In the years I’ve spent pastoring/mentoring, I’ve grown tired of trying to convince people that God doesn’t hate them because they don’t follow the rules as they should.
It’s an epidemic of sorts. In our culture, when someone gets religion, it’s as if a spirit comes down from heaven, like a dove softly landing on their shoulder, and whispers until they die:
“More than anything else, get your shit together.”
Some people manage to improve their behavior to a degree, but nobody can do it completely, and many are driven to anxiety by their newfound awareness of personal faults and failures. Ever wonder why religious people can be so cranky? And when the greatest fruit of your religion is self-loathing, you’re now open to all manner of activities, agendas, and campaigns that God would never endorse.
At best, the gospel of shit management will never do anything more than turn well-meaning religious people into something nobody else wants to be.
Don’t get me wrong, I think God has His rules, and we’d be wise to put ourselves under His authority, but rule-following simply isn’t His end-game. His rules are merely symptoms of a deeper thing, a thing most religious people could never stomach.
Jesus Himself said, “I want you to have this thing, and I want you to have so much of it that it’s spilling out all over the place.” That’s in the Bible.
And I’ve never met a person, religious or not, who isn’t also looking for this thing Jesus said He wants to give us.
Jesus referred to this thing as ζωὴ. It’s often interpreted as “eternal life,” so most people hear Jesus saying “my deepest desire is to get you into heaven.” But He wasn’t talking about wherever we go when we die, He was referring to the here and now.
He was talking about the same thing we talk about when we say “life” – hope, peace, adventure, meaning, pleasure, love, joy, etc.
We might try to find it in different ways – career, marriage, money, material things, drugs, sex, video games, blogging (ha) – and experience some disappointment (double-ha), but we’re all looking for it. I’ve never met anyone who’s not looking for it.
There used to be a church in the metro Denver area who’s tagline was “Helping people find what they’re looking for.” People hated it. It sounded sacrilegious, nonspiritual, as if what we’re truly looking for gets in the way of what God really wants.
But let me lay down what I think is an inarguable truth, a self-evident reality that most Christians will utterly choke upon.
Hang with me here.
A Better Religion
God invented life’s greatest ingredients – hope, peace, adventure, meaning, pleasure, love, joy, etc. Then He put a desire for all of this stuff into each and every one of us.
So we clamor for these things, and will spend most of our lives hoping they’re right around the corner. Sometimes we’ll lose hope, we’ll repress, and get really unhappy. Most of the time we’ll try to find these things in the wrong places and pay dearly. Many will let their desires off the chain to devolve and corrode into things that aren’t healthy.
But rest assured that a very powerful, potentially life-threatening desire for “life” is common to all of us.
And because so many have shipwrecked themselves looking for “life,” many religious people are tempted to call the whole thing evil, unspiritual, unnecessary.
But in two places in the Bible, Jesus talked about His purpose. In one of those places He said, “I came that you might have life, and have it spilling out all over the place.” (John 10:10) Most English translations say, “and have it abundantly,” but “spilling out all over the place” is a better translation of the Greek I think.
In another passage, while Jesus is trying to encourage his followers to trust Him, He goes so far as to refer to Himself as “The Life.” (John 14:6)
Interesting, and so ironic, that Jesus declares His mission, and it just so happens to be something we’ll all spend the rest of our lives clamoring for.
If you’re a religious person and your “life” is full of anger, depression, anxiety, crappy relationships, and all-around general boredom – get a new religion. It’s not supposed to be that way.
If you’re not a religious person, mainly because you’ve met too many religious people who seem angry, depressed, anxious, etc., I totally get it. But there are people who are different – lots who’ve managed to get a taste of the real “life.” But they’re not typically the ones ripping people on Facebook, or making the headlines. They’re more “background” folk, hard to spot if you’re not friends with any.
And they’re much more likely to respect God’s rules than the angry, anxious, rule-worshiping people are. Things like mercy, compassion, forgiveness, honesty, and humility are a ton easier when you’re life’s got some life in it.
But like all good things, the life that Jesus called us to, which again happens to be the life we’re all looking for, is difficult. There are rules to be followed, and the inventor is the one that made them up. We’ll have to submit to Him. We’ll have to seek wisdom from people who’ve managed to find some of this “life.” We’ll have to admit that we suck at it. We’ll have to walk through this together, talk honestly about our failures and struggles – all so that we might press into what we’re really looking for, and what God truly wants.
And in that we’ll learn what true dependence upon, obedience to, and reverence for God looks like. We’ll be closer to each other, closer to Him, and much more likely to tread farther into this thing Jesus called “life.”
This is a much more difficult endeavor than limiting our “life” to Bible studies, church attendance, befriending only those who think like we do, and picking/choosing our favorite commandments, convincing ourselves that we’re following them, and pointing fingers at people that don’t so we might feel better about ourselves.
And I get it. Jesus is great, and smart, and wonderful, but He’s neither easy or safe, neither is the life we truly want, the one that He came to give us. So it’s understandable that we’d be hard-pressed to redefine this timeless thing, morph it into something far more “do-able,” and ultimately far more lifeless than the real thing.