“You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors.” Galatians 1:13-14
“The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.” Augustine of Hippo
I’m fascinated at the moment by the dynamics of various groups I belong to on Facebook. A lot of them seem to have one particular bugbear that, if you go near it, sets off a great uprising of offence. A lot of pleasant, amiable people can swiftly turn nasty if you mention a certain idea, or in one case, even one word. I’ve seen people pounced on for the slightest misunderstanding. And these are not religious groups, but ones focussing on art, wildlife and even clouds. Our zeal, it seems, can be put to use anywhere, and is especially dangerous within a group.
Paul understood this better than most, having been one of the golden boys of a group that was so sure of itself it was quite happy to put people to death. How strange it must have seemed to look back at the days when he wanted with all his might to destroy Christ’s church, when he would have seen its demise as an absolute necessity. I wonder if his encounter with the risen Christ that changed everything, was also a change of sight, and whether that is one of the reasons he had to be blinded for three days. A huge metanoia, a turning round, a repentance, a change of heart, sight and mind had to take place.
We need to be very wary of certainty, especially where it is feverishly protected. The truth does not need quite so much armour, for it needs no defence as Augustine rightly said. Yesterday I posted a prayer on unity and not rushing to guard our certainties as much as we reach out in understanding to one another. Immediately afterwards I faced a situation where someone posted something that offended my faith. I was tempted to delete it, but then realised that was hardly practising what I had just “preached” (prayed anyway!). Here was an opportunity to stand back from religious zeal, and be kind. So I quoted scripture and left it at that, and received a kind comment back. In the end I think that probably served Jesus’ ends more than letting my offence, albeit on his behalf, be dogmatic.
The Lord desires that having done all I can, I stand. The creator of all things does not need me to stick up for him, as though he had to hide behind me in the playground cowering from the bullies. Surprisingly, God can take care of himself. My zeal is better used in passionate articulation of the wonders of my God and King, in traversing the deep fissures of prayer, in ardent praise and the avid contemplation of his heart in all creation.
Paul defended his first religion by killing. He defended his second by dying. Perhaps there in a nutshell is the difference between fundamentalism and faith, between religion and relationship.
Photo from Morguefile