Vayikra & Zakhor
For the week of March 15, 2008 / 8 Adar II 5768
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26
Devarim / Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: 1 Shmuel / 1 Samuel 15:2-34

The Essence of Man-Made Religion

Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice." (1 Shmuel / 1 Samuel 15:24; ESV)

While it is not popular today to believe in Truth, I do. Not only do I believe that Truth exists and can be known, I believe that God's only revealed and authoritative Truth is found in the Bible (Old and New Covenant Scriptures). I am aware that I don't understand everthing there is to know about God's Truth, yet, by his enabling grace he has led me to a significant understanding of his Truth, which includes an approach to the Bible that allows me to grow in his Truth effectively.

Logically therefore, according to my understanding, all other religions, spiritualities and philosophies are man made. You might think that all religions, spiritualities and philosophies including mine are man made. Or you might think they are all God made. Or you might think that your viewpoint is the right one while all others, including mine, are man made. Or you might think that Truth is some sort of mixture of a variety of things.

Whatever you think, this week's Haftarah portion gives us some insight as to the essence of man-made religion. King Saul had been told by God to completely obliterate the Amalekite nation - people and animals. As it turned out he decided to preserve the lives of the Amalekite king and the best of the livestock. When confronted by the prophet Samuel as to why he did not fully comply with God's directive, he at first tried to make it sound as if he did. Instead of destroying the animals as God commanded, he said that they were preserved in order to make sacrifices. It wasn't until after Samuel pronounced judgment on Saul that Saul confessed that his real motivation for preserving the animals was because he feared the people.

Saul put a spin on the whole affair because he feared the people. Instead of doing what God said, he did what the people wanted. He had more respect for the people's wishes, than for God's directive.

This is the essence of man-made religion. Man-made religions, spiritualities, and philosophies are derived out of a fear of other people.

The fear I am referring to may not feel like fear. When we do things that are derived from the fear of others, we may not feel afraid. In fact when we fear people, we keep ourselves from feeling afraid by making sure we do what they want. As long as we please the people that matter to us, we have nothing to be afraid of. When we fear people in this way, we are not fearing God. That's what was going on with Saul.

God's ways in the Scriptures often put us at odds with people and their agendas for our lives. There is so much pressure to go along with the crowd, whatever crowd we might be part of. For some it is about being respectable, for others, it's about being cool, for others, it's about the clothes we wear, or the music we listen to. But the God of the Bible calls us away from the pressure of pleasing others to a place of submission to his will, whatever that may mean with regard to our relationships. Interestingly it is only as we are able to be free from this kind of pressure that we can be a true blessing to the very ones we care so much about.

This doesn't mean that in order to have an authentic relationship to God we should do our own thing no matter what anyone else thinks. Biblical faith is one that is humble and is open to the input of others. But those who earnestly desire to submit to God point people to God and not to themselves, just as Samuel sought to do for Saul - which is also what I am trying to do for you right now.

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