I’ve been listening to an audio book called “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” by Christopher Hitchens.
Don’t get too nervous. It takes a lot to shake a belief system. I think it’s healthy to challenge mine, doing what I can to get into the minds of people that see the world through a different lens, developing more respect and empathy for others, opening the door to more effective conversations in the future.
Hitchens’s book basically tries to prove that God is an invention of man, and not the other way around. It shows how, historically, organized religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and bigotry, invested in ignorance, hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women, coercive toward children, and sectarian.”
No wonder American churches are shrinking.
Some have tried to validate traditional Christianity while holding to a postmodern mindset, filtering their entire faith through Christ’s statement in Matthew 22:36-40:
You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.
A statement like this must be taken seriously. This is Jesus, someone who claimed unity with the very God that spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai. If anyone could say that love was at the heart of the Mosaic Law, despite all of its bizarre rituals and prohibitions, it would be Jesus.
Also, the disciple that knew Jesus best, the same one that claimed that Jesus was the Creator and Judge of all mankind, was the same disciple that simply stated: “God is love.”
Jesus resisted the proud and gave grace to the humble. He challenged social norms, healing people on the Sabbath, eating with tax collectors and sinners, speaking with a Samaritan woman, forgiving an adulterer, and washing his disciples’ feet. He used his power to heal and feed others. He spoke the truth, even when his listeners were bothered or offended by it.
This approach to Christianity seems like a perfect way to harmonize traditional faith with the trends of modern culture, giving the Church some real credibility with millennials.
But Jesus would not fit exactly with our postmodern culture. He rarely spoke against the abuses of government. He made no mention of slavery, which was rampant at the time. He even told one Samaritan woman that her people were like the dogs that eat crumbs from the table of the Jews, God’s chosen nation.
This “us and them” mentality is a core Biblical theme that will always be at odds with some of the contemporary movements that try to blur these kinds of distinctions, resisting the concept of sin, divine law and ultimate judgment.
You have been set apart as holy to the Lord your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. Deut. 14:2
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world.” John 15:18-19
Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. II Cor. 6:17
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. I Peter 2:9
There is no way around it. If we want to be true to Scripture, we have to embrace the concept of God’s people being set apart from everyone else, while also embracing the reality of a God that is, as Jesus claimed and demonstrated, meek and humble in heart, wishing for all people to come to him.
Historically, God’s people have embraced this reality in two very different ways:
#1: Love for Self
We’re chosen, you’re damned. We’re special, you’re not. We’re right, you’re wrong. We’re good, you’re bad.
Can all of the atrocities done in the name of God throughout history, including the murder of Jesus, be traced to this one thing?
#2: Love for Others
When God set Abraham apart to start his new redemptive program, he gave him this promise:
I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. Gen. 12:2-3
One doesn’t have to search the original Hebrew to recognize that God wanted to use his new nation as a blessing to the world, not to create a nation of entitled narcissists, though it’s easy to see why God’s favor would draw his people in that direction.
To believe in the Bible is to believe in a Creator. And to believe in a Creator is to believe that this world and everything in it was made to function in a certain way. Anything that functions in a different way can be considered wrong. Or, to use more religious words, sinful or unrighteous.
It’s not personal. It’s just the Biblical worldview.
After God chose Israel, he set them apart from the other nations with certain moral and social laws. Some of the more bizarre laws and rituals could only be understood when Jesus came, turning shadow into substance, transitioning his redemptive program from a biologically-based nation to a spiritual and global kingdom. The moral laws would stand, affirming God’s desire for a just and harmonious society, one that was managed by an indwelling Spirit, not an impossible Law Code.
God did not choose a certain group of people because he wanted them to feel special and to lord over others. He set his people apart so that they could lay aside their own rights and opinions, and allow God to work in and through them for the sake of the world.
Just like Jesus.