The Crutch of Christianity
This was less of a provocation and more of a question. It was a question of his identity. “If you are him, prove it.” But typically, when we read that weird story of Jesus going into the desert and being asked to provide a proof of identity, we read it more as a story of resisting sin. The lessons we can take from this story when read as an example of sin resistance are good and beneficial. But, I do not believe this is first and foremost what is happening here.1
Christianity is often maligned as a crutch, as simply a way for people to create a mental and emotional context that enables them to deal with life as we know it. Unfortunately, I think this criticism is accurate. It is an accurate judgment of the faith we have most broadly made known.
Essentially, we have pared down a globally transformative movement to a personal relationship – a personal relationship founded on morals and therapy. It is what we are known for; the parsing of every action and choice in order to label that which is sin and that which is not. Our moral conclusions have become our mission statements. Amid the struggles and pain of life in this sinful world, we turn to God for therapy so we can cope. Our language is deluded with corny clichés and our music has become little more than love notes from God written by us to ourselves. But, Christianity is not a crutch. We have just made it one.
Morals, therapy, personal relationship… these all have a place in a larger context. Apart from this context, they are inadequate fragments. The story of the testing of Jesus is not just about resisting sin. To take heart in the part of the story where the angels attended him in his weakened, but victorious state and to declare “Glory, hallelujah!” as we are filled with hope that God will do the same for us is missing a larger framework. At times our faith is little more than therapeutic deism.
In refusing to prove himself to satan, Jesus declares his identity to us. He is authoring a new faith. It is a faith of renewal and restoration back to the original intentions of God – God’s intentions for all of creation. This new faith holds out the promise of being fully realized in the future as we realize it incrementally now. It is a faith that speaks to our economy locally and globally, our education, our business practices, our community priorities and every aspect of life as we know it. This faith includes us as individuals for the benefit of all and not just ourselves.
Morality and therapy fit within this framework. This faith is a decision that begins with you personally. Will you personally be a part of this movement of restoration? Being a part of it will demand a new, counterculture way of living. It will require a commitment to being pure of heart and peacemaking. It will be emotionally depleting. You will need a place to recover where you are reminded that you are loved.
Social justice does not happen without individual transformation. Apart from moral development, justice is short lived. Moral development separated from creative altruism2 is nothing more than fundamentalism. To argue from one side against the other is missing the comprehensive point. Something that I believe our current Christian narrative does far too often.
1 Matthew 4
2 “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Martin Luther King, Jr.