My kids were in elementary school…
…when reality TV and the pause button showed up. We stumbled onto a clever way to teach them virtue. We watched Survivor. With my finger on the pause button, I’d wait for the game to elicit some negative behavior, and then I’d pause and ask my question. “Hey. Why don’t we act that way?” Of course, they’d roll their eyes, but I had the remote. We’d talk a minute and then back to the show. They’re grown now and pretty good human beings. Who knows? Maybe it worked.
But it also made me keenly aware of how often we Christians behave badly. Players spouting the holiest words were often the worst human beings. At first, I thought it was biased editing. However, as I started reading demographic studies, I began to understand, our religion is not making us better people.
That’s hard stuff, if you’re a minister.
At that same time, I was rethinking our Christian story of sin and salvation. We’ve told the story many ways through the centuries, but over time we’ve reduced the many down to the only one I knew.
Sin broke human beings. To fix us, a sacrifice was needed. God sent Jesus to be that sacrifice. His death satisfied the penalty for sin. We could be saved.
I’d been hearing that story since I was a boy. But I never allowed myself to hear the subtext. I’d never heard anybody say it out loud.
Our all-powerful, all-knowing God made us with the ability to sin, knowing in advance we would sin. And eyes wide open, he went ahead with the plan.
When the inevitable happened, he blamed us (not his own rigged game). Then, he saddled us with a debt that could only be paid with death and damnation.
But not heartless, God had a plan. He sent his son to die for us, and in an unforeseen twist, rise from the dead, and make way for salvation — at least for some of us.
God would forgive the sin of those who prayed the prayer. They could go to heaven. Those who didn’t — well, too bad. Eternal torture.
Now admittedly, that’s a horrible way to tell our story. Consequently, nobody ever does. We focus instead, on God’s love and sacrifice.
But. Subtext. It’s there.
What I Learned
We become like the god we worship. Even if we don’t articulate our story’s subtext, it gets in us. Our mean-spirited God rigged the game, put us in it, and then he punished us for being there. That’s just mean!
And, he’s a hypocrite. All “love and compassion” on the surface, behind the facade, it’s all damnation and torture.
Listen to what our critics say about us Christians….
Again, we become like the god we worship.
So now, we have two options.
We can become what or story tells us we are, what people say we are, mean-spirited hypocrites…
Or we can admit we got our story wrong, go back, and figure out where we lost our way.
The latter sounds better to me.