Flights of Faith

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Tyranny of Guilt and the Possibility of Sincere Choices

I recently read an account of a Christian turned atheist. The dude actually was a pastor. One of his reasons for atheism seemed to be that the Christian message promoted guilt. Actually, he might not have realized that. Rather, someone asked him in a blog discussion if that might have been a critical part of his decision to declare resignation from the faith. He agreed.

Some of the "criteria" for a "Christian life" included loving strangers, giving to the poor, fleeing from sexual immorality, worshipping God, and forgiving others. This is all biblical and pretty central stuff. It's not like going to Bingo with the elderly among the church was a thing on his list (though that sounds like a fruitful endeavor!). Does he have a point? How can we, mere humans, ever live up to God's standard?

Again, this question seems to be a trap the Pharisees and Sadducees would set up for Jesus. "Live up to" sounds...lonely. It's like we'd only get to talk to God once we're perfect. Live with God's standard...that sounds like a whole different ball game. Indeed, I think it is.

I think our discussion of choice from a week or two ago helps us here. By the way, Ivy picked up on that note with this insightful post . If you are a God who demonstrates mercy (a compassion that is prone to be demonstrated to the undeserved) and also a God of justice (a zealous passion for what was made good in the beginning), then how would you interact with beings who do not live up to your standards. A just way, I think, would be through recognizing sincere choices, not necessarily concrete results.

A God of justice doesn't seem likely to reward deliberate bad behavior but if the same God was given a glimpse of a doorway for the right choice to be made, then this would be an opportunity for this God to also show compassion.

I think this is very helpful for us, especially in our world of need today. God cares for the poor. Do you?

Instead of feeling guilty that we are not Mother Theresa, I think we have an offer to turn our hearts to the poor through honesty and sincere choices. Will we choose to give to the poor when we see them or think intentionally about a wiser strategy? Are our career trajectories headed towards the masses, not an ivory tower? And are we not trying to trick God with "fakeout" choices, but are we actually handing our lives over to this God of justice and mercy?

Personally, choices are the only reason I have any sort of confidence in my walk with God. Who knows if I'm doing enough for the poor? Who knows if I'm forgiving others as fast as I should be? Who knows if I'm loving enough? I sure don't. Yet, I am confident in my walk with God because I try to regularly make choices that show God "I'm in." Most of these choices are not actions; rather, they are simple prayers. "I choose you today, Jesus. Please use me." I need to show him that I'm up for what he might have for me. I want to give him permission to make my day an adventure or a mystery or a time of rest. I never know exactly what I'm gonna get.*

That's why this cliche sounding thing about a relationship with Jesus stuff actually matters. God as an ethical system works...kinda. But, as humans, we're still gonna think this God sucks when we want to hoard our money for good stuff, love the strangers we like already not the ones we don't, and do whatever we want with our bodies. We have to actually believe God is good for any of this stuff to be enjoyable (and maybe truthfully, for any of this stuff to happen on a regular basis). And I think we should be enjoying God, others, and life.

So...three questions.

If you trust that God is good, what, if anything, is holding you back from the enjoyment of life?
If you don't trust God's goodness, what would God need to do to woo you to that perspective?
Are you someone or do you have friends that you suspect don't follow Jesus for similar reasons as fear of guilt and what do you think about this suggestion of mercy and grace understood through sincere choices, small or large?

*I anticipate (and have) questions. "But what about that poor person? Don't they need something right now?" How can this system of...grace and mercy work?" To me, this is THE question of all time. We'll get to it soon.


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