‘Religion is for Comfort’ Falls Far Short of the Truth
“I recognize the strong allure Christianity has. The reward of heaven, the threat of hell, the reunion with loved ones, the fellowship of the Church, the assurance of relief from pain. These things all have a powerful pull to them, even if they are imaginary.”
That’s what an atheist commenter told me on my Thinking Christian blog a couple weeks ago. He seems to think believers choose religion for comfort. If only he knew.
This morning I opened up my daily Bible reading and landed at the story of the Good Samaritan. My first reaction? Terror.
Face to Face With True Goodness
Jesus attacked religious pride, as the priest and the Levite were religious leaders. He attacked racism, as he made the good guy in the story a Samaritan, and Jews despised Samaritans. He set up a standard for compassion that’s both challenged and changed the world.
Which is exactly what terrifies me in it: its pure goodness. It confronts me with my own desperate need to change, to turn away from my selfishness, to start seeing others’ needs when I don’t want to see them. Jesus tells me I must sacrifice my time and money to help meet them.
He tells me I must risk my own life — have you ever realized that the Samaritan might have gotten beaten by the same robbers who beat up the victim? He’s traveling on a dark, dangerous road by himself. He stops to save a complete stranger. And that stranger was a member of a people who oppressed and despised his people.
In the parable, Jesus tells me to live like Him, a man for others and not for myself. Remember where that lead Him: onto the Cross. I could stand that parable if it were the kind of story my commenter described. I’d enjoy it — it it weren’t so obviously right, so clearly good. I could stand it if I could detach myself from it, or if I could excuse from being a good Samaritan. I could handle it so much better if it didn’t cut so close to my heart.
But I can’t deny what I know. The thought of being accountable for living that kind of self-sacrifice is terrifying. Allure? Not on your life.
Face to Face with Our Loving God
Yes, I went straight from the Scripture to prayer. I poured out my heart to God in prayer for forgiveness. There was comfort in that: God is quick to forgive and to lavish His love on us.
But I had to pray that He would change me. Whether it scares me or not. I never would have needed the comfort of that prayer if I hadn’t first run into the terror of the truth. And His comfort isn’t, “There, there, Tom, it doesn’t matter.” The cure for self-centeredness isn’t being okay with it; it’s God’s work in our hearts, first to forgive and then to re-shape us.
So what’s the allure of Christianity after all? And why is this parable still so beloved? Because it’s right. It’s true. It’s good. Its Teacher not only taught it but lived it, all the way to the end. That’s why it’s changed the world.
May God change me.