Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Which One?

            Religion says I am . . . Broken, Imperfect, Sinful, Stupid, Helpless, Worthless
            Science says I am . . . Filled with Potential, Full of Wonder, Intelligent, Capable, Beautiful, Headed for Greatness
            Which one of these is more harmful?

            I saw a picture of a little girl holding up a sign like this, with a great big smile on her face.  Yet, she was clearly too young to understand what the sign meant.  It was her parents who wrote it.  And as I looked at the list and the little girl’s smiling face, I felt sorry for the parents.  Either they have been really hurt  by “religion” before or else they misunderstand it terribly.     Actually, what I should say is that there are “religions” out there that are very damaging.  I have no doubt that people have been scarred by the mean things that some religions teach or by the way some people try to force their religious beliefs on others.  So I don’t know what “religion” they are referring to. 
            But thankfully, Christianity is not a “religion.”  Religion is about rules created by an institution to work our way to God.  But Christianity is about a relationship with God, about admitting that we can’t work our way to God but that He is leaning down to draw near to us.  We can’t work out way to heaven, but we don’t have to.  Because He made a way through Jesus’ death on the cross.  He is holding out His hand and all we have to do it grasp it, in faith.  So while her list might be about “religion,” it is a gross misrepresentation of Christianity. 
            (Unfortunately, there have been bad representatives of Christianity over the course of history, too.  People claiming to be Christian but doing things that the Bible would not condone.  It is disgusting to me when people claim to be Christian and then do bad things “in God’s name.”  And people who don’t know the Bible might be easily convinced that these bad representatives are accurately living the Bible’s teaching.  But they are not.  And those bad representatives will be held accountable someday for not accurately handling and living the Word.  But the people who reject Jesus and God based on someone else’s bad example will be held accountable for their choice.  “But I didn’t like the Christians I knew so I didn’t want anything to do with Jesus” will not excuse you from the consequences of rejecting the truth, rejecting God and the salvation that Jesus offers.)
            Anyway, this list that the little girl was holding bothered me.  Because it so absurdly misrepresents Christianity.  And even when she is right, it is only half the picture.  And a half-truth is still a whole lie.  And so, since I cannot speak for any “religion” out there, I am going to ignore the “religion” aspect of it and explore the things in her list as they relate to Christianity.  And I want to make my own list, which I think more accurately represents Christianity and science.
            First of all, “stupid” and “worthless” are just plain . . . well . . . stupid.  They are so ridiculous that they don’t even deserve to be addressed.  It would be like saying, “Religion says we are big puffs of whip cream.”  It’s just silly and has no basis in Christianity at all.  So I will just push those aside, pretend they are not even there.  There is nothing worthless about a person who God decides to create, die for, and offer eternal life to.  We all matter so much to Him that He was willing to send Jesus to die the death that we deserved so that we could spend eternity with Him.  What other “religion” has a God who loves His people so much that He would die so they could live? 
            And regarding the “helpless” one, she obviously means that “religion” says we are pathetically weak, like spineless worms writhing on a sidewalk, completely helpless and clueless and incapable.  She means it as a slam.  But this is not what Christianity says.  Christianity doesn’t say that we are weak, spineless, helpless, useless, clueless worms.  It says that we are dearly loved creations of God and that our strength is found in Him.  And strength from Him is far better than anything we can muster up. 
            Science (a world without God) would say that we have to find our strength in ourselves, that we have to carry the weight of our lives, our futures, the world, etc., on our own shoulders.  We have to know what to do.  We have to do it all and fix it all.  We have no one else to lean on.  We have to be our own little “gods” because there is no God to watch over us and help us.  How discouraging!  How exhausting!  How hopeless!
            And how misleading!  Because we are obviously not as strong and capable as science says we are or have to be.  We cannot fully prevent or fix national disagreements, natural disasters, famines, culture wars, economic disasters, homelessness, broken homes, domestic violence, certain diseases, accidents, etc.  Sure, we can do our best to manage and fix them, but we have no real control over them.  Many bad things happen that we can’t do much about.  Not in any lasting way, at least.  Sounds pretty “helpless” to me, as a human race.  Can science dare claim that we are “strong and capable”?  When it looks at all the things we fail at or have no ultimate control over?
            Yet Christians do not have to be their own “gods.”  They do not have to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.  We lean on God.  He is our strength. 
            We are never stronger than when we admit we are weak and helpless, that we cannot do it on our own and that we need His help.  It is then that He steps in and carries our concerns for us.  Or He just carries us through our concerns.  Either way, we don’t have to be “strong and capable” in ourselves, on our own.  Because He is our strength.  He is the one who will straighten out our path and handle our concerns. . . if we will just admit that we need Him, if we give Him the control that we try to hold onto so tightly in an effort to prove how strong we are.
            As I have grown older and wiser, I have learned a big lesson:  I have no problem admitting that I am weak and helpless and that I need Him, if it means I don’t have to carry the weight of the world on my own shoulders.  Nothing is more exhausting than that.  I would much rather fall down in His arms in desperate need and let Him carry me. 
            I learn this every time one of my kids is sick and I am hovering over them in anxiousness, unsure of what might be wrong and how to best handle it.  I learned this during the economic recession when we had to lean hard - in faith and trust - on God’s providence, wisdom, and timing.  We were living in a moldy rental that we were desperate to get out of, yet we had no way to afford a new place because we even had to buy our groceries on credit.  And we had to wait on God to pave the way to a house we could afford.  I learn this when the world seems so violent and scary and filled with dangers at every turn.  I learn this every time I feel like the future is big and overwhelming and like I am clueless and going to fail. 
            During these times, the responsibility to “make it work” doesn’t rest on me alone.  I don’t have to fix it or know what to do.  I get to run to God and seek His help.  I get to rest in Him.  I get to let His strength fill me when I have none left of my own.  How refreshing and reassuring!  When I can’t trust myself, I can trust Him. 
            I wouldn’t trade this security for all the “strength in myself” that I could muster up.
            While we humans do have a certain strength and capableness (we are an amazing bunch), science cannot claim that we are ultimately “strong and capable” as a human race, not when there is so much that is out of our control.  We are not gods.  And science, if it looked at the clear facts of history and the environment, etc., would have to say that we are fallible, weak, and incapable in the face of so many circumstances and conditions.  Yet science offers no help or answers for it!  How sad! 
            [I think that our need to prove how strong and capable we are is the very thing that will keep many people from finding God.  Unless we can admit that we need Him, that we are unable to do life on our own, that we are not a little “god,” we can never truly find Him.  Our need to prove how self-sufficient we are will pave our way to hell. 
            Also, if I may point out, some of the strongest people in history have been Christians.  The ones who bravely stood by their faith as the lions attacked them in the arenas or as their heads were being chopped off.  The ones who leave the comforts of home and travel to areas of great turmoil in order to help those in need, such as doctors who treat Ebola or leprosy, even to the point of contracting it themselves.  The ones who spend their lives fighting against injustices and social evils.  The ones who spend their lives serving other people and sharing the love of Jesus so that others might come to know it, too.  Some of the bravest, strongest, most loving, most self-less people over the course of history have been Christians.  I hardly call this “weak and helpless.”  In fact, they have proven themselves to be far “stronger” than people who look out for and live for themselves and for temporary pleasures and success.  And their strength comes from their faith in God!]
            And now, onto the other items in her list.  The ones that really do have a basis in Christianity are “broken, imperfect, and sinful.”  But this is only half the picture. 
            For starters, once again, can science dare to claim that we are “sin-less”?  Look at what people are capable of doing!  We hurt others, abuse others, lie, criticize, tear down, steal, cheat, murder, neglect, etc.  While science might not call it “sin,” it’s still the same thing.  It’s still “doing the wrong thing.”  The only big difference is that science would have to say it is an offense against other people, whereas Christianity says that sin is also an offense against God.  But it is still “doing the wrong thing.”  And people do it all the time.  Science cannot deny it.
            And can science claim that we are not “broken and imperfect”?  Can it dare to say that we as a human race are “whole and perfect”?  Not only is there our obviously, undeniable “sin nature,” but there is also clearly a deep ache for something more than what we can provide for ourselves.  How many people struggle and strive every day in the rat-race of life to acquire something new or to reach a higher hung on the ladder of success, just to make them a little happier and to bring their life some kind of joy and meaning? How many people are still miserable, searching for “I don’t even know what” to fix the emptiness inside?  How many face terrible conditions – starvation, homelessness, severe drought, poverty, disease, broken homes, broken bodies, racism, severe loneliness, depression – with no way out, no way to fix it?  How many people who “have it all” are still miserable?  How many end up committing suicide just so they can escape the hopelessness of this life?  Because they couldn’t find any other way out? 
            Can science dare call this world or the human race “whole and perfect”?  If they did, it would be the most audacious, misleading, incorrect assertion ever!  All you have to do is look around at your own town or read the papers to see how wrong this is!  To see how broken we are, how broken our world is, and how little we can do about it.
            Science would have to agree that we are “broken, imperfect, sinful, and, ultimately, helplessly weak in ourselves.”  However, it offers no answers for it.  No hope.  No comfort. 
            But Christianity does! 
            Science – a world without God - says “it’s all up to us.”  And given the terrible conditions we humans bring on ourselves, that sounds pretty hopeless and discouraging to me.  But Christianity – while it also says we are “broken, imperfect, sinful, and helplessly weak in ourselves” – offers real answers and hope and comfort. 
            It says that we don’t have to “do it all or fix it all ourselves.”  We don’t have to dig ourselves out of our own messes.  We don’t have to save ourselves.  Jesus has done this for us.  He provides the fix for our “broken, imperfect, sinful, helplessly weak” condition.  His death on the cross paid for our sins, and all we have to do is accept it.  Accept that He loves us so much that He would die for us, so that we could have a relationship with Him, be in eternity with God.  This gives our life meaning and purpose.  This gives us hope and a future.  This brings healing for our brokenness and makes something beautiful and worthwhile out of our flaws.  God does His best work with broken, flawed people.  If we will let Him.  If we are not too self-sufficient to admit that we need Him.  Once again, we are never stronger than when He is holding us! 
            Can science – can impersonal, environmental forces - offer that kind of hope?  No!  And yet, it still has to admit that we are ultimately broken, imperfect, sinful, and helplessly weak.  And then it leaves it up to us to get ourselves out of that condition.  Hopeless!  Discouraging!  Exhausting! 
            While science might let us “play god” in our lives - giving us temporary pleasure and meaning - science without God is a let-down.  It fails at giving us answers for the truly meaningful questions: Why are we here?  Where are we going?  Is there any real hope or future for me?  Do I really matter?
            Science cannot bring us true hope and healing and meaning and a future.  But Jesus does!

            And so I ask you, “Which one is more hopeless?  And which one is more hope-full?”

If I was to make my own list like the one the little girl was holding up, it would look like this:

Science (a world without God) says that we . . .
            - are still ultimately broken, imperfect, sinful, and helplessly weak, but it is up to us to dig ourselves out of that mess.

            - are cosmic accidents, created by and at the mercy of environmental conditions.

            - should be disposed of if we have flaws.  Survival of the fittest!  Only what’s best for the continuation of the species as a whole matters.  The weak, injured, and poorly-developed are the ones who are weeded out in order that the stronger ones may live and pass their genes on.

            - are valuable based on our accomplishments and contributions to the species.  If it’s our “fit-ness” that matters then our value is based on what we contribute to society.  And “drains on society” are liabilities and should be weeded out.

            - are ultimately alone.  If there is no Creator – just environmental forces – then we are truly alone and have No One to watch over us or help us.

            - are headed to nothingness.  If we were not deliberately created – if we are just accidentally alive, just walking bags of molecules - then we have no soul, no great purpose or meaning.  And we will simply vanish after we die. 
            (And if we vanish after we die – if there is no ultimate justice or reward or accountability for how we lived, no Creator who gave us an “Ultimate Moral Code” to live by - then it really doesn’t matter how we live.  The Hitlers will have the same end as the Mother Teresas.  And so there would be no ultimate value in whether we lived good lives or bad, whether we hurt others or helped, and there would be no justice for those who were victims and who were hurt by others.  If there’s no God, who gets the ultimate authority to tell us how to live?  Another human being?  The one who makes it to the top?  The social majority?  This would be an ever-fluctuating, ultimately meaningless, hopeless way to live.) 

But Christianity – God, Jesus – says that we . . .
            - are broken, imperfect, sinful, and helplessly weak.  But that’s okay.  God knows we are this way and He loves anyway and wants a relationship with us.  And He made a way to heal us, to bring us wholeness, to pay for our sins, and He is our strength.
            1 John 4:9-10:  “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
            Luke 19:10:  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
            2 Corinthians 5:17-19:  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ . . . not counting men’s sins against them.”
            Colossians 1:21-22:  “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. . .”
            Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 
            Psalm 40:1-2:  “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”
            Philippians 4:6-7:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” 
            Proverbs 3:5-6:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight.”

            - are fearfully and wonderfully made.
            Genesis 1:27, 31:  “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them. . . . God saw all that he had made and it was very good.”
            Psalm 139:13-14:  “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . .”

            - are extremely valuable simply because He created us, He wants us, and He loves us.  No one is worthless or disposable, no matter how broken or flawed they are or how little they contribute to society.
            John 3:16:  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Emphasis added.) 
            2 Peter 3:9:  “[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
            Matthew 10:29-31:  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
            Romans 3:38-39:  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

            - are worth dying for, even in our broken, imperfect condition.
            Mark 2:17:  “Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” 
            Romans 5:8:  “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
            John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Emphasis added.)

            - are not alone because He is watching over us and will help us through this life.
            1 Peter 5:6-7:  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”
            1 Peter 3:12:  “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 
            Psalm 23:1-4:  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me besides quiet waters, he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
            Deuteronomy 31:6:  “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified . . . for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  
            Psalm 9:10:  “Those who know Your name will trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You.”

            - have a future.  We will live on after we die, which can be comforting or terrifying, depending on where you are headed. 
            Jeremiah 29:11:  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
            John 10:10:  “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
            John 1:12:  “Yet to all who received him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - ”
            John 3:36:  “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
            Revelation 20:15:  “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
            Matthew 25:31-34:  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’. . . Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” 
            (Hell was never made for us, but for the devil and his angels.  We, however, choose to follow the devil to hell if we reject Jesus as Lord and Savior, if we choose to pay the penalty for our sins ourselves.  A penalty that has already been paid by Jesus, if only we will accept it on our behalf.)   
            John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Emphasis added.)

            Once again, I ask you, “Which one is more hope-full?” 
            Which one has real answers, real hope, and a real future?

            We all put our faith in something.  Which one are you putting your faith in?

            We all stake our futures on something.  Which one are you staking your future, your soul, your eternity on?