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Why We Should Not Confuse Formal Religion with a Personal Relationship with Christ

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Wednesday, January 4, 2023
Why We Should Not Confuse Formal Religion with a Personal Relationship with Christ

Why We Should Not Confuse Formal Religion with a Personal Relationship with Christ


“The last five hundred years have witnessed a breathtaking series of revolutions. The earth has been united into a single ecological and historical sphere. The economy has grown exponentially, and humankind today enjoys the kind of wealth that used to be the stuff of fairy tales. Science and the Industrial Revolution have given humankind superhuman powers and practically limitless energy. The social order has been completely transformed, as have politics, daily life and human psychology.”

So writes Yuval Noah Harari in his bestseller, Sapiens. To illustrate his point, the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the world’s largest technology conference, begins tomorrow in Las Vegas.

Among the many innovations on display, we will see a smart refrigerator with a touchscreen display where you can control home devices, watch videos, and make shopping lists for Amazon delivery. Mops that wash themselves, window-cleaning robots, and robots that climb stairs are expected. As are electric cars with multiple touch screens and built-in video gaming.

Temple Mount visit called an "unprecedented provocation"

From new technology to the latest in a very old conflict: Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

Ben Gvir has long challenged the status quo by which Muslims are allowed to visit the site and pray with few restrictions while Jews can visit only during limited time slots and are not allowed to pray there. As a result, the Jerusalem Post reports that the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry condemned the visit as an “unprecedented provocation.”

Jordan likewise denounced Ben Gvir “in the severest terms [for] the storming of the Al Aqsa Mosque and violation of its sanctity.” Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia all criticized the visit as well. Even newly reelected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned in the past that “Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount, though it sounds like a reasonable thing, I know it would have ignited the Middle East.”

And so, in the view of skeptics, we have another example of the danger posed to our advanced secular society by antiquated religion. But is the world really this simple?

"Human life has absolutely no meaning"

Let’s return to Harari’s analysis of our cultural moment. After describing the remarkable innovations that have changed our lives, he asks: “But are we happier? Did the wealth humankind accumulated over the last five centuries translate into a new-found contentment?”

His short answer is no.

He explains why: “Happiness is not the surplus of pleasant over unpleasant moments. Rather, happiness consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile. . . . A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.”

Here’s the problem, in his atheistic and secularist view: “As far as we can tell, from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose. Our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan ... Hence, any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion” (his emphasis).

What is the color of a C scale?

Harari, brilliant as he is, makes a basic logical error known as a “category mistake.” We make this mistake when we ask how much the number three weighs or the color of a C scale. Harari does the same when he assumes that a “purely scientific viewpoint” is the only viewpoint from which to assess the meaning of our lives.

Of course we cannot determine the meaning of life through scientific means. How would a chemist measure the strength of his marriage in a lab? How would a physicist evaluate her friendships through mathematical formulas?

Secularists make a similar mistake known as an “association fallacy” when they point to the acts of a single person or religion as typifying all religions. Having led more than thirty study tours to Israel, I can testify that Itamar Ben Gvir categorically does not represent all Israelis, nor are his views regarding the Temple Mount the consensus among Jews. Nor are Jewish beliefs on any subject necessarily typical of the beliefs of Christians, Muslims, and so on.

The most logical way to discover the design of an object is to consult its designer. Similarly, the best way to find the purpose of your life is to consult the One who created you.

"The greatest discovery you will ever make"

Let’s not make a category mistake with our souls this year. No matter how advanced our technology becomes, Harari is right: we will never find lasting happiness through temporal comfort and convenience. And let’s avoid an association fallacy that confuses formal religion with a personal relationship with our Maker.

Jesus taught us: “Abide in me, and I in you. ... Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). So let’s “abide” in Christ by beginning each day with him in prayer, Bible study, and worship, then walk through the day with him in prayer and obedience. And let’s measure success by whether or not we are bearing “much fruit” for Christ.

Scripture warns us, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). So ask yourself: Will this attitude, statement, or action glorify God? Will this decision bring honor to his name? Will he be pleased with this day when it is done?

Billy Graham observed, “This is the greatest discovery you will ever make: You were created to know God and to be his friend forever.”

Will you be God’s friend today?

Note: For practical ways to experience God’s purpose for your life, please see my latest blog, “‘They saved three lives and it was great’: Three steps into your life purpose.”

Publication date: January 4, 2022

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/PaulMaguire

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

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