Many Christians held blind in bondage

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18, 19)

In the verses quoted above, Jesus is reading from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue at the beginning of his earthly ministry. In coming to set the captives free, one must ask what he is setting them free from. Obviously, the answer is bondage, and Christians often point to the unhealthy things we do to ourselves and each other as making up the spiritual bondage in question. For this, the New Testament uses the word “sin” which generally means “off the mark,” as in terms of not hitting a bullseye. So, sin refers to human behaviors that are off center, or other than that which is in our best interest.

Though there is certainly a relationship between the sinful things we do and spiritual entanglements, it’s interesting that Jesus read this scripture in his house of worship. Christ came into the world in a religious setting and, though he addressed humanity’s sinful condition and the sinful actions which extend from it, he also came to address a form of bondage uniquely tied to religious teachings and practices related to what God is like, what kind of standing people have with God and various other teachings that relate to these two archways to all that makes up Biblical religion.

In a daily meditation, the Rev. Richard Rohr, a Catholic priest and Franciscan friar, wrote “Your image of God creates you – or defeats you. There is an absolute connection between how you see God and how you see yourself and the whole universe. The word ‘God’ is first of all a stand-in for everything – reality, truth, and the very shape of your universe. This is why theology is important, and why good theology and spirituality can make so much difference in how you live your daily life in this world. Theology is not just theoretical, but ends up being quite practical – practically up-building or practically defeating.”

For us, how we see God is the very bottom, not just of our theology, but of who we are as spiritual beings on a human journey – not just religious people, but everybody. This is where the most fundamental examples of religious baggage shows up and causes us unnecessary struggle that compounds those which simply come with the territory of being human.

Religious or not, most of us who have encountered Christian faith in some way have probably heard the message that God loves us. Perhaps we are specifically taught about agape and the nature of God’s love toward us, but even if we aren’t, we have at least been introduced to some basic form of this essential message. For those involved in church, we are certainly taught this, but we are also taught some things about God that make God seem less loving than the most loving people on this planet. We are taught that God in some way needed or required Jesus to die for God’s forgiveness to go forth from God’s heart to those who come under the covering of the death of Jesus to make us at one (at-one-ment) with God.

For the devout Christian who is personally engaged in his or her faith each day, there are two ways one handles the tension between truly knowing God loves us and sincerely believing one must hold to a blood atonement doctrine in order to be faithful to God. Religious or not, we are all tasked with managing the relationship between heart and mind. The Christian wrestling with the tension between God as agape love and doctrines that paint a portrait of God as bloodthirsty either lets the conflict breathe and deals with it either openly or in secret, or he or she stuffs it down inside and acts like it isn’t there. So, in many churches, blood atonement doctrine is the large elephant in the middle of the room everyone ignores, and if you are the one to bring it up, you just may get the “death stare.”

Many Christians long for a deeper connection to and understanding of God’s unmerited favor toward us. The religious word for this is “grace” and we might also view it as God’s love in motion. It’s the inner “x-factor” that makes the difference between a living faith and stale, cold religion. However, the tension between agape and our prevalent atonement theories inhibits one’s heart from reaching past the limits created by the mind, as it holds to doctrines that don’t permit the wondrous, expansive, inclusive and boundary-breaking love of God to breathe in us in a greater measure.

Mischaracterization feeds misrepresentation

Though there are other reasons behind why we Christians often misrepresent God with behavior that is not Christlike, there is a connection between our behavior and how we see God. For example, Christians who attack those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community do not represent Christ when attacking them. It seems to me there is an apparent correlation between attacking a group one disagrees with and holding to religious doctrines that cause one to view God as a being who is exclusive, constricting, dogmatic, angry and has hang-ups regarding sin.

Regardless of where one stands on this or any other social and cultural issue – one can hold to one’s convictions without viewing the “other” as an enemy. Opposing an individual’s or group’s viewpoints is one thing, but it simply does not represent Christ to oppose people themselves. We say “love the sinner, hate the sin” but we are merely throwing words around. People who believe in an open and expansive God of extravagant love are more likely to be loving people, while those who believe in a god who has instituted a reward/punishment system and keeps score of everyone’s performance can be expected to behave accordingly. Often, others have a better understanding of what we believe than we do because they can see it in our behavior.

Not much has changed

In Jesus’ day, there was a group of religious leaders called Pharisees. They were the men who gave Jesus the most trouble and they were the only people he ever spoke abrasively to. It was these religious leaders who acted like doctrine police, checking up on everyone to see if they were breaking their religious rules of dos and don’ts; they were rigid people who believed in a god who installed a religious system of reward/punishment based on cause and effect. They believed in a god who creates categories for people and divides them based on the worthiness they earn by their performance. So, who they viewed as “in” and “out” was based on who kept their religious rules in a way they deemed good enough. They were condemning and controlling – they owned this system and thought of themselves as little kings. They were self-righteous and thought they were better than others.

When Christians act like Pharisees, they do it for the same reasons. While all people have egos that are to blame for them behaving in these ways, Christians who have brought the Old Testament sacrificial system into faith in Christ have maintained the very image of God that allowed for the Pharisees to act as they did in the first place.

Synonymous with “testament” is the word “covenant.” In theology, this speaks to the overall religious order and relationship between God and humanity. It is lifelong and contractual; it’s a marriage. What is prevalent in many of our churches today is a doctrine of atonement that creates an “Old Covenant 2.0” it presents as the New Covenant.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s