This is something the Holy Spirit has been slowly pointing out to me as I could understand it. I read a phrase, over two years ago now, that has stuck in my head. The gist was, “You may be gone (from religion/the institution), but you’re still playing the game.” In a way I knew this was true for me, but I had no idea how not to play. Our society seems trapped in the idea that we need man’s approval in the way we follow Jesus.
It seems we all play even after we’ve been on a new journey for some time with Jesus. Freedom is most often a long and slow process of letting go of the past ways that bound us from seeing clearly, from being fully alive in Christ. For me, I’m still learning (or unlearning) a lot on this current journey. It seems we’re often discouraged to seek such a relationship directly and instead, taught to rely on an earth-bound, human liaison to commune with God for us—and even be our Shepard in lieu of Jesus.
This leads me to a current discussion (one of many) I’ve been in with Jesus. The residual guilt has diminished over time, but was still something that bothered me often. The majority of this guilt was applied externally. Constantly, I’d been told, especially from the pulpit, that to leave the congregation would be grounds for eternal damnation. Often, this wasn’t communicated directly, but ever so subtle with phrases like, “If you aren’t under the consistent teaching of ‘the gospel’ (as we define it), then you will fall out of favor with God.” Though I’m seeing more and more how that gospel isn’t the Gospel Jesus taught, it’s a discussion that is hard to communicate to many stuck in dogma because they don’t want to hear or see. Fear rules here—the fear of questioning what has been mandated to be believed under threat of eternal torment.
Still, there was some guilt that Father has been slowly draining away over time. I wasn’t consciously trying to hold onto this guilt, but now I realize my very thought patterns had to be changed, much to religion’s dismay and undoing much of their work, in order for that guilt to be fully released. In this way, my mind has been renewed over time.
There are many steps that this process has taken. The current one was guilt over not doing more. It seems the religious regime was always pushing for more and more investment into the institution—whether it was time, money, obligation, or blind following. This step in the process slowly came to light over the past few days after I heard a phrase and researched it a little more. I know all of this is kinda vague right now, but hopefully it makes some sense at the end.
I’d heard a statement that the common life expectancy of a 1st Century Jewish person was ~40 years. After researching this a great deal online, this seems to be the general consensus based on the historical records of the time. This, of coarse, could cause arguments as there were always exceptions to the rule with a handful living until their 70’s or 80’s, but the average life expectancy seemed to be 40 (and that’s at the distant end of the spectrum). Likewise, it seemed a generation, by the Bible’s own definition, was ~40 years, the general expectation that the majority of a new populace would be in place within that time.
But why is that important?
Jesus started his public ministry when he was 30, in a society where people weren’t expected to live until the age of 40. Jesus lived a full life before he ever entered public ministry, and then his ministry was a total of three years.
Now, there are a few factors to consider based on the canon we have today.
First, at the end of Luke 2, we catch a glimpse of Jesus at age 12 in the temple courts. It appears he already had the knowledge necessary to pursue his ministry, but he doesn’t, that we know of, until age 30.
Next, we see another glimpse of what Jesus was doing during his years prior to his public ministry. At the beginning of Mark 6, he travels to his hometown. The people there seem to know him as but a carpenter and are amazed at what he could do. It’s interesting to note that, based on their reactions, he hadn’t displayed the knowledge or ability he had, in his hometown, until this point. As he says himself at the Cana wedding, “My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4b).
Here we see Jesus purposely holding back from what he could do likely because of the Father’s plan.
Okay, so where am I going with this?
We’re taught to devote our life to religion, yet, we see the Savior himself only spending three years of ministry at what was close to the end of his life expectancy. Perhaps he lived a full life as a human, though having the power of God, to truly know what a full life as a human was. He had already demonstrated his knowledge on the temple grounds and that he had the ability at the Cana wedding though it wasn’t his time.
Crunching a few numbers, this would be the equivalent of entering “ministry” (however that might be defined) myself at the age of 60 after 3/4th of my life expectancy had passed.
Now, my point isn’t that we should be complacent and just live our lives. My point is that we often assume that a life of religion is what Father wants when this wasn’t what Jesus’ life demonstrated.
We can live our daily lives while at the same time experiencing life in Jesus. While we could be called to do something great, we often pursue changing the world through religion instead of just living for God, trusting that his plan will unfold in our lives at his timing.
I’ve been made to feel guilty still even though I am no longer part of the institution because I wasn’t doing enough for God. It seems this is just another guilt tactic though. “Okay, so you aren’t attending a church service regularly anymore—what are you doing for God then?” These types of questions only seek to bind us back to a religion instead of freedom of relationship with God. These questions still keep us playing the religion game. Though we may be gone from attending, we’re still trying to live up to others’ standards and expectations.
Slowly, I’m learning to live for God, with God. I’m learning from Jesus little by little. He’s teaching me to let go of the guilt and shame and just trust Father’s plan even in the mundane—especially in the everyday, mundane—minutia of life.
This life isn’t about religious crusades to force Christianity on others—it’s about bringing the love of Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit within us—to one heart at a time as we live out our life in him. It’s that life of love that Jesus died to give us. It’s that love that overcame the confines of Sheol forever. It’s that love that sustains us daily where religion drains us. It’s for, and by, that love that we live a full, or (as the Bible states it) everlasting/eternal life.
A Personal Note
Lately, I’ve been in a state of sadness, not for me personally, but for those I use to be bitter against. Truthfully, knowing I was bitter towards certain people helped some, but actually having that bitterness removed was impossible by my own means. I had to just let Jesus work in me to slowly wither it all away. Now it seems all that bitterness has been, unexpectedly, replaced with sadness. I feel like my heart is broken every time the though crosses my mind of people being misled and misleading others by the ways they present God. This has been a large part of the burden on my heart lately. However, this does place me in a better position to love those same people instead of the bitterness I use to have towards them.
Good and Evil
Sometimes it feels like we’re looking at things from the wrong angles. The Holy Spirit has to continually nudge me on this personally. We continue to define good and evil by our human viewpoint instead of trusting Father. It seems we categorize every action as good or bad, black or white, without ever stopping to consider the hurting, confused, and/or angry people caught up in these situations.
We’re still eating from the Tree of Knowledge.
We even categorize God’s actions, who is pure light, into our human conceptions of good and evil. We use all kinds of references to justify our stances. “God’s love and wrath are two sides of the same coin.” We scramble together words that only confuse to attempt to defend God as good. In turn, we don’t trust that all of God’s actions are good, because they come from the source of all goodness. If we try to justify why God did “bad” things, we defer to a humanistic view of good and evil.
We continue to eat of the Tree of Knowledge.
God is good and all that he created is good. Therefore, any action he takes, or seems to allow, is for our good. I know this can be a hard pill to swallow because we still want to define “good and bad.” Somehow, if we can categorize the two, we can justify our stances. We can then, based on these good/bad things we witness, determine who is good and going to heaven, and who is bad and going to hell.
We continue to eat of the Tree of Knowledge.
How do we know what to do? Maybe we just follow the Holy Spirit.
How do we know who is good or bad? Maybe we just follow the Holy Spirit.
How do we know who to trust? Maybe we just follow the Holy Spirit.
Maybe, just maybe, we stop eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and we start eating from The Tree of Life—we start partaking in the life and love of Jesus.