Religion at its best is about pulling down dividing walls
The following, written in a letter to a church in Ephesus, probably around AD 60, is both profound and insightful:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:14–18, NIV)
How many of us, when thinking about religion, think about dividing walls coming down?
How many of us, when thinking about religion, think about peace and reconciliation?
And yet true, healthy religion should always be about these things.
My own background is Christianity, so that’s the perspective from which I write, but it is readily apparent that religion in general has a perception problem.
Some of this is justified, though not all.
Sadly, religion has all too often bought into the dualism that defines our age.
You’re with us or you’re against us.
You’re in or your out.
You’re right or your wrong.
Everything is either-or.
This letter I quoted above deals with the either-or of that generation: Jew or Gentile. The Jews being the children of Israel and the Gentiles being, well, everyone else.
The whole point of Christ, the author of the letter writes, is to end this division; to bring this wall tumbling down.
There is no either-or – there is only one.
Access to God is not based upon privilege, it is simply open to all. Religion at its best simply points people to the open arms of God. At its worst it become the gatekeeper, determining who does and doesn’t have access to God.
Isn’t it interesting that whenever Jesus spoke about hell he was speaking to religious people who were trying to serve as gatekeepers, blocking access to the God whose love has no boundaries?
Whatever hell is or isn’t, it is not a place for people who don’t believe the right things about God; it’s a threat for those religious people who think they have the right to say who does and doesn’t have access to God.
Religion, if it is to survive, has to get back to being signpost rather than a gatekeeper. We have to point people to the open arms of God; to the Christ who destroys barriers and tears down dividing walls, showing the way of peace and reconciliation.
And, of course, we have to embody this two-becomes-one in how we live our lives.
Image: Mario Purisic