I’ve been in a place of extremes lately. I was in a church history class last semester, and the main thing I took away from it was our tendency to go to extremes. When one group of Christians would begin having an issue in their beliefs/teachings/practices, those who noticed would break off and start their own group striving to be without that issue. But something always seemed to happen when they did that– they would go to the other extreme. If the church was being too strict and regimented, a group would form that would later become too loose and reckless. And it would continue in a cycle of legalism versus carelessness. It had to be one or the other. They never seemed to be able to just fix the intensity; if something was reminiscent of an element in the group they’d broken away from, they pushed it away and sought the opposite, because they had been reminded of something that had been destructive.
And I guess I’ve been doing that, too.
I don’t want religion. Jesus didn’t come to earth to start Christianity; He came to earth to save the people He loved so He could be with them and share in relationship with them. I go to church, I read the Bible, I do “Christian” things, but it’s not because I’m religious. I do those things because I know Him, and through relationship with Him I know that these are things He wants me to do. These are things that grow our relationship and put me in positions to love Him and love my family of humanity.
I don’t want to be part of a religion. I don’t want to be a Christian. I just want Jesus. I want to know God. I want to know the Creator and Healer. And I do. We share in love, and when life is dark and painful He is the one thing that makes me feel remotely alive and safe and calm. I just want Him.
In Matthew 16, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples shared the various things they’d heard: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, a prophet. But then Jesus asked them another question– “But who do you say that I am?” This question is so different from the first. The first is about people who don’t have relationship with Him; they’ve seen Him and heard Him and maybe even spoken with Him, but to them He is nothing personal. For them, He is a concept to be pondered. But the second question… the second question is about His friends. Jesus is asking the people who know Him whom they believe Him to be. He doesn’t ask them who they think “the Son of Man” is; He simply asks–
“Who do you say that I am?”
They know Him. And it is through knowing Him that they know and believe and live in the life-shaking truth:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The living God.
When we know the living God, any ideas we have about Him get to be confirmed or proven wrong, because we know the person they belong to. We go from religious people to the people who are His loved ones.
That’s what I want.
But I think, in the process, I’ve hated religion too much.
No, I still don’t want to be a Christian; I still think Jesus came to save His loved ones instead of set up a religion. “He himself is our peace, who has made us both [Jew and Gentile] one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph. 2:14-16). But I know Him because, through reading the Bible, I learn to recognize His voice. I cannot express how many times I’ve grown to know Him better through studies of theology. I can’t tell you how many times the Christian church has pointed me toward greater depth with Him. I can’t count how many times Christians have ended up saying the same things God has said.
Jesus didn’t start Christianity. But maybe Christianity was started by people like me, who wanted to know Him.
I’ve gone to the other extreme. I’ve seen the deep issues and hurts that come from being religious and formulaic about a relationship with God, and in response I’ve started becoming adverse to anything that sounds religious… even if, maybe, it’s what Jesus says, too. I finally admitted these things out loud, and to myself, for the first time today.
And I was sitting in a Catholic cathedral when I did it.
My church is great. It’s relaxed and homey and feels accessible. But the cathedral… every stained glass window, every carving, every statue, every element in that room… it was all about Him. One of my best friends was there with me, and she said, “You would think it’s too extravagant, but it’s not. It’s all for Him; all of it makes me think about Jesus. And that cross…We don’t see that in many churches. There will be a wooden cross, but… He isn’t on it. Maybe we’re too afraid to look at Him.”
Jesus, on the cross, for His loved ones. That’s what I want to see.
And I will do everything I can to see Him more clearly and more closely every day, to be with Him. Even if that makes me look like a Christian the process. Because I don’t need to pick an extreme.
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” -Job 42:5-6