Actually, this entry is inspired by something I saw on Facebook regarding a homily by the Pope last week, where he said that it’s better to be an atheist than a bad Christian. My initial reaction was that I understand the point he’s making, but it’s not stated in the best way. After reading the article and reposting it for comments through Twitter and Facebook, it seems my initial assessment is correct: he’s right, but he’s also wrong. Let me explain.
We’ve all known fake Christians. The people who are in church every Sunday, wear cross jewelry and have the platitudes on the tip of their tongue, while they lie, cheat, steal, and engage in dirty politics to get their way. Here, we can certainly see the Pope’s point: these people abuse grace, and are in bondage to worldly systems. Their faith is a mask to make people believe something is in their hearts that isn’t. Essentially, they are atheists who aren’t admitting it, perhaps to conform to the norms of a society that’s still predominantly Christian. But here’s the thing: everybody sees the truth in their actions. As one person said on Twitter, we aren’t stupid and can tell that nobody’s perfect, but we can also see who’s fake and who’s real. This statement seems to imply that we’re all sinning on purpose, and we’re all abusing grace and therefore don’t deserve it. So is anybody smart enough to be a proper Christian?
The answer is no, because my friend is right: we do all fall short. I’m Lutheran, and a cornerstone of our belief is salvation by grace alone. And honestly, I think extreme examples like the one above are just that: extreme, and rare. Anybody that far gone is obvious. But here’s the problem: the devil works on everybody in varying degrees. Is there a point at which we’re hopeless, and better off an atheists than a bad Christian?
Let me give you a real life example. I knew a devout Catholic who’s favorite saying was “don’t rock the boat.” I was constantly at odds with this person because they pegged me a troublemaker because of my bold, feisty nature. In fact, I aggravated this person so much that they made that song the ring tone on their cell phone. Of course, I thought it was not only silly, but that they were a weak, foolish hypocrite. How can you claim such tremendous faith if you don’t stand up for anything, and let people doing things you know is wrong go because you don’t want to deal with it? Better off an atheist, right? Well, consider this: the person I’m talking about also had many personal problems to deal with at home. Personal problems significant enough that the plans they had for their future were completely derailed, and they found themselves having to come up with a different life plan because they found themselves in a season of life they didn’t expect to be in. This person was overwhelmed with their personal life, and as a result they rolled over, played dead, and hoped things would pass them by to avoid any more problems.
What say you? The Pope’s message seems to imply that this person would have been better off shedding their faith and being worldly. And yet, The Bible says that the Lord never gives up on us, and offers us grace because of it. Is it right to say a person should cast off that faith if they struggle? I think not. And this is where the Pope’s statement is wrong. God never gives up on us, and it’s never best to give up on God. I say weak faith is better than none at all.
But is it better than fake faith? No. Jesus says “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” In other words, say what you mean and mean what you say. If you live by worldly systems and have your faith in that, then please don’t waste your time. If the church, the jewelry, and the platitudes are meaningless, then don’t waste your time. We all know the truth. Now be honest with yourself and how you portray yourself to the world.
As for that Catholic I knew: we parted ways about a decade ago, but I heard they did get back on track and were able to move forward on their plan, albeit much later in life than they thought. I pray they found the happiness they wanted sooner, and that they gained wisdom and a stronger faith through the trials testing them while we were on a road of life together.
What do you think? Is the Pope right? Is he wrong? Is it both, as I believe? Keep those comments coming! I think this is a good thing for us to ponder. And if you aren’t Christian, I’d be interested in hearing your take on this as well.
That’s all today. Take care, and have a great week.