The place religion holds

I was reminded this morning while watching the news that religion has yet to do any good thing in the world. It has perhaps created nice and polite people, civilized toward one another; and perhaps has also contributed the concept of charity, but it has also created murderers and monsters who commit the most heinous of crimes in the name of their God and their religion.

Religion is not often spoken about in the Bible, and rightfully so. It is used as a moral guide, a path on which to conduct the daily activity of one’s life. Take a look at Asa, King of Judah in 2 Chronicles 14:

2 Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. 3 He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. 4 He commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to obey his laws and commands. 5 He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him. 6 He built up the fortified cities of Judah, since the land was at peace. No one was at war with him during those years, for the LORD gave him rest.

Religion tells us what to do, how to act, and even how to think. But let me suggest that belief precludes all of those things. And not only precludes but supercedes.

Watching the news this morning, I learned about a woman, a “Sunday School teacher” as the news reporter pointed out, who was being accused of murdering an 8 year old girl. As a follower of Christ, I was on one hand sorrowed by the death of anyone, let alone a defenseless little girl. But there was also a part of me that was momentarily bothered by the fact that they seemed to repeat the “Sunday School teacher” in describing the accused woman. It was as if the woman was now the posterchild for all Sunday School teachers everywhere. I thought, “Now, why did they have to throw that in?” Would it have been reported the same way if that woman were Buddhist, or Jewish, or Muslim?

And I was reminded that religion isn’t what our nation needs. Religion is only and can ever only be a guide; a set of boundaries by which to live one’s life. But without belief in and the indwelling power of God in one’s life, religion is only a set of rules and will not only save no one, but will likely do much more harm than good, as history has taught us.

Am I speaking against religion? I hope it doesn’t sound that way. In fact, James who wrote one of the books in the New Testament wrote:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

So, religion does have its place. But religion must start with relationship. Invite a non-Christian to church or even broach the subject of spiritual matters with them and you’re likely to hear (as I have countless times) something like, “Oh, I’m not a religious person.” My response? “Neither am I, and neither was Jesus.”

If followers of Christ are not careful to keep passion alive in their relationship with Him, the progression goes something like this….

We have a relationship,
which often has rituals,
which can lead to routine,
which starts to feel like a rut,
until we sense spiritual rigor mortis,
and we’re left with hollow religion.

And religion is not compelling to those seeking help, and hope, and peace, and forgiveness. And if religion is even the clothes that our relationship with Jesus wears, then that relationship seems far-fetched as well.

This past weekend I watched a movie called “The Last Sin Eater”. If you’ve never seen it, don’t bother. Unless you have a couple hours to kill and absolutely (and I mean absolutlely) nothing else to do. I picked it up from the library. It was a strange story based on a Welch community living in a wooded cove. From their native land of Wales, they brought a ritual called “The Sin Eater”. Basically, whenever anyone in this small community died, they rang the “passing bell” and someone known as the Sin Eater (who was chosen from among them by way of a lottery system) would come, stand next to the body of the person who had died, take their sins upon himself, and disappear back into the woods. The story unfolds as a young girl “Cadi” listens to and believes the story of Jesus, the original “sin eater”. Through that story, she is set free from the guilt of having caused her younger daughter’s death years before, and also spreads the truth of Jesus throughout the community until finally the community’s “Sin Eater” himself is set free from his sacrifical role.

The one thing I liked about the movie was the stark reminder that rituals based on routines are woefully insufficient to make any lasting difference in anyone’s life. It is only a relationship with God through Christ that anyone is truly set free to live.

Perhaps this might be the reason why Easter (for me) this year was not an extravaganza blowout of monumental proportions. It wasn’t “the same ‘ol song and dance” as they say. It was a quiet and holy reminder in my spirit that Jesus is the only man who is God and the only One who can make any difference for eternity and for now in my life.

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