While in Central America earlier this year, I visited the Mayan ruins at Tazumal, El Salvador. Tazumal is one of the best preserved ruins in that country, and I learned from my guide, that it was a central religious site. Tazumal was a place where the ancients gathered to ceremonially soothe their cruel, bloodthirsty deities.
If a severe drought struck the region, then the gods were angry; shed some blood. If the rainy season was monsoonal, the gods were perturbed; shed some blood. If the spring corn crop refused to grow, the gods were against the people; shed some blood. Sickness, plague, earthquakes, tidal waves, floods, or accidents; these all had the same explanation. The fickle and nefarious gods had to be appeased.
All ancient religions were built on a similar foundation: God is angry and humanity stands in constant danger, thus someone has to pay. Much of current religion is anchored to this mooring as well. Is it no wonder then, that the world is filled with hate, bloodshed, panic, and terror when religious people, the vast majority of the world’s population, expect the same from their gods?
Regrettably, faith has failed to mature or evolve beyond its most elementary and primitive beginnings; and when Christianity succumbs to this type of fear-driven hysteria, it is especially disconcerting. That God is an unpredictable executioner with an itchy, twitchy trigger finger that must somehow be pacified is a gross misrepresentation of our faith, because it is a gross misrepresentation of Jesus Christ, his person, and his mission.
We who are Christian believe that Jesus “is the visible image of the invisible God,” as the Apostle Paul wrote. Paul continued, “And through Christ, God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth.”
Put simply, the Advent of Jesus, his coming into the world that we celebrate during this season, was not to save us from God, but to show us what and who God is really like. And what is he like? He is at peace with us. He has reconciled all things. There is no anger to placate and no blood to shed, only his love to receive, explore, and share.
God loves us, not because we are good; not because we are loveable; not because of what we can do for him or for others; and not because of the way we make him feel. He loves us because he is actually, truly, really that good. And what we and our world need more than anything – a world up to its collective ears in fear and bloodshed – is that kind of real, unconditional, healing love.
I enjoy how Father Richard Rohr explains this. He tells a story about eating dinner with a family from his parish. They had a wonderful meal and the whole time the toddler in the family, who had just learned to walk, was running about everywhere. The little guy could really move, but he had a problem stopping.
He ran to the top of a set of stairs but could not find his “brakes” in time to stop. He toppled, over the edge, banging and careening his way downward. No one at the table moved; they all held their breath in dread. Four, five, six, seconds passed. The father finally jumped up and ran to the stairwell. There the youngster was at the bottom of the steps, only bruised a bit, but lying in shock, his eyes bugged out over what had just happened to him. Only when his dad got to him and picked him up did he start crying.
Father Rohr made this appropriate observation: “We can never acknowledge our pain and let the healing begin, until we are taken up in the arms of love. Love allows the crying and the mending to begin.” God wants to take up the hurt and injured into his arms to love and mend, not destroy. So let the mending begin in each us, and we might discover that the mending will begin in our world.