Is Christ A Crutch?
So says one cynic. But he is not alone in his sentiments. In fact, I rather suspect that if you have been a Christian for any length of time at all, it has been suggested to you in one way or another that your faith in Jesus Christ is nothing more than a psychological crutch, designed to enable you to limp through the difficulties of life. Perhaps you have even had such a cynic say something like this to you: “Belief in Christ is a crutch for the weak. I am strong, so I don’t need it.” Such a person would have us believe that religion is just an illusion for those who aren’t able to cope. It’s simply an attempt to sugar-coat life, a kind of intellectual tranquilizer, a daydream, a fantasy.
It was an answer to that kind of attack on the faith that Jesus told the twin parables of the Unfinished Town and the Warring Kings—two stories with one message. Jesus is saying that Christian discipleship is not an easy road. It is serious and costly business. It is challenging and demanding. It would even be a matter of life and death. Yet there are those who foster the belief that the Christian faith is a crutch for the weak and nothing more than that. But that belief deserves to be argued down if possible. So, encouraged by the message of these two parables, I want to do just that today. So there are certain replies I would make to the cynic who says, “Your faith in Jesus Christ is just a crutch for your weakness.”
Here is the first reply: If faith in Jesus Christ is a sign of weakness, is it not equally possible that attacks on the faith are also signs of weakness?
In other words, I am suggesting that it is logically possible for rebellion against the faith to arise out of the weakness of the person who rebels. I’m not saying that this is always true of those who attack Christianity as being a crutch for the weak, but it is true often enough to take note of it.
Take Sigmund Freud as an example. He attacked religion on every hand as a crutch, an escape, an illusion. All right. But does anyone recall these facts about Freud? When he was very young, he was turned off by his father’s vigorous, aggressive Jewish faith, yet at the same time he was greatly pained by the anti-Semitic hatred which was sometimes directed at him. Then, perhaps more importantly, he had a governess who spent far more time with him than his parents did. He was deeply attached to her. She was a Christian, she took him to church.
She read to him from the New Testament. She so indoctrinated him in the faith that at times he would pretend he was a preacher. Then in the midst of the deep affection for her and his growing attachment to Christianity, he was severely crushed when the governess was arrested for theft and taken away to jail. Now more than one psychologist, Freud himself included, has pointed out that when our childhood experiences result in traumatic disillusionment, the scars remain. So I would contend that Freud so stridently attached the faith as a crutch because of the scars left by the infamous, conduct of this woman and because of the bitterness that faith caused him in his early days. I ask it again: can’t rejection of the faith be an escape, a crutch in itself? Isn’t the sword cut two ways?
Make no mistake here. There are happy atheists. And there are unhappy Christians. My only point is this: that while some people may have faith because it shores up their emotional needs, some people don’t have faith for the very same reason. So take a long hard look at any person who attacks the Christian faith as a crutch for the weak for the attack itself may be a crutch for that individual.
A second reply would go something like this: the results of faith in Christ in saving people are far more impressive than the results of the lack of faith.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared that faith is not to be understood as an escape hatch—it is a first resort, not a last resort. Yet Bonhoeffer freely admits that faith does give strength to those who are weak. But faith is not an escape, though some people make it so. Rather, as Bonhoeffer demonstrated in his own life, faith makes the weak sufficiently strong to become involved in life.
I suppose that what I am trying to say here is that “by their fruits you shall know them.” Someone says that faith is a crutch. Okay. But I say: “Look at the results.” Charles Bradlaw was a declared atheist in the early part of this century in Britain. On one occasion, he challenged a noted preacher, Hugh Bernie Hughes, to debate with him the existence of God. Hughes accepted the challenge by writing this paragraph which was published in newspapers throughout England: “When we argue cases in court, it is customary to have witnesses. I shall therefore bring to the debate 100 persons who have been helped by God in Christ Jesus. Let Mr. Bradlaw bring 100 people who have been helped by his proposal of infidelity. Such evidence should lend some weight to his argument.” Do you know what happened? Bradlaw, the atheist, never showed up for the debate!
Now let me caution you at this point that one of the tactics of the unbeliever is to match the best example they can find outside the faith with the worst example they can find in it. They will take some noble pagan and try to compare him to next-door neighbors or to the minister of the church. Don’t let them do it! As they point to some strong non-Christian, let us point to even stronger Christians. We can trot out before them a list of the saints so strong and so numerous as to clinch the debate—Christians like Paul or Augustine or Francis of Assisi or Luther or Wesley or Lincoln or Schweitzer or Niemuller or Solzhenitsyn. Oh yes, the saving results of faith in Jesus Christ are abundant indeed. By their fruits you shall know them!
Another reply I would make would take this form: Quite often the cynic is not so strong that he doesn’t need a Savior—it’s just that he is too proud to want a Savior.
Faith is for the humble. Think of the really committed Christians you know. Is there not a humility about them, an openness, a sensitivity which is attractive and engaging? “Blessed are the meek,” said Jesus. Yet this word “meek” means “reined in”—as you would rein in a horse. There is no suggestion of weakness here. The horse is not a weak animal. But when he is under the rein, his strength is directed and restrained. That’s the picture of the true Christian—an individual whose Christ-endowed strength is harnessed, restrained, directed, controlled.
Jesus never said that the essence of faith is weakness. But He did say a great deal about the humility of those who believe. The Christians, therefore, are those who know their own ignorance, their own faults, their own weaknesses—and they find the answer to them in Jesus Christ. I guess, then, that if you were really to push me, you could get me to say that in a sense faith is for the weak, because Christians are weak in the same way all people are weak. The difference is that the Christians know it. And they know where to go for the strength which they themselves do not have.
The irreligious people, on the other hand, will not admit their need. They point to a strength which they claim but which they do not possess. The recent remark of a scientist at Cambridge illustrates the point. He said, “Isn’t it time we as human beings understood our divinity? Science offers us total mastering of our environment. We must take charge of our own destiny. We just don’t need God anymore.” That is the statement of a proud cynic, but who is he kidding? Science has accomplished a great deal, to be sure. But to say that it has mastered the world—what’s on it and what’s in it—why that’s absurd! Every one of the moral flows which have historically destroyed civilization still exist. Science has not conquered them. Technology has given us the affluent society, yes, but it’s aIso fouled the water and polluted the air and defiled our cities and alienated our youth and subtly encouraged us into bloody and degrading wars. We are quite frankly working night and day now to move the world from the results of science.
You see, we, in our own knowledge and with our own strength, cannot save the world. We can only destroy it. The Christian is humble enough to know that—to know that salvation is in Jesus Christ alone.
There is one other reply, perhaps the most telling of all: Christianity when rightly lived is anything but a crutch.
Most of those who have faith suffer more because of it, not less. Jesus says in these two parables that those who wish to become His disciples must put their commitment to Him ahead of everything else dear to them: family, friends, farms, fame, fortune. “Think it through,” urged Jesus. “Count the cost. The journey of faith is tough. If you are not willing to pay the price, if you are not willing to take up your own cross, then you cannot be my disciples.”
Oh, it’s true that we say words like these: “Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease.” But these words do not speak of a faith which is an escape from life. Quite the contrary. John Greenleaf Whittier, who wrote those words, was militant in his Christian faith. He wrote at one point: “I set a higher value on my name as appended to the Anti-Slavery Declaration of 1833 than on the title page of any book I have ever written.” Whittier was hated by some of his fellow citizens. He was lampooned in the press. Once he was pelted with some rotten eggs from the crowd when he stood to speak—all that because of his faith.
In this kind of world, anyone who truly believes and then lives that belief, suffers. I don’t know what you think about Billy Graham. But do you know that he receives hundreds of letters threatening his life every year, and that on two different occasions armed men seeking him have been caught within the grounds of his home at Montreat, North Carolina? Does he bring these things upon himself as an escape, as a crutch? The evidence is to the contrary.
Dr. Elliott of Texas puts it this way: “Christianity is no cushioned dry-out for timid souls. It is no hammock for the unconcerned and the indolent. Its sign is not a lovely shade tree but an “old rugged cross.” And it has sent more men and women into heroic, unselfish and costly service than any other movement on earth.”
Yes, the cost of discipleship is high. As it cost the Lord, so it costs the Lord’s disciples. That was no play-acting on Calvary’s hill. The nails weren’t made of sponge rubber. That was no make-believe spear. That wasn’t rose wine—it was real blood. Faith in Jesus Christ isn’t a lucky rabbit’s foot. It isn’t a sentimental first-aid kit. And if it has any colors, they are black and blue. Faith in Jesus Christ a crutch? No! Rather it plunges one right into the very heart of life, right into the broken, bleeding, but still beating heart of life.
There they are…
My replies to the one who labels faith in Christ as a crutch for the weak. I suppose I could sum it all up by recalling the words of one of the characters in Lloyd Douglas’ novel, Magnificent Obsession: “I can tell you what I think was the difference between this stuff that Doctor Hudson had and the conventional sort of religion. Ordinary religion brings comfort. Believe such-and-such, and have comfort and peace and assurance that all is well and a Great Somebody is looking after things. Well, this religion that Hudson had certainly brought him no comfort! It rode him like the Old Man and the Sea…it lashed him on…it hounded him by day and haunted him by night…it worked him like a slave…it obsessed him!”
Faith in Christ a crutch? No, not at all. And today I call you to that kind of faith in Jesus Christ, that kind of “magnificent obsession.” You are a human being. Therefore, you are weak. But Jesus Christ stands ready to give you strength—not to escape life, but to change it. You see, what Paul said is true: we can do all things through this Christ who strengthens us…