The Wall Street Journal today wrote in the world news that Christianity is losing it’s members and that the number of Muslims in the world will be equal to that of Christians by 2050 mostly due to the fact that Muslim families on average have more children than Christian families. Although it was not outright said, they include a graph that claims the decline in the number of Christians will be equal to the number of those who convert to Islam.
I must preface by saying I believe that God speaks to us in many different ways and that any faith that seeks a closeness to God through love, peace and service for all people in the world is a faith that God has planted on this earth for a purpose. I have said it before, I do not believe God wants us all to be the same, but I do believe God wants us to be one. We become one by loving and accepting one another and embracing the gifts God has given to us through one another’s diversity of talents, skills, wisdom and even the way we connect with God. Our different view points broaden our perspective and understanding of God. Everyone has something valuable to offer to the world.
Being a Christian however, the article had me questioning, why would others be leaving the Christian faith that espouses love, peace and forgiveness? What about it could be so unappealing that people would leave? I think the question was perfectly answered in the beautiful movie, “The Life of Pi”.
While watching the movie something that Pi said spoke to the questions I have in my own heart about Christianity. Pi says, “And what a story. The first thing that drew me in was disbelief. What? Humanity sins but it’s God’s Son who pays the price? I tried to imagine Father saying to me, ‘Piscine, a lion slipped into the llama pen today and killed two llamas. Yesterday another one killed a black buck. Last week two of them ate a camel. The situation has become intolerable. Something must be done. I have decided that the only way the lions can atone for their sins is if I feed them you.’ … ‘Yes, Father, that would be the right and logical thing to do. Give me a moment to wash up’. What a downright weird story. What a peculiar psychology.”
Many people struggle with the same questions, especially during Easter. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Was there no other way for God to teach us the lesson of forgiveness? Following the Passion fills us with unbearable grief, sadness, sorrow, guilt and shame. These are all things Jesus told us to leave behind because he had good news for us.
For me, if Jesus died, it was not for us to be forgiven for our sins. He came to teach us how to love and forgiveness is essential to do so. We sin when we fail to see the goodness or find God within one another. It is by our sins that all the bad things happen to us in the world – God only creates goodness. Our free will gives us the responsibility to make choices everyday that choose to see the world through God’s eyes, or to see it through our own lens which can be either positive or negative. Consider that Jesus died because of our sins, not for them.
Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit which exposed us all to a view that was opposite of God’s love and goodness. Prior to eating the fruit, everything was good ~ God was pleased. The fruit was from the tree of knowledge of good and bad. Through our free will, we now have the option to chose to see a negative side to God’s creations and when we do, we have missed the mark of perfection.
What if Jesus died because some people were unable to see God’s goodness in Jesus and God does not interfere with our free will? What if Jesus’ death happened because people chose to follow their fear over his love. They doubted, just as Adam and Eve did. As always, God found a way to make it good. He showed us that life is eternal by raising Jesus on the 3rd day and through forgiveness we can experience a new life.
As God always brings the best from every situation ~ even the most horrific choices we make, God knows how to lead us back to faith, hope and love. Through Jesus’ death we learned life is eternal but more importantly we learned that without forgiveness, we can never experience heaven.
We give the responsibility of Jesus’s death to God and we give him the responsibility to forgive us as well but really I believe the responsibility for both lies within ourselves. God has already offered forgiveness. If God already forgave us for our sins through Jesus’ death than why is it that I can go to church, ask for forgiveness and leave feeling no better?
At least in my own experience, I can believe God has forgiven me but until I forgive myself or others, I am not ready to receive God in my heart. Until I forgive, my heart aches and I cannot feel joy, peace or even love. Jesus didn’t have to die on the cross to save me from my sins but his death taught me that unless I let go of my sins and the sins of others like Jesus did, I will live in a state of hell. With this new knowledge, I can now reach heaven. Forgiveness is necessary to get to heaven and Jesus’ death taught us so.
The majority of Christian church services put a huge emphasis on our sins and the need to ask for forgiveness for them. But despite Jesus having “forgiven our sins through his death,” the church is still focused on what sinners we are and our need to repent.
In Jesus’ time, the word sin meant that you missed the mark of perfect aim. You were shooting an arrow at the bullseye and it landed just a little left of center. It was a sin. It was a sin no matter if you were just on the edge of perfection or far from it. A sin was not a stain, it was not a mark of disgrace, it was in fact a sign that you needed more practice, more time, more attempts to hit the mark of perfection you were aiming for.
I completely agree that I make mistakes big and small every day that must be forgiven before I can start anew but I don’t think Jesus would have wanted me to focus my energy on where I’ve turned from God as much as focusing my energy on how to turn toward God in my next step.
Jesus never asked for us to focus on what we judge as bad within ourselves or others. In fact, he tells us not to judge. Never in his life does Jesus encourage us to wallow in the negativity of guilt, shame or sorrow. He is always telling us to love which brings joy and peace. He led by example ~ showing us the way to seek God and love one another by finding the good in life.
Jesus said time and time again that we must be open to receiving his love to experience heaven. Yet without forgiving ourselves and others, we are not open to love fully and therefore we cannot experience heaven. The bible says in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
When we perpetuate a fear of acceptance by God because we are sinners, we are creating a separation between us and God. A separation that will not allow love in will drive people away from Christianity. Our religion has been designed to keep us in constant worry and fear which is the exact thing Jesus told us not to do.
There is so much goodness in Jesus’ life, why must we focus on his death? No mother would ever want her son to be remembered for how he died as much as she would want him to be remembered for the way he lived.
What would happen to our church attendance if we solely focused on finding the goodness or God within everyone who walked through the doors? What would happen to our church attendance if our goal was to make everyone feel loved, worthy and accepted? What would happen to our church attendance if we served one another without judging them or encouraging them to judge themselves? What would happen if we eliminated fear?
God is love. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)
I would guess that people would begin to flock to Christianity as they flocked to Christ during his life because Christ gave them the feeling of being alive not dead. Christ gave people the feeling of being loved and accepted. Christ gave people the feeling of hope. Christ encouraged people to have faith in the goodness of God and at the same time said it is our faith that heals us. The responsibility is ours.
God’s will is for us to rejoice always (find the good in life), pray without ceasing (never separate from God) and in everything give thanks (be happy). Each of those things are our choice, our responsibility and they will help us to experience heaven.
Jesus taught us just one prayer and in it is says the Lord’s kingdom of heaven will come when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We are meant to live on earth as it is in heaven! We can achieve a state of heaven on earth when we can forgive ourselves and others so we can rejoice always, be connected with God and show gratitude for all that is in our lives. It is then we can love.
This Easter season, let us focus on Jesus’s joy filled message of love during his life. Knowing that his focus was never on our sins, let us forgive one another just as Jesus was able to forgive us. Let us build a new life and share in the bounty of a heavenly experience by choosing to seek God or goodness in everyone and everything. Let us rejoice and be glad that God gave us Jesus to teach us how to love and forgive!!!
In doing so, we will be following Mother Mary’s footsteps in creating a holy sacred connection to God and glorifying her son, Jesus according to God’s will.
May peace and love be with you always. May you choose a new life full of joy, gratitude and an unwavering connection to God’s grace. May you have a blessed Easter!