At first blush, many will read the title and think to themselves; ďis there much of a differenceĒ and for those I would recommend you read further and consider the following:
Religion is defined as peopleís beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature and worship of a deity; an institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine. Sounds a little dry doesnít it. However, letís break it down and understand it a little better shall we?
First, beliefs and opinions are good things right? After all, beliefs are the acceptance by the mind that something is true or real, and often underpinned by an emotional sense of certainty. Opinions are the view somebody takes about an issue especially when itís based solely on personal judgment.
Uh-oh, now weíre getting a little crossed here. What I mean is that if you consider that a belief in God is going to be based on something the mind accepts as true, is it more important that what we think is true or what God thinks is true? The obvious answer can only be what God thinks no matter how emotionally certain we may feel otherwise. In other words, we can be emotionally tied into a belief that can be completely wrong. For example, when early scientists and the general public viewed the world as flat they fought vehemently against those who began to propose it wasnít. However, their emotional acceptance of something they thought was true was in the end proven wrong. Therefore, it is important to believe in things that are true but true from Godís perspective and not our own.
This word opinion causes us some trouble too. Opinions are based again on personal judgment and judgment is the ability to make sensible decisions or reliable guesses. Therefore, when it comes to a belief in God and what is true is it dependable to rely on guesses or our opinions. Sensible decisions can only be reached by what we can perceive through our senses. Are not our senses, however physically based and yet we are encouraged to reach decisions about spiritual matters through physical means? That makes about as much sense as a blind man judging an art contest. The blind person just doesnít possess the correct faculties necessary to perform the function. They must rather rely on an outside source to help inform him of what he is supposed to assess. In other words, he must have someone who can clearly see the art piece describe for him the color, shape, size and other features so that he can attempt to conceptualize it in his mind and then render a judgment or decision. This could be near impossible if the person has been blind from birth and has never seen the color blue for example. Should an art piece be described as blue, he still would have no idea about what the color blue is outside of trying to imagine what it might be. Now no matter how finely the color is described like a blue of a deep ocean in the Caribbean or a slate blue of a sunset sky in the Midwest. Both can sound interesting but there is still no reference point upon which to form a valid opinion. On the other hand, assume the person was not born blind but became blind after some time since being exposed to the color blue. Since the person has a reference point, their imagination may fill in some of the detail but still may not be a true match if they have never visited or seen pictures of the Caribbean or the Midwest. However if the artist knows that the blind judge has had some reference points they will be even more descriptive of their piece so as to convey as much about it as possible to him. So, obviously, when it comes to spiritual matters opinion weighs very little unless there has been a solid reference point established.
How can a solid reference point be established regarding spiritual things? I would suggest it could only come from someone who has been there or who created it and described it for us. In continuing our example from above, we the human race are the spiritually blind and God is the describer of His handiwork to us. We can document it and present it as best as we can for Him but wouldnít you like to know for sure that He described it for us. Well the good news is that He did. God put on an outfit of flesh and came to earth through a form we call Jesus and told us the things we needed to know. Those who listened closely to what He had to say wrote it down for us and overtime assembled a book of it all called the Bible.
However if all we do is read it and try to live according to how we interpret it, then we have developed a religion. Because recall from our opening paragraphs how religion is defined: as peopleís beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature and worship of a deity, an institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine. Of course by now we have address the idea of opinions and by eliminating our own and simply following what God has told us about His very own existence, nature and desired worship we can form our beliefs. Beliefs are acceptances the mind makes that something is true or real, a confidence that somebody or something is good. Certainly, God states He is good and if we accept this as true then we have a belief. When we now incorporate the various beliefs we have into an institutionalized or personal system of worship or practices we now have defined our religion.
Yet, do you think the Creator of the universe disclosed every little detail to us through the Bible? After a painter paints a picture, do they then throw away the brushes and toss out the paint or do they paint another picture of something else in a way to show us something more? Does the singer only sing one song ever or the politician ever only make one speech? Why do they do the things they do repeatedly? Because they have more to say and it cannot all be presented at once. They desire to reveal themselves in more than one way. Donít you think God might act in the same way or better yet donít you think we act more like the way God does because we are described as having been made in His image?
Please donít get me wrong, I believe the Bible is the end all and be all of what we need to live a Godly life here on this earth while we experience this human adventure. However, I donít believe that we are to build religion upon it. I believe that God had a higher purpose for giving it to us, just as the painter has a higher purpose for painting the picture. Itís not so we can stand around and comment on the oils used, the type of canvas, the color shades, the textures or any other aspect of what we find on the painting itís self. The bigger picture (no pun intended) is that the painter may communicate with us in their absence. Itís sort of the same way with God. The Bible is meant to be a conversation starter or enabler between Him and us. While itís true that God is not absent since He is present everywhere at all times (called omnipresent), itís just that His physical being (the body of Jesus) is not with us so the bible acts as the tool to initiate His conversation with us. But itís only when we read, study and pray (that is quite ourselves before Him and listen for the Spirit of God to speak to us) that we can develop a meaningful relationship with our redeemer.
Relationship is established by connection between two parties that relate or in other words that communicate with each other, especially about their feelings, emotions and experiences. This is why it is so important to ask the basic question when it comes to our spiritual beliefs Ė do we have religion or relationship? I would encourage you if you have only experienced religion that you would find a quite place and begin a dialog with God by telling Him how you feel and what you need but then most importantly be still and listen for His response. He may point you to His Word the Bible (since neither He nor anybody else likes to repeat themselves) but He may also point you in a new direction for your life. The hardest part is the being still and listening since as physical human beings, we like to move about and be active in numerous things but thatís the way the enemy distracts us (a topic for a different blog). God is waiting and willing to communicate with you so abandon the religion and pursue the relationship whenever possible!
Read more articles by Rick Stephenson or search for articles on the same topic or others.