Yes, Finding God in religion can be hard. Incredibly hard even, depending on where we look. To begin with, which religion do we look at? And then, what denomination or sect? After that, there are choices of diocese, conference, or whatever it happens to be called. And we’re still not done, because then we need to choose a church, synagogue, mosque, Etc. Finally, within each of those, there are different pastors, rabbis, imams, Etc. Each person within each of those areas brings their own view of the “god” they present.
Just imagine each of the doors being an entry to one religion. Let’s say Christianity. Open that door, and there’s another set of doors where each door is a denomination. Then you see a third set of doors, where each of them is a conference. That’s followed by yet another set of doors, where each is an individual church.
You think the door opening is over. But probably not. Unless the church is very small, there’s probably more than one Pastor. And believe it or not, they probably each have their own view of God. And why not? Don’t we all, to some extent, frame our view of God based on our own lives, what we need from God and what we want from God?
No wonder it’s finding God in religion is so hard!
As implied above, the topic here will be Christianity.
Of course, that means lots of “Old Testament” references, which are actually Jewish Scripture. Plus, since Jesus was Jewish and His target audience was also largely Jewish, we must take that into consideration. failure to do that is to miss a lot of what Jesus actually said and how it was actually heard by those he spoke to. I think we just set up even more doors to open, including the Jewish viewpoint(s) and the culture of Jesus’ time. And more, as we’ll see.
And then there’s Islam. Muslims claim Abraham as the father of their religion, just like Jews and Christians. However, there’s a bit of a problem with that claim. Jews and Christians look to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for the covenant God made with them. Then Christians and Jews split over whether or not Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.
The thing about Islam is this. The Muslim claim is by way of Ishmael, not Isaac. Hebrew / Jewish scripture gives the historical genealogy as follows: Ishmael was born to Abram and Hagar (Sarai’s handmaiden). God then changed Abram’s name Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. Isaac was then born to Abraham and Sarah. Islam ignores the name change and considers Abram to have always been Abraham.
How can Abram / Abraham make finding God in religion hard?
Why does it matter whether the man’s name is Abram or Abraham? Because God’s covenant was to the firstborn of Abraham. That’s Isaac. By ignoring the name Abram entirely, Islam can claim Ishmael was the firstborn son of Abraham. The problem, of course, is that it’s not what happened.
All of this is spelled out in more detail in my article What religion was Abraham?
In any case, while we won’t spend a whole lot of time on Islam, it should not be ignored. After all, Islam is a major religion, so if I ignore it entirely I run the risk of not giving complete information about the One I believe to be the true God.
Was finding God in religion always this hard?
Well, yes. And no. Let’s take a look at why this is so.
Finding God in the Old Testament.
Believe it or not, finding God in “religion” was hard even in Old Testament times. The only things around were various pagan “religions” and the Israelites (later to be known as Jews). But it was still hard! Not that God was hard to find. Rather, it was that people didn’t want God. Even after all God did for them, like freeing them from Pharaoh, the following event still took place.
Israel Asks for a King
1Sa 8:1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
1Sa 8:4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
1Sa 8:6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”
1Sa 8:10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day. ”
1Sa 8:19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
1Sa 8:21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Everyone go back to his town.”
Just look at that. Samuel told the people about all the things that would happen if God granted their wish for a human king. And they still wanted one! Think about it. In The Fall, Adam and Eve fell for Satan’s lies about eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But they didn’t consult with God before eating from it. Here, Samuel does consult with God – God does respond – and the people want it anyway – even knowing what’s going to happen! Eyes wide open, they were still blind. But then, are we any different?
God’s not that hard to find, if we want to find Him. But if we don’t, we can convince ourselves of pretty much anything we want to believe. And that makes finding God very difficult indeed.
Finding God when Jesus walked the earth
Surely, it was easier to find God when God literally, in the person of Jesus, walked among the people. Wasn’t it?
Sadly, but not surprisingly, no it wasn’t easy to Find God – even with Immanuel (God with us) walking the earth.
The Plot Against Jesus
26:2-5 pp — Mk 14:1, 2; Lk 22:1, 2
Mt 26:1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
Mt 26:3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. 5 “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”
Plans and plots to kill Jesus are spread throughout the Old Testament. King Herod even tried to kill Jesus while He was still a baby.
For our topic today, the reasons behind these plots to kill Jesus show just how hard it was, even while Jesus was here on this earth, to find God in religion. Here’s just one example.
Jesus Clears the Temple
11:12-14 pp — Mt 21:18-22
11:15-18 pp — Mt 21:12-16; Lk 19:45-47; Jn 2:13-16
Mk 11:12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Mk 11:15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written:
“ ‘My house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations’ ?
But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’’”
Mk 11:18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
Mk 11:19 When evening came, they went out of the city.
As bad as that sounds – Jesus telling the Jewish leaders they turned God’s house into a den of robbers – Jesus said many more things that were far worse. Always, Jesus warned the people the Jewish leaders were in fact leading them away from God, not towards Him.
Given even those couple passages and the info portrayed in them, just imagine trying to find God in religion when God Himself warns the people about the Jewish leaders!
I wonder, although I don’t things changed, what Jesus would have to say about some (many?) of our Christian leaders today?
Finding God in religion today
Actually, something that’s a problem today was already a problem even back in the early church. Check out the passage below.
Divisions in the Church
1Co 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas’”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
1Co 1:13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
See what I mean? The Apostles, 11 of the original 12 disciples, along with Paul were still alive. The time is not that long after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension back to Heaven. And already those in the early church were following different teachings by different people! They didn’t have the formal structures that we have today – denominations, conferences, Etc. And already, individuals were being followed, as opposed to the teachings of Jesus. Different viewpoints were already taking hold.
Back then, the choice of religions was between Judaism, The Way (now known as Christianity) and various pagan religions. However, today, there are more than 4,300 religions in the world! Here’s part of what they wrote:
There are some 4,300 religions of the world. This is according to Adherents, an independent, non-religiously affiliated organisation that monitors the number and size of the world’s religions.
Side-stepping the issue of what constitutes a religion, Adherents divides religions into churches, denominations, congregations, religious bodies, faith groups, tribes, cultures, and movements. All are of varying size and influence.
Nearly 75 percent of the world’s population practices one of the five most influential religions of the world: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
Christianity and Islam are the two religions most widely spread across the world. These two religions together cover the religious affiliation of more than half of the world’s population. If all non-religious people formed a single religion, it would be the world’s third largest.
One of the most widely-held myths among those in English-speaking countries is that Islamic believers are Arabs. In fact, most Islamic people do not live in the Arabic nations of the Middle East.
The term “religion” is used rather loosely in their count, as seen below. The top “religions” are reported as:
- Christianity (2.1 billion)
- Islam (1.3 billion)
- Nonreligious (Secular/Agnostic/Atheist) (1.1 billion)
- Hinduism (900 million)
- Chinese traditional religion (394 million)
- Buddhism 376 million
- Primal-indigenous (300 million)
- African traditional and Diasporic (100 million)
- Sikhism (23 million)
- Juche (19 million)
- Spiritism (15 million)
- Judaism (14 million)
Regardless of the accuracy of how various “religions” are grouped, the number is staggering.
Conclusion – Finding God in religion
Once again, It’s finding God in religion is really hard! If people had a hard time thousands of years ago, just imagine how hard it is today! To get an idea, go back to the image at the top. That picture has 6 doors as starting points. Six religions – Christianity, Judaism and some number of pagan religions in Jesus’ time. Now we have 12 “religions” with millions of people in each. And over 4,000 “religions” total. The number of doors in the model I proposed in the beginning is nothing short of mind-blowing! What chance to we have of ever finding God?
While it seems the chances of finding God in religion are next to zero, there’s good news. We don’t have to open all those doors. Check out the passage below. It’s one of seven letters Jesus gives to the churches in the book of Revelation. I’ve underlined the part I’m referring to. In general, I think this letter applies to a whole lot of people today, especially to people who don’t know Jesus. Don’t worry about the meaning of the first portion of the letter, because it’s references to things only someone who knows the Bible would understand.
To the Church in Laodicea
Rev 3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Rev 3:19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Rev 3:21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
There’s the image of Jesus, standing at the “door”, figuratively speaking, trying to get our attention. If we answer His “knock”, we will be able to know Him. How do we answer Jesus knocking at our door? We pray. Really. Pray to Jesus, with a belief that He will answer. Not a hope. Certainly not as a dare. But with belief that He will indeed answer. And no, you probably won’t succeed at first. Just keep trying. I, for one, am living proof that after years of trying to run away from Him, He did answer me when I was ready to return. Not right away. I even prayed for Him to “knock me up side my head with a two by four” (I was into woodworking at the time) because I wasn’t getting what He was trying to tell me.
And I got it.
And so can you!
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