What’s the purpose of faith? Is it a set of rules, to make sense of a mysterious, sometimes disturbing universe? Is it a painkiller, to make the burdens of life easier to bear? Is the goal of faith to receive a reward later for the good things we do now? Is faith about avoiding punishment?
For millions of Americans, Christianity is a contract with God. In exchange for saying a particular prayer, performing certain rituals, and belonging to a conservative religious subculture, this type of religion promises a bright future in a distant heaven. This is the kind of faith that gives birth to the elaborate end-time fantasies of the Left Behind series. A whole new American mythology has risen up to minimize the importance of the present moment, our precious earth, and the cries of the poor.
If you look at what many American Christians are focusing on right now, you might come to the conclusion that Christianity is an escapist religion, a spiritualized fantasy of the future that enables unchecked materialism in the present. The Book of Revelation becomes a justification for crushing the poor and destroying the earth. In the face of such absurdly life-denying visions of the future, it’s tempting to write off Christianity altogether.
But what if there was another way of doing faith? What if the Christian story, even the Book of Revelation, could be understood in an entirely different light? What if the way of Jesus were more about healing the present rather than justifying the future? What if the Book of Revelation were a story of cosmic restoration rather than one of destruction and torment? What if God cared more about reconciliation than punishment?
We’re in a pivotal moment for faith in America. A whole generation has learned to be skeptical of Christian leaders and their wacky end-times teachings. Many Christians are so busy worrying about Jesus’ second coming that they’ve lost sight of the first coming! We’ve seen the kind of havoc that this bad theology has wreaked on our families, our society, and our earth. Millions of us are waiting for a faith that is worthy of our trust, commitment, and creative energies.
The good news is, this kind of faith exists. It’s been available to us all along. It’s not the flashy faith of end-times explosions and Christian subculture movies events. It’s the quiet, humble faith of the crucified Jesus who conquers the world – not through force of arms, but by sincerity in love.
What would it mean to re-embrace this kind of faith in Jesus – no longer as a distant judge sitting in heaven, but rather as a present teacher and friend? How can we share our experience of God as a loving healer, in contrast to the destructive theology that is so often considered normal?