Does man’s problem of no lasting contentment contain a deeper-seated source involving a lack of peace? In a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual sense, I submit that at the core of whatever it appears we’re fighting and battling against in our daily lives, the underlying issue and biggest hurdle we have to overcome is realizing, accepting, and truly living into, the peace that is already offered to us.
Romans 1:20 alludes to a fact that enters into the mind of every man, whether he is aware of it or not – that is, through creation and a general observation of everything that exists in this world, man cannot deny that there is a Presence, or at least forces (which naturally would indicate a Presence behind them) above and beyond their own scope and span of control. A Presence or forces more powerful than man himself. Naturally, man wants these forces to play into his favor at all times, because who doesn’t want a greater power working with him instead of against him? So, how do you keep the favor of the forces, Presence, or gods? Some sort of sacrifice, or constant acknowledgement of the gods is necessary. Man, through his actions, lifestyle, and gifts to and in the sight of the gods, is trying to keep the forces in his favor – or rather, favoring him. His life becomes an altar. Today it can be recognized as “karma”, “luck”, “fortune”, or “what comes around” – cause and effect, or reaping what you sow. If you don’t sow enough, you don’t reap well. If you’re blessed with more than you believe you deserve, or a better result from sowing the usual amount, you better sow more the next time to show your appreciation and gratitude for a bountiful harvest. The gods never answer you and tell you how good or bad your offering was – you could only guess how they felt by the results in your life. Thus the cyclical nature and mounting pressure such an altar creates.
Now God interjects on the issue. In Leviticus, He establishes a whole new regime for those living in the early Old Testament times, stating exactly what sacrifices could be made to Him, exactly what He desired of people, and precisely what would make peace between man and Him. This ability to have peace with the Controller of the forces was an entirely new idea to people at that time, and revolutionary at that.
But God doesn’t intend to stop there. After allowing mankind to live for a while and soak up the huge idea that they could have peace with a Supreme Being – that they didn’t have to toil endlessly only hoping for the best – He takes it up a notch. God sends Jesus to this earth to essentially do away with the altar, and to become the Ultimate Sacrifice. Colossians 1:19-20 states specifically that Jesus reconciles everything to God through His blood on the cross – and that this sacrifice makes peace between mankind and God. The peace is already been made – the sacrifice is accomplished! Man doesn’t have to do anything or give anything to gain this peace – the sacrifice has already been made! So why then, does man continue to live with this desire, this urge, this feeling of necessity, to continue struggling, striving, and stressing to gain peace?
One of the reasons that I would say God used the altar in the first place, was to allow man to ease his own conscience of having done something to connect with God. Man’s “Newtonian” understanding of everything that goes on around him takes into account that a result only arises out of an original action – nothing happens just because, there’s always an explanation behind it. Therefore, I would submit that God caters to man’s understanding of this by allowing man to sacrifice for the peace that God wills to extend to man anyway. It’s definitely not due to the fact that God needs the blood of animals, or has to have the sustenance of the first portion of the crops man is offering to him. God is love, and He desires to love and have peace with man – man just has to overcome the idea that he has to work and sacrifice in his own life to attain that peace. Peace is already being offered, he must only step forward, accept and realize the sacrifice made for him, and live his life in realization of what has already been done.
Yet, man continues to turn things around in his futile attempts to earn God’s favor. “By grace you are saved… not of yourselves” and “My peace I give to you” go right past us. Surely God still requires something from us – some sort of sign that we’re living our lives in commitment to Him every day. What sort of ritual should we perform now to make ourselves content with the fact that we’re showing God we’re worthy of His favor?
Think of all of the classic examples of the “Christian” life. Someone who prays daily, reads the Bible daily, goes to church, and tithes at least 10 percent. Now, is there anything wrong with any or all of this? Absolutely not – however, God has shown throughout history and throughout the Bible that He has never been focused on the actual deeds we do – it’s all in the motive and the posture of our heart that concerns Him the most. How often do we really focus on the motive for why we’re living the life we are? Mostly, we look at our actions, and say to ourselves, “I’m certainly doing the best I can do”. But, is our motivation simply to make our life another altar, with us heaping on the good Christian deeds and offering it to God for His favor? Are we trying to accomplish something that God has already taken care of, which is peace between Him and us? Consequently, do we live our lives burdened and tired of constantly having to live a certain lifestyle? How ironic it is that God offers us freedom and relief from such burdens, and yet we create a new burden to ourselves by trying to follow Him!
Here is what I would submit: Believers need to drop every preconceived notion they might have of what our culture and our history tell them a good Christian is. Start thinking about every action from a clean slate. Begin building a thought process solely from the realization that Christ is our Ultimate Sacrifice, and that peace has already been made between God and us. Does not a feeling of freedom and joy overtake someone who realizes that the work has been done, and they are free to just live out their lives in thanksgiving before God? Will not such thanksgiving result in actions that glorify God – not actions stemming from obligation, but those of joy? Doesn’t God say that He loves a “cheerful giver”? Such an idea seems so simple in principle, but I would argue is more complex in carrying out. How we love to live our lives in routine, and how routine such actions become as we lose our focus for why we do them in the first place. Let’s pause and give thought to what God has already done for us, and instead of returning His deeds with our own, let’s take time to thank Him, and simply live forth from the joy that realization of His love and His gift brings to us.