Religions Are Like Shoes

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?

Humanity’s Problem With Faith

What is biblical faith? Many of my church friends would quote Hebrews 11:1, while many of my dear friends with other worldviews would say something similar to religion. I would contend that faith involves both of those responses.

It was in the 11th grade that I first started engaging in biblical studies, during a time where I began to dive into popular literature from the Renaissance and study philosophers from ancient Greece, the Enlightenment and other influential movements. I became exposed to such impactful thinkers like Thoreau, Hobbes, Voltaire, Neitzche, Kierkegaard, Brand, and the list goes on and on. There was a ton of discussions involving faith and religion. It compelled me to know for myself what in the world “faith” was and what kind of worldview I really adhered to or wanted to adopt.

I discovered biblical faith wasn’t exactly limited to some people’s definition of “religion”. Neither was biblical faith exactly limited to some church-goer’s recitation. What became apparent to me was that with faith, came an expectation to change. Change is frightening for humanity. The human body is always trying to cope with change through a process called homeostasis. But, it’s more than natural, it’s spiritual. We wish to retain comfort in our circumstances and stay in control. But biblical faith challenges us to change.

Think about this simple sequence: if I admit that the biblical God is real, I consequently acknowledge that the biblical God is right, with His own definitions of what right is. Therefore, I must make a decision in response to His reality and rightness. Whether we like it or not, no response is a response.

As an extension, what hinders people from changing as a result of faith, is not knowing and understanding where faith comes from. They find a lack of motivation to change, because they’re not linked to the sources of faith. These two sources being: love and their listening. The Scripture makes it clear that faith is actively generated by love (Galatians 5:6) and is a product of what we listen to (Romans 10:17). If faith is separated from love, we find little to no effective motivation for change; while if we listen to adversarial thinking, we end up developing faith in the adversary, which faith is synonymous with fear, and we do not develop it in the Lord Jesus Christ. God wishes for us to recall what He said and to listen to what He is saying, in order for faith to be produced in our hearts, and change to be established. This is the hangup that many bible believers and bible nonbelievers have, they think that faith is the SOURCE of the supernatural, not the PRODUCT. I have made a case with friends that God’s existence is not a result of my faith, in my worldview, but my faith exists because of God’s love. God and His love predate my faith.

To make practical application of this principle, I get to receive answers for my prayers not based off of what I “just say” in prayer, but based off of what God has established through His love. The effective examiner of my prayers, is whether or not I am praying what God has established and communicated, in order for a fruitful answer to occur. This is biblically called: praying the will of God. How in world do I pray God’s will, more so, know God’s will? Very simple. It is established through His Word. If we do not have a healthy relationship with God’s Word, the Scriptures, we will not consistently pray effectively. The Word of God is the first source of my faith in God, this is what I must listen to. Romans 10:17 makes it very apparent that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”, with the Word of God being a divine, unwavering, revelation from God about Himself, that is without contradiction. To read more on knowing what biblical revelation is, read the writing on “When God’s Revelation Messes With My Theology”.

The second source of faith, is God’s love. The Scripture makes it clear that besides light, God’s defining characteristic is love – biblical love, that is (1 John 4, 1 Corinthians 13). Knowing that God is speaking to me, on the basis that He loves me, makes me so much more attuned to listening. There are many people that are terrified to think that God exists and wishes to speak with them, because they do not understand this defining characteristic of God. This may be tongue in cheek, but their terror can be confirmed through their playful talk about hell, in which many psychologists discuss that people’s usage of phrases like, “What the hell?” or “How in the hell?”, are subconscious indicators of their fear of hell. Interestingly enough, God’s ultimate desire is not for humanity to find motivation from fear of hell, but from faith that proceeds from His love.

I believe I must pray every day that I would have “ears to hear, a mind to perceive, a heart to receive, hands to grab and release, feet to stand and go, and a spirit to saturate” what He wants to say and do. This positions me to produce faith when I listen to what God says, as a result of His love for me and others. On the other hand, if we are having struggles and challenges with coming closer to God or what is taught in the Scriptures, we should be praying for revelation of God’s love, not so much for more faith. It is God’s love that becomes the motivating factor for my change. That change can be a change of attitude, behavior, mindset, direction, decision, environment, you name it. But I must focus on the love of God for this to occur. I wish to write more on this subject, but I wish to respect the time you invest in other matters. I submit to you that humanity’s problem with faith has its remedy in God’s love being communicated to our listening. It can be overcome in our hearts, and we can aid others along the way.

Keep reading for more…

The Scripture makes emphasis on the fact that faith has 14 elements- you can tack on “of faith” to each one: the door, law, righteousness, measure, hearing, shield, family, joy, work, fight, assurance, prayer, gift, and spirit. You can couple these 14 elements into 7 pairs, seeing that faith is a force of agreement between God’s love and our listening.What is the family of faith, without the joy of faith? What value is there in the work of faith, without the fight of faith? What’re the grounds for the righteousness of faith, without the law of faith? Where is the power for the prayer of faith, without the assurance of faith? Where does the hearing of faith arrive, without the door of faith opening? How do we protect the measure of faith, without the shield of faith? And how do we operate in the gift of faith, without the spirit of faith?

It is crucial that as biblical believers we heed to the fact that faith is a PRODUCT and a PROOF of what is already established. Proof can be received or rejected, but its truth does not change. Hebrews 11:1 (Wuest’s New Testament Translation) says that faith is the “title deed of things hoped for, the proof of things which are not being seen”. Understanding that biblical hope is expectation and not some emotional high, faith is the title deed that God transfers to us, indicating that we have a right to receive what He has said, if we let His Word produce it through us. Likewise, faith is the “proof of things which are not being seen”. Mathematical proofs are comprised of axioms, which are pre-existing truths that result in a conclusion, or proof, that helps an individual conduct mathematical functions. It is the basis on which any math is performed. Faith operates in the same manner. It is comprised of the immutability of God’s Word and God’s love, in order to for us to come to a conclusion in which to act out His promises. We ought not to suffer in our faith because of unfitting circumstances or trivial rationalism. Though our humanity may be limited, we can rest full of faith in Christ.