Isn't religion man-made?
An institutionalised system grounded in the belief of the divine has been around for as long as humanity has existed. Religion is held responsible for some of the most horrendous acts of humanity – the crusades, jihads, terrorism, tribal massacres, colonialism and much more. Blaise Pascal said it like this: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” On the other hand, men and women of great religious conviction have turned the world upside down and stood against injustice; Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa being just a few.
God is, however, greater than religion. He exists outside the confines of institutionalism, beyond the walls of worship halls, free from the rules and duty that constrain creativity. God is uncreated and uncontrolled by form and tradition and he is anything but man-made.
I have always loved Greek mythology. I’m fascinated by the stories of the divine beings on Mount Olympus – gods and goddesses who compete with each other and humanity, who scheme and plot to gain the upper hand over their counterparts: Atlas tricked into holding the world on his shoulders, Zeus marrying his sister and them both disliking their son Ares, Athena being born from her father’s head, and Dionysus driving people mad. Jealous goddesses and ambitious gods, the insecure divine manipulating the mortal weak to boost their sense of power – it’s the soap opera of the heavens, better than anything on TV. It’s human emotion with divine endorsement. This is exciting stuff. This is what the human mind conceives when creating the divine.
And then there is Jesus, unlike any Greek god. In fact by all appearances, he’s rather peculiar and doesn’t quite meet any of the necessary criteria to be a residence of Mount Olympus. Who would create a god who, although supreme, chooses to surrender his power and become like one of his creation? A god who claims to own everything in the earth and yet comes to live as a poor man and hang out with society’s rejects, a god who can speak one word and still a raging storm and yet won’t open his mouth when being falsely accused by weak, malicious men? Having faith in Jesus is believing in this kind of god who is beyond the creative genius of mortals. The Bible puts it this way: “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8). Only God could come up with that.
Have you ever had your breath taken away by the sunset or been awed by the ocean? Ever been overwhelmed by the miracle of life or stunned into silence by the magnificence of a mountain range? This is Creation testifying to the existence of a creator and grand designer. The Message translation of the bible says: “Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being” (Romans 1:19-20).
To respond to this God, we create systems and formulas, patterns and traditions that he can use but by which he is not defined nor to which he is confined. Religion ought to be a vehicle of discovery through which we discover the magnificence of God, a vehicle that is made of flexible material, which can bend and change shape as the true character of God is revealed to us.
God never changes. The Bible says “he is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) but we are on a journey, discovering more of him as we grow, asking questions, learning answers, growing in our understanding. Rules and regulations will never be sufficient, relationship with him blows rules out of the water. Without relationship with God himself religious programs are lifeless and empty.
The apostle Paul was very religious, he lived by rules and regulations and did it very well. Then he encountered Jesus, and all his rules and regulations meant nothing. He chose to follow the person of God and allowed God’s character to define his faith. He once considered himself to be the most religious Jew of his time, but found that all emptiness in comparison to a genuine living relationship with a phenomenal God: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith’ (Philippians 3:8-9).
I never would have dreamed up a God like the one of the Christian faith, I never could have imagined a Jesus, but now that I know him, I want to know him as he is. He’s too unique and magnificent to be confined to my limited definitions, he’s too exciting and unexpected to fit into boxes and traditions. Now him I am interested in!
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