This last weekend, Joshua Harris posted this on Instagram:

“My heart is full of gratitude. I wish you could see all the messages people sent me after the announcement of my divorce. They are expressions of love though they are saddened or even strongly disapprove of the decision.

“I am learning that no group has the market cornered on grace. This week I’ve received grace from Christians, atheists, evangelicals, exvangelicals, straight people, LGBTQ people, and everyone in between. Of course there have also been strong words of rebuke from religious people. While not always pleasant, I know they are seeking to love me. (There have been spiteful, hateful comments that angered and hurt me.)

“The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now…

“To my Christian friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful. I believe with my sister Julian that, ‘All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’”

Joshua isn’t the first or last person whose soul-searching journey led them out of the faith. Sometimes when someone leaves it is obvious that they are doing it in a willful desire to justify sin (think Prodigal Son). Other times it is about the wearisome nature of the church and its subculture, the dissonant value systems between Christians and their Christ, or the deafening silence of God. In these moments I empathize with Josh’s struggle.

Empathy is an important word. In Romans 12, Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” That means empathetic living. Opening yourself up to feel what others feel is a tremendous way to love people.

Sympathy can have a tinge of superiority. I feel sorry for you because you are experiencing pain. Sympathy is not the same as empathy. Empathy says, I feel pain as you feel pain.

The important thing about feeling what others feel is recognizing that you CAN ACTUALLY feel what others feel, and you CAN feel it without condoning ALL of their behaviors or beliefs.

My kids constantly celebrate things and cry about things that are objectively stupid. But I love my kids so I celebrate their stick figure drawings with them and I show empathy for their imaginary bruises (sometimes). The truth is that loving my kids doesn’t mean that I need to think that all the things they celebrate and cry about are wonderful and accurate. It’s enough to see someone I love sad, or someone I love happy. The question is: Can I join them in their pain and joy?

I want to be clear. I do not know Joshua Harris personally, but I am sure that the last several years of his personal life and faith life have been filled with both tears and joy. Tears over the emotional and spiritual turmoil of coming to grips with what you truly believe. His divorce may be amicable, but that doesn’t mean there were not hours upon hours of hurt and pain involved in coming to this decision. Have you ever felt these type of emotions? Have you ever struggled in your relationships? Have you ever changed your mind on something you believed? Have you ever been scrutinized and/or attacked by strangers who don’t know you?

Objectively, these things suck. You don’t have to assume a person is sinless to acknowledge that these things suck and to weep with the one who weeps.

Can you weep with Josh? I’m not asking if you can weep about the fact that he is stepping away from his beliefs. Nor am I asking how his situation makes you feel about Christian leaders. I’m asking if you can weep over his pain. Don’t make this about you. This is about him and his wife and his kids. Can you be sad for him about the things that are painful for him?

And now I’m going to ask for more than most of my readers would probably consider: Josh said he feels awake, alive, and hopeful. Given everything he’s been experiencing, this may be the first time in a while he’s felt these things. Can you rejoice with him?

“Joshua Harris made a heavy announcement. Will we weep with him as he weeps AND rejoice with him as he rejoices? Or will we make this about our opinions and expectations and lose sight of the person in process?”

This one is probably much more difficult to wrap you head around. You may feel that celebrating with Josh is celebrating sin or celebrating walking away from Jesus. (Many readers are doing exactly that, this one is easy for many of you.) I want to be clear, I do not believe the Bible calls us to celebrate sin. So without celebrating sin, is it possible to rejoice in the journey that Joshua is on? Is it okay to be hopeful for him? Is it okay to celebrate some of the freedom he now feels from the religious expectation that has likely oppressed him his entire life? The freedom of finally being honest about what he believes and the state of his marriage? It is truly a soul-crushing endeavor to be living a lie. He must feel free in this moment. He seems excited. I am happy for him. Not happy that he “fell away;” happy that the burdens and expectations saddled upon him have been lifted and that possibilities for the future are wide open. I pray blessings upon Joshua Harris. I want good things for him.

To be clear, in my paradigm, that means I also pray that he comes to see that Jesus was not the source of his frustration: religion was. I pray he comes to know the easy and light burden of Christ in new ways. I pray God works all these things for his good. But that’s what I want for him. Empathy doesn’t start there. Empathy begins by listening and understanding him.

Ryan MacDiarmid is currently the Lead Pastor of a church in Sacramento, California. He has served vocational ministry for over 15 years, working at small churches, large churches, and everything in between. He is a husband, and father to five children. He loves Jesus, but like so many of us can be distracted and disillusioned by all the religious crap. And even on his best days, he can be a real jackass. This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. There are costs associated with running the blog. These links help to cover overhead.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Really well done Ryan. I have such hope for Josh. My hope is that his journey will bring healing from the weight he’s carried and through all of this he will truly understand the life-saving grace bought by Jesus really and truly is free. It’s hard to wrap our minds around sometimes, but that’s what makes it such an awe-inspiring gift! Praying that he uncovers it for himself.

  2. Hi Ryan,
    I’m wondering why you would want to pray for blessings for Joshua. Did he think that way when he blew his wife and family off.
    Wow I don’t understand where you are coming from. Help me understand I don’t understand you or Joshua

  3. This was a great article. We cannot be encouraged enough to love others more!! When one of my daughters joined the LGBTQ community by becoming a lesbian, I cried out to the Lord…”What should I do?” He very clearly spoke to my heart…”Love her like I do!!” That was NOT what I was expecting…but I instantly understood how this was the best action all around and how others will “know we are Christians by our love” after all. I have another daughter teetering on the brink of atheism, who declared that the first time she felt there may actually be a God who loves us, is when I packed up my kids and left my abusive husband! How could such an action say such a thing to her? Because she felt loved and truly protected for the first time in her life…and because God told us to leave!! When we let God do love through us…it looks different than what we imagined it should be!!

  4. I typically appreciate the stuff you put on here. But I’m going to have to disagree on this one, brother. I don’t think in Romans chapter 12 that Paul had in mind for us to rejoice with someone that is joyful about turning from Jesus. While I do believe we should be heart broken for them, love them, and afford them grace, as we were afforded grace even before we were believers. But I think rejoicing in a choice to do the opposite of God’s specific will is not just a small stretch on the interpretation of this passage. I think Romans chapter 1 addresses this better.
    I’m not here to argue, though. If you feel that being able to rejoice with someone in that situation is what Jesus or any apostle would do, then by all means stick to your conviction. But it’s ok to weep for someone that is rejoicing, especially if it’s joy in turning away from true love.

    • Thanks Seth. I do appreciate the comment. I understand the tricky nature, and you are right that it takes quite a bit of nuance to rejoice with someone walking away from the faith. I can’t imagine Jesus doing that, nor was it probably Paul’s explicit intention. So maybe it is an over reach (certainly is possible) . But I do want to be clear that in no way do I think God, Jesus, or the Apostles will rejoice with the walking away from faith, but I do think Rom 12 is challenging us to live in peace and harmony with all, not just those who agree with us or make decisions we agree with that (in fact Paul explicitly mentions those who persecute us and are evil doers), and one of the key ways Paul is challenging them to do that is to have empathy. So as I said in the post, it’s a lot easier to see the sad things and the hurt and pain and weep as josh weeps, but I want to try and see the joyful things for Josh, not rejoicing in sin, which is the difficult nuance, but I must believe there is an appropriate joy to empathize with. Thanks for commenting. I totally respect your thoughts.

      • Thanks for the response. I’m with you on the complexity of the issue, and this specific circumstance. My wife and I are having to parse through a similar situation with a friend who’s marriage has ended. We’re trying to figure out the best way to rejoice with her as she heals and finds a new life while not necessarily rejoicing in the decisions that take her away from Christ. There is a definite tension there, and I appreciate you clearing up your thoughts for me, or redirecting my focus of your meaning. Like I said, I’m typically on the same page as you guys. Sometimes it’s like you’re living inside my head. Keep up the good words bro.

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