One of the best insights I drew from a Bible study series I once attended was that you can’t pick and choose from the doctrines of Christianity. If you do, the whole thing collapses.
In the present post, I’ll walk through four elements of Christianity, at least as it is practiced in my church. Each element, viewed in isolation, understandably looks suspicious or even awful to a cynic. But when you put all four together, it makes possible a synthesis that is beautiful and awe-inspiring.
(1) Christians dwell on the omnipotence of God. They sing songs praising His mighty power. (When people literally worship power in other contexts, it is abominable.)
(2) If you have to rely on your own merit, you cannot escape hell. The doctrine of original sin says that you don’t even have a chance. (That sounds horrible.)
(3) God wanted the innocent Jesus to be punished for others’ crimes. (That sounds awful.)
(4) What God does is good, period. We might not understand why, and we might agree that if a human did comparable things–like ordering the slaughter of infants–it would be monstrous, but if God does something, it is good. (This sounds like moral relativism, which is monstrous.)
But now let’s put them together:
God effectively says, “To spend paradise with Me, you must be perfect as I am.” This is impossible, because you cannot help but sin. But Jesus led a perfect life, and volunteers to absorb your sins such that you are now blameless. Thus by Jesus’ sacrifice made out of infinite love, all of us can enjoy eternal bliss.
This bargain sounds very attractive, but is it just? It feels like we’re cheating. No need to worry, of course it’s just: It’s God’s plan, and He only takes actions that are good.
But c’mon, can God really set up a system like this, which defies our intuition? Yes, of course He can: He’s God. If He says this is the arrangement, then He’s right, it is.
What motivated my thoughts above was the consideration that a psychological function (perhaps one of several) of going to church and singing “Praise & Worship” songs–which stress the four points above–is to make a person really believe it.
I realize this might be hard for atheists/agnostics to understand, but even honest-to-goodness Bible-believing Christians often have doubts, and I don’t just mean things like, “Hmm, do I really think a guy came back from the dead?” No, I also mean doubts like, “I don’t care what the Bible says, I don’t think God could possibly forgive me for that.”
And so, for people with that fear, it offers indescribable relief to remember that God can do anything, and that if He decides your past sin is no longer a strike against you, then it isn’t. Period. You can move on with your life, and dedicate it to His glory.