Take a look at the folks coming out of church when the service is over. There may be lots of smiles. There may be frowns. There may be blank faces.
Not all of those people on their knees were feeling the wonder of God from their posture of worship, surrender and subservience.
Many embrace religion because they want God’s mercy. Their compulsion is to feel the comfort of God’s love and to pass it on. Their gossip is benign. They keep the promise they make in the Lord’s Prayer to forgive others precisely the way they want God to forgive them.
You’ll find these people disputing the death penalty as an intrusion into the realm of the giver of life. You’ll find them favoring good schools and good health. They embrace police and military as incorruptible instruments of peace. They see Congress and the courts, city halls and the White House as agencies to make the common good honest and efficient.
So much for the merciful, called blessed in a famous sermon.
Some find religion to be a confirmation of their personal value as guardians of truth and behavior. They see little need to beseech God for mercy in their own exemplary lives, but the world clearly needs wardens, instructors, judges, guards, enforcers of ordinances word by word. The log in one’s own eye expands the gaze, better to see the speck of failure in others.
These folks are at ease with their religion, protecting its purity and their own with shunning and decrees of excommunication. They remember selected words of scripture, such as “the poor you will always have with you.” So, perhaps, it is unbiblical to try to do anything about that.
There are those who see the deadly storm called Sandy, imposing death and mayhem from the Caribbean to the coast of New England, as a punishment from the Almighty. Other pray that humankind will try harder to understand nature and how to shield it from human assaults above and below Earth’s surface.
The religion of Jesus is tough to live. It depends upon the Christian Church to provide worship communities, to preserve and authenticate its scriptures and to tell its story. Yet the Jesus of scripture teaches prayers and practices for all circumstances, with particular caution about the behavior of organized groups. After all, his death was legal.
After all this time, some who worship in churches are reminded of their spiritual frailty, seeking mercy for themselves and everyone else.
Some others are reminded of their spiritual security, enjoying reassurance for themselves and punishment for those unlike themselves.
Some of us lack the purity of definition, and share the flaws of both personalities.