Alright, so I’m stealing this topic from Jamin, and when he gets around to writing it I will post a link here so that you can read something much better than I’m going to write….but until then you’re stuck with me.
This is certainly one that’s bound to step on some toes so let me clarify a few things before I get going. I am not saying that this phrase should be abolished from the language of any Christian, nor am I saying that it is always used improperly.
I may be incorrect in assuming this, but I believe this sort of saying came about as a sort of reaction against legalism as well as a stress being put on the love of God and the two greatest commandments. I know quite a few people who have come to Christ when they heard that Christianity wasn’t all about a long set of rules with an ever watchful Deity in the sky who was just waiting for His chance to shoot someone with a lightning bolt when they broke one of the rules, and also in Romans where Paul talks about the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (3:23-24) which of course means that by God’s set of rules, we all have failed, BUT, Jesus made a way for us. You could cite many examples throughout the history of Christianity where someone or the church in general was corrupted by certain man-made rules or rituals. Most of these have rather humble beginnings and get twisted by men into something that becomes so despicable, that only drastic measures can be taken to right them. The reason is that man is fallen, and we are so lost that in our own natural state, we will take beautiful things given to us by God and twist them as we see fit so that we can get some sort of gain out of them, primarily at the expense of other people. The most famous example of this is probably the things that led to the Reformation, that is, the corruption of the Catholic Church. (very short paraphrase, read up on it, interesting stuff.)
Something else dawned upon me as I’ve been writing this, and it’s the fact that when someone says “religion” in terms of my Christian beliefs, that word doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve heard it taught many times that when someone talks about religion, it generally means any sort of deistic or theistic belief, which includes all the major world religions and that in so classifying the word, Christianity needs to be excluded somehow. The logic is that Jesus wants a personal relationship with us, he doesn’t want all the negative connotations about religions. While it’s entirely true that Jesus does, indeed, want a relationship with His children, it doesn’t necessarily follow that He would want to cast aside anything and everything that “religion” entails. The reason why I say that is because regardless of how fallen humanity has twisted Christianity, it still belongs to God and what He mandates is perfect.
I believe C.S. Lewis made great strides in bringing the Truth in terms that we can easily understand in his book “Mere Christianity” but I think we’ve now gone a bit too far on the “mere” end of the spectrum. I say this based on a lot of things that I see not only in popular culture, but in mainstream evangelicism as well.
The popular culture references are pretty easy to spot with the fad of “Jesus is my Homeboy” attire and “Homey Jesus” being sported proudly by a good number of today’s young people (though not as popular in the last couple years, thankfully). Why do I think this kind of thing is bad? Because while it may bring to mind the love of Christ and (this is stretching, I know) the fact that “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24) it also takes away a lot of the fact that you’re talking about GOD. In the attempt to make God more relevant to today’s kids and put the Word in more understandable terms, we really end up making a picture of a God who is much smaller than He actually is. God is loving, yes, and He wants a relationship with us that is better and closer than any we are ever going to have on this earth. God loved us before the world began and He knows how many hairs are on our head and He will provide for us. However, God is also just and should be respected and feared above all others. Focusing solely on the “happy” side of God, ie. his love mainly. We basically turn God into what I like to call the “Cosmic Barney” which is a nice picture to have of God because if all God is in your mind is someone who loves unconditionally….then this God is also never going to interfere with your life. He won’t be asking you to do anything uncomfortable or counter-cultural and He will be content with sitting on your shelf or in your closet while your life is going good and will come to your rescue when suddenly, the things of the world that you put your faith in come crashing down around you.
That is a very comfortable God, and certainly one that almost anyone would like to have around. God, however, is so much more than that; He is so much bigger than that. Do you really think “Homeboy” is really an adequate word to describe someone who created the entire universe? Someone who sustains not only the plants and animals, but you and me by His power? Are you comfortable with the fact that Jesus was crucified because of every sin that every human being that has, is, and will exist committed? The fact that Jesus was tried and tempted in all the ways that we are tempted and passed every test with flying colors, and then was turned around and wrongly nailed to a cross to die for us?
God will not be mocked, and He is not to be taken lightly. God loves us, yes, and He has our best intentions in mind. He is also Just and Judge, Sovereign over all creation and is Someone who is absolutely worthy of my utmost respect.
I am alive, I have the ability to think, breathe, make music, communicate my thoughts to others, and most importantly, I am able to know He who created me. That is more than a friend, it is more than a good luck charm, get out of jail free card, homeboy, or anything else that we might toss around to describe only a portion of His character.
That is I Am.
Going back to the whole point of this post, I’d like to look at what happens when you’re essentially given the cosmic barney version of God. If someone tells you that you are to have a relationship with God and then sends you out into the world, what ends up happening? You look at the relationships that you have with family members and friends and try to apply them to God. How does that look? If you have a bad relationship with your parents you probably think that God is simply a higher version of your parents; making pointless rules to make your life miserable, a sort of cosmic kill-joy who requires perfection and punishes anyone who doesn’t get there. Conversely, if you have a good relationship with your parents, or say with your spouse you might extrapolate that sort of relationship to God and think that God is simply love and is around to enrich your life and bring you joy…but what about the phrase “you always hurt the ones you love most?” If God loves you the most, is He not also going to hurt you? What happens when something bad happens to you? Or, as Murphey’s law would dictate, what if everything bad that could possibly happen, happens to you? Is the God of love that you have created still in charge of the situation? What could His reasons possibly be for causing certain things to happen?
There are all sorts of questions that come up in a very broad range of fields that, at least in my opinion, you can’t really answer when all you think of is having a relationship with God. Let me say that another way, you cannot live using only your heart while rejecting your mind. I believe this phrase came about with good intentions, but it’s been taken to an extreme that has rather dire consequences. We have people going into college and falling away from the faith simply because they were never taught that God was more than a sort of heavenly buddy that will just be nice and loving all the time. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting every high school student to be able to quote Augustine or recite all the 95 theses (though that would be useful, I promise), being taught about what Christianity is in it’s entirety (that’s the religion part essentially) I believe to be of utmost importance. Christianity as a religion, and as a worldview has answers to all the tough questions that you will face in life. Having a Savior that wants to have a personal relationship with you is wonderful, but there so much more that He wants of you and to give you. Tossing aside “religion” because it bores you or you think it’s not important is such a bad move.