Creation is Good, Without God-Given Rights There Are No Rights, Free Will, Hell, Christianity as the Opiate of the People, and (Somehow) Even More (Lenten Scriptural Commentary #11)
by Erik Ritland
"Some anti-Christian people say that religion is a bunch of empty, pious beliefs meant to comfort people in a harsh world. Some Christian people live as though their Christian faith is merely a comfort in the harsh world. The truth is, Jesus has high standards for us that are difficult, that no sane person would take up if they simply wanted comfort."
Fully Alive’s Lenten Scriptural Commentary helps Christians get more out of Lent by taking God’s word seriously.
Mostly avoiding personal stories and anecdotes, our commentary dives deeply into the scripture readings for each day and applies them to the broader context of Lent. We use the daily Mass readings from the Catholic lectionary.
If possible, read each passage slowly, taking in each word. If you find that you’ve hurried through a reading, read it over a few more times. Let the words reverberate in your heart. After you’ve let it sink in, read our Lenten Scriptural Commentary.
Saturday of the First Week of Lent
The Israelites are grateful to receive God’s law. Jesus shows us how to live it out in the truest sense.
Readings: Dt 26:16-19/Mt 5:43-48
Click here to read the complete text from the USCCB website
Moses spoke to the people, saying:
"This day the LORD, your God,
commands you to observe these statutes and decrees.
Be careful, then,
to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.
Today you are making this agreement with the LORD:
he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways
and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees,
and to hearken to his voice.
And today the LORD is making this agreement with you:
you are to be a people peculiarly his own, as he promised you;
and provided you keep all his commandments,
he will then raise you high in praise and renown and glory
above all other nations he has made,
and you will be a people sacred to the LORD, your God,
as he promised."
(Dt. 26: 16-19)
God always works through people. Why? Because people are important, the pinnacle of creation.
God called everything He created “good,” which is the starkest demarcation between Judeo-Christian belief and that of Buddhism, which says that the world is bad and that it's our job to remove ourselves form it. Similarly, there is no place in Judaism or Christianity for a gnostic or New Age belief that the physical world is bad and that there’s only merit in the spiritual realm.
All of creation is good, but human beings are peculiarly special, because they are made in the image and likeness of God. If humanity doesn’t have this endowment from God, natural rights go out the window. The logical conclusion of such a philosophy is devolution into animalistic power struggles. See: the bloody 20th century, today.
So instead of coming down from on high for the whole world to see, He uses people to spread His message. If God made Himself explicitly clear to everyone by a miraculous sign, that would take away their free will, as they would be forced to believe. God loves us too much to do that.
The same argument is made for the existence of hell. Just as God loves us too much to take away our free will now, so people have the freedom to choose their fate eternally. If there is anyone in hell – and there is a pious Catholic hope that hell is empty – it is because God loved that person too much to force them to be in His presence, and they have rejected Him.
Instead of revealing Himself explicitly and taking away our free will, God uses the pinnacle of His creation, which He called “very good,” to promote His message. He did this with Moses and the Israelites, and He does it today with those who spread the Gospel.
"You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father.
Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."
(cf Mt 5: 43-48)
Being a Christian isn’t easy. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.
Some anti-Christian people say that religion is a bunch of empty, pious beliefs meant to comfort people in a harsh world. Some Christian people live as though their Christian faith is merely a comfort in the harsh world.
The truth is, Jesus has high standards for us that are difficult, that no sane person would take up if they simply wanted comfort. He says “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” and “take up your cross and follow me.” Hardly nice words to make people happy.
There is ultimate comfort in Christianity, comfort that perhaps those anti-Christians resent that they don’t have.
But on the whole, Christianity is a difficult, life-altering, lifelong ascent. None of those things is easy, which is what led the brilliant G.K. Chesterton to note that “Christianity has not been tried and left wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.”
Hardly an opiate, hardly for weak-minded people.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician. The founder of Fully Alive Christian Media, he also created The Minnesota Sport Ramble and is a writer and copy editor for Music in Minnesota. He was Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Curious North and Hometown Hustle. Reach him via email.
Erik Ritland received his MA in Theology in 2017. He's the founder and content manager of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, copy editor and writer for Music in Minnesota, and an acclaimed songwriter.