And the Lord said to them, ‘Let’s have a look how you got on. You fed the hungry, right?’
And they answered, ‘Well, we gave some money to charity a couple of times and we’re pretty sure the charity fed the hungry for us.’
‘Okay,’ he said, ‘I suppose I can give you some credit for that, though I have to say I was looking for something a little more… hands on. How about when people were naked – you know, needing their material needs met. How’d you get on then?’
‘The charities did that too, we think. Maybe.’
‘And the sick and imprisoned? You bother with them?’
‘Not so much,’ they answered. ‘Look, Lord, if people can’t take care of their own health needs or choose to live lawless lives, then that’s up to them. It’s really not up to us to help them out, now is it.’
‘I see. So how about the stranger, the homeless, the immigrant? You take any of them in? You cared for them?’
‘Well, no. I mean, if you’d said that’s what you wanted doing we would’ve done it, wouldn’t we. But you didn’t make it clear.’
‘I thought I had,’ he said. ‘Maybe it got lost somewhere in translation. Selling all you have to give to the poor, then? Surely some of you did that.’
‘One or two extremists maybe, but look where it got them. Obviously that daft instruction was meant only for the guy you were talking to – you know, the rich young ruler or whatever he was.’
‘Well, not exactly. I said it so many times in so many ways you’d have thought you’d have got the message.’
‘We’re not socialists, you know, even if you are,’ they said.
‘So how about turning the other cheek, then? Or going the extra mile? Giving to all who ask? Surely you managed those?’
‘Well, no. We felt you were speaking metaphorically when you said all that. You didn’t seriously expect us to do such ridiculous things, did you? I mean, we’re not doormats.’
‘So what is it you did in my name?’
‘Well, we accepted you as Lord and Savior. That’s all that’s required, isn’t it?’
‘Not really,’ he said. ‘Not if you didn’t do as I asked.’
‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, becoming exasperated. ‘We’re washed in the blood of the lamb. Sanctified and redeemed.’
‘You’re what?’ he said.
‘Sanctified and redeemed. Made spotless. You know, like Saint Paul explained.’
‘Saint who?’ the Lord said.
‘We worshipped you and praised your holy name,’ they went on. ‘Filled with your Holy Spirit we witnessed unto you and defended your Holy Word.’
‘But you didn’t actually do as I commanded?’ he said. ‘And you think that’s good enough?’
‘We stood up for you and for family life. We spoke out against unbelievers and sodomites and all those who were unholy, lest they bring down the Father’s wrath on all of us.’
‘You didn’t consider that to be judging, then?’ he asked. ‘Something else I told you not to do?’
‘Oh no, Lord, not really. We decided what you really meant was it was okay to judge so long as it was done righteously. We always judged righteously, so that was fine.’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘what can I say? You came up with a much better agenda than the one I left you with. Come in and dwell in the house of the Lord forever. You’re my kind of people.’
And, lo, the self-righteous stepped forward, ready to surge into heaven.
But he stopped them in their tracks. ‘Now you just hold on,’ he said, ‘I was being metaphorical there,’ and he stood up to his full height and cleared his throat. ‘Here’s the deal,’ he said, ‘Not everyone who keeps saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom from heaven, but only the person who keeps doing the will of my Father in heaven… So, get away from me, you who practise evil. I never knew you.’
‘What?’ they said. ‘We didn’t think you really meant that. We’re washed in the blood of the lamb, you know.’
Neil, a challenging and thought provoking post.
I think many Christian people in the US get caught up in a very individualistic mindset. People value freedom and liberty, the whole pull yourself up by you’re own bootstraps mentality, and have a hard time with the collective. Most,except for the more progressive, just naturally abhor socialism.
Even among Christian people who care very much for the poor and the needy, there is going to be a difference of mindset in how to actually best help.
Our culture very much impacts how we view Scripture, and even to some degree how we take a hold of Christian faith.
I’ve read that the maybe the church needs a new reformation focused more on Sola Jesus rather than Sola Scriptura. 🙂
Hi Rebecca. Yes, I agree, ‘our culture very much impacts how we view Scripture, and even to some degree how we take a hold of Christian faith.’ Like morality, how one views ‘scripture’ and faith are culturally determined.
‘Sola Jesus’ rather than ‘Sola Scriptura’ works well as a slogan but there are at least two insurmountable problems with it:
i) how do you separate the two? All we know of Jesus is in the bible. You can’t have one without the other.
ii) Which Jesus do you propose we have solely? The pre-existent Word of John’s gospel? Paul’s Christ? Mark’s earthly Jesus? Matthew’s emphatically Jewish one? I’ve written about this before: https://rejectingjesus.com/2013/09/10/multiplicity/ Even within scripture there are multiple Jesuses, not to mention the numerous versions that have been made of him subsequently.
Hi, Neil, I can see much of your point, and can only share my own conviction in this. To put this in another way, I think that the core teachings of Jesus such as to love our neighbors as ourselves should be the lens through which we interpret the whole of Scripture. It is my guiding hermaneutic, so to speak.
I feel that the writers of the New Testament do present varying portraits of Christ depending on their theological purpose, and the audience they are attempting to address at the time.
. However, in my own thinking I am able to put this together. I don’t have an issue with seeing the Christ as the pre-existent Word, realizing with Paul that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, ” and focusing on the Sermon on the Mount at the same time.
Of course, we’re not getting into all the scholarship addressing redaction issues, embellishments in the gospels, and so on. But, I do think we can know the essence of what Jesus taught, and said.
I think the difficulty most of us have is not that we don’t know what we actually should be doing in terms of things like loving our enemies, or being peacemakers.
But, it’s as you imply, more convenient and easier to ignore those bits of the teaching of Christ that seem hard or that we really don’t want to put into practice
in our lives..
I personally think this post is a very timely message to the church. 🙂
The essence of what Jesus taught, if the synoptic gospels preserve any of it, appears to be at odds with Paul’s theology. They record Jesus as saying that the way to be righteous is to serve others. They know nothing of Paul’s magic salvation-formula.
Why though do you feel the need for either Jesus or Paul? Can’t you be compassionate, kind, generous and caring because these are good things to be, and not simply because a first-century preacher appears to have commanded it?
If you can’t, which I don’t believe, then is your fellow-feeling truly genuine and heart-felt?
If you can, however, then ask yourself whether Jesus is even necessary as an example and guide.
So even though I am not an atheist (at least not yet as I consider myself a deist at the moment) I loved this post. When I was a Christian I had these same thoughts and I even wrote about some of them. Christians tend to think believing in Jesus and accepting him as savior somehow gets them out of fulfilling any of the requirements Jesus’ father
…sorry I hit send before I finished my comment. God had requirements for all of mankind if the Bible is to be believed ( which I don’t) but Christians ignore them and follow Jesus instead. Even though Jesus repeatedly told others it wasn’t about him but rather his father. Going to church on Sunday somehow excuses the rest of their lives where God’s word is ignored. This was a huge reason I had issues with the church and Christianity as a whole. Great post.
WordPress won’t link to my page anymore so if anyone is interested in my thoughts as a deist now or any of my older posts while I was still a Christian, you can go here:
Hi. I’ve read your most recent post on your blog. I’ve added this comment there and will post it here too.
The doubt you write about is a good thing! It’s your intellect trying to break through and speak to you, saying ‘this is far from right; there are too many anomalies here; very litttle of this makes sense and so on. Do listen to it. It won’t mislead you. You’re right that many atheists are former believers, who listened to the voice of reason.
I can see no evidence for a God who cares for us humans (hence my atheism). Deism is slightly different. There may or may not be a god who does not to involve himself with us, making him a little like Schrodinger’s cat. The probability he(?) exists is so low it is safe to say he doesn’t. In any case, why waste time and energy thinking about, worshipping or otherwise attempting to discover such ephemera?
You seem so close to embracing the reality of existence. I do hope you will. It will set you free. Without superstition and belief in the supernatural you’ll be able to discover how good life really is.
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I now live my life as an atheist would, letting go of superstition and belief in unrealistic accounts from a compilation of stories written by anonymous authors. I think the only real difference between my beliefs and that of an atheist is what we believe set the universe in motion in the beginning. I see what appears to be design so I choose to understand it that way, not based on science but rather by my own observations and personal opinion. Of course that isn’t proof for a skeptic, but I’m no longer a Christian so forcing my beliefs and opinions on anyone is not part of my agenda. We are all free to believe whatever we want. We can eliminate the obviously fraudulent stories and then try to determine the truth based on what is observable in nature. Atheists don’t see design, and that’s okay. Why things are the way the way they are doesn’t change the truth about what is there. What we can observe and study is the same material for both the believer and unbeliever alike…and it is also the same for those of us somewhere in the middle. Science is science whether you like it or not and whether you believe it or not. But for me, the end result is the same. Both the atheist and myself can see beauty in the world and be appreciative of the lives we have. We are both trying to live our lives the best we can without being governed by stories, some of which are so far-fetched I feel rather silly for having ever believed them. I don’t bow down and worship a creator, but rather marvel at the creation. I don’t pray for forgiveness for my sins because without the biblical account, what is sin anyway?
I now see, having broken away from church teaching, that good people can come from all walks of life and all belief systems. We don’t need God to show us that. It took me a long time to get that through my head, but truth and reality have a way of having their voice heard above all the noise. Thank you for your comment and taking the time to read my blog.
I appreciate all you say, Sam. I particularly agree with ‘science is science whether you like it or not and whether you believe it or not’ because I think it gets to the heart of the matter: evidence.
However, you also say ‘I see what appears to be design so I choose to understand it that way, not based on science but rather by my own observations and personal opinion.’ Isn’t there a conflict here? Aren’t you saying, ‘I trust science for every area of knowledge – except this one, when I’m going to believe what I want to believe?’
The problem is people ‘believe’ all sorts of things as a result of their own observations and personal opinions – that the Earth is flat, that the universe was created in six days, that Jesus visited north America after his resurrection – and if all beliefs are equally valid, who’s to say they’re wrong? Well, the evidence, that’s what. There is none for all of these beliefs, nor for any intelligent super-being who designed everything.
I might wish there was and I might, with my very limited subjective powers of observation and interpretation, perceive the appearance of design, but without evidence such as science might provide, I am left only with ‘belief.’ For me, that’s not enough because that belief could just as easily be in a flat Earth or a 6000 year old Earth.
I want to know the truth and belief is not a reliable enough method to get me to it. I also discover, when I do find truth, that it is true ‘whether I like it or not and whether I believe it or not.’
Hi. Thanks for the comment. I’m Ben, by the way. Not sure who Sam is ☺ It’s not really that I’m trusting science in every other area except where I see design. I don’t feel scientific theory can adequately explain why there appears to be design yet there is none. Maybe I’m just clinging to a shred of hope thinking there may be a creator but I just don’t see enough scientific proof convincing enough to explain the beginning of all things by random chance. I don’t see proof of God either. I see order and design. Anything created by man has that too. I see order and design in technology and architecture. Where I see design, I assume designer. Like I said, I may be still clinging to hope, not of Biblical promises of the afterlife or anything like that, but of being created for a purpose. It’s obviously a personal opinion, not a scientific one. Not everything in life comes down to science. I find trust people based on scientific study. I trust my feelings. And yes sometimes our feelings betray us. But, this change from believer to skeptic is new to me. Going from skeptic to nonbeliever may happen later. I’m still sorting it all out. For now I’m just feeling what I feel as I dig deeper and deeper.
Nothing I hate mode than typos. What I meant to write was ” I DON’T trust people based in scientific study. ” Not sure how “kind” got in there.
Of course I now fixed a typo with another one. I need to just stop. I think you’ve gotten my point.
Sorry about getting you name wrong, Ben. I’m not sure I agree that ‘not everything in life comes down to science.’ Everything in life comes down to evidence of some sort or another and science is the best way we have of controlling our biases, partialitities and imperfect reasoning in assessing that evidence.
You see design, others don’t (I don’t) so already we begin from opposing perceptions. We need to turn to the evidence: does science tell us the universe was designed? No, it doesn’t. Perhaps there’s something wrong with the idea of ‘design’ anyway, with its implication of a designer. Might we not be better asking whether we see complexity, patterns, interconnectivity, interdependence, predictability of phenomena and more. We do. Could these have developed, not by chance, but through the interaction of chemical processes, incredibly powerful physical events, vacuums, gravity and, once life got going, natural selection? Yes, they could. These provide a far better explanation for what we see (because these phenomena demonstrably exist) than a Mind that came from… where?
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Science is good for most things. But when it comes to the beginning of the universe, and most scientists agree that there was a beginning, science has the same problem that creationists have. Explaining where things came from. If you don’t believe in God, then you believe the material that the universe was made from came from…where? If you believe God did it, then God came from…where? One side sees this and the other sees that. But we can’t say where the first thing came from because we simply don’t know. If God was here to create it all, then where did God come from? If it was all some sort of matter that exploded in the Big Bang, then where did that matter come from? It’s an argument between creationists and atheists that will probably rage on forever. We can see glimpses of what things may have been like in the beginning, but beyond that we just have to interpret what we see to the best of our ability. I can admit with 100% certainty that I am uncertain about it. I don’t know enough about the scientific explanation for the beginning so I can’t say if I see it that way at all. I know the what scientific evidence there is for things like natural selection, the age of the universe and adaptations we witness happening in nature right before our eyes. How it all started though? That’s a different matter altogether.
So, as I stated, maybe I’m just clinging on to parts of my old life. I can admit that may be the case. But I still see things the way I do for now so that’s just where I’m at. My faith sure went through an evolution before I lost it. So now I am dealing with the evolution of my world view. I can tell you that I spend a lot more time reading posts under the “atheism” tag than any other. That leads me to believe that my views are more in line with unbelief than some form of belief. Maybe I’m just not ready to let go, but I still view things differently (albeit only slightly) than atheists do.
Christians say they are on a journey so I will steal that line from them. I am on a journey, but not to faith. My journey started at faith, went in that direction for a long time and then made a U-turn.
Neil, I think in my own life, I certainly could be compassionate and kind apart from faith.
However, I feel that my faith in Christ has enhanced these things the more, like an amplifier, so to speak. Part of this is I think God’s work in me, but I also think that we’re going to be influenced in our lives by the thing or things that we meditate and focus on..I think we could all do much worse than to focus and meditate on the ethic of Jesus to “love our neighbors as ourselves” and to even care for enemies.
Also, I’ve found that it’s easy to care for those who love us back, but what about those very difficult people, or even those that hate us? Do I care and even have compassion for the Muslim terrorists, and for people who commit rape and child molestation to give two more extreme examples. I definitely could use God’s grace and help, here.
Unfortunately, I think often the human tendency can be more to look for revenge rather than toward reconciliation, mercy, or forgiveness.
You could well be right, Rebecca, that ‘the human tendency can be more to look for revenge rather than toward reconciliation, mercy, or forgiveness,’ but alas revenge, spitefulness and disparaging others can also be the Christian tendency too. Believing in Christ doesn’t seem to rescue people from this way of thinking.