to walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing him in all respects

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lent, day 19: Heeding the Song of Christ -- Religion cannot save us from ourselves

The Colossian troublemakers offered a religious system that focused on working the angelic angels to gain spiritual security. The problem was that this system could not fix the fundamental human problem. It even exacerbated it (Colossians 2:23) since the problem is not the spiritual forces above humanity but humanity itself. While Paul offers a very different understanding of religion, one that is based upon God’s grace, this does not mean that he holds a high view of the human condition. So in Colossians 1:21 he turns the spotlight on the Colossians and says that reconciliation and pacification spoken of in the Song of Christ are for them, ‘who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds’ and that ‘you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh’ (2:13).

Can humans solve their own problem? Paul’s starting point is no, while the troublemakers seem to believe that we can. What do you think? It is clear that we do well resolving our problems (emphasis on the plural) - human civilization is a record of this. Yet, even as we have made so much progress on many different fronts, especially in the last hundred years, the big problems of humanity remain - our mortality, our communal discord, our sinfulness.

And contrary to the view of the Colossian troublemakers as well as many people today, religion (human efforts to live in relationship with the supernatural) is not a self-help program. Religion cannot save us because religion is always by definition our own efforts, our own activities, and when we are ourselves the problem, nothing we can do will get around that. Even though we may sense the problem, we can’t step outside of ourselves for an objective view of it, let alone to attempt to fix it.

Before we consider the solution (tomorrow’s post), we should explore the problem a little more. The reason why humanity is its own problem is because it is at odds with God in thought and action; humanity has, of its own accord, fallen out of place in the universe in as much as we no longer put Christ first, have lost a sense of connection to him, and do not live toward him. This is not about Christ needing us or our praise; God does not need us. That we exist is grace; that our race has rejected our creator and asserted itself is an assault upon that grace, a tragic and doomed assault. Grace will prevail regardless of what we’ve done or do or will do.

And religion can do nothing to stop grace. But it can and should cooperate with it.

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