I’m planning a series of writings on issues that Christians often bring to counseling; where they bring unique and significant questions that are difficult to answer. One of those issues is the topic of backsliding. We all know that the word backsliding carries the meaning of slipping away from a habit, identity, belief, etc. In Christian circles it means that one who was once active in their faith has stopped living it out or altogether moved away from said faith. One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from Tolstoy,
Quite often a man goes on for years imagining that the religious teaching that had been imparted to him since childhood is still intact, while all the time there is not a trace of it left in him. (Confession, 1983 reprint, p. 15)
When someone is in this position, they often ask questions about how it happened or what the future will hold. I’ve just run across a sermon by G. Campbell Morgan on the topic (The Westminster Pulpit, v. 1, 1954). The full text can be found here.
There are several things I found helpful:
1. His take on Deuteronomy as the law of love and containing the treatment of the disease of backsliding.
2. His take on how backsliding happens.
What is this process [of backsliding]? Mark three things…. The first is purely personal, perhaps hidden from men, the corruption of the self. The second is the sequel to self-corruption, the making of a graven image. Finally, the overt act of evil.
What is self-corruption? It is the devotion of the life to something lower than the highest. The first movement of backsliding may be accomplished without committing any sin which the [present] age names vulgar. In the moment in which a man takes his eye from the highest and sets it upon something lower, be the distance apparently never so small, he has set himself upon the decline which ends in the desert and in the agony of rejection. (p. 100)
3. His conception of idolatry.
You say….”I have set up no graven image.” Remember, the graven image is always the figure of that which lies behind it. When a man has corrupted himself, the issue is always that he thinks falsely of God. Man is so linked to deity in the very essential of his being that he will form his conception of God upon what he is in himself….He is forever projecting his own personality into immensity, and calling that God. (p. 101)
4. His closing on the promise: If you seek him, you shall surely find him…
If you seek him with all your heart and soul you will find him….Will he come with flaming and flashing glory? In all probability, no. Will he come with some new sense of his coming, making you thrill in every fiber of your being? In all probability, no. It is far more likely that he will come with a still small voice…. Trample your pride beneath your feet, Crucify your prejudice….
One of the struggles I hear in “backsliding” or relapsing sinners is that they (and me too!) look for Christianity to provide the same stimulus as an addiction. We look for God to give us the high, the excitement, the freedom from pain. He may, but never in the way that an addiction or a sin pattern might provide (in the short run). The struggle I hear is that when God does not supply an equally exciting substitute for the addiction then the person wonders if God is real or if the fight for freedom from addiction is really worth the effort in the end.
If you know someone with this struggle, send them the link to the chapter. It may provide a bit of relief.