A Lutheran, a Catholic, and an atheist walk into a bar…
Okay, it wasn’t a bar but a podcast hosted by Rob Port, a self-professed atheist, with me, a Catholic, and Devlyn Brooks, a Lutheran pastor—Forum columnists all.
Apparently, our discussion on “Plain Talk with Rob Port,” “Is America’s religious decline good or bad?” ( Segment 273 ), was one of Port’s most popular of 2021.
Since then, I’ve been wanting to return to a point that came up; namely, whether people of faith are free agents, or beholden to and bound by our religion.
Within our discussion, I mentioned the word “dependence,” explaining that within the Christian faith, we are dependent on God, comparing it to that of a healthy child and parent relationship. This kind of dependency assumes a loving, protective bond.
In other words, a healthy dependency is a shelter which doesn’t require that we relinquish our free will, but allows us to rely on something wise beyond ourselves to help guide our way.
We all depend on something. Is that thing trustworthy, reliable and loving? Since humans can sin and fail, any human dependency is going to be imperfect. But not so our relationship with God, at least in terms of how God regards us.
On its face, I can understand hesitation here. Many of us have been hurt by fellow humans, so our inclination is to grip tightly to self. Through experience, we’ve come to believe we can only really trust ourselves.
As I mentioned in the podcast, however, we’re all inclined to worship something. It’ll either be God or something else—money, sports, other people, any number of things. But we’ll be most content when we turn our worship toward the only thing truly deserving of it: our loving God, who created us.
Faith and religion are, at their essence, a relationship with a good God, and an invitation. Replace the word “love” in 1 Cor. 13:4-7 with “God,” and you’ll discover God’s heart.
When what we’re putting our faith in is unreliable, however, we cannot depend on that thing and we should not base our life on it. But when what we’re putting our faith in is reliable, we can. Scripture is replete with God’s assurance of looking out for our best interests, and being trustworthy.
Complications and hesitancy can still arise, understandably. We first learn about God through our primal human relationships. If those have not been reliable, the disposition needed to trust God won’t come as easily. But what a freedom is in store for those who do work it out, and can bow in gratitude before our good God, who patiently, lovingly awaits our approach.
Listen to the podcast if you’re able; there’s lots to chew on and digest. I hope we can give this topic another try sometime, entering into the conversation with an intent to better understand one another, as we tried to do back in December. It was a good way to end the year and begin another.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Feb. 7, 2022.]