Saturday, April 3, 2010

Religious People

Recently I've been hearing a lot of the same sentiment: the world would be a much better place without religious people and religious people are at the heart of all conflict. Now, I wouldn't call myself a "religious" person because Christianity to me is not about a religion, it truly is a relationship with God...but I know that when most people find out I'm a Christian, I'm placed under that category to one degree or another. The secular world sees the "religious people" as close-minded, unaccepting, judgmental people. And sadly, I can see why...the number of conflicts that have been carried out in the name of Elohim, Allah, or Jesus is tragic.

Last night I was having dinner with a girl that Dan and I met in Luxor and who we are now traveling with for the next few days. She describes herself as "spiritual" but won't claim one religion because of the narrow-mindedness that she sees in "religious" people. Some of the things that she was saying really made me think about what I really think about Christianity. Now I know that I believe in Jesus and His saving grace through His death and resurrection beyond a shadow of a doubt...there's nothing in life that I believe in more fully...but it made me think about why I want other people to be Christians and why I can say that I really believe the Jesus is the only way to God. I laid up for quite a while last night thinking about it, and this is what I've come up with. I know I have a lot more thinking and reading and praying to do and will probably never have a complete answer to those questions, but here's what I have so far.

I fully believe what John 3:17 says that Jesus didn't come into the world to condemn the world by to save the world, and John 14:6, that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. Not all religions lead to the same end, but I do think that at least Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all aiming for the same goal: reconciliation and good standing with God. There are even similarities in how we go about pleasing God with devotion in prayer, seeking justice, maintaining different forms of purity, etc etc. So what sets Christianity apart? I think the best answer that I can find is that it is the ministry of reconciliation spoken of in 2 Corinthians 5 11-21. Christ came to reconcile us to God, to restore our ability to have a relationship with God that is not based on our deeds but based on love. No other religion offers that free grace as far as I can tell. I want people to believe in God because I want God to receive glory, I want worship to abound, for my God to be known, truly known, in all the earth. I want people to love Him, not out of fear or obligation, but out of a true relationship with the Creator of the World and their souls.

I don't want people to believe in God so that the world can be a better place. I think that if most of the world's religions really looked at their Scriptures in their context and entirety, the world probably would be a much better place. If Jews, Muslims, and Christians completely followed the 10 Commandments (all 3 religions recognize them as coming from God as guidance for life) the world would look a lot different, and I don't know if the whole issues of social justice would still be around. The thing is, we all fall short simply because we're all sinners. I think that most people recognize that it really doesn't matter how hard you try to live a good life, you're going to fall short. And most of the time when we fall short, our eyes get taken off of God and put onto other people, either to condemn them as well so we can feel better about ourselves, to justify our actions because we're not as bad as the next guy, or by setting up other rules, boundaries, and regulations either to try to keep us from that sin or to give us something that we can achieve in order to feel better about ourselves....and in doing these things we fall into more sin and then hatred for other people who were also created in God's image who have set up other rules for themselves. However, Jesus came to set us free from the law, from guilt, from condemnation, and in doing so, that original wound that took our eyes off of God is healed. I can now obey God, not because I have to, but because I want to, not for my salvation or standing before Him, but so that I can show Him at least a small amount of my love for Him by obedience. I'm now free to love Him and His people (both saved and unsaved) without holding back and to obey His Word without fear of failing. I think the whole issue of social justice would work itself out if people were truly reconciled with God and understood what that meant.

Now, I'm definitely not a universalist, but I think that we've gone too far in putting up walls and labeling people our enemies. I really wonder who Jesus would pronounce judgement on and who He would seek out as His disciples if His incarnation happened today instead of 2000 years ago. Who are the Samaritans of today, who don't worship the way we've decided they should but who Jesus would go out of His way to visit. I wonder who the tax collectors, the traitors to their people, who He would seek out. Who are those that we are ready to call for the fire of heaven to fall on because they do not yet recognize their Savior (Luke 9:54-56)?

We've gotten so good at trying to limit God, whether or not we realize it. From what most of the unsaved worlds sees, Christianity is not the religion of reconciliation between God and man, and between man and man that I see it as. But the amazing thing is, God can still work in spite of how much we mess up. The girl I'm traveling with spent some time in Israel before coming down to Egypt, and while she was there she visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Now I've written a few times about the issues I have with that place, but I praise God that He still can meet with people there. She said that while she was there, she definitely felt something unlike anything else she'd ever known. It wasn't one of those moments like when Paul was knocked off his horse and saw Jesus, but it was something that made her think, and I pray that for the next few days while we're traveling we'll get to talk more about it, and hopefully Dan and I can show her a bit more of who we know Jesus to be.