‘Religion is for Comfort’ Falls Far Short of the Truth

By Tom Gilson Published on May 14, 2018

“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.

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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.

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  • Ken Abbott

    Moses had to be hidden in a cleft to protect him from the revelation of the full glory of God, and even exposure only to the “back” of God left him with a persistent facial glow that none of the other Israelites could bear to see.

    Isaiah standing before the throne of God Most High pronounced himself “disintegrated” and despaired of his continued existence.

    When Jesus stilled the storm, the disciples who had been scared of the forces of nature were even more terrified by the presence and power of the partly-revealed glory of the Son of God. And when Peter saw the transfigured Christ, he was reduced to speaking nonsense.

    Our God, the author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, is a consuming fire, and it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

    All highly comforting, no? Well, if coming close to God is so dangerous and uncomfortable for human beings, why do it?

  • JP

    What does the atheist do for comfort in tough times? Drink, deny, what?

  • James

    Is a god required for people to understand the shallowness of self-centeredness or the nobility of aiding a stranger?

  • ThatsWhatRosieSays

    It takes tremendous faith to be an atheist.

  • Jair 3

    How do atheists get to know who are their parents? By faith, I don’t know a single atheist who had requested a DNA analysis from their parents,…why? Because they mature into relationship with them, that’s how you get to know God also.

    • Boris

      Our parents are not invisible and we don’t have to imagine we are having a relationship with them.

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