The bumper sticker says it all. All religions peacefully co-existing alongside each other in religious freedom, tolerance and understanding. After all, a truly “loving” person would not judge someone with a different belief system or point of view. A truly “loving” person would live and let live. In this framework, all viewpoints are valid – all viewpoints are respected – all viewpoints are tolerated. There is no downside to any of them… Certainly no danger.
It is true that we have the freedom to make choices and believe whatever we want to. Well, not actually. We are not totally free to believe what we “want to” because evidence has a way of creeping in and threatening our wants. Sometimes even destroying our wants. Here’s an example. I want to believe in Santa Claus. He’s fun and I love the thought of getting presents – as long as I have been nice instead of naughty. I do not like the thought of getting ashes and switches though. So, Santa Claus, how nice do I have to be? Has anyone ever received ashes and switches anyway?? In the end, those questions are irrelevant because the reality of Santa Claus crumbles under the weight of evidence that he does not exist. So, perhaps the truism is better stated: We have the freedom to explore reality and upon observing sufficient evidence, we are able to “own” certain beliefs. One thing is for sure, no one can tell us what we have to believe. Someone can force us to behave – they cannot force us to believe.
What are the two things we are warned about discussing in public settings? Religion and politics. Not all religions urge their followers to “invite” others to join but some do. It is one thing for people to select their religious or spiritual worldview in a manner similar to how they choose a neighborhood in which they live. People typically choose where they live based on what they like, what they can afford; how it makes them feel and how close it is to what they enjoy. It is another thing entirely to know that a particular neighborhood is located over a former EPA toxic superfund site and remain silent while a friend chooses to live there. But, they LOVE the neighborhood. Do you speak up and rain on their parade? Was it really an EPA toxic waste cleanup area? What does a truly loving person do? Speak up out of a concern for someone you love?
Take this into the religious realm and the quandary for Christians arises because of a similar “watchman” dilemma. There is SO much backlash today against Christians and much of it for good reason – Christians have not been very loving. Andy Stanley did a great session on this which I would highly recommend.
Christians should always land on love. But there is a tension… If you believe there is danger, do you warn others of it? Here is what the bible has to say to leaders when they know of an eminent danger:
- “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”
- But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.
With that in fresh in our minds, let’s go quickly to Jesus and what the bible says about him.
- Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
- The Report of the Guard – While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
- The Great Commission – Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus’ words seem very clear when he refers to himself as God’s son and states that no one gets to God without going through him. What is also clear in the study of various religions is that Christianity is the only one where God initiates the relationship with us as individuals without requiring a series of behavioral steps to earn his favor. All other religions focus on us as individuals and the steps we must take towards peace or reconciliation or enlightenment – i.e. some better state of being. The Bible shows that God sent his son to rescue us:
- Christ arrives right on time… and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.
It describes an epic “God story” as it has unfolded over the years containing a tapestry of history, instruction, choices and consequences. It also contains some harsh statements involving Jesus like:
- For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God
- “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Upon hearing these words, we are basically left with only 3 choices:
- Jesus was a diabolical self-absorbed liar intending to trick people who got what he deserved,
- Jesus was a lunatic who believed he was God’s own son and somehow got other fools to believe that too,
- Jesus is Lord – He really is who he says he is.
I don’t think there is any middle ground for seeing Jesus as some prophet or good teacher. The Christian has chosen to believe that Jesus is Lord; or the Messiah as described throughout the Bible. With this choice comes unmerited salvation and entry into Heaven. This stems from the famous scripture passage seen at many sporting events John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. However, that gift comes with responsibilities. Direct responsibilities like:
- You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
- Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
The quandary for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ is to live authentically and that means not resting in peace and salvation while others continue down a path seemingly leading to their own demise. The question of the afterlife, Heaven and hell is a huge one to resolve. How can a Christian sit by apathetically and be silent? Yet, we do it every single day. Where is the love in that…..