Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On Fear and Superstition....


So. To follow up on yesterday’s post….


Fear. I have thought about this a good deal as it has – to sometimes greater, sometimes lesser degrees – annoyed and/or plagued my life. I think the most significant consequence of the choice of Adam and Eve to disobey – to sin – was the entrance into the world – or rather, the entrance of it into their world – of Fear. Fear of what? Primarily, I think, of being judged. And considering the situation, it was not an invalid fear.

However, here is what I see. During the narrative in Genesis 3, the judgment in the form of a curse, was first and foremost, passed on the snake. Then the ground was cursed on account of Adam’s disobedience. But nowhere in that narrative does God come down on them in wrath. He tells them what the results of their actions will be. But this is not ‘punishment,’ it is ‘cause and effect’…there is something about a Law of Sin and Death?

But I don’t see God’s wrath in evidence in Genesis 3 except perhaps toward the snake…..

And yet, as a result of disobedience, this fear is a daily companion with us. For me, I have often articulated it as ‘the fear of being bad.’ And that is that little girl inside talking. Her vocabulary. And as a child, it was one of the major fears I had – which made the events of my childhood all the more cause for dissonance and despair. But really, I think, at least for me, it boils down to a fear of sinning.

Or, to put it another way, our fears became superstitious. What is superstition, after all, but the fear that if we do not do things right – adhere to certain rites and rituals – bad things will happen. And you know, in my experience, Christians look down on non-Christians for being ‘superstitious’ and Protestants look down on Catholic ‘superstitions.’ But really, we Protestants have our own superstitions.

How so? Well, I am just going to dive in to the deep end and use an example that is sure to raise some hackles. But…at least within the church circles I have been involved with as a child and adult, the whole ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ has become, in my view, used and viewed in a largely superstitious way. Before you start yelling at me, please hear me out. Consider: how many churches, either overtly or subtly, suggest that if a person has not said the Sinner’s Prayer out loud in front of witnesses with a certain list of items that must be included, well---they probably aren’t really saved. I know of people (I used to be one of them) who had a deep fear that if friends and family members did not/had not said this prayer specifically, they might not make it. And conversely, there is the belief that if you have said it in front of witnesses, then you are gold – all is good. Nothing else really matters…..well, except that you follow our rules (obey our rites)…..fear that not performing a specific ritual will lead to bad things and performing it will lead to good things….Superstition.

Now that said, I am not saying that everyone that has ever said the Sinner’s Prayer now has their salvation suspect. I am just saying that if this external following of a rite – performing a ritual – is how we measure whether someone is ‘one of us,’ we have devolved the whole mess into superstitious fear.

See, when we turn the Gospels of Christ and/or the words written in letters by the various apostles into rituals that must be followed, the entire point gets lost. It becomes an exercise in external behavior control – ticking off items on the list to see who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’ And in the process, Jesus gets shoved to the side in favor of the ritual.

And I get it. It is far easier – far less scary – to obey the items on a checklist and feel justified by that (and use that to decide who is one of us) than it is to walk in a continually developing relationship with the One whose eyes see to the very core of us. Becoming a true friend – that is, acquainted with – God…to really walk as his child… is daunting. It is far easier to spend our energies figuring out the things about him and around him and making lists of these things and rules – rites – for keeping them sacred, than it is to continually develop a friendship, relationship knowing him. But that is the whole point. Without that growing relationship (and all relationships grow or die, there is no lasting stasis), what was the point, again….?

So, back to the whole sin thing….

Hmm…Jesus said that the main sin was not believing in him and that judgment was for the devil. (See John 16:5-11)

Hmm…what Jesus did for us in dying and being raised, dealt once and for all with the sin issue. (See Romans 8:3-4, Hebrews 10:11-18, 1 John2:1-2)

Maybe sin is not the issue. Not that we don’t still sin – of course we do. But maybe that is not the point. It is a given that we sin – all of us – but the point is that the eternal problem of sin and how it positions us in eternity has been dealt with once, for all. We are no longer a slave to this sin or the fear of it – sin which was highlighted in stark relief by the Law. We have been set free from that slavery – that fear of sin and sinning. And not being afraid of sin does not (as some Christian leaders seem to fear) mean lawlessness. We are now free from that Law of Sin and Death and bound internally by the heart and the Spirit of Christ. But we no longer need to FEAR sin, sinning or being judged.

So…I choose to let go (Papa, help me?) of the superstitious fears of ‘doing it wrong’ and being thrown out as unfit – I choose to pursue, wobbly, uncertain, deepening, beautiful relationship with the One who made me and knows me and loves me beyond my ability to even take in.

5 comments:

Muff Potter said...

I no longer sign onto the Western view of sin as expounded in the Catholic and Protestant traditions. I have adopted the Jewish view that sin is an action (or inaction) and not a state of being. I reject the Augustinian notion that my very birth was a 'crime' and that the Almighty transferred Adam's 'sin' onto me in some kind of Cosmic court ruling that makes me culpable for it to boot.
A view which I'm sure would get me ejected at other Christian blogs.

Jeannette Altes said...

Muff, first so sorry it took so long to publish your comment. My mail sent it to the spam folder and I just found it.

I am beginning to entertain the idea of what you are talking about. I was raised with the notion that sin is genetic.....and of course, that lead to the idea hat if must be passed through the paternal side else Jesus could not have been born sinless.....and just gets twistier from there....
But sin is 'missing he mark'.....an that can take any form from open rebellion to simple weakness in choice making. And the conception of inherited sin flies in the face of verses that state the sins of fathers will not be held against the children. So....where I am at in the moment is that the 'sin nature' is nothing more than an inability to eetthe 'mark' of perfection. And that inability was bridged by Jesus. My thought on this arnstill very much a work in progress.....and will by no means gt you "ejected" from his blog

Jeannette Altes said...

Sorry for typos...my internet is down and I'm using my phone... :(

Alex Horton said...

The other thing of it is Jesus helps us meet the mark. We don't need to have the superstitions you're talking about due to this fact. If we do have these superstitions, we have made Christianity into just another world religion, hoping we'll please some far off deity well enough.

Jeannette Altes said...

Very good point, Alex. We are incapable of meeting the mark without Him. But with Him, He does it in us. There is no need to appease Him. Sadly, I think for many within the walls of churches, Christianity has become no more than another world religion. Sigh.