Religiously Confused

Religion is a haven for confusion and misunderstanding. It’s Jesus that’s the real point of contention. What He says seems at odds with our common thinking and reality. 

I never went to church as a kid. I only heard about God in general terms from TV and my parents. They were raised as Catholics but checked out altogether on religion by their teenage years. I do remember praying occasionally at dinnertime the following: “God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen.”

We probably did that as a family about 10 times throughout my entire childhood years.

Around age 7 my aunt was in a car accident and broke her arm and then an uncle (who I never really knew) died of a heart attack. I remember praying at night by myself the following: “God, I pray for Aunt Josie’s arm and that my Uncle will go to heaven. Amen.”

I prayed that literally every night for about 2 months. I figured that was about enough.

I had this sense that God was watching everything we did. As a child I somehow I got the idea that God was not happy with people burping. Yes, burping. In first grade I used to walk about 3 blocks after school to a street corner where my mom would meet me and then we’d walk home together. On my 3 block solo walk I used to say, “Excuse me” as a silent prayer over and over again. I would do this every school day to make up for all the times that I burped when I was a baby and never said, “Excuse me.”

I stopped this practice by second grade as I figured I had by then covered up for all my burping sins of the past. Silly kid. I never told anyone about my little private religious practices.

Misguided Religion
Where do we get these ideas? Of course, there are lots of sources for silly practices and misguided religious notions. Sometimes we get them from our parents, or friends, or even churches. Sometimes we just make up things that seem right to us, or the way we think God and religion should work.

Sometimes it’s just a misreading or misunderstanding of something in the Bible or an over-simplistic view of common lore such as:

  • God is always angry. At least in the Old Testament.
  • God is nice in the New Testament. At least Jesus is.
  • The early books of the Bible are symbolic.
  • Every word in the Bible is to be taken literally.
  • God punishes the wicked and bad people go to hell.
  • Good people get rewarded here on earth and then go to heaven.
  • God is keeping score of our good deeds.
  • God is happy when we go to church. He’s mad at us when we don’t.
  • Jesus was a great teacher who taught us how to live right.
  • Only pastors and priests can explain the Bible to us. We can’t do it by ourselves.

These are just a few of a myriad of religious notions and ideas that we grew up with or developed over time. It’s easy to see how religion can be such a contentious and confusing subject.

Jesus Causes and Solves Religious Confusion
We can actually blame it all on Jesus. Without Jesus, there would be no real confusion or dissension over religious practices. He brings everything to a sharp point and causes people to make difficult choices. Apart from Him, we’d all be free to pick and choose our favorite religious practice that makes us feel good or makes logical sense to us about the way the “Big Guy in the Sky” should operate. If he’s even there at all.

Look at this encounter that Jesus has with the Pharisees – the religious types of the day. It’s found in the latter part of John 8. He baffles them with statements that are outlandish in their eyes:

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” 

{They are wondering by what authority is Jesus saying such things.]

Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards…I stand with the Father, who sent me.”

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 

[Jesus is equating Himself with God, the Father.]

Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”

This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?”

[They absolutely do not understand Jesus.]

But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am He, you will indeed die in your sins.”

“Who are you?” they asked.

[Yes, who is this man?]

Jesus replied. “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from Him I tell the world.”

They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man [Jesus is referencing His being lifted up in crucifixion], then you will know that I am He and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me…

Even as he spoke, many believed in him.

[But still many did not believe or understand Jesus.]

Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”

Jesus replied, “…My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know Him, I know Him…and obey His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

“You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him…. (John 8:12-59)

These are profound religious words that Jesus is speaking. One cannot be intellectually honest and fail to be struck by these very strange things He is saying. Yet these words make perfect sense to those who know Jesus, the Christ, as predicted and presented throughout all of the Holy Scriptures.

Every child and adult should learn and study, believe and follow, this Jesus who brings clarity to religious confusion.

Are you confused by religion?
_________________________
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-31



Categories: Church, Faith, Jesus, Old Testament, Theology

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