Hard-hearted Religion

Religion.  The very word evokes negative responses from so many.  Religion has been the cause of wars and disputes for thousands of years.  It has been the source of debate for countless numbers of arguments over which religion is right, which is wrong.  Even within my “religion” of Christianity, there is so much division that it makes me sad.

Which brings me to today’s blog post.  As I contemplate the issues of having a hard heart and guarding my own heart against becoming hard, I must look at the way religion can cause me to harden my heart.

First, I want to define religion for this context as “following the rules of a particular belief system.”  That’s a pretty simplistic definition but for today it will have to suffice.  All belief systems, whether we call them a religion or not, has a set of rules that they believe their god has established for them to follow.

Therein lies much debate in my own belief system of Christianity.  Far too many Christians argue over their perceived ideas of the rules of God.  We have a common book called the Bible, yet it gets interpreted in so many ways.  It seems that we would rather argue over issues where we disagree than just focus on the points of our agreement.  Most of what is fought over is, most truthfully, more about preference and style than it is actual doctrine.

During Jesus’ time, the rules were laid out in the Mosaic Law, which is contained within the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Torah.  Jesus was very well aware of the Law. According to the New Testament, he was blameless in all the Law and fulfilled it perfectly.  But not according to one major group of the religious leaders of his day – the Pharisees.

They were always trying to catch Jesus in breaking the Mosaic Law.  In Mark 3:1-6, they have laid a trap for Jesus.  They are waiting to see if He would break the law against working on the Sabbath.

He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

In this story, we find that Jesus is angry with them and that he is grieved at their hardness of heart.  The phrase hardness of heart here means a calloused heart, one that is not able to feel.

The Pharisees, who claimed to love God and was awaiting the arrival of Messiah, knew the Law, knew the Prophets, knew and studied scripture to the point of having it memorized.  Yet, the missed the very one that the scriptures talked about.

They were waiting to see if Jesus would violate the Sabbath by healing a man.  Nowhere in the Mosaic Law does it state, “Thou shalt not heal on the Sabbath.”  But, they took Jesus healing people on the Sabbath as work and it is written, “thou shalt not work on the Sabbath.”

Jesus was trying to get them to see the spirit of the Law, to see God’s heart behind the commandments.  He asked if it was lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath.  Is it better to kill or to save a life?  They wouldn’t answer.  Wow, that is some nerve on their part.

As I read through this story, a couple of points jump out at me.

1. They didn’t care about the man’s needs, only that the rules of their religion were not broken.

How many times have I judged someone to be unworthy of God’s blessings because I saw something wrong in their life?  Too darn many, I can tell you.  Sometimes we look at the “unworthiness” of someone to determine whether we think God should be good to them.

While the Pharisees were looking at rule-keeping, Jesus was looking at a man’s needs.  It truly takes a hard heart to look at rules over people’s needs.  Yet, I know that I have been guilty of this on more occasions than I care to admit, and I would dare say that most (really all) of us have.

But they don’t deserve God’s blessings.  Do you or I really deserve them?

But they shouldn’t be doing that in their life, then they wouldn’t have had this bad thing happen to them.  I would have to ask about all the wrong things you and I have done?

But they brought this on themselves.  Haven’t you and I made mistakes that carried bad consequences with them?

They made their bed, now they can lay in it.  I wonder how many beds that you & I made that we had to lay in?

My point is that we have all messed up.  Therefore, we have no right to judge anyone else.  The Pharisees may not have cared if Jesus healed the man on Sunday, Monday or any other day, except for Saturday…..that’s the Sabbath.  Who cares if he has a need.  The need can wait until our rules have been obeyed.

2.  Their hearts were so hard they were looking for a way to accuse Jesus.

I have touched on this a bit in the last point about breaking the rules.  This makes me wonder if this wasn’t a setup.  Could it be that they planted the man in the synagogue knowing that Jesus might possibly heal him?  Could it be that they even paid the guy to get Jesus’ attention?  We don’t know.  All we know is this guy was a pawn in their religious fanaticism to trap Jesus for breaking their rules.

The Bible calls the devil, “the accuser of the brethren.”  He is an accuser.  He is always showing us how we are unworthy because we broke the rules, we didn’t do what God wanted, etc.  In this instance, the Pharisees were looking to side in with the devil.  They didn’t realize that’s what they were doing but it is.

Anytime we start accusing people of things, or slandering them because of what they have done or what we think they have done, we side in with the devil.  Don’t become the devil’s star witness against someone.

Being hard-hearted will always cause you to find fault in other people, thus giving you reasons to accuse them of being bad, no good, unworthy, a heretic . . . . you can insert any name calling here that you choose.

As I said earlier, we underestimate the goodness of our God.  Having a hard-heart will cause us to even declare that He is too good to some people.

We will always miss the heart of God when we insist on rules over relationship.  Are rules important?  I believe they have their place, however, relationships are much more important than rules.  True, loving relationships don’t need rules to keep them going.  God doesn’t need rules to keep us in line.  What he wants is a relationship. When our hearts are not hard — when they are soft, tender and compassionate like His then we will not need rules to guide us because we will always see as He sees.  We will love as he loves. We will care like he cares.

We will see the needs of people over the rules they may be breaking.

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