During a conversation I had with a friend last week, she expressed to me that she was doubting several things regarding spirituality and Christianity, as a religion, and what value it had to her personally. She told me that she no longer wanted anything to do with the Church, as her congregants are full of gossiping, rumor-spreading, self-centered people who instead of giving grace and being a safe space for those who need it, spend most of their time bringing down communities of others they consider sinful and morally corrupt instead of noticing and rectifying their own transgressions against the Savior. I patiently sat with her, listening and praying all the while. I know where she is. I denounced God and turned my back on Him for similar and different reasons, and I never expected to come back, but God is merciful. Nonetheless, I digress.
I’m paraphrasing but this is essentially what she told me: “Jesus loves me. That’s all I need. Screw the church and all the religious people in it. Nobody wants to talk about the crusades and the Inquisition, all of which happened in the name of God. No, all they want to do is bash the LGBT community and control women’s sexuality and victim blame sexual abuse victims.” That is a mouthful, certainly a lot to take in. For the sake of this blog post, I’m only going to focus on the bolded portion of text.
Relationship vs. Religion
My heart grieves for my friend, not just because of our relationship and not even because I’ve been where she’s been, but because her statement echoes through the hearts of many people I know, and thousands of those I don’t. A regular statement I hear concerning Christianity is that it is “a relationship not a religion.” That description makes me chuckle. I recently read an article that explained, from a non-Christian point of view, how ridiculous that statement is. The writer states, “It’s perfectly understandable, in my opinion, to find good things in the teachings of Jesus Christ… But to base your life on the teachings of Jesus as they are portrayed in the Bible–a religious text–and claim that you are not religious, is disingenuous and demonstrably false.” I agree with his assessment. Historically, Christianity is classified, primarily, not as a relationship but as a religion, and a radical one at that. It is only its followers who, after having been open to radical, personal change by the historical Messiah, deem it a continuous, life-giving relationship.
The Nature of God
My friend’s statement made me question the nature of God. Jesus loves me. His love covers a multitude of sins and He offers grace and mercy boundlessly. That’s enough, right? All I need to do is believe in God and His love for me and I can do whatever I want (whether it’s in His will or not) and still be saved, right? Awesome!
Slow down there, dude. By definition, the above describes a nominal Christian. That is, one who is a Christian in name only but not in lifestyle. Maybe I’m wrong; I could be. Did I miss something? It’s possible. A vast majority of American Christians are on this “God is love” train but God is more than that, isn’t He? Does He not correct? Or is He only here for our convenience to save us from the consequences of our sin? Is He not just, righteous, and holy? And are we not compelled to lay prostrate before Him, asking Holy Spirit to forgive, cleanse, change, and break us if need be, because of His nature? Again, did I miss something?
The same God who sent His Beloved to die for the world is the same God who is often classified as a sadist murderer for killing not just nations of people He didn’t like, but in some cases, members of his own anointed nation just for keeping some gold and robes to themselves after winning the battle of Jericho! Does this picture of God in the Old Testament negate the loving, willing-to-die portrait of the Son we find in the New Testament? No, of course not. God’s nature has not changed from Genesis to Revelation; from the Medieval period to now, His nature has remained the same.
Ok, so Where Does That Leave Me?
I know by now you’re probably wondering, “What’s the point, Dylan?” I’m glad you asked. The point is to bridge the gap of relevancy between the ancient Script and today’s reality. Is the mere knowledge of God’s love enough to be sustainable for a real, genuine relationship in a marketplace full of ideologies and theories? No, it’s not. Even Satan and his demons are aware that God loves all and look where they ended up! The knowledge that God loves you is not going to provide you with financial wealth or send your perfect spouse to your door. In my case, it did not automatically stop the panic attack I had to fight through for half of church on Sunday. Mere knowledge of a thing does absolutely nothing. It is only heart knowledge, true inner change that cannot be replicated by anyone but the sovereign God, that produces action, hope, peace, and lasting transformation.