As I read through all the Facebook comments 10 days ago about the shooting at Sandy Hook, two that I saw really made an impression on me. They both appeared on the status update of a local News person who had made a comment about the importance of God in situations like this one.
The first one brought up the argument the the Old Testament (OT) is full of these kinds of acts, even at God’s order.The second retaliated with the idea that acts such as this one have been preformed in the name of God throughout history.
Those are two very good points as we celebrate the birth of Jesus tomorrow. If violence of the sort that happened at Sandy Hook is and has been tied to God’s name throughout history, why are we celebrating God’s Son’s birthday tomorrow?
I propose two reasons. The first is that Jesus came to deflect the wrath of God that we witness in the OT. There is no denying that atrocities of all kinds are carried out in the OT, often on God’s orders. However, the OT is an example to show us just how bad sin is and how harmful the effects of sin can be. It also shows how great God’s grace is to place that kind of wrath on Christ on the cross, so that you and I can walk away free. Instead of using those atrocities in the OT as a reason to walk away from God, we should use them as a reason to run to God thanking him for his great gift!
The second reason is that there is a distinction to be made between religion and relationship. Yes, all kinds of evil have been taken out on people throughout the centuries in the name of religion. Many have suffered unimaginable horrors at the hands of those who claim to be acting on God’s orders. However, that is religion. Religion is often a set of practices, rules, and rituals that a number of people feel strongly about. Sometimes the rules and rituals come directly from the Bible, which is good, but just as often they are men’s interpretation of the Bible or additions to the Bible that they try to impose on others. Think the Pharisees in Christ’s time. Throughout history men have killed and persecuted others because the religion they practiced was different from theirs.
However, we’re not merely called to religion. We’re called to a relationship with God through Christ. This, too, is a gift from God. Relationship often looks different from religion. Yes, some of the practices may be the same. Those in relationship probably still attend church at certain times during the week. They also may practice some rituals such as communion, advent, and others. Some rituals may come directly from the Bible and some from man. The difference is in the heart.
Those in relationship know that rituals are good, but they aren’t at the heart of a relationship with Christ. They know that believing Jesus is the son of God, accepting his sacrifice as payment for their sins, and walking as he walked are what really matter. Those in relationship look to Christ as their example of how to act, and they seek him out frequently, so they can know him more.
One in relationship with Christ would never harm or hurt another in the name of religion or religious beliefs. They would never lash out at a sinner in anger, thinking they were acting as Christ would. They will make mistakes, but hopefully they would be willing to humble themselves and admit their mistakes. Those truly in relationship with Christ would recognize that Christ never bullied anyone into following him. On the contrary, he gave them every reason not to follow him.
Yes, those in relationship with Christ are called to hold each other accountable. However, this should be done with love and empathy, not with hate and anger.
So as you celebrate God’s great gift tomorrow, don’t worry about those who lay atrocities and evil at God’s feet. He is big enough to handle their questions in the face of tragedies such as Sandy Hook, and he is big enough to handle ours. Celebrate the God who would send his only son as payment for our sins and take on himself the wrath and punishment we deserve. Then instead of simply practicing religion as you go through the rituals of Christmas, use it as a door to begin or deepen your relationship with Christ as you seek to know him more.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas,
ps. I’m taking the rest of the week off from blogging to spend more time with my family. Have a great time with your families and friends this week! God bless.