Monday, April 28, 2014
Religion Versus Relationship
I haven't gone on the warpath here lately, and perhaps it is time; after all, we Lutherans ascribe to both Law and Gospel.
Let me also preface this with a little anecdote. For many years, I had no response to folks who said that they worshiped God in nature. I personally agreed with the assessment for in spending time in God's creation, I found myself in awe of the Creator. But, there was always a nagging voice within me--a nagging voice that felt the idea of "worship" in such a fashion was lacking. I was never quite able to give voice to it.
Of course, there were others who gave voice to it. I vividly remember folks who would say, "I am sure you can find God in nature, but when's the last time a tree offered you forgiveness?"
Such a saying is all well and good for someone who believes in Jesus Christ and is convicted by the Gospel. It's not so good when dealing with someone who does not have a deep seeded faith. How does one convince another that worshiping in nature and worshiping in a congregation are vastly different things?
Then, there is the whole religion versus relationship thing. "I'm spiritual but not religious." Yeah, I've heard that one a time or two as well. Yet, many of the arguments addressing this particular pithy saying are based in a faith which is well grounded. How do you address someone who is convinced their own faith is well grounded and that they are just as right as you might think you are?
Perhaps I wouldn't even be writing this blog post, but the above picture was actually posted by a fellow clergy. Of all things, I never thought a fellow clergy would post such an picture with such an asinine message. I mean, this is what passes for apologetics these days?
Why am I so upset?
Perhaps I shouldn't be. And, please don't get me wrong. I am not upset at people who do such a thing. I'm no better than others who choose to go hunting or fishing on a Sunday morning. My feet are as full of clay as theirs. But I have been convinced by Timothy Keller and others who say that unless we confront our false gods and deal with them, we will continue to see the decline of Christianity in our society.
Consider me confronting a particular false god in this post--the false gods of nature worship and self-spirituality.
Let's take the above saying and tweak it just a little bit--changing the characters and the setting. By doing so, I think you will get my point:
Infidelity is a man sitting at a restaurant with his girlfriend and thinking about fishing.
A man sitting on a boat fishing and thinking about his girlfriend is relationship.
Is my point made?
Both of these particular instances are problematic. Both show a complete disregard for true relationship. Both show self-centered behavior on the part of the man.
Yet, we say that one of these is acceptable behavior toward God?
Face it, the reason most folks say they encounter God in nature is to absolve themselves of the responsibility of worship. "I can worship God in nature," is simply code for saying, "I'd rather not go to church."
If that is your choice, fine. Admit it, but don't sugar coat it.
And, if indeed you are spiritually awakened in nature...
If indeed you have truly found a lasting peace, joy and fulfillment...
If you have found a sense of wholeness...
Don't you then think you have the responsibility of teaching others how to find that peace, fulfillment, and joy? Don't you think you have the responsibility of sharing what you have discovered? Do you think such a lasting thing should be kept to one's self?
As an old Hindu proverb says, "It takes both individual bees and the hive to produce honey."
Worship is an intensely relational phenomena--nurturing one's relationship with God and with fellow believers. It is not practiced individually. It is practiced corporately. It is focused not on self, but on the other.
When Jesus is the object of worship, as within the Christian faith, we gather to hear Him speak to us--through the written Word of Scripture, through the proclaimed Word of sermons, through the sung Word of hymns, through the proclaimed Word of forgiveness--and we gather to touch and hold Him in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. These are not things you find in nature. Period.
And while we are turning our attention to Christ during this time, He is also turning His attention toward us--strengthening our faith, renewing our hope, and filling us with peace. This peace and hope pales in comparison to the peace and hope we find in nature, for that peace fades the more we are removed from it. That sense of well being diminishes when we get back to the "real world." The peace Jesus offers doesn't fade. It is a spring of living water.
Why doesn't Jesus' peace diminish when the other does?
Because it's a part of a real relationship--religion and all.