In my weekly Life Gatherings, we have been discussing the similarities between the Matrix movie trilogy and the religious system in the USA. It has been enlightening to say the least. One of the big ideas that has come out of the discussions so far is that everyone desires to be accepted and approved of. The fear of rejection is extremely powerful and creates a desire to please others.
In the religious system, there is a Yuuuuge misconception that God expects us to please Him. There are so many different flavors of this one misconception. There's the idea that sin separates us from God. Then there's the cosmic good cop, bad cop routine between Jesus and God. Another flavor is the idea that God is disappointed or angry with us when we make mistakes. A popular one is God blesses your obedience. No matter what background you come from, there is a version of this misconception for you.
The reason this particular misconception has such a powerful grip on so many people is because we all desire acceptance. We were designed to be community driven. Have you ever noticed how much unused space there is on the planet? Or how congested places like New York City can be? That comes from something in us, in our DNA, that says we need to be around other people. This need for community extends into the need for acceptance.
When we think about what acceptance is most important to us, we find ourselves desperately needing to be accepted by God. Of course, as I have mentioned so many times before, fear plays a major role in this. No one wants God to send him or her to hell; but, I believe the need to please God goes far deeper.
We ultimately want to be good. Our image of God is the one who is the blueprint of goodness. Whatever He is, we strive to become. God doesn't make mistakes, so in order to please Him, in order to be accepted by Him we can't make mistakes either. How silly of us to think that way. What an impossible standard we have created for ourselves. No wonder religion makes us crazy.
Let me be clear. The desire to make God happy is good. Being a wonderful human being certainly makes God smile and it is something we should all be on the journey to revealing. The problem starts to creep in when we think God is more observant of our shortcomings than of our strengths, and of our breakdowns than of our breakthroughs.
If we understand that God is the ultimate creator than we should also understand that God is not impressed with or distressed by our every move. God is not so small that his ego must be stroked at every turn. He is not so insecure that He cannot handle being questioned by His creation.
I am a huge animal lover. I would have a house full of all different kinds if I could. As an adult, I've owned four wonderful dogs and all started with me as puppies. They have been amazingly loving and full of energy. Three of my dogs are still around, the eldest went home to be with The Lord.
My second dog, a beautiful white Shih Tzu, made a horrible mistake in her third year with me. She got pregnant! How disgraceful. An unmarried, teenage pregnancy in the home of a preacher. I was not prepared for more puppies and did not have any experience with a pregnant dog. I admit, I was caught off guard. But you know something? I never for a moment stopped loving her. While it would have been easier for me if she hadn't gotten pregnant, I never held it against her.
When her puppies came out, she needed my help to care for them. I lost sleep, money, and lots of time because of her mistake, but I didn't care. She was my dog and so her puppies were my puppies. They went potty on my carpet, tore up perfectly good shoes, and even used my fingers for teething, but I didn't care. I loved the puppies, and I loved their mother. Believe me, they made a ton of mistakes. I mean, lots and lots of mistakes, but I didn't care.
God treats us much like I treated my precious girl. He helps us with our mistakes instead of holding them against us. Religion tries to convince you that God is an angry judge just waiting for you to miss the mark. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God isn't Santa Claus, making a list and checking it twice, seeing whether you've been naughty or nice. God is more like the doting grandfather that finds amusement in all of our wrongdoings.
Jesus didn't come to save mankind from God. He didn't plead with the Father saying, "Please, let me save them." God forever became one of us. He is pleased with us. We aren't valuable because of what we do, we are valuable be of who we are. Mistakes do not reduce our worth and they don't distance us from our loving Father.
We have such a warped view of perfection. Somehow we believed the lie that perfection meant everything was always sunshine and roses. That there would never be a difficult day, and that we would make every shot we take. Religion promises a future like that, however, I think religion got this one wrong.
What we consider mistakes, God considers a part of life. Because He is the one who came up with the idea, I am fairly certain that He is also okay with the mistakes along the way. Religion wants you to pay for your mistakes, but God wants you to be paid by your mistakes. They are our teachers, and our lessons. Give yourself permission to "fail."
The reality is clear: mistakes do not stand between humanity and God. They never have and never will. God's perfection is most clearly on display when He embraces the sinner, absorbing the shame, not counting the mistakes, and being pleased simply by our existence.
Those puppies didn't spend one moment trying to please me - not one second from the night they were born to the day they were adopted. There was never a single attempt to please me, yet, every moment I had with them I treasured. I was pleased simply because they were present. Let that imagery resonate within you. God is pleased just because you exist.
One more thought while we are talking about mistakes. Religion implies that we must obey God or else. What it means by obey God is keep all the rules. Jesus is the ultimate example of a rule breaker. The moment rules and religion get in the way of a person's needs being met, Jesus threw it out.
The gospels capture a time when the religious leaders of Jesus day questioned Him about why His disciples plucked grain to eat on the Sabbath. This practice was against the law and yet He didn't make a fuss about it. Instead, Jesus gave the so-called religious leaders a Bible lesson. He reminded them the very Scriptures they hold so dear record King David eating food reserved only for the priests, a huge violation of the religious law.
Jesus gives other examples, and concludes with a thought that I think would make great material for Christian bumper stickers. He says, "God desires mercy, not sacrifice." Going hungry on the Sabbath would be a sacrifice, but it's not what God desires. God wants human needs met much more than he wants the "rules" to be kept. In the mind of the religious, it's more lawful to punish than to extend mercy. In God's mind, mercy is far better than religious sacrifice.