When I was a kid, I remember standing next to a sixty year old woman in church. She was holding the hymnal up so that her elderly mother and she could share it. At one point, as the song moved to another verse, the mother reached up and pointed at that verse on the page, as if her daughter might not know. That image stuck with me. It’s an image I often think of when I see people trying to be everyone’s mother.
One of the bad side effects of moralism (the idea that our good works earn us God’s love) is that the moralist thinks he should run everyone’s life.
Why Controllers Control
We have all come to our own conclusions about life and how it should be lived, and will fight hard to protect the sometimes thin veneer those beliefs represent between us and insanity. Because, listen, if I accept that your belief is true and mine is a pile of junk, then I’ve been living my life as a lie.
I have to question all my previous decisions, weep over lost time and effort, and rebuild, in sometimes massive ways, what it means to live. And that’s just the average person.
I once had a twenty minute argument with someone who said that Miracle Whip and mayonnaise tasted the same (I’m serious about condiments), only to realize by the end of the conversation that they’d never actually tried the whip with the tangy zip! That’s the level of severity to which we’re (well, at least me) willing to go to defend even our most superficial beliefs.
Imagine what happens when you add a deity to the mix.
Can you see how someone might think it’s so important that you believe a certain religious thing, in a specific way, that they will do anything—including duplicitous, manipulative things—to get you to their way of thinking?
Why We Fall For it
If you were brought up to believe that people with a certain amount (or lack thereof) of melanin in their skin were inferior to you, that might be a hard belief to be talked out of. The same is true of the brand of religion you were brought up in.
If you were brought up to believe in an angry god, it’s going to be difficult to see God as anything else. And when you have a deeply seated belief, based on fear at some level, that belief can then be used to control you. And, because we hold that belief, or desire, so dear, we will not question the controller who is using that belief to control us. Because, if they’re good enough at their manipulation, that would be like questioning the belief itself.
Why the Gospel Can’t be a Weapon
The amazing thing about the gospel is that it isn’t based on fear. It’s anti-fear. It frees us from the deadly demands of religious authority. It labels us forgiven and clean once and for all and sings acceptance over us. There’s no room for manipulation in a true rendering of the gospel. We are made at peace with God by the sacrifice of God’s own son. Our response to that kind of love is, well, love.
The moralist hates the gospel because it undoes them. It takes away all of their power to control others. That’s how you know it’s the gospel. The burden falls away. Guilt is only meant to lead you back to God. There it turns to peace. Commands are no longer sharp sticks that poke your raw conscience, but signposts, pointing to the best way to love God and others. The controller, in short, loses their ability to control. And we are free. Even to gently love them. Who knows, maybe they’ll turn from their evil ways, finally seeing the truth (2 Tim 2:25).