Nature Religions, Anti-Nature Religions, and the Redemptive Religion

According to C.S. Lewis there are three kinds of religions.

There are nature religions, anti-nature religions and Christianity.

The nature religions are essentially the religons that believe in enjoying the creation around you. It’s about having a good time, and doing what comes naturally. The old pagan religions were like that (you actually got drunk at Bacchan rituals in old pagan Rome). Much of modern atheism (“there’s probably no god, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”) would be like that.

The anti-nature religions are the old Greek stoics, or the eastern mystics like the Hindus and Buddhists. They believe in starving the flesh, and denying those natural impulses that the nature religions revel in. There was a school of Greek philosophers called the stoics- I can best describe them by saying that the word has now passed into the English dictionary as a byword for ignoring pain, soldiering on, and suppressing emotion. Much of the eastern mysticism you see glorified in Hollywood (hardly the place to go for self-denial!) fits into this school- ignore the body, the mind is key and so forth.

But Christianity is not like this.

Christianity is not a nature religion. It does not admit that whatever you feel is good. In fact, it goes to strenuous lengths to remind you that many of our natural desires are very bad, and must be defeated. Christianity believes that the created order is racked by the consequences of sin, and therefore cannot be a good standard of good and bad.

But Christianity is also not an anti-nature religion. The things that God made are valuable just because God made them, and although everything around us may be ruined by the side affects of sin, it is not beyond redemption. Rather, the whole point of the story of the universe is the redemption of it.

Jesus cried at Lazarus’s funeral. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He partied with the socialites. Jesus did not live an ascetic life, shunning nature. Nor did he come approving of nature.

He came to redeem it.

And He came to redeem it in a rather funny way. Rather than arriving as an all-conquering king, master of all (which He is), he came as a servant, to help and to heal. He had to die and to suffer to save and rise again. The whole thing is upside down and everything at once.

That’s quite a good description of Christianity on the whole, really. The whole thing is upside down and everything at once.

God doesn’t condemn the physical world to be destroyed by hellfire, nor does He sit and let it run riot. He comes and suffers in order to revolutionise it.

The created world (CS Lewis’ “nature”) is both loved and judged at the same time, and the solution is not what either love or judgement would suggest, but what you get when you have complete love and complete justice at the same time: redemption.

It’s exciting to think that as Christians, we’re part of that redemptive plan. And that’s a whole other blogpost entirely.
 

 

Advertisements

It’s Not About the Food, the Presents or Even the Family- Or Is It? A Christian Perspective.

Looking back at this Christmas, I have a confession to make.

This year, Christmas hasn’t been about baby Jesus coming in a manger. Not for me. Not this time. Well, not exactly.

For when I thought about how Christmas was coming up, the first thing that came to my mind wasn’t the religious implications of Christmas. It was this feeling that Christmas was going to be a special day; a day spent with good food, lovely presents, good company and basically the good life, shared with those I loved. That special feeling was what Christmas meant to me.

At first, that sounds kind of bad. Every year, we Christians thunder, “Jesus is the reason for the season!”  Christmas isn’t about Santa, or presents, or even family time, but about Jesus, we say.

So what does baby Jesus coming in a manger mean?

It means, like the angel said, Emmanuel. God with us. God coming down amongst all the sin and the suffering and vowing to change all that. This is the chance for a redeemed life.

It means the Prince of Peace, our Wonderful Counsellor, is here.

It means “Joy to the world, and peace and goodwill to men, on whom His favour rests.”

It means that with God with us, we can have a relationship with God that restores our broken world and gives us peace; peace with God, peace with our neighbours, peace with ourselves. Joy, peace, goodwill. All this through friendship with God made possible by God-with-us.

That’s the theology of Christmas we’re supposed to think about on Christmas day.

But if that’s the theology of Christmas, then I guess my family-time, Christmas-party, food-guzzling, present-shopping, present-giving Christmas was my moment of Christmas theology.

Bear with me here.

I can spend the whole day in my family’s house peacefully and quietly because God, the Prince of Peace, is with us.

I can go to church and sing the same old songs again with the same old people I meet every week, and have a real sense of community because Jesus, our shared King of Kings, is among us.

I can go to a Christmas party and just hang out with my friends, goofing around, having deep chats, shallow chats, good food and basically a good happy time, at peace with God and man, because Jesus is God with us.

I had joy, peace, goodwill this Christmas. I experienced a taste of what it means to have God with us.

So even if I haven’t thought about it theologically, maybe, just maybe, the theology of Christmas has revolutionised my life anyway. These good times, these joyous times, this shared goodwill I have with my friends and family, is the point of Christmas when it is the fruit of God with us.

I know not everyone has a Christmas like that (for some people, Christmas is just plain horrible), and it’s rude of me to presume it’s the normal experience, but isn’t that kind of the point? This is definitely not the normal human experience.

This peace and joy and goodwill is only possible because Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is with us. It’s the theology of Christmas after all.

And maybe for all our talk about how Christmas isn’t about presents, or good food, or good company, or even family, maybe it is. Maybe it is about how all these things are made richer and better because of what Christ has done for us.

And he will be named Emmanuel, which means, God with us.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!”

“For This He Did, Once For All”

“Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

We were singing this lovely song at church a couple of weeks ago and suddenly I stopped.

I realised we were singing in the present tense. Go over it again:

“Oh! Precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;”

“What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;”

Before I go on, can you spot the problem?

Jesus died. Jesus rose again. Jesus’ blood flowed from the cross, and Jesus conquered the grave.

All true right?

Every sentence I just wrote was in the past tense.

Death is already conquered and we are already redeemed by the blood of the lamb. Talking about Christ’s redemption in the present tense implies that once is not good enough, we have to be washed and rewashed and washed again to keep us clean. This limits the power of God.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,”

1 Peter 3:18

“For such a High Priest [Jesus] was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens, who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.”

Hebrews 7:26-7

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus died, died once, for all sins. When we accept this sacrifice, we are washed in His blood. And that’s it. We are clean for all time.

Isn’t this a revolutionary concept?
Instead of always feeling the judgement of God, we can realise that we are forgiven. We can actually move on.

We replace feelings of guilt with feelings of thanksgiving. We can dance in the courts of the LORD, not as some beggar who’s snuck his way in and probably doesn’t belong there, but as fully accepted children of God.

Constant reminders about what horrible people we are and how much God will kick our butt if we don’t repent of our latest sins can be replaced with praise to God for His everlasting mercies which never run out but are replenished every morning.

We can stop looking back at what we were, and look ahead at what God has made us, a new creation, and strive through the power of Christ living in us to become more and more like Him.

This is the power of the Gospel, that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.