Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Religion

Given that I don't know a single person on this planet who shares my beliefs, I obviously do not subscribe to the belief that only one religion is correct or that only believers in one religion will go to heaven. I don't believe that people who have never heard of Jesus or been introduced to formal religion will be banned from heaven. While I feel more of a kinship with Christians, Muslims, and Jews than other religions, I would never claim to know God's grace better than He does, and I do not expect that Hindus, Buddhists, or any other believers in a higher power will necessarily be banned. For that matter, I can't claim to know that the likes of Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein or anyone else who has committed grievous crimes against humanity will be banned from heaven, either. We can't know their hearts better than God does, and we can't know whether they have been forgiven.

I read a novel last year in which the protagonist admired and learned from several different religions, and pieced them together here and there, finding his own way in that manner. I loved that, because it felt like me. I read the work of one who had a near-death experience that left her with the belief that there is no one, true, right religion. Rather, religion is a tool that we use to grow spiritually. We may grow as much as we can under one belief system, then we seek something more and strike out in a different direction. People sometimes, but not always, convert from one religion to another as they seek that knowledge, that closeness to God. This rings true to me. I believe it is the seeking of knowledge and the desire to be close to God that far outweighs belonging to the "proper" religion.

That said, I do miss feeling like I belong, and being able to talk openly with fellow believers. There are times when I long for the days of old when I considered myself a Christian, rejoiced in that fellowship, and was able to participate in the choirs and orchestras that I miss so much. Things were much simpler then, but there is no doubt that I've grown spiritually in the years since.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I guess religion to me is more than just a forum for personal growth...but, as you infer, the search for truth is an integral part of it.

I just don't see anything that trumps the love of God as expressed through Christ. I mean, the whole Bible can be summed up in a few scriptures:

Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;
Romans 3:23 All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;
Romans 6:23 The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus;
Romans 5:8 While we were still sinners Christ died for us;
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

To my knowledge, no other religion both acknowledges the seriousness of sin that separates us from God, and the enormous love of our Creator that would cause him to sacrifice his own innocent, sinless son to pay the punishment for this sin, just so he could offer eternal life to the very creatures who would kill his son.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

I do understand your beliefs, and why you believe what you believe. I also find it very difficult to respond for fear of causing offense, which I never mean to do.

I have been up for hours now past my bedtime, reading the Bible, the Quran, and other materials in the hopes of finding a response to post here that I could be satisfied with. I'm going to sleep first, and give more thought to my response when my mind is not clouded by exhaustion.

2:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No offense will be taken, truly. I'm just speaking from my heart, please speak from yours, too.

6:01 AM  
Blogger Nikki said...

Christians believe that they are saved through faith in Jesus, who died for their sins, and they reject the notion that their salvation has anything to do with their good works.

Muslims believe in the grace of God, but that it is a combination of God's grace and their good works that will save them. They believe that there are two guardian angels always with them, one recording good deeds, and one recording bad. Despite their works, though, they also believe that none shall enter heaven except by the mercy of God.

I'm curious about your take on Revelation 20:12. "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works."

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good question!

Not being any sort of an expert on the Book of Revelation, I don't claim to understand half of the prophecies, images and metaphors in there; however, it does appear that there are a plurality of books used at the judgment scene. Being judged from the books "according to their works" doesn't seem to offer much hope, unfortunately, for as Jesus said, "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heavern." Romans 3 explains in more detail how "there is no one righteous," and "no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law-- rather, through the law we become conscious of sin." (Matthew 5:20)

The book that makes the difference as far as eternal destiny seems to be the one mentioned as "another book"-- the book of life-- and apparently, there is nothing but names in there. A person is either listed in the book or is not in the book. From Revelation 20:15: "If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." And Rev 21:27-- "Nothing impure will ever enter it (heaven), nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."

Jesus, apparently, has the authority over whose names are in the book: Rev 3:5-- "He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels."

The placement of names in this book seems to hinge not on keeping the law, but on belief in Jesus. John 9:39: Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." 40Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" 41Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." The Pharisees were famous for their rigid law-keeping. However, because they could not acknowledge the seriousness of their sin but claimed holiness without Jesus, they were judged guilty.

There is plenty of discussion in the Bible about judgement of man's every word and deed. Again, God's point seems to be, there are no insignificant sins. It all counts, and it all separates us from God. In John 16:7ff, Jesus explains how the Holy Spirit/Counselor (another manifestation of God, living not as a holy and separate being in order to take man's punishment, but for the first time able to live in man, now that he is redeemed/made holy) convicts the world of sin "because men do not believe in me."

So, again, you have the books of works, apparently judging a man with a list of every sin he has ever committed, and the book of lifem, redeeming a man solely through faith in Jesus. Nowhere is there any indication of a man being found righteous when good deeds outweigh bad.

Of course, a person who is truly aware of his sins and repentent of them, relying on the grace of Jesus for salvation, would not go blithely on his way "sinning all the more that grace may abound." (Rom 6:1) Instead, he would be all the more anxious to please God in every way, following the teachings of his Savior, doing those good deeds and showing God's love to his brother, his friend and his enemy-- not out of fear and hope of earning salvation, but out of love and gratitude for receiving it.

Anyway, That's my take on it.

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So instead of works and grace producing salvation, it is salvation and grace that produce the works. Salvation cleanses a person of sin/guilt, making him holy; this holiness allows the Spirit of God to live in the person; the Spirit produces fruit (Galatians 5).

4:47 PM  
Blogger Tracee (Meg) said...

I've found an incredible spiritual support with our new church family that is Unitarian Universalist. We also believe that there are many valid paths to whatever we are all trying to get to (enlightenment, Nirvana, Heaven, the Summerlands, etc.)... We are encouraged to follow those paths and study those faiths that ring true to us, and to move between them as our needs change and our understanding changes. It's refreshing here in the buckle of the Bible Belt to have a group of believers that are not Fundamentalists. We have Christians to Pagans to Humanists to Jews to Not-Sure-Yet-But-Seeking and everything in between. A lovely Hindu family has recently started attending, and they add a great deal to the religious education discussions!

In reading the post before this one, I think you'd find a lot of commonalities with we UU's... one branch of our tradition came out of a split with the Calvinists over the Trinity. We are Unitarians, believing that God (whatever that means) is one, not three. If you want to be a polytheist, fine... but the Christian roots of our faith are Unitarian, not Trinitarian.

If you haven't already, pick up a copy of the Gospel of Thomas and read it. It's a completely different take on Christianity, and the Jesus scholars believe that the words in Thomas are actually those of Jesus, while many from the Coptic Gospels are not. I'm not sure if it's available at http://www.sacred-texts.com/ but I'll check when I get back from volleyball. This is one of my favorite sites.

I have to run, but I'd love to discuss this at length later!!

4:51 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

I did some reading about Unitarian Universalism ... I was surprised to find that there are others like me after all! That's not to say that there are necessarily any who believe exactly what I believe, but their open-mindedness and acceptance of others' beliefs struck a chord with me. I had a look at the Gospel of Thomas, as well, but there are things there that didn't ring true to me. Of course, in every sacred text I've read, there are things that do and do not ring true to me.

2:28 AM  
Blogger Tracee (Meg) said...

That's one of the things I love about UU... questioning and discussion is encouraged, if not mandatory, and you take what works for you, and pass on the rest. Our pastor likens it to a potluck... you don't have to eat everything that's offered, but it's nice that there's so much variety there!

9:20 AM  

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