People have major internal wrestling matches when it comes to the thought of “religion”. Even so, we would probably discover that many of those who struggle with the concept would not be able to agree with others on the definition, either. In previous writings, we discuss humanity’s problem with love and faith, and get to the heart matters that individuals face.
But, many people have likely never considered the possibility that God also has something to say about religion. God’s views, in fact, on religion would likely line up with the common atheist. The Scriptures make it very clear that religion can be pure or it can be filthy under the guise of purity (Matthew 23:27). Religion can be untainted or it can be cloaked in mischief. What do I mean by pure and untainted? Exactly what the Scriptures mean. James 1:27 ESV says that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Sounds a lot like “good deeds”, in the context of widows and orphans. But what worth do good deeds possess without being attached to someone with good character? Does my character matter if I am doing “good deeds”? Moreover, if character DOES matter, what EVEN IS “good” character? This is what what I love about speaking with those who are skeptical, but DESIRING to know about religion. Many times, their inquiry is profoundly secret and secretly profound.
How can I know if a certain religion is dependable with its beliefs? I suppose it would be the same manner in which someone would determine whether a doctor is dependable – look at their credentials.
It is striking to me that in an era where education is so emphasized, religious literacy is so low, especially biblical literacy. The text that is so scrutinized, is so mishandled; as if religion and education were dichotomous! Walking down the courtyards of Harvard, so critically acclaimed for its intellectualism, in December was bizarre. A school that was founded to train ministers to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ is now a center for equipping students to try to find meaning in something other than God. I don’t have time to discuss how the academic system is trying to tear down the role of healthy religion. But, I do want to share a story about how religions are like shoes.
Several years ago, I was visiting two dear friends leading up to Christmas. It was an honor to be invited into their home, as it was a custom in their family to celebrate for a series of days leading up to Christmas, where a set of prayers and songs were given each day. I asked one of my friends, “Does anyone here actually practice this religion?” She proceeded to say, “No. It’s just a cultural thing really. Probably our mom is the only one that practices.”
Well, isn’t the cultural part right many times? That can happen with any religion or system of faith. We proceeded to a table to catch up and ended up unwrapping a discussion on faith and religion. I was talking about the coherence of Christian beliefs until my friend mentioned, “Well, I think religions are like shoes. You like your type of shoes and I like mine. Everyone has their own style and preference.”
I paused. “You may be right. But what if you’re trying to climb a mountain and cross a valley? Not just any shoe will do.” She became pensive. I continued, “We may very well walk the same road, but I have found that these shoes are working quite well for my journey. Of course, I’m not going to make you feel like my shoes are better than yours. But I’ll tell you what, my shoes haven’t always been the most comfortable to wear. Ever wear a new pair of shoes that just had not broken in yet? Or a pair of shoes that were steel-toed and meant to protect your feet instead of soothe them? It could be easier to wear a pair of flip flops and even a relief. But at any point, my feet are exposed to danger and it could prevent me from finishing the journey. I would desire, although, that I would carry myself in such a manner that if someone besides me would fall on this journey, I would help them. I may not be able to change their shoes for them, but I could always offer them help. It’s part of the instructions that come with my shoes: to buy an extra pair.”
She proceeded to say, “That story just gave me sick feeling in my stomach.” We chuckled together not much longer after that. But it was a lesson for me to learn how compassionate we ought to be with one another. We are all traveling a road that becomes rockier than the biggest chocolate chunks in the ice cream. We ought to love others as we love ourselves. But it prompts this: how much DO WE love ourselves? Well, what shoes are we wearing? And will we take an extra pair?