(**This is an abbreviated version of last Sunday’s message)
Comedian George Carlin has a wonderful skit which takes religion to task. He says, “Religion has actually convinced people that there’s a man, living in the sky, who watches everything you do. He has a special list of 10 things he does not want you to do and if you do any of these 10 things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever till the end of time. But he loves you.”
The whole concept cracks us up, yet many, many Christians buy into this blatant contradiction in God’s character. The book of first John is clear, “God is love.” Oh, and that is a PERIOD at the end of that sentence. It does not say “God is love, but if you screw up or do any one of a number of other things God will be angry, punish you, condemn you, kill you or send you away weeping and gnashing your teeth.” Nope, it says, “God is love (PERIOD)”
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13, tells us exactly what that looks like (and he was not using this for a wedding, like we so often do today, this was describing God). “Love [God] is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (NRSV, 1 Cor. 13: 4-8)
English mystic, Julian of Norwich, wrote, “In my vision, I saw that God is never angry. God is goodness, truth, love and peace. God is power, wisdom, love and unity. It is against the very nature of God to be angry.” It is also against the very nature and definition of God to be jealous, vindictive, punitive, violent, or exclusive. Yet, ask a non-Christian what they think the Christian God is like and I bet they’ll use a bunch of those words. Why? Because Christians are living that example.
Dr. Milton Rokeach did a study (about 40 years ago, but I’m sad to say that I bet it would still hold true) which concluded that those who were more religious were more bigoted; those who place a high value on salvation were more insensitive to the feelings of other and more insensitive to social issues; and, those who held high religious beliefs or values had less social compassion. The article states that there is the clear suggestion that there is “a hypocrisy deeply embedded within many religiously oriented individuals and a hypocrisy deeply embedded within organized religion as a social institution.” In other words, folks aren’t walking the talk.
Personally, I believe that the hypocrisy stems from the hypocrisy of “God is love…but…” We can be jealous because God is jealous. We can be angry because God is angry. We can smite our enemies because God does. We can judge other people because God does. As humans it can be really hard to give up some of these things, so we continue to believe that there is a contradiction within God to explain or justify this. Basically, we’ve created God in our image because to strive to live a God-like life is just too hard.
Author Ann LaMott says something to the effect that if you find that God hates all the same people you do, you can be sure that you’ve created God in your image.” When we finally know in our hearts and souls that God is love, period, we will also know that God can reject no one. It is then that the contradictions will be gone, the hypocrisy will disappear and our lives and how we live them will be transformed.