11/11/2014 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Carolyn Hyppolite ~
When I was a believer, I received a lot of positive attention for my excessive piety. My life was filled with hours of prayer, Bible study, frequent liturgical attendance, volunteering at pro-life “clinics,” evangelizing, etc.
I even tried self-flagellation a few times. It was not a habit. I hate pain. Before you judge me too harshly. It has great precedence in the Western Tradition even in our times. John Paul II is said to have used it for penance.
“You are a great servant for God,” They said. “It’s great to see such a young woman who loves God.”
Now, that I have left. I confess I found all of this exhausting and unrewarding. You know that moment when you are sleepy and you place your head comfortably on a pillow and then you realize that you have not said your night prayers, and you get up and perform whatever ritual you do at that moment?
I don’t have those moments. Instead, I have found myself relishing the fact that I don’t have to get up at this very second because I forgot to tell God how wonderful he is and how sinful I have been.
Now, I am told it was me all along. I did not realize that his yoke was easy and his burden was light (Matthew 11:30). It would have been sufficient for me to offer a quick prayer of thanksgiving as I flicker my eyes open. That would have pleased God.
Now, they tell me. Because of all those stories about the zeal of the martyrs, the asceticism of the monastics, and the self-sacrifice of the missionaries, I mistakenly got the impression that being a Christian was supposed to be all consuming.
There was another thing that gave me this impression. In the Bible, I read about men and women (okay, mostly men) whose devotion to God could not be described as moderate. I read teachings telling me to do likewise. I naively believed that Christians believed that the way to salvation is narrow (Matthew 7:14).
Just how devoted and sacrificial does the God of the Bible call you to be?
If the Apostle Paul is to be a model, one ought to strive to “know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). There are lots of seemingly good things in the world but Paul considers, “everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He has lost everything and “For his sake [he has] suffered the loss of all things, and [he regards] them as rubbish, in order that [he] may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8)
What about Jesus? Does he think it’s enough to say a quick prayer of thanksgiving snugged under your blanket?
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26-27).
I have never come across a commentator who thinks that Jesus literally meant hate here. He certainly did not mean be filled with animosity but there is good reason to think that he meant, treat these familial ties lightly.
Many of the apostles were married men but they abandoned their wives, children and livelihood that their presence brought them to follow Jesus from town to town. Peter said, “Look, we have left everything and followed you (Matthew 19:27).
So much for family values.
It’s not enough to be prepared to abandon your family if God calls you should be willing to sacrifice the life of your own children if God demands it.
We are all familiar with the reprehensible test that God demands of Abraham. While future generations of believers have interpreted this as an exception, even a story designed to teach that unlike the gods of the nations, YHWH does not require human sacrifice, this cannot be found in the text. The fact is YHWH (who in this story is not omniscient and needs to test human beings to know their hearts) is quite pleased that Abraham would have murdered his son:
“By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies (Genesis 22:16-17).
Other great men of the Bible demonstrated their devotion to God by killing the prophets of other cults, like Elijah killing the prophets of Baal (1 King 18:40)
But the real person Jesus wants you to kill is you. I would be the first one to admit that this is not a literal killing but a suicide of your life.
“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:24-25).
Jesus wants you alive, serving him. He wants complete self-abnegation. A Christian ought to be able to say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:19-20).
I could never get to the point of saying that. There was point about six months before I left when I doubted the authenticity of my Christian faith. Do I love my neighbor as myself? Not even close. Do I love God above all things including my own life? Certainly not.
It was not that I had done things that was exhausting. It was striving to, failing really badly, and realizing that there was no grace to make up the difference.
Most Christians are blissful incognizant of the gap between their own devotion and what the Scripture says and thus, cannot relate to how exhausting it is to be confronted with the impossibility of being a Christian. But if they are right about God, they should be more fearful than me. Jesus said:
I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth (Revelation 3:15-16).
Lukewarmness, Christians, that’s what will get you in Hell.
Carolyn Hyppolite is the author of Still Small Voices: The Testimony of a Born Again Atheist. She lives in Toronto, ON.