What if Christianity is not A Religion?
I have been reading through Augustine’s Confessions for the second time. The first time through I will admit that I enjoyed the first half of most of the chapters, then the second half (where he tends to get into philosophy and heavy-duty theology) I started dozing off and wanting to skip ahead to the next bit of narrative. This time, I just could not get enough of his more meaty sections. Alright, I’ll admit it – a lot of it is still over my head – but in a good way! Reading Augustine is kind of like those bungee-runners (click here if you don’t know what I mean) that they have at youth retreats. At first it is easy, then you get to the tough parts, then you strain and groan…then you get flung back into never-never land and try to get your feet back under yourself. The point is not so much « understanding » Augustine (which is probably impossible) but seeing how far one can get before their brains start to strain and crack under the load. Like all good exercise, « failure » is a given. However, at the end of each cycle, one grows just that much stronger.
It’s very unfortunate that I did not have time to do a full-fledged summary/book review of Confessions this time around. No doubt I will do so on the third, or the fourth time through. Suffice it to say that next to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, J. Gresham Machen’s Liberalism and Christianity, and Mark Buchannan’s Your God is too Safe, I would rank Confessions as among the best and most important books in my mental and spiritual development.
This time around, I have been fascinated by his opening line. I am sure you have heard it, « Lord, we were made for you, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. » As I read this time, I realized that this pithy line was no accident: rather, it is the thesis of his whole work. He goes on to explain in detail, and from nearly every angle imaginable that this thesis is indeed true. We humans were created for God, and until we « rest » in Him, we are « restless. »
As I watched him hit this theme over and over from many directions, it finally began to sink in. I began to realize that it really is true. And not only true but the truth. The one I have been missing. The capstone to link my swaying towers of academia and spirituality, creating harmony and symmetry in this troubled mind.
If this is true, than every other religion is a false religion. How could it be otherwise? For they lead us to destinations which are not God: they are clouds without rain (Jude 1:12) and dried-up cisterns (Jer. 2:13). But more than this, they belong in a different category from Christianity, just as surely as « prostitute » belongs in a different category than « wife. » True, there are many similarities on the outside: but what is happening in a Church versus what goes on in any other place of worship is absolutely opposite. Christianity is home, it is clean, it is where the human soul belongs. But who are these other deities, these other gods? They have come only to steal, kill, destroy – to distract us from the One in Whom alone we rest! (John 10:10) These religions are all basically human inventions: they work from below, they are of the earth, earthy. How can they compare with what comes down from above, and is heavenly? (John 8:23) Our best attempts at religious instruction can only be compared to the blind leading the blind (Mat. 15:14): but God’s words are « spirit and they are life, » (John 6:63). Where else could we go, for He has the words of life (John 6:68)!
I will admit that I have often had a certain bashfulness about sharing my faith: I cannot help hearing the lyrics of Our Lady Peace’s song « All For You » pounding in my head. (The song is a negative reaction against a door-to-door evangelist. Interesting food for thought…) The chorus screams, « It’s all for you! You’ve got me where you want, it’s all for you… » Well, is it all for me? If Christianity is another religion then yes. Definitely. There is no way to avoid it! If one path to God is as good as another, what possible motivation could I find for proselytizing? But, on the other hand, what if Christianity is not another religion? What if it is not just one more human attempt to scratch the perennial human « itch » with whatever bits of metaphysics, myth and poetry come to hand? What if this is really it? What if God, in His mercy, has really, finally, considered the lonely and helpless condition of the human race and come down to our level, to offer some real help?
What if Christianity is really a solution the solution, the solution from above, designed by God, and for which we have all been starving and craving and dying and killing and longing for?
What if Christianity is, after all, not just another religion?
That would change everything………………………