|Christ be beside me|
"God desires our freedom more than our salvation."-- Laura V.
A recent conversation with Rob, an online acquaintance, centered around the thought that religion, or more specifically a God who can be knowable, imposes impossible standards on people. Rob could no longer believe in such a deity and, he says, he cannot prove the existence of God anyway. Thus, he is an atheist.
Rob certainly is not alone in his thoughts. Judging from statements made in comboxes around the web, atheists or anti-religionists are more common than we think. Our task as Christians or religionists, is to involve those who criticize our faith in a constructive engagement, not so that we can convert them, but so that we can understand our own faith a little better.
The questions that come up most often fall somewhat in this vein: "How can you believe in a god who sets you up for failure?" and "How can you participate in a religion that demands such strict adherence? Where is the freedom in that?"
My contention has always been that we have more laws imposed on us by local municipalities than religion could ever dream of. Try following all the rules of a stop sign, perfectly, every time you approach one. Try it once. Then try it again. Keep it up for a week. It's damned near impossible. And hope that you don't have a policeman around.
But still, I've had to ask myself these questions and in order to get to the truth, I've had to be willing to see the complete picture of my life. This is no easy task. The temptation is to go with current thought--that religion suppresses freedom and that God, if he exists at all, is a sado-masochistic, selfish bloodsucker. A vampire.
Then there is the other extreme--the school of thought that says there is no sin (except maybe social sin and greedy institutions). God requires no sacrifice from us and that turning to God will always make us feel good. God is a warm puppy.
Neither of these satisfies. The middle (God is a warm puppy and sometimes a vampire?) is uniquely unattractive, lukewarm. So what is required? A new thought; a new understanding of God. God is love, yes, but this love requires something of us. Love always does. It requires sacrifice and living a life of service should I choose to love God at all.
This is the God of my understanding--A God who not only has suffered for me, but suffers with me. A God who does not require sacrifice to him, but for others. This is Christ. Christ never requires anything of anybody except that if we are willing to love, that we also be willing to love all the way. Half measures avail us nothing.
How do I know that God does not demand anything else from us? I need only to look at my own actions and that of those around me. I say I am going to pray and I do not do it. I say I believe in the teachings of the Church and yet I don't adhere to them anywhere near perfectly. Had I not the freedom to embrace love and embrace God, I would not have the freedom to fail, either.
Every act of violence in this world demonstrates that God imposes no restrictions on us. The God of my understanding encourages men to put down their knives and stones. To turn our swords into ploughshares. Had that ever been imposed on us, we would not have the capacity to turn pressure cookers into bombs.
Is God absent in all of this misery? It sometimes feels like it. After all, even Christ felt abandoned by his father. Loving God is not all chocolate and roses. Seeing him is not always easy, but when the fog of despair lifts, we see he is next to us, saying, "You are hurting. That's awful. Let's get through this together."