I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that a book needed to be written about the injustices and crimes committed by those who claimed to know God, so that we could show the differences between those whose hearts are actually God’s, and those who claim any sort of power that will allow them to abuse and manipulate. I am not planning to write that book, but I have been thinking a lot about the poison of religion when it claims to know God or speak for Him while doing the opposite of His character.
It is interesting how often Jesus criticizes the religious hierarchy in His teaching in the Gospels. He calls them out for beating people down with rules and laws while breaking them, or not acting in love toward any of their people. He sees the hypocrisy of their behavior as they postured greatness but really acted as criminals in religious clothing.
This story has been repeated throughout the ages since Jesus, but they have taken on His name and claimed His message of salvation. They go without grace, without love and without real Life to offer anyone. They hurt, destroy, abuse, kill, manipulate, and break people as they go. People who equate God’s name or message with these individuals or organizations are, understandably, horrified, and want nothing to do with God the rest of their lives because of the pain they have caused.
What we need is an encounter with Love Himself as He walks the way of suffering at the hands of religious people to the point of death. Jesus understands this mistreatment better than anyone as He spoke for God His Father, and the religious people called Him a liar, a crazy man or a blasphemer. He was rejected for telling them the truth about God, and ostracized for calling out the hypocrites for their maltreatment of the people they were supposed to be helping.
It can be quite confusing when people hold up an idea or name claiming to know everything about it. That’s part of why Martin Luther was so adamant about having people be able read the Bible and to understand for themselves that salvation didn’t come through works but rather faith. He realized that the religious leaders had created God in their own image and were trying to use His name for their agenda. He and the other leaders of the Protestant Reformation understood that they needed no human to speak for God, that they were saved by grace and lived by grace rather than in constant fear of messing up and having to grovel back to God, and that God did not abuse and manipulate people to bring them to Himself—He loved them all the way there!
One of the reasons that I always push people back to Jesus is that I know I will mess something up at some point. I will miss the mark in what I say, and I’m allowed to do that by God because He doesn’t want a person dependent on me but Him. He is the only perfect One, and He is the only One who loves perfectly. I have walked the road of legalism and religious pretension, and I was miserable the whole time. I didn’t have Love, and I was fearful and anxious. If the whole thing is dependent on you not screwing it up, you end up pretty scared.
But if the Christian life is dependent on Jesus living in through me, if He leads with love and grace, if He loved us while we were His enemies and continues to love us even when we are miserable, then the religious people don’t have a soapbox to stand on. He is not waiting for us to get it right—He is waiting for us to ask Him to make us right. And it doesn’t stop there when we ask Him for new Life and get rid of our old one. Sin was dealt with on the cross, so it doesn’t continue to follow me around and guilt me. I do still sin sometimes, but it isn’t the boss of me anymore. I am forgiven. That’s my state of being. But even more, Jesus lives in me to accomplish what He wants for me, what really makes me most happy.
He brings love every time. He does not abuse. He does not manipulate. He does not use. He does not shame. He does not act unkindly. He does not lie.
Sometimes we need to see the contrast of who God is and who the religious have made Him out to be. I am NOT saying for a second that God is not present with His Church, His bride. He is very much loving each of us in the body of believers, but no one is above another and no one should be hurting others in an attempt to control it for their own purposes. I would ask if there is humility? If there is love? If there is a recognition of the same Jesus being in you as there is in the leader?
Don’t allow the religious hypocrites of our day or any other to define God in their image. They don’t know Him, or they would fall on their face and admit their mess-ups. Come to God directly for who He is, asking Him for knowledge of Him, and using the Bible to grow in knowledge about Him. Eternal life is knowing God, not living perfectly in our own strength. I want to know Him, and to bring others with me to him so they can know Him too. I don’t want to get distracted by the garbage of religion and worship of any person, regardless of what banner is over it.
Religion says that I must make God happy through my actions and not messing up. Faith says that I can only have relationship with God through His own reaching out to me, and He will start, continue and finish the good work He is doing in me. There is no fear—only love. I get to learn to relax in His love, enjoying the worth He has bestowed on me as His beloved.
“The religious scholars and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat as the authorized interpreters of the Law. So listen and follow what they teach, but don’t do what they do, for they tell you one thing and do another. They tie on your backs an oppressive burden of religious obligations and insist that you carry them, but will never lift a finger to help ease your load.
The greatest among you will be the one who always serves others. Remember this: If you have a lofty opinion of yourself and seek to be honored, you will be humbled. But if you have a modest opinion of yourself and choose to humble yourself, you will be honored.”