This post is the third post in a series of three that were inspired by my grandson, Tylor. This was the first post, but as I prepared it and it grew longer and longer, I decided to break it into three documents and give the overall topic greater thought and increased time.
Tylor Smith is my oldest grandchild. We recently shared a long lunch in celebration of his milestone 21stbirthday. Tylor discussed some of the questions he has about life. It was inspiring for me that at his age he was admitting that he was questioning ideas and traditions which so many people take as being “just the way it is” in life. I heard Tylor saying that people complicate religion so much with traditions, ceremonies, hierarchies, and demands, that no religion makes much sense. No religion seems to be personal. It seems to become somebody trying to lead you blindly down the road that they are traveling. I heard him saying that religions seem to say that you must be just like others in order to be part of the group. I heard him saying that he wants life to be personal.
Our discussion inspired my two previous posts and this post. I have learned that Tylor is a very deep thinker and like me, he may spend too much time thinking as he seeks his way in life. The loss of my son and Tylor’s uncle, Dion, in 2012 threw Tylor off track. Just as it has been difficult for me to recover from the loss, it has also become very apparent that it has been very difficult for Tylor. Tylor loves to read and tell stories. His greatest desire is that he wants to be great at telling stories using moving pictures.
In thousands and perhaps millions of sermons and services delivered each week around the world, Christians are told how Jesus died for our sins. It seems that most of the time, both the people delivering the message and those receiving the message believe this means that Jesus was required to die (to be sacrificed) for the sins of the rest of us. This includes the church that I attend.
The requirement for this bloodshed is said to come from God. Most of us then proceed with life as if once that requirement is fulfilled we need not pay much attention to Jesus ever again. I have heard the statement of “Once saved, always saved!” many, many times.
Tylor’s questions about relationships and spirituality brought to mind my often contemplated twist to the Frank L. Baum story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. At times over the past ten years or more, I have envisioned a scene that borrows from the story. I imagine being present as a group of people seeking help from God struggle to get help via what should be the most obvious channel, a church. The people get glimpses of Jesus at times, but, while pulling at levers and switches to create his show, the pastor preaches, “Pay no attention to the man on the cross! He only died for your sins!” It frequently seems that our houses of worship and the various writings and other communications fail to adequately communicate the core message from Jesus. of course, the pastors and preachers do not directly say such things, but the overall message of the church frequently has the same effect.
Some form of this happens week after week in church after church all over the world. I feel something similar happens in the mosques, temples, tabernacles and other religious centers of the world. The TV and radio preachers and others are working equally as hard at drawing our attention away from the Word of God. I prefer to believe that most of these people do not intend to divert our attention from God. They just do it in their zeal to deliver the expected or accepted message of the prevalent voices in the religion.
Concerns for sin, heaven and hell are preached incessantly. We are repeatedly told that God forced Jesus to be sacrificed (to me it is murdered) for the sins of others… for my sin and for your sin.
This is a time to reflect, study, and consider what you know, what you have learned, and where you want to be. Is it too radical to consider that many and perhaps most of our religious institutions are working hard to draw our attention away from the Word of God?
What is meant by the “Word of God”? Christians have likely heard the Word of God explained in two ways. The Word of God takes the form of Jesus from teachings such as the opening verses of the gospel of John. Christians also reference the Bible as the Word of God. As in most religions, the Word of God is found in the core teachings of that religion. The gospel of John and other parts of the Bible teach that Jesus and the Bible are closely related or even interchangeable. Again, the “Word of God” is capitalized to distinguish it from the “words of God”.
If you asked Jesus how he wanted you to focus your life, what would he say? You need not think very hard on this question, since he was asked this question and he did answer it. The story is contained in Matthew 22:34-40. After reading it and using it for a few years, I began to see the Bible, Jesus, God, my family, friends, and all of creation much differently. Interpreting the crucifixion as a sacrifice made to correct my wrongdoing no longer makes sense. It now contains a deeper meaning which I will address in a future post.
Why can’t religion be personal? By personal, I mean built on relationships. In my study of the Bible, it appears that is what it says is intended for us in all phases of life. Jesus certainly makes it personal more than any other major religious teacher. Jesus pulls together and clarifies Jewish teachings so they should be easier to use so long as nobody complicates the situation.
I would like to see churches and mosques preaching and teaching with a focus upon the most important commandments of Matthew 22:36-40. Jesus calls for a different way of addressing life. I find no evidence that he was out to scare anybody by threatening them with hell or guilting them with him being sacrificed.
We do need to pull back the curtain and pay attention to the man on the cross, but pay attention to him as he instructed us to do. Love God with all that you have and are, then love others as you love yourself. Everything else in life derives from this teaching. This should be the focus in our churches, mosques and temples.