the other day (on the way to the bathroom, if you must know), i grabbed a dog-eared copy of “searching for god knows what” by donald miller from the huge stack of books on the credenza behind my desk. my intention was simply to thumb through it and remind myself what it said, and i ended up reading about half of it in one sitting (no, not the sitting i referenced earlier).
what i remembered was that “searching for god knows what” affected me profoundly (i recommend it highly). i also remembered being almost offended by miller’s occasional references to nudity and beer and liberalism. it reminded me of my deliverance from religion.
several years ago, the kids in my youth group were singing the darrell evans song, “fields of grace.” there is a line in that song that says,
“there’s a place where religion finally dies; there’s a place where i lose my selfish pride.”
i felt sullied…as if i had betrayed my forefathers. after all, weren’t they the ones who had given and sacrificed to bequeath this precious “religion” to me? as i began to see religion as the kids saw it, though, i recognized the subtle dangers and seductive temptation of religion.
the humanity in us shrinks from the presence of a holy god. we pray for it and think we want it, but, in fact, we recoil from his touch. at some level we are aware of the evil within us and we are uncomfortable with it, but not enough to repent. we are enamored with the idea of being christlike, but not enough to submit to him. we hate our complacency, but not enough to change. we want an abundant, fulfilling life, but not enough to forsake all. the harsh truth is that we love self more than god.
but we don’t want to go to hell so we revert to religion.
we have evolved, but not in a good way. we have learned to accommodate sin and tolerate conviction. god pokes and prods at our hearts, but the skin has become leathery and unresponsive. we have been pickled by religion. the way i see it, we have two fundamental reactions to god’s wooing:
1) we study god.
god is a philosophy to us…a course of study. we know the scriptures. we are fluent in church-speak and experts in apologetics. our conversations are peppered with “i believe” and god (and all the god regalia) is a frequent debate topic. we have little patience for those who aren’t at “our level” (and it is clear to them). because we think we know god, there is nothing about him left to learn. god has left the building.
2.) we create our own little reductionist god
it’s too difficult to comprehend the real god, so we redefine him. we make him logical. we manufacture a nice, safe, manageable god who fits in a box of our making. we take him out on sundays, like jewelry, and show him off to our friends and talk about how beautiful he is. and then we put him back in his box. we are intimidated by the majesty and limitless nature of god, so we ignore it. we don’t deny it (we would never do that!), but we ignore it.
well, god refuses to be ignored and he cannot be contained by a box.
he is absolutely and completely illogical. we might describe god as abstract (that’s an easier concept for us to deal with), but he is infinite. we will never understand god (no matter how much we study and pray and read and strive) but we can know him and he yearns for us to know him and he wants to make us different–different from what we are now (no matter what that is). he wants, and will always want, to change us.
james, the brother of christ, called it religion. he wrote:
“Anyone who sets himself up as ‘religious’ by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” (James 1:26-27)
your initial response might be, “i can’t do that…I can’t be what god wants me to be.” and you would be right. you can’t. so you must die and jesus must come alive in you. he can do it.
even though it’s scary and dangerous, i want to encourage my friends (and in fact all the people with whom i have influence) to put away religion and to pursue jesus with reckless abandon. and i am counting on my friends to do the same for me.
and that’s the church i long for–the one that helps you die.