So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important. — Colossians 2:20-23, The Message
Few verses in the Bible have had as significant an impact on my day to day living as these. These few verses, for me, were the light bulb that went off and began to illuminate so much of the darkness. It was here that the shadows began to recede and the light of the gospel became something that was evermore beautiful. It was here that I realized that there was more to the Christian life than the dualism of my early faith.
For many of us, if not all of us, we must go through seasons of simplicity where everything is right or wrong, good or evil, beautiful or ugly, us or them. These lines of demarcation are clear and they allow us to find out feet in the world. Part of my psychology education included some work in childhood development. When children are young they are concrete thinkers. So, we engage with them in that way. They have not developed the ability for nuance. They need us to help them with “yes” or “no.” But, as they mature and develop they begin to ask, “why?” This is when the the real journey towards maturity begins. If we as parents shout down the “why” then we will stunt their growth.
We process through a similar pattern in our faith journey. Early on we need to find our footing. The Christ journey is messy and difficult. So, at first we find ourselves in a phase of simplicity. Believe this, not that, etc… But, then we inevitably come to the part where we ask, “Why?” This is when too often our institutions do not want to progress beyond the simplicity. The “why” questions appear to be challenges to authority and the like. But, they are simply the natural next steps in a maturing faith.
Paul is getting at this when asks, “So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it?” Infantile religion is comprised of rules that you follow to “be good.” This is not the way of Christ. The way of Christ includes and transcends these rules like a Russian nesting doll. The rules ultimately become helpful as we wrestle through the “why” of them. When we work through the “why” we find the deeper principle.
Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is a master class of including and transcending the “simple” to move towards maturity. Every single time he says, “You have heard it said, but I say…” this is the very thing he is doing. He is taking another step in putting infantile religion behind him and refusing to be bullied by it.
What are the ways that you are bullied by infantile religion? Where are you still living in the realm of “simplicity” without asking “Why?” I am wrestling with these questions today, as I have for a number of years now. As I work through them I find myself moving toward greater grace, greater empathy, and greater mercy.