“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” Albert Einstein
I came across this quote and my initial knee jerk reaction was “No. That’s not right. Christianity is more than that.” After mulling it over for several days, I see this quote a little differently. “Yes. Yes we are a sorry lot indeed.” Look at our world. Not just now but throughout human history, and tell me if I’m missing something: genocide, slavery, rape, sexual abuse, starvation, poverty, greed, violence, hate, and even the myriad of shameful crimes and abuses of power committed in the name of religion. This world is beautiful and at times breathtaking and inspiring. But it is also savage, cruel and hard. And much of that is our own doing. Yes, we truly are a very sorry lot. We need a Savior. Are we so far above the tools that we use to raise kids ourselves? So it is really that absurd, that if there is an all-knowing, all-powerful being, He would use those same methods when teaching us?
The name Savior in reference to Jesus, isn’t just a term meaning to “save” us from hell, which indeed He does. It’s the saving us from ourselves. It is the saving us from the bottomless pit of self fulfillment, self-indulgence and even self-righteousness. It is saving us from the never-ending free-fall of serving Self as the ultimate master. Like the serpent who eats his own tale, my natural inclination is to feed on myself through emotional and spiritual cannibalism. Forever hungry, never filled, we turn again and consume, destroying ourselves in the process.
Anyone who has been around small children understands the need for both repercussions or punishment, as well as positive reinforcement or rewards, simply to keep them safe: to teach them the dangers of touching a hot stove, or running into traffic, or trying to play with butcher knives. Caring for small children is like working 24 hour suicide watch. It is not the wish of any parent or caregiver to stunt the child and rob them of joy. It is your desire to keep them from trying to kill themselves. But your greatest desire at the end of the day, is that they love you. Are we so different from children in regard to our desires?
“I don’t care if it hurts others.”
Or even, “As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, I don’t care if it hurts me.” We are not so different in our relationship to God. And God is not much different in His desires for us. At the end of His day, He just wants us to love Him and to obey Him because He wants to keep us safe. God doesn’t want robots. He wants children.
Mark 10:15 (NIV)
Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
The Scriptures often describe God as our Father. I’ll admit I’ve had a pretty skewed view of God as my Father. I have viewed Him as the angry, overbearing, impossible to please, distant, and passive aggressive father. The one who won’t give me what I want when I want it. But I’ve viewed Jesus as the cool Son, who’s almost like a laid-back brother who says, “Sheesh Dad, ease up. I’ve forgiven her so you have to too.” I recently had a pretty dramatic shift in my thinking particularly due to these verses:
Matthew 7:7-11 (the Message)
“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?”
Romans 8:32 (NIV)
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
I guess I actually agree with this quote. Yes, we are a sorry lot. A very sorry lot. But thank God that He is patient, kind, and willing to treat this sorry lot like His own children.
2 Peter 3:9 (the Message)
Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.