Given for the Saints of the world, November 8, 2009.
"But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:9).
In last week's essay, I quoted our friend Pat Savas, who said that the most insidious, most deadly addiction is religious addiction. This concept came to my awareness when Lenny and I were working a codependency recovery program. Drug and alcohol addiction causes great dysfunction in families, as any child of an alcoholic or drug addict can tell you. It came to me that much of the neurotic dysfunction which abounds in Christian families, even among those who do not abuse their bodies with drugs or alcohol, can be attributed to religious addiction. What is it? What causes it? What can be done to resolve it?
Jesus walked among Pharisees who were certainly plagued by religious addiction, which I will describe as their thinking they could work their way to closeness with God and count on their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as their "ticket to ride" to heaven. They obsessively touted their own works as exemplary, pointing out their religious superiority over non religious folks. An example is the Pharisee who went up to the temple to pray and while there, spotted a tax collector. He prayed, "'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'" Jesus said about these men: I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:10-14).
That spirit of the Pharisee is alive and well in churches today. I encountered it right here in Neosho, in a Sunday School class I once attended. We were discussing this verse just quoted, and a man sitting in front of me raised his hand and asked, "Why can't I be proud that I'm not a sinner? I'm not!" His outburst caused me to raise my hand and remind us all that Jesus said if you look at a person with lust in your heart, you have committed adultery already. I asked if there were anyone there who had not violated this command? At that, they began to argue about how long you'd have to look with lust to be guilty of adultery. The man's wife said she thought it didn't mean a short look, but a long term one. That was the last time I attended that class as God has not called me to argue.
What is behind this self righteous attitude? Perhaps it was pride in his own accomplishments, either in keeping the commandments, or avoiding blatant sin, but also there's the "VEIL" of law, which is still in place today, and may be the heart of religious addiction. Here's Matthew's account of Jesus' death: "And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split;....When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Matt. 27:50-51, 54).
The splitting of the VEIL between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies had symbolic significance for the Jews. Under Mosaic Law, that VEIL separated the people from God, who met with Israel between the wings of the cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:22; Num. 7:89). Only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and then, only once a year. Anyone else would die When Jesus died, and the VEIL split, the spiritual Jews who had been looking for Messiah to come, must have gasped, for the symbolism is unmistakable, powerful, and full of hope. God is no longer behind the veil. He was out among men, evidenced by the fact that "the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many" (Matt. 27:52-53).
Even the disciples, shocked and traumatized as they were, may have failed to grasp the significance of the veil being torn, but we need to pay attention to it. Obviously, God was NEVER locked up within the Holy of Holies, no matter what Moses taught them, but the idea symbolized God's choosing Israel as His elect in the ancient world. He dwelt among them, above all other nations. The idea of confining God in a box, a small space, persists today. Church doctrine has replicated the idea almost from the first century. Anytime, you say God loves only your church, and approves of only your doctrine, your worship, and your rituals, you have made Him small enough to fit into the box you've created!
The idea of trying to fit God in a box is the thesis of J. B. Phillips' book entitled, Your God Is Too Small, which I read long ago. The impression it made on me, has been expanded by the Spirit over the ensuing years.For the sake of illustration, I've long been interested in what maintains the devotion to and growth of the Catholic Church. I stumbled across the EWTN Channel (Eternal Word Television Network, the Catholic version of TBN). It's mission is to disseminate all things Catholic to a world which they believe needs what they have to offer. I sometimes check in on that channel just to see what they are "selling" that hour.
One of the most enigmatic programs, so far as I am concerned, stars Mother Angelica and her nuns, saying the Rosary complete with "Hail Marys" and "Our Fathers." Mother Angelica is a sweet old dear, so fat that her face falls out of her wimple on every side, but considered very wise and devout. She says her part of the Hail Mary, usually reading the words, delivered in a monotone voice. Her nuns do their part of the responsive reading in an equally monotonic voice.
The first time I watched the whole thing, I asked myself, "Self, why are you watching this?" When I told Lenny what I had been doing, he immediately said, "Why would you do that?"
"Beats me," I replied, and it really did. At the end of the 30 minute program, they invite viewers to send money for their own DVD of mother, so they can pray the Rosary at home with her. What do they get out of it? I wondered. Why do they do it?
It is unscriptural to ask Mary, who is NOT the mother of God, but of Jesus, to "Pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death." Of course, it is unscriptural to ask a priest rather than God to forgive one's sins, but that doesn't stop them or lessen the appeal. The fact that Mother Angelica and the rest of the nuns appear to be in a trance, resembling a narcotic induced stupor gave me a clue, and reminded me that Vladimir Lenin had dismissed religion as "the opiate of the masses." Whatever I was witnessing certainly could be a prime example of a phenomenon I've been interested in for decades: religious addiction.
This powerful addiction most certainly is NOT limited to Catholics. It can be found among Mormons, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Baptists, and many other groups, including Islam. When the rite, be it baptism, communion, prayer or Bible study IS the link to God, when it compels you to do it or else, you have replaced the Holy Spirit with man's works. Religion has replaced life in the Spirit!
An addiction may be defined as an over riding compulsion to ingest a substance or perform an activity which blurs your cognitive mind and takes over your will, or to perform an activity which does the same thing and takes you out of yourself. In that sense, addictions are an attempt to self medicate and ease the pain, be it physical or mental. Most people do know that drugs and alcohol are harmful to the body, and thus are not proud of their compulsion to abuse their body with these substances.
By its very nature, religion is just the opposite. It appears to be good, righteous, and helpful to our psyches and to enhance our relationship to God. Nevertheless, it is the poisonous fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which many still have not learned to recognize, confusing it with the fruit of the Tree of Life: Christ in us, the hope of glory. Failure to make this distinction, causes people to attempt to put God in the box of their beliefs, and to reduce Him to a kind of divine soft drink machine. Deposit the right amount of fervor and devotion, pay the price of doing the ritual over and over, and wallah, you have God on demand. It's very seductive, powerful, and oh, so deceptive.
This brings me back to the title of this essay, "The Veil." When Christ's death resulted in the Temple Veil being torn in two, that ushered in God as Spirit indwelling His children. It came to me lately, that religion with all its addictive practices is an attempt by man to reweave the veil and hang it back in place.
"You cannot come to God except by us" is the message printed on this Veil. Here's the description of the veil God commanded Moses to make: "And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen; in skilled work shall it be made, with cherubim; ...And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in thither within the veil; and the veil shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy" (Ex. 26:31-33). Religion has copied the idea, creating a curtain, a barrier between God and man which is lovely to look at, carefully and artistically made. Ugly things usually do not attract people; so the more lavish and artistic the ritual, the rite, the music, the doctrine, or the concept, the more people are likely to come and participate.
Moses went to Pharaoh and demanded, "Let my people go." God has given us a similar mandate: "What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you" (II Cor. 6:16-17).
When man puts his doctrine ahead of God, he is recreating the veil, a symbol of the Law. Paul declared, "when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed" (II Cor. 3:14-16). Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, including all the lovely veils man creates. I had asked what is religious addiction, what causes it and what can be done about it. The answer is GOD. He is the prime mover, the "active verb" in our lives: "For God consigned ALL men to disobedience, that He may have mercy upon ALL" (Rom. 11:32).
Father, we thank You that You no longer dwell in tents or houses made of gold, but in the hearts of your children. We rejoice that Christ came to set the captives free. He set us free from all our addictions and removed every veil that separates us from You, our all powerful Father, Almighty God. Amen. Jan Antonsson
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