Two World Religions
Bishop Leslie Newbigin argued that there are two world religions: the Christian faith and everything else. These two world religions can be summed up best as, “One in which we laboriously ascend to God and the other, in which God descends to us” (The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). To laboriously ascend is to spend your life climbing a spiritual mountain. Picture God at the top imperiously looking down on his creation, while we climb to meet him, suitcases in hand. Backpacks strapped on.
In contemporary Western societies, we are moving away from faith and toward secular humanism and surely, we think, secular humanism is too sophisticated to fiddle around with archaic notions of pleasing gods. I think, however, Newbigin's words still hold. The names for our gods might have changed, but they are still there. Sex, money, prestige, reputation, the body, the smart phone – you name it – claim our worship, time, and energy. They demand to be pleased and imply to our hearts that we had better start climbing that mountain.
One could argue that aside from Christ, this entire world is striving toward one big mountain top. Take some contemporary advertising slogans, “Be all that you can be, never stop improving, helping you be the best you can be, together we can do more, get more out of now, raising the bar, forever new frontiers, push the limits, just do it, how big can you dream”. I can see us laboring, sweating up the mountain, hoping if we work hard enough, if we climb fast enough, we’ll get there. Wherever there is.
I recently visited my local mosque where I met some lovely people, one of whom told me something I would never forget. She said, “I live my life somewhere between fear and hope.” Hope that when she meets her maker she will be found a good, acceptable Muslim woman. Fear that she would be forever cast out. I shivered at the thought. Imagine getting to the mountain top, to find that you were not invited in the first place.
I think that most of us have found ourselves living between hope and fear. We want to be good, better, acceptable, but we are afraid we fall short. We could spend forever appeasing gods. They might not be carved idols, but all of us have those things that are right up there on level with God, if not above him.
I have known people who spend their lives climbing mountains or appeasing gods. They are on the quest to be richer, thinner, powerful, or successful. They strive to be more important, noteworthy, or celebrated. This is a man-made hell – one that I have been in. I have tried to climb the mountain many times, only to fall too many times to count. But, Jesus meets us and it is not on the mountain top, but in the valley.
This is a great miracle: Jesus comes to us. Have you fallen down too many times to number? Well, praise God for it, because here is another great mystery: the moment you are on your knees, when you’ve reached your lowest, the second you feel that you can’t look God in the face – you find yourself in the center of his love. Jesus does not require great people who do great things. He is okay with messed up people who desire his great love. In other words, He comes to be with you. You don’t have to ascend to him. No sacrifices need to be made. He already took care of that. God, through Jesus, is very much pleased with you and you can find him right there in the muck, disaster, and failure of your life. Think about it: when was the moment when God’s glory was most revealed? On the cross, the greatest catastrophe of all time, but through the miracle of his resurrection, it became our greatest strength and his great glory.
As Mother Teresa, said, “On this earth, we cannot do great things, only little things with great love.” When we are honest with God and ourselves, we know that we couldn’t climb a spiritual mountain to save our lives, but we can let God love us, and he’s always willing to share his great love.
What does it mean for you that God meets you in the valley? Here’s what it means for me on a daily basis. The other day, I said the most insensitive thing to my friend. I could see the hurt immediately on her face and I wished I could have taken it back. I asked my friend’s forgiveness and she was gracious to me, but I could not stop obsessing about it. I thought of it for two days, wincing every time. I called her again, just to say sorry once more, and here’s what she said, “We don’t have to be perfect all the time, Lilly. God loves us. We can just forgive each other and move forward.” That was a little thing she did, but she did it with such great love that for a moment, I felt God’s Kingdom breaking through. We might not ever successfully climb that mountain top, but he will always be waiting in the valley of our life.
Every morning when I take my kindergartner to school, I tell her, “You are a child of God; you don’t have perfect. You can make mistakes. God loves you.” I tell her that every day. I tell myself that every day. And I want to tell you that, too. You are a child of God. You don’t have to be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. Jesus loves you.
Lord Jesus, I give you thanks and praise that we are on the receiving end of your great love. Thanks be to God, we don’t have to ascend to you. You graciously descend to us. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Lilly Sanders Ubbens is a published writer and mother of two. After growing up as a missionary kid in Honduras, Lilly went on to earn a masters degree from Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA. While there, Lilly met and married the love of her life, Bo, and they now serve at Christ Church Anglican on the Mainline in Wayne, PA. You can contact Lilly here.