Monday, April 29, 2013

What's Really Radical

I’ve been pondering the term “radical Islam” these days.  I know what people mean by the term, but when I hear it lately, I find myself thinking, there’s nothing that radical about Islam.  Islam is just like all the other religions of the world. 

Someone has said that all religions lead to the same place, and there’s some truth to that.  Ultimately, they are all variations on the same theme:  be good and you will be rewarded.  There are different takes on what qualifies as being good (love your neighbor, take care of the earth, eradicate the infidel, etc. etc.), but really, apart from some genuine kooks out there and those who have been blinded by their own greed, there is a general consensus among much of humanity about what it means to live right.

And there are different takes on how we will be rewarded (wealth on earth, harps on clouds in heaven, reincarnation into a better situation, a harem of virgins, etc. etc.).  But there’s the formula:  good living = reward.
Only one “religion” is truly radical enough to defy that.  Radical enough to say, it doesn’t matter one whit how good you are, you will never be good enough to deserve your reward.  Never.  Not a chance.  And really, your being a good person is not the ultimate goal here.  It's a great side effect, but not the end we have in mind.
One "religion" is radical enough to say you can have an intimate, genuine relationship with the God of the universe . . . and that is the goal, plain and simple.  Nothing else matters.  An intimate relationship -- meaning you each know the other exactly for who you are, inside and out.  That we know God in all his glory, as our Creator, our Father, our Friend, our Master, our Husband, our Shepherd.  And we come to him just as we truly are, as a child, a bondservant, a beloved wife . . . the relationship is so complex, there isn't a single earthly metaphor that can encompass it.
But how radical is that?  To believe that we can have an intimate relationship -- talking with him, walking with him, feeling his presence and his delight -- with the transcendent, all-powerful God of the universe.  And that He wants to have that relationship with us.
THAT's the goal.  Being a good person is the inevitable result of that, if we have earthly time left (in fact, it's the only way one can become a truly good person).  That's why Jesus was able to say to the thief on the cross, "This day, you'll be with me in paradise," even though the thief had lived a terrible life.  He got it right at the last minute -- got it right with God.  That's the only reason we're here.
The vast majority of "Christians" don't even get this themselves.  And most of us that get it in our heads fail to live it in our lives. It was G.K. Chesterton who said, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."
 It's that radical.


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