It’s been quite in vogue for a while for people to say, “I hate religion, but I love Jesus.” The poem above posted on YouTube by then 24-year-old, Jefferson Bethke, has now been seen by over 31 million viewers – 10 million of them in its first four days.
And I suppose, depending on how you define “religion,” that could be a very good thing.
Two questions though:
1. What is meant by the “religion” some say they hate?
2. Does God hate “religion” in some way that we should pay attention to? (If He does, we better listen. We better pay attention.)
I can’t speak for my Muslim friends but as one who tries to follow the teachings of Jesus, “religion” can be just what Jefferson Bethke said:
“See the problem with religion is, it never gets to the core. It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores (rules).”
In an interview, Bethke stated, “Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered.”
“This poem highlights my journey to discover this truth. Religion either ends in pride or despair. Pride because you make a list and can do it and act better than everyone, or despair because you can’t do your own list of rules and feel ‘not good enough’ for God.”
External vs. internal.
Isaiah, Amos, and other prophets of God spoke from God about His feelings regarding man-made – or God-made – but empty forms of worship. He says (get ready for this): “I hate it.” Why? Because it is:
religion without relationship
correct actions but corrupt attitudes
activity without affection
labor without love
show without substance
habit without heart
Jesus embodied God’s love. He personified it. But he also personified God’s holy hatred of the empty, heartless, hyprocritical, legalistic, purely ritualistic, pride-inspiring, man-pleasing, attention grabbing, self-deceiving, self-righteous practice of “religion” done in his day (or in ours). Listen to his words:
“Jesus answered,’You are all hypocrites. Isaiah was right when he wrote these words from God about you: ‘These people honor me with their words, but I am not really important to them'”(The Injil, the Good News of Mark, chapter 7, verse 6, ERV).
Jesus answered, “Isaiah was right about frauds like you: These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they are worshiping me, but they don’t mean it.” (Mark 7:6, MSG)
God is not against doctrine, commands, rules, rituals, and structure in and of themselves. He instituted them! But He is completely against hypocrisy in the practice of religion.
So what is God looking for? What is He asking of us?
He says so clearly to all of us – whether we call ourselves “Muslims” or “Christians” or something else:
“I will pay attention to those who are humble and sorry (for their sins) and who tremble at my word” (the prophet Isaiah, chapter 66, verse 2, GWT).
This is the beginning of a faith that God loves.
It starts – and ends – with the heart.