For many, today is a day of celebration. Whether it’s spent in a church, reflecting on a man who once lived long ago, or whether it’s children running around looking for easter eggs, it’s a day where despite celebration, there is still suffering. All weekend I’ve been thinking about writing something today, about what, I haven’t been entirely sure. I opened my laptop this afternoon and there it was, another suicide bomber taking the lives of far too many people, in a country that will probably receive far less news coverage about it than a Western country. I don’t know much about Pakistan, but I know that it isn’t fair that these people are suffering immense amounts of pain today. Pain, on a day that is supposed to be about celebration.
I have been very hesitant to not only write about my faith, but also speak to others about it. I think for many years, I have been ashamed to be a Christian. Aside from feeling like it was just “not cool,” there are so many people out there who claim to be Christian and who are doing beyond terrible things in this world and it has left me wanting to hide under a blanket and say nope, not me, I am not a Christian because I don’t want to be associated with people who create chaos and pain. I do not want to be associated with people who mix political power and religion together to create something really scary. And so I’ve remained silent.
It’s only been in the last week or so that I’ve realized this, but it’s my husband who gave me my faith back. We were both in strange times of life for various different reasons, and before we were dating, he asked me to read the Bible with him because he wanted to read the entire thing, front to back, and so did I. Having someone to read with made it a lot more interesting and kept us accountable in reading this crazy long book. And so we did, for the next 365 days, we read this book from the start to the finish and it was during this year that I finally said okay, I’ll give this Christianity thing a shot again.
You see, religion has always scared me because I’ve seen religion turn into a manipulative business and power-trip. Instead, I’ve always called myself “spiritual,” and I think it was the author Timothy Keller who said it in one of his books I’ve read that calling myself “spiritual” instead of “religious” was a cop out, so to speak, or at least that’s how I interpreted it. In my understanding, it’s a weak/pathetic/passive way of owning up to one’s own faith. It’s not fully trusting a greater power. It’s letting me run my life when I want to, and turning to God only in times of desperation and need. That’s not faith, that’s a pity prayer. And so I've been exploring what it means to be more than just spiritual, but to be part of a religion, too (and to be okay with being a part of a religion).
One of the best books I’ve ever read is called “The Prodigal God,” also by Timothy Keller (he’s a really, really, great author). There’s this story in the Bible where a man has two sons and the younger one runs away, basically rebuking everything his father taught him. Later, when this “prodigal son” hits hard times, he returns to his father, says he’s sorry for what he did, and his father forgives him. The story is supposed to be about God’s love for us, and about how he will always forgive us because he’s full of never-ending love and grace. In the book The Prodigal God, Tim says that the story isn’t just about the runaway son, it’s actually more about the older brother who stayed with his father. This obedient older brother was mad when the prodigal brother returned home and was forgiven because while his younger brother was disobeying all the rules, he (the obedient older brother) was following all of the rules and didn’t receive anything in return for it. The father threw the younger son a party for his return, where the obedient older brother didn’t receive any praise for his obedience.
What Keller is trying to say in this book is that religiosity, that is, the art of following rules and doing things the “right” way is not the way to God. In fact, doing things the “right” away and following all of the religious rules is a far worse lifestyle to live than that of the prodigal son. Why? Because the older brother’s heart was never in it. He was being obedient purely for the return value (his own personal safety and salvation). He wasn’t living for God because of his pure love and devotion to God, he was “living for God” because it was a set of rules and guidelines that would protect him from hell. That’s never what God has been about. He doesn’t care about rules, he just cares about love.
This book was so incredibly refreshing to me. All of the wars and hate and bullying that have been done “in the name of God,” these people are the older brothers in Keller’s book. And unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the rest of us, that kind of faith doesn’t work, nor will it ever win.
I’ve been really ashamed of my faith because there are too many times I’ve seen “older brothers” represent Christianity and cause immense amounts of pain. But I want to change that. I want to change this representation. Not that I think I am a perfect representation, in fact, most days I’m probably a horrible representation because I am a human being who pursues her own needs even when they cause conflict to others. But, not all Christians believe in hate or assimilation or ludicrous Trump ideas. Changing this representation though means that I can’t hide anymore even if it’s way more comfortable to hide. I don’t think Jesus was ever comfortable either, though.
And so, on a day that is mixed with mourning the twisted things that happen in life and celebrating a man who died and rose again, I choose to follow Him. I know the story sounds crazy. I have days where I can hardly believe it for myself because it is just so out of this world impossible. But I think I’m starting to finally understand who Jesus is and why his death and resurrection are so important. It’s my salvation, sure, but it’s also an example of the greatest possible love that could ever be given. Some man whom I’ve never physically met and who lived thousands of years before I was even born loved me so much that he died so that I could be free of all the things I’ve screwed up, of all my guilt, of all my pain. That is insane to me, but I believe it. And for that, I am forever in awe of this person who to some may only be this magical, fantasy figure. But I’ve always believed in magic.