Last week we looked at how people responded to Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead. We first examined those whose personal ambitions were more important than the truth of God. They loved the darkness instead of the light.
Then there was a second response. Because Jesus was performing many signs and miracles, many people, even some of the leading citizens, wanted to believe in Him. However, for fear of expulsion from the synagogue, they did not believe. John then makes this assessment, “For they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.”
The fear of rejection is a powerful force in our lives. We never seem to be able to shake it. I sometimes wonder if we realize how we gear our lives to meet the expectations and approval of others, particularly when it comes to our faith.
Psychotherapist Andrew de Mello makes this observation:
Look at your life and see how you have filled its emptiness with people. As a result, they have a stranglehold on you. See how they control your behavior by their approval and disapproval. They hold the power to ease your loneliness with their company, to send your spirits soaring with their praise, to bring you down to the depths with their criticism and rejection. Take a look at yourself spending almost every waking moment of your day placating and pleasing people, whether they are living or dead. You live by their norms, conform to their standards, seek their company, desire their love, dread their ridicule, long for their applause, meekly submit to the guilt they lay upon you; you are terrified to go against the fashion in the way you dress or speak or act or even think.
I don’t think we recognize how this can be a barrier to faith, just as it was for the Jews whom we read of in John’s gospel.
An author whom I have come to appreciate is Dr. Paul Vitz. He is a retired professor of psychology. He taught for many years at New York University, and has written extensively on “the psychology of atheism.”
Vitz was an atheist until his mid-thirties. He shares some interesting insight into why he rejected God:
The major reason for me wanting to become an atheist was that I desired to be accepted by the powerful and influential psychologists in my field. In particular I wanted to be accepted by my professors in graduate school. As a graduate student I was thoroughly socialized by the specific culture of academic psychology. My professors at Stanford, as much as they might disagree on psychological theory, were, as far as I could tell, united on really only two things: their intense personal ambitions and their rejection of religion. In this environment, just as I had learned how to dress like a college student by putting on the right clothes, I also learned to think like a proper psychologist by putting on the right, atheistic, skeptical ideas and attitudes.
Vitz is essentially saying that he wanted to be accepted by his peers and professors. He feared their rejection so he adopted their views, whether or not he believed them to be true.
It is amazing that we would allow the approval of men to set the boundaries of our faith. It has made me wonder how many of us have chosen a path of life, not because it is the best and wisest path, but because it meets the approval of the people in our sphere of influence.
But most importantly, we all need to recognize that we are utter fools if we allow the approval of others to keep us from embracing God’s eternal truth.