Sunday, January 31, 2010

Loving God

Although I claim to be a fundamentalist, I'm not always sure any more. I suspect many fundamentalists would not consider me one. I do have some very strong fundamental beliefs, but I am more open to consider other religions than other fundamentalists I know. For example, I know Jesus is the only way to God for me, but I wonder if it is Jesus or what he embodied? Is there a difference? I can't say definitely that he is the only way for everyone else. That is between God and the individual. This doesn't negate my trust in him, nor my need to tell others about him. Jesus said "go into world and preach the good news to all creation," but he also said "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." Paul said to [m]ake every effort to live in peace with all men. He didn't say all Christians, so I take it to mean people of all religions. To live in peace doesn't mean we have to believe what others believe, just not to harass them. (Even if he had said 'other Christians,' we haven't done very well with this one.)

I tend to think that most, if not all, religions take a particular element, or group of elements, to an extreme. From the little I have learned about several of them, the basics are all the same. Probably 99% teach a variation of the golden rule. Jesus was the living example of the golden rule in an active sense. Perhaps others teach a more passive version - not necessarily to go out of our way to do for someone, but to make a point of not doing anyone any harm. If we're going to take one element, this seems to be a good one. It makes sense to me, too.

The Bible teaches that God made man (male and female) in
"his own image." It only makes sense to me that we honor God by treating his reflections on earth decently. After all, what other form of God will we ever see? We often teach our children that how we treat "A" is a true indication of how we'll treat "B" because we have seen the connections. It's no different in the God/people connection. That's why we have the golden rule. That's why Jesus told John "If you love me, feed my sheep." We express our love for God by showing it to others. (Matthew 25:40) When asked the greatest commandment (Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.) Jesus also gave us the second (Love your neighbor as yourself.) and said all the law hangs on these two. (Matthew 22:34-40)

What people often (usually, it seems) forget is that love is an action verb. It is not simply a feeling. Loving God, just as loving our spouse, or children, or friends, requires us to show it in our actions. It can be as simple as feeding someone or giving them a drink of water. Jesus pointed out that doing this only for those close to us (family, friends), while still good, is very limited. Reaching out to those beyond our circle is more meaningful. Giving a glass of water to someone who is pretty much the antithesis of what we consider "right," because we do it for a love for God, shows Him that love... not to mention the person to whom we are giving the water.

To me, any religion that expresses this loving connection for God and man has the basic element necessary to be a true faith. Those religions that have lost this and put other, sometimes more trivial things first, are missing the most basic element. If I can't give someone a drink of water because they wear the wrong clothes, listen to the wrong music,
even have different priorities, or call God by a different name, I've forgotten one of the most important lessons Jesus taught. If they say "My God is the only God" or even "My way to God is the only way," I have a problem with it. In the first place, there is only one God and, even though in polytheistic religions one may be worshiping a lesser "god," ultimately we all worship the same God. And to claim that anyone has it 100% right... well, I believe we can say it for ourselves, but I'm not sure how much we can say it for others.

If we do good things for others, but only as a means to "convert" them, we are missing the point, as well. It is true that when we show kindnesses, we help to create an environment that will open others' ears to our discussions of our beliefs. The problem is that, if we do them for this purpose,
we are not doing it for love for God or man. If we are truly doing something out of love, God will use the opportunity. It's not up to us. To me, and I suppose this is a personal view, it's better to give the water with the attitude of "God, I don't like this person, but I'm doing it because I love you" than "I'll give this person the water so he'll listen and I can convert him and then I can like him." I'm happy to say that I've encountered some of the former, but, unfortunately many of the latter, as well. In my experience, God provides the love for others when we do things for Him.

Loving God is expressed by loving others. It doesn't mean we have to agree with them. You don't have to like what they do or how they believe. Simply treat them as you'd like to be treated. It's all really easy. Once you've committed yourself to it, God will give you the grace to follow through.