“I need to be in church.” “I need to be reading my Bible.” “I should not be doing such and such…”
How often have you said these very things, or thought about them in an almost condemnatory sense? How often have you had something bad happen, either by happenstance or in a context that you brought on yourself, and thought, “God is getting even with me.”?
I find myself in these thought processes every day… on an almost constant level. The truth is: I’m a selfish, egotistical, self-serving, hypocritical, dishonest jackass. I know these things about myself and I’m not proud of them nor am I intending to remain as such. But because I know these things, I find myself thinking constantly about how I should be doing different things and acting in different ways. For example, if I wake up in the morning and turn on SportsCenter and watch it while drinking my coffee, I begin to be plagued with guilt about not taking the time to read my Bible or write on this blog or simply spend time in silent meditation or prayer or… well you get the idea. If I use a word that Christianity has deemed foul or coarse, I immediately begin to think about how much I must be displeasing God. If I don’t attend a church service on a given Sunday morning (such as this one) I feel like I’m playing hooky. If I don’t give a certain amount of money to the church, I begin to wonder if my finances will be cursed.
I don’t know if you can relate to any of this or not. My bet is that you can.
One of the biggest objections to our faith from outsiders is that we have a bratty or draconian god that is looking for any opportunity to “smite” us. This really is not fair, though, because God isn’t the One that makes us think this way. He isn’t sitting on His throne with a checklist like some angry Santa Claus, eyeballing our every move with disapproval and scorn.
For some reason, perhaps it’s control, we tend to always come up with a mindset that encapsulates our relationship with God within a system of rules and guilt. This is what religion is good at. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because it’s the easier way out in regard to answering questions about what God wants from us. Once again, maybe it’s about control.
Christianity isn’t the only guilty party in this line of thinking, to be fair. All religious systems have similar tenets. Even atheism (which is also a religion, by the way…) has rules.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Rules aren’t bad. Rules keep us from driving on whatever side of the road we so please and therefore having a head-on collision or running someone else down and embankment. Rules tell us not to steal, kill, rape, plunder, etc. Rules keep our society in order. Some rules are ridiculous, like the one in North Carolina that says I can’t plow a cotton field with an elephant. Or in South Carolina, I can’t keep a horse in a bathtub. Come on, what if my horse is sick and in need of a warm bath, and all the while my elephant is perfectly capable of plowing my cotton field right across the state line? See what I mean? Let’s be reasonable.
Seriously, rules aren’t bad things. The rules God gave us in the Bible were for our own good, not petty commands that a capricious and bratty god came up with. Some are strange, but they have a context and I’m not trying to dissect all of that right now. What’s bad about rules is that we attach our adherence to said rules to our value before God. In other words, if we do or don’t do these things, then God is pleased with us and loves us more. This is the essence of the religious mindset.
Here’s the thing: our value in God’s economy is demonstrated by what He gave for us. He sacrificed His very own life. He lowered Himself to the form of a lowly human being, all with the intention of receiving a disgustingly bad beating and execution… all for us. He did this, knowing full well how we would continue to mistreat Him and rebel against Him. He did this knowing that even after I made a decision to become a follower of Jesus, I would continue to do the most selfish things and act in the most inhuman ways.
God’s love for me isn’t base in my actions or inaction. His love for me is based in His own eternal and infinite identity. He loves us because that’s Whom He is.
I encourage you to go to church. Read your Bible. Give of your resources to help others and support organizations. Do these things out of a love for Jesus and the love He has given you for others.
But don’t for one minute remain in the mindset that these things are what makes you valuable in His sight because He has made you invaluable. He has made you priceless. Our value is determined by the One that designed us… not by our activities.