Religion, Reason, Relavancy And Relationship
I, like many others, dislike the word "religion", largely for the connotation it has with many people. I've always adhered to the understanding that a religion is a man-made construct developed with three main principles in mind:
1.) Finding purpose.
2.) Getting into (and staying within) the good graces of a given deity.
3.) Exercising power over others.
Different religions and different people following those religions have differing mixes of these ideals.
Now, because religions focus on their participants advancing toward a goal, they are, by necessity, works-based.
I personally believe I serve an all-knowing and all-wise God who is completely and eternally sufficient for me and can and will do all that is required for the benefit of those who love Him.
Now, why would such a God need my works? If He can do all that He wants to do, He could have surely made me a drone and made me happily desirous to do all the works He wants me to do.
Instead, consider this: He wants my heart. He wants to win my heart and desires for me to desire to follow Him on my own volition.
Much has been stated about the inability of religion to apply to our contemporary society. I agree with this sentiment. This is largely because of how the foundation for said religions were developed--as works-based beliefs. If you have a works-based belief, the writer of the book must explain any and all works, good and bad, for the past, present and future, if their religion is to remain relevant. "Thou shalt not listen to rock 'n' roll for more than 2 hours a day". "Thou shalt not consume more than one 2oz container of 80 proof alcohol a day, except during special occasions like graduation and wedding parties." "You are only allowed to kiss someone on the second date, and then only if their parents allow it and you've treated them to a nice dinner (at least $15/plate, plus drinks) and desert and taken them to a movie (for cost efficiency, it can be a matinee)".
For a works-based religion to remain relavant, it must be continually updated to add and change rules and laws that pop up as a result of new things that happen on the horizion. And there can be no grey areas. No vague principles. Nothing left to subjectivity. You can't say "don't listen to bad music" because, unless the deity explains what "bad music" is, how are the followers supposed to adhere to that command? You surely cannot allow them to decide what "bad" is, because you'll have as many definitions of "bad" as you do people who have a definition. Any and all rules and regulations must must must *must* must be explained in the strictest and most minute of details to avoid loopholes and to provide a solid foundation for those followers who want to follow them to the letter. This is assuming, of course, that the deity wants the best for those who follow them. If that deity is a cruel, spiteful or mischievous one, bored out of his skull and out for entertainment... that sucks.
However, for a faith based on a God that wants our heart, things totally change. Works become only a means to an end. God has already come down to us, has already extended His grace, salvation and love countless times. Christianity is about God coming down to man because of His intense and jealous love for us. It's about Him being so much in love with us that He was willing to sacrifice His Son so that we could enter into His presence. (And, btw, His Son agreed to the deal for the same reasons). For a God that loves us that much, who wants nothing more than to see us flourish and live the life that He *knows* will best benefit us, works are so much *not* the focus. Works, apart from faith, is dead. Just as fasting without direction from God is starvation, sacrifice without direction from God is likewise fruitless and a waste of time and resources.
God does not want our works, nor does He need our works. He wants our hearts. He desperately pursues us, and desperately desires to be pursued. He does not shout when He can whisper. He wants relationship, intimate and unbarred. No secrets. He wants us to be able to tell Him anything. And He wants to be completely ours, and He wants us to be completely His.
Many of you have loved someone, and have desired to do what is ultimately best for them. I've been there. But because of lack of knowledge, discipline, or I just plain didn't feel like it, I failed in that goal. Sometimes I didn't even care that I had failed. That's where God is different: He *desires* what is best for us, He *knows* what is best for us, and He *will do* what is best for us.
The Bible is relavant today. It is relavant because it is a guide for our hearts. It is an operating manual for humanity. It shows our ins and outs, it shows what is good and bad and *why* it is good and bad. There are illustrations displaying precisely *why* He asks us to do certain things. Yes, there are laws about sacrificing cows and separating the fat from the liver and the other organs and setting it aside and making sure you have an ephah of grain for a fellowship offering, etc etc... this is obviously not something you see much today. No one that I know even knows what an ephah is or has a fattened calf, much less know how to separate the fat from the liver. But there are principles to be mined from such passages.
Good parents do not arbitrarily lay down rules because they feel like it or want a power trip, nor do they do it to cut off their children from enjoying life. They lay down guidelines and rules for the good of their children--so that they can benefit from the parents' instruction. Of what possible use is a law without a reason? That's God's take, anyway. Laws only exist to serve us, to show us the way. They are guard rails on the road of life. They can be also used as a light to show what is unhealthy.
God knows us intimately because He designed us intimately. We were woven together. He considered every aspect, physical and mental, where we were placed and what part of time we were placed. He wrote the book on us. He definitely knows what's best for us.
Our love and fidelity is the one thing God cannot prefabricate, because He wants it only by our own volition. It must be our choice. Of what use is a profession of love if one feels compelled to do it? If I told my (hypothetical) wife "I love you because I must.", or if I programmed an android wife that would only emulate love, it would be ultimately and completely unfulfilling. There is no choice in the matter. The choice must come out on its own.
Contemplate the belief of Christianity from this angle as you go about your business today. There is a God that wants nothing more than to have you live the life that you were *designed* to lead. There is a God who wants nothing more than to have a close and dear friendship with you. And there is a God that loves you, and expressed that love with the biggest of sacrifices.
Regarding the Meaning of Life
Having a meaning necessitates our being created by an entity with intelligence, and that this entity created us with purpose.
Our meaning, therefore, is success in that purpose.
We must determine what we were designed for; what our mission details. We cannot otherwise truly and objectively determine whether or not we've been, or are being, successful.
If we've not been designed with a goal, how can we succeed? If there's no set objective, how does one attain it? How, without a guide or feedback from the creator, can one determine if we are reaching our potential, or if we are heading towards or away from success?
Without an objective understanding of our design and purpose, the definition of "success" must always be subjective. Without an intelligent creator, we are just machines with no understanding of our purpose. We attempt to succeed when we don't even know what the goal is. In lieu of a externally-prescribed objective, we attempt to created our own, because it is necessary for us to have a goal in order to operate properly. If one is truly convinced that their life is without purpose, they will die.
If our life was not designed with a goal in mind, we cannot have a true meaning in life. We are purely incidental. So, if we understand our lives as being inherantly meaningless, we must attempt to create meaning ourselves. This is the best we can possibly hope to do, and the only way to survive.