Why Is Religion So Complicated?

Easter is approaching, which is the celebration of the most mysterious thing in our faith tradition. Christianity is based on the radical notion that God would choose to enter into the world. This choice to live, as we live, means accepting the consequences of life and death. Jesus dies, just as we will die. But, we believe that Jesus rose again three days later. 

Christians believe this because of the accounts given in each of the stories about Jesus’ life, which all say the same thing about his life, death, and resurrection. Because we hang our faith on something that seems impossible – that death doesn’t have the last word – we open ourselves up to a lot of questions about how and why we could believe this. 

We believe in mystery. As a pastor, I can comfortably say that I don’t understand how God managed the resurrection. I can point to scriptures, read first-hand accounts, and trust my own experiences with the divine enough to believe something.But, the problem with nailing down the specifics of the mysteries of the world is that we lack the knowledge to do so. 

This gets us into heaps of trouble, as we argue and fight with one another and with members of other faith traditions. Each of us holds tight to what we believe for good reasons: we have been taught these things by our families and communities, we have engaged in the practices of our faiths, we have organized our lives around the customs and traditions we learned, and we hand them on to our own children. 

Maundy Thursday gets its name from the Latin word “mandatum,” which means commandment. On the night that Jesus was betrayed by his friends, he had dinner with them. At the end of the dinner, he picked up the bread and the wine, and said an unusual prayer over them. First, gave thanks to God. Then, he said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.” (John 13:34) 

Jesus said this, knowing that the love of the disciples was flawed and imperfect. 

Jesus said this, knowing that one would betray him and one would deny him. 

Jesus said this, knowing that it would be easy for the disciples to turn on one another, seeking blame for the events that were about to unfold which would lead to his death. 

It’s not just that Jesus gave a new commandment to love one another, it’s that he did it when the stakes were at their highest. 

It’s curious to me how hard it is for us to keep this commandment. It’s possible the most egregious way we disobey this simple command is by using it as a way to wound and harm others. 

From the dawn of humankind, we have sought answers to the unknowable. We have written creation stories, shared mythology embedded in the cosmos, and investigated the natural world around us. 

Religion is the idea that there is a divine presence actively at work in the world, guiding and caring for us in ways we cannot fully comprehend. 

Our faith is mysterious. Faith, after all, is believing in what we cannot see, and the assurance of what we cannot prove.

The very core of every religious belief is the aspiration towards some kind of perfect love. Love for the Divine, love for one another. 

The essence of our very beings is love. We all desire to love and be loved in return. We want that closeness, the certainty that there is a God, the certainty that we are loveable, and even some real live manifestations of love in our families of origin and our families of choice. We want to know that we’re enough. 

What keeps us from living into this is the self-doubt that we are un-loveable. 

Our mistrust in God, in others, to love us as we are capable of loving is what creates discord in the world. It’s what pits us against one another, as we argue about who is right and who is wrong. 

As much as we want to have faith that God loves us, there is a nagging voice in our minds - the spiritual force of wickedness- that tells us we’ll never be enough. This is what causes us to judge others in their imperfections. It’s what convinces us that we have to weaken other people so as to make us strong. 

This isn’t love talking. It’s fear. 

God promises throughout the Bible, to love us. Unconditionally, 

Jesus’ new commandment was to love. Jesus said, “love one another,” he didn’t say, “condemn one another.” 

Perhaps the best thing we can do is learn how to love one another best, and trust that God will judge our hearts, minds, and intentions. 

Religion is a simple endeavor. We make it complex because we have more questions than we have answers. Faith asks us to believe the un-proveable, but love offers us a way to live out our belief that we are enough, and so is everyone else.

Perhaps this Easter is a time to remember that love is our way of being faithful. The world will teach us that hate is powerful, but love is the most subversive way to defeat it. 

This post originally appeared at ReThink Church on March 27, 2018