Over the centuries of human history, there have always existed people more heavenly minded than others; those who felt the need to find hope, strength and purpose from beyond our lonely blue planet. Conversely, another sizeable swath of humanity has viewed with either amused disinterest or seething disdain those admitting such need. Karl Marx, a foundational figure in modern communism once famously retorted, “Religion is the opiate of the masses” — in other words, a mere crutch for the weak and vulnerable to lean on while attempting to survive the unceasing struggles and horrific injustices of being human. Marx saw enough threat in religion, however, to deem it a sedative unworthy of human consumption, subsequently banning it from his Russian countrymen. Many, through ensuing centuries, have enthusiastically shared Marx’s deprived estimation of faith. Present day comedian Richard Jeni derisively quipped, “If you’re going to war over religion, now you’re just killing people in an argument over who has the better imaginary friend.”
Really? Is that all there is to it? What if Marx and Jeni are right? What if religion is no more than a psychological crutch?
Over the course of my career as a Christian minister, many unsolicited parishioners have stated the following with utter sincerity, “Even if all the Bible’s teachings about Jesus and the afterlife weren’t true, living the Christian life is still worth it.” That’s quite a claim considering the level of commitment Christ expected from His followers!
What would cause someone to say or feel something so seemingly illogical? Why would anyone knowingly surrender their lives to a religious façade — and admit it? For the sake of argument, let’s say it was possible for humankind to be corporately brainwashed into flawlessly following Jesus Christ’s teachings as laid out in the Bible. Imagine, for a few moments, life in such a world:
• Imagine a global attitude shift toward unrestrained selflessness. In such a world, one could expect complete marital, family, business, and even governmental harmony. How so? Harmony results when people consider the needs and dreams of others over their own (Matthew 23:11-12). Jesus taught his followers to radiate just such a selfless attitude toward others. Imagine the total of your personal relationships characterized by kindness, sensitivity and mutual understanding. Most would envision such a world as sheer bliss, a fantasyland; yet unrestrained selflessness is the type of commitment biblical Christianity calls its adherents to.
• Imagine a world without crime and related violence. How would you like to toss your key ring into the nearest trash can; and as a follow up, delete all digital security codes from your PC? Imagine an environment where locking the world out, physically or digitally, was no longer necessary. If everyone followed Christ’s teachings, we wouldn’t need restraints. Not only could we ditch the hardware/software, but imagine the draining emotional and physical burdens lifted in a crimeless world. But Jesus raised the bar even more by exhorting His followers to not even covet what belongs to others — let alone steal (Ephesians 4:28; Romans 7:7). Instead, He challenges his followers, then and now, to learn contentment; being thankful for whatever has been allotted us. Contented, appreciative living allows folks like us the physical and emotional energy to actually enjoy what we do have. Maybe Jesus knew that would be the case. Maybe His guidelines for living really do make sense!
• Imagine a world where greed is obliterated by rampant generosity. Still muddling through an economy devastated by wanton excess and corporate greed, America could certainly use an infusion of rampant generosity. Granted, most “Paysonites” aren’t living a Madison Avenue lifestyle, but the vast majority of us still own a spot among the top 5 percent of the wealthiest people on earth (hard to believe ... but true!). Most of us have much and truly need little. Consequently, we are prime candidates to start a revolution of rampant generosity! But why should we? Because, ironically, the generous actually end up being the truly blessed ... at least that’s what Jesus taught (Acts 20:35). Was He right? Why don’t we all commit to a month of rampant generosity and find out. What could it hurt? Could such a commitment transform our Payson community?
• Finally, imagine a world free of abuse, infanticide, euthanasia and abortion — a world where every life is deemed sacred; every person viewed as special ... because all human life is fashioned by God. Jesus taught this to be the case, and he exhorted his followers to treat each other accordingly (Matthew 7:12). Take a moment to look in a mirror. Go ahead. Do you see your reflection? Your present visage in the glass is evidence that someone, years ago, attributed a degree of value to your life. Scripture teaches that months before we took our first breath, God supervised our spectacular beginnings in the womb (Psalm 139). Consequently, regardless of the conditions surrounding conception, all human beings are specially constructed creations of God. Though some of our species take it upon themselves to devalue human life — by preventing birth or accelerating death — neither activity is ever sanctioned by God. In Jesus’ world, all life is intrinsically valuable and those blessed with the gift of breath treat each other accordingly.
So there you have it. What if this is it; we die and there really is nothing else? I would propose that striving to follow Christ’s teachings still leads to living at its best — even if for this life only. Of course, there is another daunting possibility. What if, as the Bible teaches, this isn’t it — but only the beginning? Now that opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities, doesn’t it?
About the author
Jim Harper is the pastor of Mountain Bible Church, 302 E. Rancho Rd., Payson. His column appears in the second issue of The Rim Review each month (unless it is an edition devoted to a special topic — as will be the case Sept. 8, 2010, which will be another Senior Living Review)
It is my desire for this column to be encouraging and thought provoking for all who take time to read it — whether churched or un-churched. If God doesn’t presently have a place in your life, I would like to know what questions you are wrestling with, and how I might help. Please feel free to send any comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your issue just might be addressed in a future column.