Why Is It So Hard to Explain the Christian Faith? (And Do I Understand It?)

This entry is more of a confessional than a reflection.  I do not completely understand God, even now after years of reflecting and praying.  There is no way that I am alone with this dilemma, but I see it as a good problem.  The only harm it has caused me is a feeling of embarrassment–it feels silly to profess a belief in something that I cannot fully understand–but in my mind this is not a defeat.

The lack of understanding simply encourages me to keep thinking and praying about God.

My dilemma came to the forefront of my mind recently when I tried to think of a way to explain my Christian belief system to a non-Christian.  What is up with this Jesus?  Was he a holy man or was he actually a God?  The answer is both, but that is a nonsensical answer.  The biggest religions in this world profess to not worship a human, but to an outsider it sure looks like we Christians worship a human being.

Since this is a confessional, I will come out and say that my mind has yet to fully understand the nature of Jesus and the Christian God.  I do not understand the religion’s concept of a many but one God, but I choose to stick with this belief system anyway.

Christianity makes a little more sense when I consider the diverse needs that people have.  People connect with God in a variety of ways, and when I consider a typical church community, I can see how a church can serve those different needs.  For the more thoughtful group, a church service will contain philosophical mysteries.  For those who better relate to action instead of reflection, a typical church will offer many volunteer opportunities.  Some people better connect with God through physical activity, so the ministries that involve physical work (building houses or constructing irrigation systems, for example) can offer them a spiritual experience.

This idea of diversity and inclusiveness is the closest I can come to explaining why I have not given up on my belief in God, and it is my best explanation of the impossible-to-understand Christian God.  God is made of several different forms because different people have different needs: this does not have to result in a religion of chaos.  God embraces all of us, and we in turn should embrace each other: this is the truth behind the Christian faith.

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Putting Off the Old Self: Easter Season

Ephesians 4:17-5:2
For years I have detected a negative tone in this letter by Paul, but today I realize that my impression was based on how others have used verses from this text to serve various agendas. This Lenten season, I came to an epiphany: Paul is not trying to shame his audience. Instead, he is pointing out facts about how people change when they choose to live a Christian life instead of a “normal” life.

Many Christians view the Easter season as a time of renewal. For communities in the northern hemisphere, Easter typically marks the end of winter, and churches that follow the liturgical calendar baptize new Christians during this time of the year. Paul’s letter captures this spirit of renewal–Jesus calls us to “put off your old self” and “put on the new self.”

What is the “old self?” Humans are naturally geared toward themselves: it is a person’s impulse to think only about his own wants or needs. Paul reminds the Ephesians that Jesus has shown them the importance of instead focusing on the needs of others.

Just to be clear, I am not referring to self-needs that are necessary for survival. Neither Paul nor Jesus argue that people should starve themselves or deliberately destroy their own health. The point is not to deny yourself all comforts and means of survival; the point is to stop making yourself the only reason for living.

This is the difficult lesson that has escaped so many Christians. Critics of the faith can point to many hypocritical acts of Christians who choose to act for themselves instead of their communities.

Yes, eating can be a selfish experience, and it is okay to enjoy eating, but food is not for you alone. Food should be shared, and a Christian should also make sure there is no one in the community who goes hungry. How many of us buy our food and pay no attention to people who are not able able to enjoy such a luxury?

God wants us to be healthy and happy so that we are fit enough to help others. This is supposed to be the true goal behind Christian living. The point is not to own everything; the point is not to obtain everything that we want or achieve a kind of non-stop ecstasy. Instead, Paul urges the Ephesians to “build others up.”

Now that Lent has reached its end, I feel renewed, although I still do not know what new challenges await. There are many people in the world today who need all kinds of help. Wherever my path leads, I pray that God will give me the strength to do what is best for my community, not just what is best for me.

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Ephesians 4:17-5:2

17 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practise every kind of impurity. 20That is not the way you learned Christ! 21For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,24and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,* as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.* 51Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us* and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.