Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tell Me All Your Thoughts on God

During the question and answer session I conducted last month, one reader sent me a very interesting question via email. I didn't answer it along with the others because I felt it deserved its own post. When I sat down to try and write it, I couldn't. Nothing sounded honest. So this time I'm not going to think about it. I'm just going to write and whatever answer comes out is the answer that's in my heart. Lord help me.

Q: Religion...what's your take on God? Do you believe in Jesus?

A: I'm not a fan of religion. Religion is the rituals, traditions, and practices of a faith. It's often the manifestation of faith, but in no way is religion synonymous with faith. Going to church every Sunday, lighting candles, pouring out oil. None of it (in and of itself) is faith. Faith can manifest itself in the form of religion, but religion is not a substitute for true faith.

When I was deciding on a spiritual path, I came to two conclusions. First, I can't decide what I want God to be. Crafting an image of God that conforms to my wants, desires, and needs would be backwards. If I was creating the "creator" where exactly would I be putting my faith? Any god that would bend to my whims couldn't possibly be God.

Second, I had to choose what to believe, because I couldn't believe everything. Logically speaking there can't be one god, yet multiple gods. God can't have a son, but yet not have a son. The son of God can't be the only means to salvation, yet not be the means to salvation (or even worse a heretic). Salvation can't be based on grace and sacrifice, yet based on good works alone. While the differing paths definitely have similarities, the differences require a decision.

I choose Jesus Christ. I do believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. I do believe that he died on the cross for the sins of mankind. I do believe that he rose on the third day (the Jewish day begins at sunset so he actually died on a Thursday, not a Friday). I went through a period of intense exploration, trying to find the facts behind the faith. Fortunately there was lots to find. There's evidence of a great flood, the Hittite civilization, the walls of Jericho. It makes it easier to believe that which I can't see.

I'm not a perfect person. And no matter how much I try, I never will be. I do believe that God set a standard for all humans and that standard does not change. I know that I fall far short of it. Paul said it best, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." I place my faith in Christ because he bridges the gap between me and God. I have no fear that I'm not good enough, because being in Christ I am. It makes sense that salvation can't be based on works alone. If we all fall short, then what ratio of good deeds to bad can get us into the pearly gates? Grace is a beautiful thing.

Still faith without works is dead. Jesus said you can recognize a person by the fruit they bear. Just saying I believe isn't enough. If I do, it will come across in my actions. I know the Lord's commands, but I do tend to ignore them when they don't suit my personal purposes. That's my nature and it's a constant struggle for me. I don't believe that grace is a free pass to do as I please, and I pray constantly that God will change me into the person He wants me to be. The biggest thing for me to remember is that it's a journey and not a destination.

Lately that journey has taken me down an interesting path. About a year ago, I started wondering if contemporary Christianity was really the faith Jesus and the Apostles had left us with. I began to think about what man might've changed over the last two thousand years. That led me into studying Christian apologetics and the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith. I can't say that I believe what many other Christians do. I don't believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, nor do I believe that Jesus nullified Mosaic law, nor do I recognize Sunday as the Sabbath. I believe that many of the differences between Judaism and Christianity were created long after the apostles died. I've come to think that the only true difference between Judaism and Christianity is Jesus. Christians believe that He's the promised Messiah, Jews do not. They're still waiting.

I love being a Christian, however there are many times when I really don't like identifying as one. A lot of believers have given the entire faith a bad name. Jesus called tax collectors, terrorists, liars, and other sinners to be his disciples. He never lowered his standards in regard to sin, yet he didn't make them change who they were in order to love them. I think many Christians forget this whenever they are "lovingly" rebuking the "unsaved." For some reason, I just don't hear "I love you" in "You're going to hell!" Jesus' love and example changed Peter, Thomas, Matthew, and company. If people could see Jesus in today's followers I'm sure more people would be open to letting Him in their lives.

I hope that one day others can see Christ in me.


Christina_the_wench said...

I am a preacher's wife so the beliefs you have and I have, differ a lot. One thing we do agree on. Faith in God is the most important thing over any religion.
God bless.

Anonymous said...

I love this. I consider myself incredibly spiritual, but it's so hard to label myself in someone else's terms. Especially when, as you point out, so many have taken great steps to turn Christianity into a thing I can't even recognize sometimes, these days.

It just feels very...personal, I guess, to me.

I hope that one day others can see Christ in me.

Amen, girl.

P.S. The title? Brilliant.

Cece said...

As another member of the "very religious family who has now rebelled" I can say I agree with you on a couple of things.
I'm not a fan of religion. I hate identifying myself as Catholic, for more than the obvious reasons and I think most people now-a-days use God and Religion to make themselves feel better while others feel worse.
I also keep reminding my mother that God is not up there with a scoreboard keeping points on that you do. "Oh got drunk again -2 points" Heaven is not Chuckie Cheese.You do not need 1000 points to get in. I do like to believe that if generally,everyday I'm a good person and try to do good things while not causing others deliberate harm then I'm ok. Its what works for me.

Unknown said...

my thoughts on God?
Belief and Faith are the most powerful force in life...now when you apply that to GOD, or more likely, Religion..its the most Dangerous force in the history of the world. you wrote about the beginnings of christianity and the similarities to Judiasm...i feel as if there shouldn't even be a "christian" religion...Christ did not intend to start a new religion. Period. IT WAS NOT HIS INTENT, THAT PEOPLE STOP BEING JEWS. with that said, anything that comes from "christianity" is made up. its not what was intended and or wanted by the very person "christians" claim to follow. Fact: you cannot follow someone, on your OWN path...jesus was a jew, you follow jesus, your a jew, or your something else entirely, but not christ-like (because to be such is to follow his beliefs, which were decidedly jewish).

i also hate that whole " i'm not religious, i'm spiritual" thing...its a load of crap. i mean in my experience ( i fully admit i don't know everything) people who use that statement, often use the phrases like "i've been blessed" or "thank GOD". to even recogize GOD (as i do) is to recognize religious beliefs...maybe not a specific religion, but religious beliefs indeed (for the term GOD, i purely Religious, from Greek,to Wicken...religions all).

now that i've tipped my hand...i do believe in GOD, just all of them, and none of them entirely...i lend no more credence to yahweh, than i do Zeus. i fear Allah, the same way i do Shiva. Neither draw my ire or love more than the other...the more i learn about the religions, the more facinating they are, the more i'm in awe of the power of belief and faith.

Anonymous said...

Wow...now I know why they say the two topics one should never discuss in public are religion and politics. I found myself equally amazed and appalled by some of the comments and "facts" stated, but it all lent itself well to providing insight into how people view religion/faith nowadays.

I grew up Catholic and for some time had many questions of why this and that. I don't believe religion is as important as faith, but I don't think it's unimportant. Just like laws exist in a [secular] society, why should they not with basic faith. If everyone could pick and choose what they wanted to believe and how deeply, that would defeat the purpose (to me). I'll admit that there are things within the Catholic Church that I either don't understand nor agree with, but I can say the same of legislative doctrine. In the end, like Cece, I try to follow them as best as I can and be a good person at all times.

Anonymous said...

Liz's Sandz, based on the balance of your comment, it sounds like spiritual, rather than religious, is the very word I'd use to describe you, too. Although when I used the term, I never intended to imply that I was not religious. I'm a lifetime member of the Methodist church and practice what it preaches. At least until I disagree with it. And then we all just hug, accept and move along. It's all very ... spiritual.

Anonymous said...

These are not easy times to stand up and say you're a Christian, so your faith does motivate your actions, perhaps more than your realize.

I see the tolerance of all religions as the grace we give to each other - that faith and the practice of that faith is a very personal thing. The concept of obliterating all other options is definately a construct of man.

Anonymous said...

You're a brave woman to tackle this topic, opening the door to possible wrath and criticism. As always, however, your ability to express yourself both simply and completely, shines through.

Anonymous said...

Rebelioness, I'm equally amazed and appalled by some of the comments and "facts".

Cheetarah,thank you for separating religion and faith. So many people just have it all mixed up.

It gets so aggrivating when people say "are you really religous?" or "are you really spiritual?" To me its, I believe in God and I am saved through Christ. I am covered by his blood....to me its that simple.

Sangindiva said...

This was a fantastic post!
I, too, believe in Jesus. But I feel that it should not be about religion at all, but about the
PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP you have with the higher, omni-present, power that created ALL things. I happen to call him God/ Jesus.
I don't go to church.
I don't hate it- it's just that I don't need a BUILDING to have a relationship and communicate with God.
Yes, I too have fallen short of the standards he has set- but I press towards the mark...
God is a gentleman who gives us CHOICE. He also gave us LIFE- which is the ULTIMATE gift. We were the ones who got to come to earth to give it a spin... Enjoy the JOURNEY!

Cece said...

Please dear god -pun intended- let this be your last post on this topic. Back to the boys I say.

Jodi said...

One more though...i really loved the it is this, but it's also this paragraph (sorry can't site exactly) which is really an agnositic view on it all. we really don't know, and aren't supposed to. that's sort of why the journey is so important. no offense, BECAUSE i grew up catholic on holidays only, but i close down at the mention of jesus, and christ, and all that. but i enjoyed your honesty and as always, the way you express. ~Jodi

Deb said...

You just basically summed it up in your last paragraph when radical Christians rebuke those who are sinning. Jesus sat amongst all sinners; yet loved them as His own. People ‘do’ forget about that. They feel they have ‘righteous judgment’---yet it says in the bible clearly to judge not. And yes, everyone falls short, and everybody sins. Someone who claims they are not a sinner is lying. We live in the physical nature which constantly conflicts with our spiritual side. We can’t win. We need Christ. As long as you have a personal relationship with Christ, and are remorseful for whatever sin that plagues you---you are saved through Jesus.

I absolutely loved this post! Thank you. I needed to read this today.

Anonymous said...

Liz, don't hate me for not reading this until I'm ready to. I just can't stomach the Christy stuff yet.

Anonymous said...

It takes guts to state where your faith lies, so good job with that.

I love love loved Marcus Borg's book The Heart of Christianity, because it delves into all of this stuff and handles it with such sense and grace.

Sangindiva, I used to think like that, too, but a church is not a building. It's a place to have communion with others as you seek Truth. They can guide you, and you can guide them. Two heads are better than one, right? (As long as those heads are filled with love and compassion, anyway.)

The Rev said...

I currently work for a religious radio station.

While I certainly believe in God, and would call myself a Christian, I have trouble believing some things that many of the people associated with Christianity believe.

I never believed homosexuality was a sin. I'm sorry. I can't buy that one. I can't believe an act of true love is a sin if it is done with love. And I think too many people are too busy fighting this issue when they could be putting their energy to a real problem. If we put as much energy into fixing the health care system in this country as we do fighting gay marriage, we might actually solve the problems in health care.

I don't believe you need to give a percentage of your money to a church in order to continue your faith. I have no problem with churches. Most of them do good very good things for people. But they are a business just like any other business. They have real estate holdings and bottom lines they have to meet. And some of them don't pay their bills very well. I know this first hand. This is why I don't go to church regularly. I don't know which one to trust with my money.

I also believe in a woman's right to choose. I know this immediately puts me at odds with many Christians. Again, if we put all that energy we put into that issue into another issue that really affects our daily lives like Social Security, maybe we can fix that too.

We are a country that spends too much energy on too few things. And organized religion has been a key reason why we do that.

Diane Mandy said...

Great post, lady! I feel what you are saying and wrestle with many of the same issues myself. The honest contemplation and struggle you decribe tell me that these issues are important enough for you to think critically abou them, and that your pursuit of faith is pure. Even the most regular of the church-going public would have a hard time proving the same.

Cece said...

I'm not speechless often, as you can tell from my comments, but a man who "publicly" says he is a Christian who supports gay marriage and a woman's righ to choose. Smokin Steve you have left me in awe. ;-)