I really struggled with this post. Not because the subject matter was difficult for me to write about. I have written and spoken on this many times. But mainly because of the weight of the subject. I think it is the defining problem of Christianity.
I have had so many conversations with people who have had some experience with this issue and that experience keeps them from wanting anything to do with Christianity. I wish I could communicate the hours and the emotions associated with that sentence. So much hurt and so much pain and so much rejection of God or Jesus or Church sits right there with it.
I think as humans we have the innate tendency to confuse the vehicle for what it is pointing us towards. This is a religious problem, but it sneaks its way into all sorts of areas of life.
We seek fulfillment as a person. So when something like success, job titles, promotions or money makes us feel fulfilled, we assume the job, promotion, or money is what we are searching for. So we pour in the long hours and discover they’re not as fulfilling as we thought.
We seek relationship, love, and intimacy. Sex is deeply connected with those things. So when sex touches on one of those needs, we assume sex is what will fulfill the longing or relationship and intimacy in our lives.
We seek an experience of God. Religion and church are designed to point us towards and help us experience God. But again, we confuse the vehicle.
Sometimes this occurs in subtle ways. In teenagers, I usually saw it in church camp. “If I could just go back to that mission trip or if church was more like camp, THEN I could have God again.” They confuse the vehicle for what it is pointing towards.
This in no way downplays the reality of their experience at camp. Camp opened them up to God in news and profound ways. But church camp wasn’t the point. God was the point.
As we get older we begin to do the same thing. We experience God in a particular worship practice or context, we have a belief or doctrine which clarifies the things we feel about God, we encounter a living and dynamic God in the ancient words of Scripture….
Then we deify the vehicle. We tell people it is Jesus and…
Jesus and…this particular practice.
Jesus and….this way of doing church.
Jesus and…this particular brand of politics.
Jesus and…this belief or doctrine.
Jesus and…this way of seeing Scripture.
The vehicle which was supposed to be pointing us to God, has now taken God’s place.
The reason this drives people away is because when the vehicles are pushed far enough, they always break down. And when we equate the vehicle with God and the vehicle breaks down, we assume God broke down right along with it.
So people and practices in the Church let us down, and we assume God let us down too.
Or we begin to disagree with a particular doctrine or view of Scripture, and assume we can no longer believe in God.
Or we see God act outside of the boxes we have put God in and are forced to decide if the box is right…or is God? And if I hold on to a box I don’t trust or believe in, I may not end up liking God very much.
It all comes from confusing the vehicle with what it is pointing to. The vehicles cannot hold the same weight as God. They must be kept in their proper place.
When we look to God, we are looking for something that promises ultimate fulfillment. And while the vehicles are enormously helpful in getting to God, they cannot promise ultimate fulfillment. They will eventually break down.
Because they aren’t the point. Jesus is the point.
When we lose that, we have lost everything it means to be a Christian.
But this doesn’t negate the vehicles.
When you look at the discussion of Sabbath in Luke and Isaiah, neither one negates the Sabbath. It actually elevates the view of Sabbath. The issue is that Sabbath has become equated with God.
Sabbath is still a beautiful and wonderful vehicle to get to God, but it is a vehicle. And when we treat it like a god, we will miss the very thing the vehicle is trying to point us to.
In both passages, the idea is to see the intended purpose of the vehicle, and to stop trying to equate the vehicle with God. Because equating the vehicle with God blinds us to the very thing the vehicle is pointing us to.
If I have a certain belief, practice, political brand, or view of Scripture, I should know why that vehicle points me to God. If it is important enough for me to hang on to, then I need to take it seriously enough to articulate how that vehicle gets me to God.
This practice alone could completely change how we relate to and disagree with others.
If I know why something points someone to God, we can disagree on the issue, but I now see the value of the belief or practice for that person.
If I cannot defend why something points me to God, perhaps it is time to rethink my position.
We need to spend more time thinking about the “and’s” we put with Jesus. Because when we attach the “and” it will eventually break down. And so many people have walked away from Christianity because their “and” broke down and they could not detach it from Jesus.
Our belief as Christians is that Jesus is what we need. Jesus comes to show us what it means to be fully human and give us everything we need for life.
I have been let down by many “ands” but I have yet to be let down by Jesus. And this is the message we are invited to share with the world.