The Random House Unabridged Dictionary, source of the online 'dictionary.com', has eight definitions for the word "religion". The first two fascinate me:
|1.||a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.|
|2.||a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.|
If we think of Christianity as a religion, these definitions will work -- mostly. But when I think of Christianity as a relationship between an all-knowing and all-loving and all-powerful God and his creation (which includes me) these don't work at all. The above definitions begin from a human perspective: what we decide we can believe and practice. The Bible starts from a different perspective: who God is and what he has done, and then who we are as a result.
Relationship is the basis for Christianity. The Christian doctrine of the nature of God describes a relational being, who created the universe in order to interact with it, and has loved us (that's a relationship) from before the world began (Matthew 25:34, Ephesians 1:1-4, etc). God's love for every human being is the defining principle for the whole universe -- everything else comes from that beginning point.
Religion, as it is often practiced, becomes a way for humans to create a relationship with God; we define how we should act in order for God to show us favor and interact with us. What's worse, it becomes a way for us to define who is 'in' and who is 'out.' But God says that he created a relationship with us before we could 'act right': "Even when we were God's enemies, he made peace with us, because his Son died for us." (Romans 5:10; in fact, all of Romans 5 talks about this principle.)
This makes me think about marriage, another relationship. The Amazing Joanne and I have worked out some basic rules, or practices, in how we're going to run the household and such. We're not slaves to the rules -- from time to time we have to change the rules to fit into new realities (like when she's gone for a couple of weeks). The rules only work because they all come from a decision to love each other, and we'll keep loving each other even when we have to face new circumstances and create new practices to adapt to them.
So, do you want religion -- a system that starts with us and tries to relate to an infinite God -- or a relationship that starts with God and provides an infinite love for us? (To Be Continued.)