Religion is a mixed bag, isn’t it?
I know religion feels mixed for me. There are some aspects of religion and Christianity that I absolutely love. I love the focus on loving God and loving others. I love the concept of grace. I love the focus on healing and living life to the full. And I think most of the guidelines are consistent with my beliefs about what it means to live a healthy, full life.
But there are other things about religion that I struggle with. I struggle with the tendency for religious folks to judge others and think they are better than other people. I struggle with the connections between religion and violence. I struggle with how religion gets mixed up with other dominant ‘systems’ in the United States, such as patriarchy and materialism.
I used to get really angry about my frustrations with religion. At one point, I almost decided to give up on the whole thing. I was thinking about it the other day, and I realized I don’t get quite as angry anymore. It isn’t because the frustrations have gone away. They are still there, and I even have some new ones. But I have become more at peace with religion and Christianity.
There is a quote by Augustine that I love. He writes, referring to God, “You have created us for Yourself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in You.” I had always heard this quote spoken in relation to the idea that there is a part of us that is created for a spiritual connection with God, and this part of us cannot be fulfilled by anything else.
I still like that interpretation of the quote, but I was thinking the other day about my tendency to feel angry and anxious about God and religion, and I wondered if it could have another meaning.
Namely, I believe we were created to relate to God in a way that is restful. I don’t think God’s ideal is for us to be angry and anxious all the time about God. I think there is something good about being at peace in the way we relate to God.
Here are three convictions I have developed over the past several years that have helped me discover rest in God.
- Organized religion doesn’t always get it right. Whatever brand of organized religion you ascribe to, it is an interpretation of God rather than God itself. Sometimes religion gets it wrong. We know this because religion has approved of certain practices in the past that we know are wrong today (e.g., slavery). I am certain organized religion is wrong about some things today. It helps me to know organized religion doesn’t always equal God.
- It’s okay to disagree. Since religion sometimes gets it wrong, I think it’s okay (even good) to wrestle and disagree with the dominant religious perspectives of the day. I used to think I had to agree with everything a church stood for to be involved and committed to a religious community. But I think that perspective contributed to my anger and anxiety because I felt trapped ascribing to things I didn’t agree with. Being okay with disagreement gives people freedom to be involved in a religious community while also staying true to their personal convictions.
- I don’t always get it right, and there are limitations in my ability to effect change. Just as religion doesn’t get it right all the time, I came to realize I don’t always get it right. There are things I have gotten wrong in the past, and I am certain I currently hold some beliefs and convictions that are wrong. I also realized I have a limited ability to effect change in others. I want to do my part, but I’m not responsible for changing the whole world. This stance of humility has allowed me to rest and be at peace in my engagement with God and religion.
Discussion: Do you struggle with feelings of anxiety or anger toward God or religion? What is one step you could take toward a more restful experience of God?