Someone asked me this question and I answered it but I myself was not satisfied with my answer. The question is: religions create differences rather than unity. The main cause for mayhem these days is because we are divided into different religions so how could one justify that religion brings peace?
– A. from Pakistan
What is religion? (Part 1)
I’m not sure how you answered this question but I find myself agreeing with the one who asked it. How could you justify that “religions” bring peace? You couldn’t. Religions in the usual understanding of them do create differences—not really unity. And it is clearly true that the division of the world into different religions promotes war and conflict though I don’t think it’s the “main cause of mayhem.” I’ll talk about that shortly.
Wait a minute you might say. Am I saying religions create a negative impact on the world? Am I anti religion? Well it depends on how you define the term. My definition of religion is that it is a man made system for dealing with God by a group of people who hold similar beliefs. It is the method (or rules) by which you conduct your life in relation to your deity. These rules are usually set up hoping to solicit favor or at least not provoke anger.
How does God view this? According to Jesus he’s not looking for rules (or religion); he’s looking for a real relationship with each one of us. In the New Testament Jesus called the religious leaders of his day hypocrites and quoted the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts or men.” (Matthew 15:8-9)
Religion without relationship is in vain. It’s just spinning your wheels. God does not want ritual; he wants our heart. With relationship, however, religion finds a purpose. James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” That means that when we have a genuine relationship with our Heavenly Father he is pleased when we act on it with our service to those in need.
Mayhem’s main cause (Part 2)
I hope I haven’t been too confusing so far. My main point is that we should not look to so-called “religion” to bring peace to our own heart individually or peace among people groups or nations. Religion as a system may be either positive or negative depending on whether or not it builds its beliefs on the character and nature of God.
For instance, God is compassionate. “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness.” (Psalm 103:8) Religions that reflect this truth by how they treat people will make a more positive impact on the society around them than those that don’t. However, even if every religion officially claimed to believe in compassion and graciousness there would still be mayhem. Why? Because after our first parents Adam and Eve sinned, the very nature of man leans toward sin. All of us sin. In fact, it’s a lot easier to sin than to be good.
Remember the story of Cain and Abel. These two brothers where the sons of Adam and Eve and this was the beginning of the human race—long before any “religions” existed. Jealous of his brother, “Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” (Genesis 4:8) Abel had done nothing to bring it on; he was innocent and yet he was killed. Mayhem.
Ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord in the Garden of Eden, “mayhem” is now in our spiritual DNA. We are jealous, we kill, we lie, we cheat, we fail to forgive, and we judge others even while being guilty of the same things ourselves. Each of us is a mess and none of us could ever stand before the throne of God and claim innocence. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)
But God loved us too much to leave us in that doomed condition. He had a solution so each of us could find true peace. Let’s talk about that next.
What brings peace? (Part 3)
Knowing that no human being could ever be good enough to rectify man’s original sin against him, God thought up a plan that some people believe is too good to be true. But it actually is true. He came himself in the person of Jesus Christ (God incarnate) and made the ultimate sacrifice and died for the sins of the whole of mankind. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (Romans 5:8-9)
Now I don’t want to go too far a field of the original question. (Anyone interested in knowing more about how to appropriate this great gift of God can see How to Meet Jesus Christ.) My point is that peace with God is possible and it is only that kind of peace that can actually make peace on a larger scale conceivable.
It seems to me that the person who asked you the question feels sour on “religion” as a path to peace among peoples. They think religion is a hindrance to peace since religions are often hostile to each other. Well, who can deny it? However, it is when we have our own peace with God that we are free to extend peace to others. When we have received God’s compassion, we can then show compassion. When we feel loved it is easier to love others. God has forgiven our sin and now we can forgive each other.
Move that to a larger and larger scale and then you start to affect society and governments and nations. Will it ever happen? No, as not everyone will accept it and God allows our free will to either serve or reject him. Mayhem will continue and religions will continue to contribute to it more or less. Until, that is…the Second Coming of Christ. But we’ll leave that for another day.