As my wont is during this time of year, I picked up a fantasy, this time Karen Hancock‘s Light of Eidon, first in the four-book Legends of the Guardian-King series. One of the central issues the plot deals with is false religion and true and telling the two apart.
Even though I’ve read the series before, as I dived into the first book, I was once again swept into the dilemma of those characters sincerely wanting to worship God and not knowing how or even who he is.
The story underlines the fact that there are those who embrace religion or a particular religion or religious activity, but who nevertheless don’t know God. Just like in real life, there are those who claim they have the truth and all others are dangerous heretics. Then there are others who say, no, they have the truth and the first group is deluded and full of liars.
I can see if a person looked at religions as a smorgasbord of beliefs, the whole thing could be confusing. Are the Hindus with their pantheon of thousands of gods right? Or are the Buddhists with their focus on self and enlightenment? Or perhaps the Muslims or Mormons with their strict moral codes might be on the right track. Then there are the Jews with their traditions. And when we come to Christianity, are Catholics on the right track by adhering to the laws and practices passed down through the Church, particularly through the Pope, or are Protestant groups who loudly proclaim some Latin phrase about the Bible and nothing but the Bible?
Confusing! And that short overview doesn’t take into account the array of lesser known religions and pagan belief systems.
The thing is, looking at religion is the wrong way around. The real question isn’t which religion is right. The real question is, who is God and how can we know Him?
Some people don’t want to know God. They don’t like the idea of a “cosmic tyrant” or an omnipotent dictator. They’d just as soon tiptoe into the shadows and ignore Him—maybe treat Him the way they do the government: give Him the minimum (maybe a church service around Christmas or Easter) and run to Him or rail at Him when things go bad.
Other people have a strong sense that this world is not all there is, and they want to be sure to plan ahead just in case.
Still others know in their soul that . . . well, that they have a soul. They recognize that they are this complex combination of physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and volitional dimensions. They note that we have a moral compass, a sense of right and wrong that sets us apart from the animals. And they see things that don’t make sense unless someone greater is in charge. Quite often people such as this set out to discover who this someone is or to prove that such a someone does NOT exist.
In all this, how can someone “find God”?
Truth be told, none of us can. That’s much like saying we’re going to find a black hole. We can make educated guesses about the existence of black holes and we can postulate where they are by what we see isn’t there, but “finding” a black hole is more or less to find nothing.
God, on the other hand, finds us.
He enters into our world with His presence, His prophets, His written word, His Son made flesh, and tells us what He’s like, what He plans, and how we can be a part.
Most of all—and this is how the One True God distinguishes Himself from the pretenders—God provides the means by which we can reach Him and know Him. All other religions and systems and beliefs require humans to pull up their socks and do their best and hope it’s good enough. Good enough to reach enlightenment, good enough to get a better life in the reincarnation, good enough for God to overlook the bad, good enough to make this life meaningful since that’s all there is.
The One True God does what none of the pretenders can do: He ensures our right standing with Him by doing what we can’t do for ourselves. He knows we’re not good enough. He knows we can’t find Him on our own or figure out what’s right. So He tells us (in the Bible) and He shows us (through His Son).
The ultimate and absolute proof of the One True God is His decision to pay what we owe Him. Pretenders ask for insatiable payment: no amount is enough—no amount of trying hard, of devotion, of meditation, of contemplation. The One True God flat out rejects our puny efforts, stating that we can’t possibly do from our imperfection what only perfection can accomplish.
Far from leaving us in that impossible state, however, He then steps in as our substitute and pays. For us.
There’s only One True God who sets us free from guilt and shame and the burden of an impossible-to-keep law—not by ditching the law or His requirements for perfection, but by accepting His own payment on our behalf.
The religious term is grace: the One True God is the Only One who extends grace to those He made and who He loves. By His grace He reveals His character. None of the pretenders has an ounce of grace to offer.