I’ve often wondered why God allows the spiritual police of this world to have such influence on those around them.
Why is God willing to allow brand new believers to be suckered into the church scene, given a list of rules and expectations to follow, and assigned a low place in the hierarchy from which he or she may climb after gaining the trust and approval of people in positions of authority?
Why are the opinions and teachings of religious leaders considered orthodoxy, while those of regular people are considered heretical?
Why is this the norm instead of the exception?
The other day, as I was reading Luke 15, the answer to these questions occurred to me.
Once upon a time, an unlikely crowd gathered around Jesus as He was mingling with people at the mall. The crowd included Franklin Graham, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, James Dobson, Pope Benedict XVI, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, and other influential religious leaders. There were also religious outcasts: Casey Anthony, Howard Stern, Michael Vic, Hugh Hefner, Marilyn Manson, Muammar al-Gaddafi, Tiger Woods, and others. Some of the religious leaders, who made a point to shun religious outcasts, grumbled disapprovingly when they saw that Jesus was hanging around with “those people” in the food court.
Jesus’ response was to tell three lost and found stories, which have been a source of hope among those who hear it for centuries. In the third and probably most popular of the stories, about the prodigal son who returns to his father, Jesus introduced a third character, the older brother of the prodigal son, the one who didn’t squander his inheritance, the one who took his responsibilities seriously, the one who didn’t screw up. This disapproving, complaining older brother represents the religious leaders and how they view those who do not live according to their standards.
Once Jesus had the attention of the religious leaders, He told another couple of stories. The first story is about a manager who is about to lose his job, so he starts cutting people’s debt in half, so that when he was out on the street, there might be people who would be willing to help him. Surprisingly, in this story, the boss praises the manager for his decision. This is a complete reversal of how people might expect the boss to respond, unless, of course, the boss thinks of “money” differently than the average person. Apparently, the more money the manager gave away, the happier the boss was. The boss did not want the manager to hoard the money for himself. The less people owed, the better, including the manager.
What does this mean? The way to be faithful, is to give away what the boss has entrusted to us. Learn to see value in other people.
Can you imagine how church leaders today might respond if Jesus were to interrupt the finance committee and tell them that the more money they give away, the better? In the story, the manager was about to lose his job. He was desperate. I believe that many religious institutions are in this situation today. Their doors are about to close, because they can’t afford the mortgage or upkeep on the building, the overhead for study materials, musical equipment, etc. Those who are employed by the institution know that if the little box collapses, they are without a paycheck. According to the story Jesus told, the best way to handle this situation is not to hold the money in a tight fist but to give it away. Lose the building. It’s just stuff. People matter – not stuff. Salvation is free! The Boss (God) has a plan that turns what we understand to be true upside down. Things are not as they seem. The outcasts are very important, and the religious leaders are being handed their hats.
Jesus didn’t stop with this story; He told another, darker story, a warning against the religious leaders about the consequences of their decisions. This story has been widely misinterpreted as “proof” of eternal torment in hell. It’s hard to believe how thoroughly mainstream Christianity has twisted the teaching of Christ. To hear/see the REAL story, watch these videos: The Rich Man and Lazarus Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.
God allows the spiritual police of this world to have such influence on those around them, because He wants people to understand Who He is and what He does, and sometimes the best way to learn these things is to first learn Who He is NOT and what does NOT do. The religious elite are doing a fine job of teaching the NOT-god.
God is willing to allow brand new believers to be suckered into the church scene, given a list of rules and expectations to follow, and assigned a low place in the hierarchy from which he or she may climb after gaining the trust and approval of people in positions of authority, because He wants people to know what spiritual “debt” feels like. It is imposed by people, not God. The price was paid, once and for all. God wants to teach people that His approval does not come from a high place in the religious hierarchy, following rules, or attending church. The perfect life of Jesus Christ is our approval, because we are in Him.
God allows the orthodox to contrast the so-called heretical, because He has appointed for certain people to see past the “wisdom” of theologians and approved leaders. He gives common sense to people who have no titles and no respect in church circles – people with vices and weaknesses. God picks the least likely candidates to “get it” and leaves the “know-it-alls” in the dark – “The foolish things of the world did God choose, that the wise He may put to shame; and the weak things of the world did God choose that He may put to shame the strong.” In the end, God will demonstrate how little the wisdom of orthodox Churchianity has contributed to His Plan of the Ages. It’s main purpose is to provide contrast, to provide us with useless answers to tough questions, to demonstrate the self-righteousness at work in the human race, to show what it means to be a slave to religion, so that we may more plainly see Him and the freedom of His perfect love.