Thursday, April 10, 2003

Why Being Religious Never Worked For Me

I tried being religious, and it just didn’t work for me.
There had to be more than just doing the church thing once a week or so then living “real life” the rest of the time. It seemed like it shouldn’t be so disconnected. If it was real, it should be real all the time.
I checked out a lot of books from the university library so I could check out a lot of philosophers and their philosophies of living, and I found some good stuff that I tried out for a while, but they never seemed to change anything on the inside for me, and I always believed that the most real part of me was on the inside.
I read a lot of books, but I didn’t have a lot of changed life.
So like my good friends Ted “Theodore” Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esquire, called it, being a philosophizer didn’t work for me, either.
I believed in God, but never really felt connected.
I figured that there was some sort of “cosmic scale,” and all of the good stuff I did would be stacked up one side, and all of the bad stuff I did would be stacked up in the other side. When I died, whatever way the scale tilted would decide which way I went – up or down, Heaven or Hell.
Some days I felt more confident about it than others, but I never knew for sure how things would turn out.
One day I got a phone call from an old high school friend that was going to be in town. He asked me if we could get together, and I said sure. He was a good guy so I was up for a night out, maybe a pizza and a few pitchers, and some old “back-in-the-day” stories. Who wouldn’t be?
Then he showed up.
I could see him through the curtains, and he was carrying a Bible.
I was up for some R & R – rock and roll, or at least rest and relaxation – not religion.
I couldn’t stiff him (although I considered it) and pretend I wasn’t home; he was a friend, and had come from the middle of the country to visit me. So I let him in.
We hung out for a while, went over some old stories, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe he had become religious, but he didn’t seem to be a jerk about it. I was curious.
He asked me a question: if I died that night, did I think I would go to Heaven?
I had given that question a lot of thought, on and off, my whole life. Who hasn’t?
I told him I hoped so, and about the cosmic scales, but I really couldn’t say for sure that I thought I’d get in.
He asked me if I really wanted to know for sure because of what it says in the Bible.
I told him absolutely. I had never really read the Bible, or even parts of it, but somehow I always believed it was special and true, maybe from all of the movies I saw where people swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth because they had their hand on it. Somehow I believed the truth was in there, but I never really knew how to get at it.
He showed me the part where it says that everyone has sinned, and didn’t measure up to the glory of God.
I knew I didn’t make the glory of God part, but I wasn’t so sure about sin. Sin was what Hitler did, or murderers; not me or anyone I knew.
It turned out that sin has a lot of names:
Doing the wrong thing.
Knowing that there was a right thing to do, and not doing it.
The failure to be perfect in every action, every word spoken, and every attitude of the heart – with no exception for your whole life, birth to death.
I was busted.
Maybe I hadn’t been as bad as some people, but there was no way that I could say I was perfect – or anyone else, either.
He showed me the part where it says all of our righteous actions, our good deeds, are like filthy rags.
Picture the foulest, nastiest public restroom.
Picture cleaning it all spotlessly, and using only one towel that you aren’t allowed to rinse out to do it.
That nasty towel is how all of my good works, combined over a lifetime, would have made an impression on God.
Now my cosmic scale was busted right along with me.
I wasn’t very happy with what I was hearing, but I knew it was true.
He showed me the part where it says that the wages of sin – the payoff for a life lived on my terms, not God’s terms – was death.
Death at the end of life was bad enough. I knew it happened to everyone sooner or later.
Death after life froze me.
No more do-overs, no more second chances; no plan B. Living separated forever, from God and everyone else, in unrelenting horror when time no longer exists.
I was busted, and couldn’t see any way out. It was a terrible feeling.
Then he showed me the rest of that Bible verse – if I had ever seen hope connected to hopelessness, there it was. He showed me the part – the amazing part – where it says the gift from God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, His Son.
I understood what a gift was, the same way I understood what wages were.
Wages you earn. A gift is free.
Somebody had to pay for all of the failures and wrongs, big or small, of my life: me, or Jesus.
He showed me the part where Jesus died for the sins of the whole world – the whole world! – And rose again from the dead.
The whole world – not just religious people, or people better than me or worse than me – everyone. Everyone who was alive then, had ever lived up to that point, and would ever live as long as the this planet exists.
I wanted it, and I wanted it right then. I wanted to know how I could know for sure and I didn’t want to wait five minutes or five seconds more before it became real for me. My friend had more things to show me in the Bible, but I had seen everything I needed to see – and had been looking for as long as I could remember.
I prayed. Nothing fancy, not like Shakespeare, but like one real person talking to another. I wanted that gift of eternal life, and I knew, even though it was there for me, it wouldn’t really be mine until I took it.
I stopped talking with my friend, and began talking with God. As best as I can remember, my prayer went like this:
“God, forgive me. I’ve lived by my own rules, not Yours. I admit I’ve failed to live up to Your perfect standard. I believe that Jesus, Your Son, took all of my punishment for me. I receive Your free gift of eternal life right now, and I’m asking You to show me how to live right, and live real. I commit all that I am to You. Thank You, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
From that day until now, I have been God’s project – learning, changing, messing up and starting fresh – learning to be real.
All I had to be was real, and God is still working with me to help me become more real on the inside so I can live more freely on the outside – with fewer contradictions, and with more joy and peace.
I continue to meet a lot of people, who have different stories than mine, but their hearts and minds have brought many of them to the same destination, and many of them are still on the way.
Life is a better deal than I could have imagined:
Being real and growing in this life, and the promise of Heaven forever after this life.
Anybody have any use for some busted scales?


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