions. The longer we pretend to be tour guides, the more evident it will become that we are pretending. All our routes are messy. We are marked by the same sufferings, pains, and questions as everyone else. We wonder where our money goes. We worry about doctor’s visits. And we raise our voice when trying to put the kids to bed. Don’t misunderstand me: Following Jesus certainly makes a difference in our lives. His life, death, and resurrection have restored us to God and to the world. All the same, our paths are anything but clean and perfectly planned.
Follow the interactions between Jesus and the crowds and you will quickly find that the adage is true: “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for the saints.” At best, we are wounded healers. Wounded by the detours; healed by the Guide. Since this is the case, we must be willing to spend enough time with unbelievers to ruin any reputation we may have with the tour guides of our day. By doing so, we will become more like Jesus.
Taken from The Doubters’ Club: Good-Faith Conversations with Skeptics, Atheists, and the Spiritually Wounded by Preston Ulmer. Copyright ©2021. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.
Preston Ulmer is the founder and director of the Doubters’ Club, an organization that teaches Christians and atheists to model friendship and pursue truth together. Additionally, he serves as the director of network development for the Church Multiplication Network (CMN), the church planting arm of the Assemblies of God. Before joining CMN, he served in ministry for years as a youth pastor, young adult pastor and church planter. Preston has two master’s degrees, one in religion and one in divinity. His experience and education led him and his family to plant a church in Denver, CO, where he also founded the Doubters’ Club. Preston’s upcoming book, The Doubters’ Club: Good-Faith Conversations with Skeptics, Atheists, and the Spiritually Wounded, releases from NavPress in September 2021.