Ryan Bell and Charlie Hebdo: God on Trial, LAST PART

February 10, 2015

Let’s finish off this series with some take home lessons for today. How can we respond to the tragedy of militant religiosity in France and the turning away of religious leaders in the U.S.?

  1. Allow Jesus’ words and actions to be the evidence in the face of the doubt and skepticism in this world.

What happened in France last month was terrible, horrible and unjustifiable. Even if you believe differently than someone else, it doesn’t justify your killing of that person. There are “moral” and “immoral” atheists. There are Muslims who live peacefully and those who do not, just as there are Christians who live peacefully and those who do not. There are religious people who fight and argue with others and insist that others believe like they do, and those who would say as the Bible says “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Romans 14:5.

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.” ― Billy Graham

  1. Examine your own heart and ask yourself whether your stance on God is in fact your own or if it’s coming from someone else.

I’m not going to sit here and say that there is no room for doubt. Some of the most prominent Christian thinkers wrestled with doubt. Relevant Magazine had an entire article dedicated to this topic recently. The list included some personalities you might find surprising:

a. C.S. Lewis
b. Mother Teresa
c. Martin Luther
d. Charles Spurgeon
e. John Calvin
f. Pope Francis
g. Anne Lamot

What I am challenging us to imagine is a world where, within our doubt, we can have a faith that responds practically to the needs the world faces.

This message was written as a response to those believers who have lost faith in God or are persuaded to throw the baby out with the bathwater because of the example of what “God’s followers” have done in the name of religion.

For some, the answer to whether or not God exists may be irrelevant, because if God is out there somewhere, you need him to show up today. Think about it: what good does it do to debate theological idea of a God “somewhere out there” if you life feel like it’s in ruins?

In this scenario, the problem you need to answer isn’t the existence vs. non-existence of God. The problem you need to address is primarily the relationship between the existence of human suffering in light of God. In other words, why doesn’t God step in and fix this if He indeed does exist and claims to be all-powerful?

  1. Just like Jesus allowed his actions to speak for him, we must also allow our actions to speak for God in the name of true religion.

Contrary to what some may think, atheism isn’t the worst thing to happen in this world, bad religion is.

Say hello to the Crusades. Talk about "in your face evangelism!"

Say hello to the Crusades. Talk about “in-your-face evangelism!”

Ryan Bell’s view of religion led him to conclude the following:

Popular Christian theology, on the other hand, renders this life less meaningful by anchoring all notions of value and purpose to a paradise somewhere in the future, in a place other than where we are right now. Ironically, my Christian upbringing taught me that ultimately this life doesn’t matter, which tends to make believers apathetic about suffering and think that things will only get worse before God suddenly solves everything on the last day. -CNN Article

If only he would have remembered what the Bible describes as true and pure religion:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27

Good religion has done a lot for the world. Including the following:

Catholicism established Higher Education: During the 9th Century, Western Europeans tried to systematize education; rulers and church leaders realized that education was the key to maintaining unity and peace. Charlemagne or Charles the great, tried to reestablish knowledge as a cornerstone of medieval society.

This ruthless emperor, often depicted as the Golden Hero of the Catholic Church, was a brutal man of war, but he was also a great believer in the power of learning. His Frankish Empire covered most of Western Europe, and he instigated a revival in art, culture, and learning, using the Catholic Church to transmit knowledge and education. He ordered the translation of many Latin texts and promoted astronomy, a field that he loved to study, despite his inability to read!

In England, a monk named Alcuin of York instigated a system of education in art and theology, and also in arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. This formed the bases of higher education today.

It is ironic because some people in this very system of higher education today say there is no room for belief, or if there is belief or faith, it should be kept in your dorm room.

Islam preserved and pioneered scientific and intellectual thought throughout the Dark Ages (or Medieval Times)While Europe and the rest of Medieval society slipped into barbarism and ignorance from about 500-1000 AD, science, health, and philosophical advancements were made by Muslims in what has become known as the Golden Age of Islam.

A Baptist minister was a key player in improving race relations in America: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. anyone?

As a side note, MLK learned his principles of non-violence from a Hindu man by the name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi), who actually learned much of his teaching on non-violence from a man named Jesus. And we come full circle.

These examples are but a few of the many examples of good religion that exists. We aren’t even mentioning the many hundreds of unsung heroes in this world who do things and don’t want or need the recognition. This is what the Bible describes as good religion.

The problem with religion, just like with every worldview, organization, or group is the fact that it is made up of fallible people who make mistakes and do stupid things.

My wife and I had had a dream recently on the same night where we had a baby. In the morning, she told me, “I had a dream where we had a baby boy.” In her dream, we gave him a bath in our home; in my dream, I just held him in my hand and marveled at how small he looked.

No, we don’t have any announcement to make. You can keep dreaming for now.

I’ve wondered, though, how will this baby look in real life? Or the larger question, will this baby like looking like me when she or he is older?

I wonder how many people feel that way about God?

Think about it: the Bible repeatedly tells us that God is our “Father”. Even Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, which art in heaven. . .”

That’s all fine and good, but it raises a serious question, doesn’t it?

Is the God I believe in the kind of father I would want to have or be like?I’m not talking about God’s physical appearance, of course. I’m talking about His character—the way He thinks, and feels, and behaves.

Is the picture of God you hold in your heart one that attracts or repels you? In your mind’s eye, in your belief system, is God beautiful? Do you want to be like Him? Or, rather, does the idea of God shut you down emotionally?

I believe this is the most important question we can ever ask about God, because the fact is, our world is filled with popular images of God that either drive people into religious slavery or into angry atheism, to serve God out of fear or to hate the very idea of God.

Again, contrary to popular religious opinion, atheism is not the worst thing in the world. Bad religion is. And bad Christianity is at the top of the list. It’s so bad that the Bible calls it “Babylon, the mother of whores.” Now that’s some strong language. The Bible then goes on to warn people about false religion and urge people to run from it. The reason why is quite obvious, isn’t it? When those who claim to know God best convey diabolical things about Him, terrible distortions of God’s character are inevitable.

The problem is so serious that historians have suggested that atheism is the bastard child of the church, born into our world as a violent intellectual and emotional reaction against the church’s ugly misrepresentations of God.

But let me suggest another possibility: Maybe the one and only true God is so beautiful that I would find myself falling in love with Him if I knew Him as He really is! “Babylon is fallen,” the Bible says. “Come out of her, my people.” In other words, flee from every false picture of God into the arms of the one and only true God, who just happens to be beautiful in the extreme.

Our baby won’t have a choice in the matter of how he or she looks. It will have to decide whether he or she likes looking like me or not. And we all have that same choice with God.

So I’m really glad that He’s the kind of Father I want to be like.

How about you?

Is God beautiful in your eyes?