Friday, November 14, 2014
I have spoken to an atheist friend of mine some time ago who said “The thing that upsets me about Christianity is that it’s all too easy! You say ‘I believe in Jesus’ and then, oh goody, you don’t suffer eternity in hell.” So he’s offended that Christianity is “too easy”. And although he’s oversimplified things, his point still stands. Being accepted by God is, in fact, “too easy”, because in reality it should be utterly impossible. No amount of good works is sufficient to merit acceptance from God. So in a sense, the level of difficulty with which God has provided us acceptance with Him is hardly cause for complaint. But then you have people on the exact opposite side of the fence who are offended by Christianity because God seems to have made it too difficult. Why can’t God simply accept us, regardless of how we behave or what we believe? This is what I mean, and what the Bible means, when it says that our fallen nature opposes God. God cannot “win” - either He’s made things too easy or they’re too difficult… people will always find something to be offended by.
Jesus was faced with this constantly. People were offended when John the Baptist led a life of asceticism, and then were offended when Christ ate and drank to the full, with prostitutes and corrupt tax collectors no less. When Jesus visited such people, he didn’t care what people might think because He knew that people would be offended either way; because the problem isn’t what He was doing, it is our opposition to God. Jesus told a parable in which a man hired various men to work in a vineyard, each working a different number of hours, but in the end all were paid the same. The men were offended that the ones who worked longer weren’t paid more, but the owner of the vineyard said (to paraphrase) “What have I done wrong? I’ve only showed generosity.” Likewise, people like my friend are offended by how easy it is to be accepted by God, and how, in a sense, the same reward is given to those who work hard at preaching the gospel, for example, as to those who believe in Christ and only speak of Him to the relatively smaller number of people they come into contact with. And yet it’s just as crazy - to be offended at God’s amazing generosity!? Again, fallen humanity is in opposition to God by its very nature, even if it doesn’t make sense. Similarly, the religious men of Jesus’ time were always upset with Him for healing people on the Sabbath, a day in which no one was supposed to work. And this is, of course, beyond belief. They’re upset because Christ did a good deed. And “good deed” isn’t strong enough an expression… it was a deed greater than anyone else can even do. The problem is not Christianity. The problem is us. We all, by our very nature, oppose God and are offended by Him. How often have I heard people say “I don’t need God, I am fine on my own.” Wait, are these people offended because God wants to help them and have a relationship with them!? This is our fallen nature talking contrary to proper reason.
Several times in the life of Jesus, the religious leaders were so offended by Him they were going to stone Him, and of course in the end they crucified Him. But Jesus said, on one occasion, “I’ve shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered Him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Perhaps the real offense of Christianity is that Christ claimed to be God Himself. This implies that what Jesus taught was of greater authority than any other religion or philosophy. Ultimately, this is the great offense of Christianity, from the person who says “I’m fine without God” to the person who says “Why can’t God simply accept everyone regardless.” Each of these reasons all boil down to the same essential thing... each one is really saying, “There is another ‘way’... there is my way; the way that I think is right.” Ultimately, the offense of the Bible really is that our fallen nature opposes God, in that this nature of ours does not want to submit to God. All people, without exception, are offended by Christianity and the Bible until they are prepared to submit to God. Once you do submit to God, there is no longer anything offensive about Christianity, for who can say to God “you’ve got it wrong”, since the crucial thing about submitting to God in the first place is acknowledging that He created us and has every right to tell us how things ought to be and how we ought to live.
Our fallen, sinful nature prevents us from coming to Christ, because we are offended by Him. But people do come to Christ because Christ Himself changes our very nature. How is it that Christ does this for some and not for others? This is a topic for debate amongst theologians, but for me, I put together passages which say “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32) and “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” (Hebrews 3:7). So, then, there is some way in which God presents Himself to us all, and some way in which we hear His voice. And maybe that’s different for everyone? This very day I spoke to a man who said that, while jogging, he “felt the presence of God”. Whatever we might want to say about that experience, it was profound enough to have prompted him to ask questions about God and to begin to investigate religion. Whatever the case may be for us personally, we are clearly given the opportunity to open up to God and submit to Him, or to “harden our hearts” as the Bible warns against. This appears to be, in my view, something we can do prior to Christ changing our nature of opposition to Him. That is to say, while in opposition to Him, (and this very much accords with my own experience), we are able to reason and say “Look, God, I don’t like the idea of giving up my sins or changing my beliefs, but… I believe that whatever you might change in me, it will be for my good, because you are all wise. You created me after all, and you know best.” And so that step of faith where, in a sense you’re still in opposition to God, not wanting to change, and yet being prepared to change, even to give up your own identity for whatever God will transform you to be, is possible, (or is made possible by Christ) in all of us, fallen as we may be. And so, given that we are all offered the gift of salvation, what cause for offense can there really be?
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 16:15-17)
Posted by Emeth at 8:42 PM