I have a metaphor in my mind that I want to share. Would love your feedback on it – all 3 of you who will read this! I see you.
We have a tree that’s dying in our front yard…there is nothing that we can do about it. Even if we spent thousands on it, the arborist has declared it a waste of time. Here’s the deal, it’s still got some leaves. The bark looks good on it. It’s not in danger of falling down. You could look at it and have no idea it was, for all intents and purposes, dead.
Now, the only outward sign that this tree is doomed is that during the summer, when it should be in full leaf, it’s actually quite bare. The missing leaves give it away. It’s why I first called the arborist.
This has gotten me thinking about the reality of people “leaving the Christian faith.” My first thought goes to the parable of the 4 soils and how a couple of them seemed, at first, to be alive, but in reality, they were (like my still leafing tree) already dead. I have been wondering if perhaps we ought to see signs of this death beforehand – if there are indications of the absence of true, saving faith. Any visible indication?
And that’s caused me to think about recent friends or famous people who have rejected their faith. Long before they abandon Christ, I wondered, were their signs of missing leaves? And I began to realize that, YES, there are signs. No one moves from fully committed follower to apostate over night. It is gradual. So, what are these signs? In short, missing leaves. Or less cryptically, the rejection of Christian truths, whether doctrine or Biblical worldview or ethics.
It may be different for everyone, so here are a few examples. When my seminary buddy begins to say things like, “I’m not sure about the deity of Jesus” or “I don’t think we have to argue that Jesus is the only means for salvation,” that’s a sign of missing leaves, it’s a sign that death is present or imminent.
Another friend may say something like, “I’m not sure that the Bible understands the complexity of modern gender ideology,” rejecting clear Biblical teaching that’s be embraced for 2,000 years, then death is not far off. The root could be withering already.
Still a third person seems to simply reject Christianity through living out a scattered, fear of missing out fueled life. They make decision after decision that seems to smell of foolishness. They may not be open sin, but simply a life void of Biblical conviction, growth, and purpose. Whereas others run from the faith, these people simply float away. One day we look up and they’ve disappeared. Death came slowly, but come it did.
When people say or do things like the above, it should not surprise us when these people walk away from the faith a few months or years later. Look at resent de-conversion testimonies. Often, the person telling the story says that their journey away from Christianity began by rejecting one or two Christian truths that they found troubling. One or two doctrines or ethical positions that didn’t feel right to them, that didn’t make sense, that didn’t square with how they view reality. And, then, after rejecting some of God’s truth, it doesn’t take that long to reject all of it…the root was dead and the leaves fell to the ground.
So, what are we to do. I hope we compassionately call out our friends when we see leaves falling from their faith. I hope we winsomely say something like, “I’m really worried about this, about you. We cannot stand as judge over the Word, over God Himself. He is true though every man be found a liar. Repent and believe the good news!”
I’ve heard Ron Frost ask, “Was Adam and Eve dead when they walked out of the garden?” The Bible says, “yes.” They were dead, even though they looked alive. So, too, many around us. They leave because they never were alive, John writes in 1 John 2:19. But, it’s also possible that those who seem to be losing leaves can be called back from the brink (James 5:20). For these, they look like they are dying, but the divine Gardener knows they only need some pruning. We can’t know who is who until we are willing to call them back.
So, be on the look out for falling leaves. Take seriously your calling to have the hard conversation with those around you about the leaves they seem to be losing. Let us not grow weary, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9)! We will reap! We will see more leaves than we could have imagined! Leaves fed by the strong roots of Scripture!