Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Who Needs God? by Eric Metaxas

Godspy has an excerpt here

Catch a flavor of it:
Q: Isn't it true that some people are just religious and others aren't? Why do I have to be religious if that's not who I am?
A: Well, this brings up the whole subject of what it means to be religious. So in order to answer your question, I have to address that first. Having a relationship with God is not the same as being religious. Many people are religious and have zero relationship with God. In fact, being religious can be a bad thing.

Q: I'm surprised to hear you say that.
A: It really can. The fact is that religion can be a way of hiding from God, of trying to fool him.

Q: You're losing me.
A: Think about it. Some people think that by going to church or synagogue, or by reading the scriptures regularly, or by following other rituals, or by not doing certain things, they are somehow good enough to warrant going to heaven.

Q: What's wrong with that? It sounds as if they're doing exactly what God wants them to be doing.
A: On one level, yes. But on another level they are trying to fool God with their actions. And they are totally cutting God out of the picture by saying that if they do X and Y and Z, they automatically earn heaven, as if it were a system of rules, and they could simply play the game and win. The idea of a moral structure that cuts God out of the picture is very attractive to humans because that puts us in control. But God wants us to understand that without a relationship with him, moral behavior isn't worth anything. Mere moral rectitude doesn't fool God. The Pharisees of the first century were morally upright, but Jesus blasted them for being hypocrites) The fact is that God is offended by people who do everything right and think it somehow earns them gold stars and an automatic free pass into heaven.

Q: God is offended when we do good things? That seems totally impossible.
A: You have much to learn, grasshopper. Seriously, think about it. The Bible says that God looks at our hearts. So if you're doing good things but from a wrong motive, God sees the inward motive, not the good things you're doing. He isn't fooled. Many people are doing things that outwardly everyone sees as "good," but the only reason they are doing those things is for a bad reason. Shocking, but true.

Q: What's a bad reason to do something good?
A: One bad reason might be merely to get praise from other people. Or to feel like a big shot—or to feel that you're better than other people who aren't doing as many good things as you are. Or sometimes, people will do good things just to get God off their backs.

Q: That I don't get.
A: You know, like a kid doing a chore just to get his parents to let him do something he wants to do, or so he can get something special from them. It's a kind of manipulation. Perhaps inwardly he hates his parents but figures "if I play the game and take out the trash, they'll let me go out with my friends and do as I please." His heart is in the wrong place. Some folks refuse to give God their hearts, but they figure they don't need to, because they believe it's all about performance. So when they do certain good things, they figure God owes them something.

Q: What do they think God owes them?
A: Any number of things. A good life, a prosperous life, a happy life without pain or tragedy. Entrance to heaven...

Having a relationship with God is not the same as being religious.
Q: So?
A: So God doesn't owe us anything. He is our loving Father who would do anything for us; he's not some adversary we are bargaining with! He wants us to see that, and to see that if he gives us good things, it's because he loves us, not because he owes us. Big difference. How offended would any father or mother be if their children avoided them and did only what they thought could get their parents to give them an inheritance?

Q: I suppose they'd be pretty offended.
A: Parents want three things from their children more than anything else in life. They want their children's love, attention, and time. If they have that type of relationship with their children, all kinds of other good stuff comes out of it, and generally the children will want to please their parents. But sometimes children try to manipulate their parents just so they can get something in return. Parents want an honest and authentic relationship, not manipulation. If they have a real relationship, then even when the children fail, the parents still love and forgive them. But a child who deceives his parent cuts that parent out of any real relationship. (emphasis in the original)
The infinite, eternal Power Transcendent, Ultimate Reality himself, desires the intimacy of fatherhood with the flawed and nihilism-addicted beings that he created in his own image! Try to grasp the unbelievable outrage of this truth! We live for not even a moment of geological time before we become the dust from whence we came. And yet, for us, he created the universe! For us, he condescended his own divine dignity and empties himself in order to become one of us in the Person of his Son. For us, he endured hunger, thirst, misunderstanding, humiliation, rejection, abandonment, crucifixion and death. For us, he shattered the eternity of death and carved out of his own blood the way to eternal communion with himself. For us, he created a new people, born of his Spirit and marked by the sacraments he gave them, that we might journey with him among our brothers until we meet him in Glory in eternity. This is our God. This is our Savior. What else can we do except drop to our knees and sing Hosannah! Gloria in exclecis Deo!

Our very being finds its ultimate existence and end in him. Our entire rasion d'etre is to fully live in relationship with him and experience the fullness of communion with him in eternity. Religion is simply the cultural language that we speak to one another so that we all live our destiny together. If religion does not guide us to live that relationship to the fullest, then that religion is a false one.

It's that simple. It's that difficult.

If we're to live in relationship with the God, who loves us as his own children through the sacrifice of his own Son, then we need to cut out of our lives anything that opposes that relationship. That's not easy. We have been scarred by the enshadowment of the world. The once great servant of our Lord has now become his Enemy. And ours. That Enemy has ensnared the world in the same deception in which he himself has fallen. We wrestle with our scarred selves, and perceive reality through a glass darkly. Thus, we praise some things that we should condemn, and condemn many things that we should praise. We require humility, and that comes only through humiliation. That comes only through the surrender of those things that we consider the most precious to us. We must let go, and many times, those things that we do let go have claw marks on them.

I have cherished many people, places and things in my time. I have grieved to see them parted from me. But I have found that my own attachment to them was my own ruin. I loved illusions. Reality fulfills far more than any mirage. But I had to learn that through my humiliation and sorrow. And I've many more roads to walk before I take my last rest. Who knows what lessons in humility I will next receive?

Yes, it's simple and difficult to live in relationship with our God. The alternative is a life in which we worship nothing--Thomas Merton's definition of hell. That's a life that leads to an eternity of emptiness.

"To whom shall we go?" Peter said to Christ after many disciples left him, "You have the words of everlasting life."

What more can any of us say? Ahead of us lays the shadow of the cross. Our relationship awaits.