Can you imagine being imprisoned by your family for 25 years?
This is what happened to the daughter of a wealthy Paris family in 1876. The daughter’s name was Blanche Monnier. Due to a romantic relationship the family disapproved of, they forced Monnier to become a prisoner in her bedroom while feeding her scraps of food and giving her no opportunity for sunlight or contact with other people. She deteriorated and only weighed 55 pounds pounds when police found her… on the verge of death. After being rescued, she was driven mad by her imprisonment and spent her life in a mental institution.
This is an incredible parallel for the toxic effects of religion.
Before you get mad, let’s define terms.
Religion is man trying to appease God through special ceremonies, good deeds, and behavior modification.
Flannery O’Connor wrote an excellent and illuminating short story called “Parker’s Back”. One of the fascinating characters in this story is Sarah Ruth. Sarah is a very strict, religious woman. She is described as being bland and a fun-killer. Sarah Ruth stands for religion.
1. Religion sucks life out of you.
Religion masquerades as life-giving but grants death to its adherents. Rules, ceremonies, and legalism appeal to people with a conscious tormented by the effects of sin. Rather than granting absolution, religion fuels the fire of shame by forcing condemnation alongside of confession. Grace and mercy are spoken of but rarely practiced, guilt and reproach are the cruel masters which imprison their subjects until they are malnourished and on the verge of death.
2. Religion sucks freedom from you.
As you become enclosed in the windowless room and smell the burning stench of your sin, you realize you have nowhere to run. In an effort to find relief, you become zealous about behavior modification. This is equivalent to scratching the cold brick of your prison cell with fingernails, trying to form a window to the outside world. You seek purification and wholeness but you receive hands which are marred and dripping with blood.
3. Religion sucks God from you.
The cruel irony is your self-imposed bondage comes from a sincere desire to appease God. As you begin to perfect your outward appearance, your body and soul are crippled by guilt. The more you try to change in your own power, the more you realize how worthless you are. This is magnified by the cold and heartless preaching of the man in a robe you hear from every week; a man who has bloodied his hands from scratching at the impenetrable walls of his prison cell longer than you have. God becomes distant, a cruel taskmaster bent on causing you pain. Rather than becoming insane from your imprisonment, you reject God altogether. The very thing that promised a relationship with God left you rejecting him. Religion sucks.
Jesus came to crush the head of this deadly taskmaster.
Jesus came to offer freedom to the captives and shatter the chains of legalism.
Jesus seeks to transform the very core of who you are, offering life in abundance.
Jesus seeks brokenness in order to make it whole.
Jesus seeks sinners so He can provide true healing.
Jesus came so that all who are weary and weighed down with the heavy burden of religion may find rest.
Jesus came so that where sin abounds, grace increases even more.
Jesus came to dispel the myth that God is cruel.
Jesus is the exact image of God revealed to us.
Jesus lived the life you and I couldn’t live… a perfect life.
Jesus died the death you and I deserve to die… a brutal death prefaced by torture.
Jesus resurrected from the dead… showing that he paid the price for all of our sin (past, present, future).
Religion is man seeking God, Christianity is God seeking man.