|A Different Direction|
Tonight I depart from my usual fare of politics to answer the call of the Hugh Hewitt Essay Contest. Keep in mind that I am no theologian, and writing on things religious is well out of my normal fare. But some of these topics have been percolating for a while, so it's good to get them on paper.
I hope I don't offend, and I welcome--encourage--thoughts and comments.
It’s All In The Next Six Words
“Your sins are forgiven . . .”
This most-powerful statement is at the very core of Christianity. The idea that one’s transgressions can be erased through the Grace of God is the foundation for Christian living—without this one belief, no person could have any hope for Salvation. And without that Hope, what would be the purpose of living the Christian life?
But, even more powerfully, the idea that one man—God incarnate—holds the power to forgive our sins is the core of our Faith. Only such a man, wholly God, wholly human, could be able to sit in judgment of our shortcomings, and still love us, and still forgive us, and still welcome us into His Kingdom. And, even beyond that, for one man such as Jesus Christ to become one of us, to take on the weaknesses inherent in this form, only to suffer a horrible death for the purpose of opening the Gates of Salvation to all people gives us the example of loving sacrifice that we should all strive towards.
In short, to believe that one statement—“Your sins are forgiven . . .”-is to acknowledge God’s power over us, is to recognize that Jesus Christ IS God on Earth, is to submit ourselves to His Mercy, and is to hold onto the Hope of Eternal Salvation.
On these central ideas, I don’t think religious persons of any denomination disagree. Whether Episcopal, Catholic, Congregationalist, or even Jewish or Muslim, the acknowledgement of God’s Power, His Mercy, and our Hope are common elements. And even though some disagree about the role of Jesus in this event, the general form of the issue is framed in very similar terms.
But, where I believe we get to the definition of the so-called Religious Right is in what follows that first statement.
Whether it is in John 8 (“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”) or John 5 (“See, you are well again. Stop sinning . . . ), or Luke 7 (“Your sins are forgiven . . . go in peace.”), the basic message is the same. I have an easy time remembering it the way my father taught me: “Your sins are forgiven; go now, and sin no more.”
“Go now, and sin no more.” Like I said, it’s all in the next six words.
There are many implications of this one statement. First, and easiest, is the idea that forgiveness is not a blank check—that genuine repentance and a sincere effort to change behavior is expected.
But Jesus also says to “go”, which, if one reads later, also carries with it some responsibility. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and “Go into all the world and preach the good news” (Mark 16:15). When Jesus speaks to those who believe in Him, he makes it abundantly clear that part of their responsibility is contained in The Great Commission, and it is equally clear that those whom he healed should be included in the numbers of Believers.
So the complete message is more like “I have the Power to do so, and will show My Mercy by forgiving your sins; I expect you to return to the world and live a life that brings others to My Kingdom.”
It is not “conditional love,” or even “conditional forgiveness;” it is more an issue of instructing his followers on how to be worthy of Him.
And it is on this count that the so-called Religious Right parts ways with the Religious Left or the a-religious secularists.
In those last six words is a call to stop sinning—the Left and the secularists have a difficult time accepting the idea of absolute “sin,” therefore it is anathema to describe any behavior as necessary to stop. In those last six words is the implied exhortation to be worthy of the Kingdom—the Left and secularists have a difficult time accepting any Kingdom not of this Earth or not of their own construction. And in those last six words is the call to Evangelize through behavior—the Left cannot accept Evangelization because Evangelization operates on the premise that one truth is superior to others.
And, by the way, while my knowledge of other religious traditions is limited, I know from seeing how people act that there are elements of this thought process in the other traditions, as well.
Therefore, I believe one workable definition of the “Religious Right” is as follows:
:one who believes absolutely in the existence of a higher power and
:one who believes absolutely that that higher power has an interest in our
lives, and will be merciful
:one who believes that there is an absolute scale of right and wrong
:one who believes that these other beliefs MUST guide and inform our choices
in this life
A member of the Religious Right, therefore, likely attends worship frequently to be informed of God, prays for forgiveness, strength and other things in the belief that God will grant us these if it fits His design, tries to act in their lives in accordance with God’s will, and takes an active role in trying to spread the Kingdom of God.
Many on the Left will argue that working in a soup kitchen does more to spread the Kingdom than, say, protesting at an abortion clinic. Bet even in the short term, while ministering to the poor is noble and excellent, the seeming unwillingness of those Lefties in the soup kitchen to spread the message of God (wouldn’t want the ACLU knocking on our door) puts them in a different classification from the Religious Right. And the complete unwillingness to name “sin” while at the soup kitchen belittles the wondrous opportunity for Salvation present in that ministry.
The first four words give us all Hope; but it’s in those next six words that the differences are drawn.