Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter - or Why I Am A Christian

These are definitely interesting times we live in. Misguided Christians, steeped in ignorance, advocate the teaching of belief as science. Misguided scientists, jaded to belief, try to tear down the faith that has been one of the hallmarks of Western Civilization. I can’t really figure out what religion has to do with the physical world, or what science has to do with the spiritual world. Sometimes, it has the feeling of one group chanting “There are no trees in the forest!” while another group replies “There are no forests around all these trees!” Millions of people believe the blatant fiction of “The Da Vinci Code” as fact, while disbelieving the Theory of Evolution. Millions of people claiming to follow a religion of peace advocate the slaughter of their enemies. And I’ll let you guess which religion I’m talking about – there’s more than one right answer.

Some would say these are the end times, that all the prophecies that Jesus (and John) gave us are coming true. It’s possible, but I doubt it. My take on prophecy is that we’re not meant to understand it until after the fact. I’ve read the Old Testament many times, and it truly seems to prophesy a military leader coming to free Israel. Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies, but in completely unexpected directions. Only in retrospect could we understand. God is mysterious. Prophecy seems to have two objectives; one is always to direct (usually chastise) God’s followers in an immediate manner… The other is for the future, so that when the prophecy is fulfilled, we’ll know it was part of God’s plan.

I don’t claim to have a deep understanding of all religions. I’ve looked at some others, like Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism (more a philosophy), but only to see if their general principles appealed to me. There were nice touches in each, but Christianity drew me back. There were two reasons for this: Jesus’ death, and Jesus’ Resurrection.

There is a dilemma involved with most religions, a paradox that most try to resolve; either we are flawed, or we are perfect. It’s hard to argue that we are perfect, but if we are flawed, then we do not deserve the reward of a perfect afterlife. Most religions give a set of commands that you follow to deserve this reward. My problem with this was that no matter how many commands you follow, you still cannot achieve perfection. Some believe that you are given many chances in many lives, each time learning a lesson, each time coming closer to spiritually ascending to the next level. My problem with this was that simple mathematics and population statistics make this hard to work with (if you don’t understand, email me, and I’ll give details).

Christianity teaches that God is perfect, and that He (I don’t believe God is male, but there is no gender-neutral pronoun that fits – I’m not going to call God an “It”!) created us with free will. By free will, we choose our paths, and when we make mistakes, we become flawed. (Yes, I know some branches of Christianity teach that we are made already flawed, but they usually use tradition and doctrine to support this, as there is not any direct evidence of this teaching that I’m aware of in actual Scripture.)

This makes sense to me, and seems to follow a logical and true path. I am a firm believer in action resulting in consequences. Sin is when we willfully reject God, who is Love, and instead harm others for selfish reasons. Sometimes the harm is immediate, sometimes it is hidden, but when we cause harm, there is always sin. The consequence of this is separation from God, separation from He who is Love, Peace, Hope, Truth, and all that is good.

Once you’ve made a mistake, you are no longer perfect. No matter how many rules you follow, no matter how many wonderful things you do, you are no longer perfect!

God knows I am not perfect. I have hurt people. I have put my needs and wants above others. I have done this in the distant past. I have done this in recent weeks. I try not to, I work very hard at it, I agonize over it. And I fail.

This is where Jesus comes in, and separates Christianity from all other religions. He, being perfect, agreed to take on the spiritual consequence of our sins. All the hurt, the pain, the loss, the sorrow… the sin. And it killed Him.

This alone would make Christianity noble. It’s a good part of the story. But it is not the best part. The best part is that He rose, and conquered Death. And that victory was not for Himself, for God is not selfish as we are. That victory applies to everyone who accepts it.

As a Christian, I do not have to be perfect. I will never be perfect. God knows this. I don’t deserve an eternal reward – it’s being given to me. I don’t deserve forgiveness – it’s being given to me. Free of charge.

So why do I still strive for perfection? For one, out of gratitude towards He who saved me. For another, because I have learned the closer to God’s path I walk, the greater my time here on earth is. The more Christian a life I lead, the more fulfilled and joyous a life I lead. And as I realize the magnitude of His caring for me, the greater I care for those around me.

Easter is a rather amusing symbol in some ways. It undeniably has been altered from a Pagan fertility rite, and not even altered all that much! (look up the Easter Bunny and the colored eggs sometime, if you don’t believe me). But when you get away from all the pastel colors, and the chocolate, it’s still a reminder of the most important event that has ever happened in human history.

There is no time that I’m more likely to be moved to tears than when I contemplate the suffering of Christ, most often during Communion, or on Good Friday. And there is no time when I feel the joy and triumph of being a Christian than on Easter Sunday. In the words of Wesley:

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

King of glory, soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!

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