October 11, 2012

The Grind of Religion

Chaplain’s Corner

Lt. Gregory Woodard
Station Chaplain

In November, I will be executing orders and moving to 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, NC. As such, this will be my last article for the Desert Warrior. I have truly enjoyed my ministry here in Yuma, and I will miss the folks I have been blessed to know and minister to. I thought I would take this last opportunity to write about how I feel about religion.

I am not a religious person. I do not consider myself to be a religious leader. I wear a cross on my uniform and very often I lead in religious settings and am apt to perform religious functions in setting that are not religious. All the same, I do not consider myself to be religious.

As I define it, religion is about rules. I am apt to agree with folks who say that there needs to be less religion in the world. What we need are more folks pursuing a relationship with God.

At a formative time of my life while I was pursuing my graduate degree at Bethel Seminary, I began to get a sense that God desired a relationship with me. He wanted to know me personally. In the Hebrew Scriptures, there is a book called the Song of Solomon. In this book, God is pictured as a lover who is pursuing his beloved.

I grew up in a wonderful Christian tradition that talked a lot about having a personal relationship with God. Somehow, though, I could not get past the idea that God is holy and separate from his creation. To my mind, God was far removed from us and had a certain set of rules that we needed to maintain in order to have any hope of being near him.

Somewhere along the way, I was exposed to a new way of thinking and I realized that God created us to be beings who loved us. In order for us to truly love him, he had to give us a free will, knowing that some would choose a direction that was not best for their lives. He also knew that some would choose to pursue a love relationship with him.

God did not create us with a need for our love. His love was completed in and of himself. God chose to create us to widen his circle of love. He created us desiring our love for him because he knew that by loving him, the best purposes for our lives would be gained.

Loving God is like the love that a husband has for his wife and a wife for her husband. Both have chosen to love each other. If either was forced to love the other, their love would not be genuine. We love our spouse because we have chosen to love them, and them us.

Love for God is the same thing. If God would have mandated our love, it would not be a true relationship. Since God gave us the choice to love or not love him, he chose to be a lover of our souls, pursuing our love as a lover pursues the one who has caught their heart. When I grabbed hold of this concept, it revolutionized my relationship with him. I began to understand that God wanted to love me and desire to be a love of my soul.

When I sit with people who are asking questions about faith, who are perhaps resistant to Christianity because of their negative experiences with religion, I ask them to consider the idea of being in a relationship with God rather than being asked to follow a bunch of rules.

If you have been knotted up with religion, I encourage you to consider changing your perspective. Consider that God desires to have a relationship with you and that he is a lover who is pursuing you. Perhaps this simple change will be as revolutionary for you as it was for me.

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