It’s hard for us to realize this today, but when Christianity first arose in the world it was not called a religion. It was the non-religion. Imagine the neighbors of early Christians asking them about their faith. “Where’s your temple?” We don’t have one. “Where are your priests?” We don’t have priests. “Where are the sacrifices made to please your gods?” We don’t do that kind of thing. Jesus himself was the temple to end all temples, the priest to end all priests, and the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. First century Christians were even called atheists. They were the non-religion.
Religion in general is man’s strategic manual for how to reach God. But Christianity is not a religion in this sense. Christianity holds that man, no matter how hard he tries, cannot reach God. Man cannot ascend to God’s level. Therefore there is only one remedy: God must come down to man’s level (that’s what Christmas is all about). Scandalous though it may seem, God must become man and assume the burden of man’s sins (D’Souza, Christianity, 290). Christianity teaches that this was the great sacrifice of Christ – from heaven to amniotic fluid. In religion, man must take the active role. In Christ, God does it all. And religious people generally find this offensive, because it takes away the “tax-payer status” with God. In other words, if I am good and do good things, I have rights to make demands of God.
Tim Keller, a New York City pastor, tells about a conversation he had with a woman. She said that she had gone to a church growing up and she had always heard that God accepts us only if we are sufficiently good and ethical. She had never heard the message of sheer grace through the work of Christ. She commented though on how scary that was for her. She said “If I was saved by my good works –then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace – at God’s infinite cost – then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.” Says Keller: “She could see immediately that the wonderful-beyond-belief teaching of salvation by sheer grace had two edges to it. On the one hand it cut away slavish fear. God loves us freely, despite our flaws and failures. Yet she also knew that if Jesus really had done this for her – she was not her own. She was bought with a price (Keller, Prodigal…).”
God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior. Christianity proclaims that all the things that religion promised but couldn’t deliver have been delivered once and for all by Jesus.
The world has many religions, but there’s no Gospel in them. In all the world religions, man is endeavoring to reach up and somehow find God. Only in Christianity is God reaching down to man. Christianity holds that man, no matter how hard he/she tries, cannot reach God. Therefore, there is only one remedy; God must become man and assume the burden of man’s sins. And that’s what He did at Christmas. Loose your religion. Make room for relationship.
So often, we play dumb with God and our own conscience, refusing to believe what we can know to be true. Dr. J. Budziszewski shares his story.
I have already said that everything goes wrong without God. This is true even of the good things He’s given us, such as our minds. One of the good things I’ve been given is a stronger than average mind. I don’t make the observation to boast; human beings are given diverse gifts to serve Him in diverse ways. The problem is that a strong mind that refuses the call to serve God has its own way of going wrong. When some people flee from God they rob and kill. When others flee from God they do a lot of drugs and have a lot of sex. When I fled from God I didn’t do any of those things; my way of fleeing was to get stupid. Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to commit. God keeps them in his arsenal to pull down mulish pride, and I discovered them all…. You cannot imagine what a person has to do to himself–well, if you are like I was, maybe you can–what a person has to do to himself to go on believing such nonsense. St. Paul said that the knowledge of God’s law is “written on our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness.” The way natural law thinkers put this is to say that they constitute the deep structure of our minds. That means that so long as we have minds, we can’t not know them. Well, I was unusually determined not to know them; therefore I had to destroy my mind. I resisted the temptation to believe in good with as much energy as some saints resist the temptation to neglect good. For instance, I loved my wife and children, but I was determined to regard this love as merely a subjective preference with no real and objective value. Think what this did to my very capacity to love them. After all, love is a commitment of the will to the true good of another person, and how can one’s will be committed to the true good of another person if he denies the reality of good, denies the reality of persons, and denies that his commitments are in his control?
How then did God bring me back? I came, over time, to feel a greater and greater horror about myself. Not exactly a feeling of guilt, not exactly a feeling of shame, just horror: an overpowering sense that my condition was terribly wrong. Finally it occurred to me to wonder why, if there were no difference between the wonderful and the horrible, I should feel horror. In letting that thought through, my mental censors blundered. You see, in order to take the sense of horror seriously–and by now I couldn’t help doing so–I had to admit that there was a difference between the wonderful and the horrible after all. For once my philosophical training did me some good, because I knew that if there existed a horrible, there had to exist a wonderful of which the horrible was the absence. So my walls of self-deception collapsed all at once.
At this point I became aware again of the Savior whom I had deserted in my twenties. Astonishingly, though I had abandoned Him, he had never abandoned me. I now believe He was just in time. There is a point of no return, and I was almost there… .
The next few years after my conversion were like being in a dark attic where I had been for a long time, but in which shutter after shutter was being thrown back so that great shafts of light began to stream in and illuminate the dusty corners. I recovered whole memories, whole feelings, whole ways of understanding that I had blocked out… .
… My own contribution to the theory of natural law is a little different than those of some other writers. One might say that I specialize in understanding the ways that we pretend we don’t know what we really do–the ways we suppress our knowledge, the ways we hold it down, the ways we deceive ourselves and others. I do not try to “prove” the natural law as though one could prove that by which all else is proven; I do try to show that in order to get anywhere at all, the philosophies of denial must always at some point assume the very first principles they deny.
It is a matter of awe to me that God has permitted me to make any contribution at all. His promise is that if only the rebel turns to Jesus Christ in repentant faith, giving up claims of self-ownership and allowing this Christ the run of the house, He will redeem everything there is in it. Just so, it was through my rescue from self-deception that I learned about self-deception. He has redeemed even my nihilist past and put it to use.
Many of my students tell me they struggle with the same dark influences that I once did. I hope that by telling the story of my own escape I may encourage them to seek the light.
The atheist is many times a wonderfully talented intellectual. I enjoy seeing the mind of an atheist at work. But, Dr. Budziszewski’s point is well-taken. Humans have the basics to understand right from wrong. But we don’t want it to be true. We play dumb to what we know to be obvious. We pretend to search for truth, to convince others that we are honest in the inquiry, but our hearts have already made up it’s mind, and even if the truth was in front of our nose, we would pretend not to see it. “Let’s play dumb.”
Why are there so many atheism blogs? I saw recently how one guy collects them all in one place so you can “feed” on a life without God, literally hundreds of blog links, enough reading for several years.
My question is: Why? Why this persistent, diligent pursuit to prove or convince themselves and others that there is no God. Something I read some time ago seems to address this question.
Charles Colson tells about Irina Ratushinskaya, a young girl in the Soviet Union years ago. She was trained in Communist schools and indoctrinated in atheism. She said she could never figure out why her teachers all pitched such a furious battle against someone they said didn’t exist. “God doesn’t exist.” Irina began to question: “Can’t they tell they are giving themselves away? Adults tell you there are no gremlins or ghosts. They tell you once or twice, and that’s it. But with God, they tell you over and over again. So He must exist – and He must be very powerful for them to fear Him so greatly.”
You see, something inside is telling the atheistic bloggers – God really does exist. Rather than yield to his love, the atheist will convince himself/herself that God doesn’t exist and in so doing, proves that he in fact does exist, but that they are unwilling to acknowledge it. The sheer volume of atheistic blogs testify to the existence of one they refuse to acknowledge due to mulish pride.
There are many nagging questions that bounce around inside of us – some are voiced, others lie silent in the deeper recesses of our soul – but all end up impacting our life and how we live. Ultimately, all our questions tie back to these: questions like – “What happened eons ago in the universe?” “What makes the Bible so special?” “Why does the life of Jesus matter?” “Why am I here?” “How will it all end?” “Is there life after death?” “Why is family so important?” “Why should I take care of the earth?” “What values do I believe?” These kinds of questions determine how we think about life and how we live. It also impacts how we invest our time and what we spend our money on and what books we read. It shapes our worldview. A worldview, or a way at looking at life, can be built on how we answer the deeper life questions. Our worldview informs every decision that we make and frames every question that we attempt to answer. Of course, the ultimate spiritual question that we all must have answered is “Am I alone?” All other questions are subservient to this one. Is “a Someone” really out there? Is there any connection between this “Someone” and the God of the Bible? And what is God like really? We crave answers to these things, to know that we are not alone, even in the mystery. I would encourage you to plunge into the mystery of spritual things and try to love the questions themselves. What you may find is that they lead to a Someone and this Somene is trying to get a message through to you. It’s not so much that we find the answer as it is the Answer finds us.