I find that it doesn’t take too much convincing for people to admit that there is something deeply wrong with us. Occasionally, someone might express the belief that people are, on the whole, good. However, with only a little prodding, most will admit that, despite our best intentions, everyone makes mistakes along the way, some of which have terrible consequences. So we have a problem, and we spend a fortune and countless hours in therapy, on self-help tools, and religious efforts as a corrective to this problem. My thesis is that Christianity is not simply the better solution to our human predicament than the alternatives. My thesis is that Christianity is the only solution that even addresses our human predicament.
Most people in the world have a way of thinking about the world that is at least informed by a religious tradition. It is beyond the scope of this article to canvas the many and various proposed solutions on offer across religious traditions. It’s possible, however, to capture a wide range of these claims where the solution has crucially to do with doing something. Here the religious person prescribes certain religious practices, prayers, or prostrations that somehow make one right with a divine reality or in an otherwise enlightened state. But why should performing certain actions solve our moral depravity? To see the problem here, consider the fact that the human predicament we were trying to solve had to do with failing to do the morally right actions in the first place. The relevant question is how does providing a list of further actions even address that problem? If we couldn’t live appropriately before, it seems highly unlikely that we will do better with a new list of things to do.
Here’s an analogy. Suppose you’ve had a bad fall and suspect that you have broken your leg. You go to your doctor to get things fixed up, and suppose that his response is:
My diagnosis is that it is indeed a traumatic fracture of the femur bone. My prescribed solution is to just go ahead and walk it off.
The problem of course is that you went to the doctor because you had a problem related to walking to start with and being told to walk it off simply doesn’t address the problem. In fact, it is likely to exacerbate the problem. In the moral case, we are unable to live well in our current condition, so being told to do certain things does not seem to even address the problem. With this in mind, just think about how hollow it rings to be told to recite certain prescribed prayers or to fulfill your two-year missionary service or pray toward the east, etc., for the purpose of solving what’s wrong with the world. This is not to say that all religious doings are in themselves wrong. The point is, rather, that performances don’t address the need that they purport to address.
How about Christianity? As I said above, I think that the Christian solution does uniquely address our human condition. However, before we offer a statement of this, it’s worth mentioning that we, as Christians, have unfortunately so often fallen into the temptation of making ours a solution of religious doings. We virtually make idols out of things like spiritual disciplines, church attendance, evangelistic efforts and a host of other things we think earns us some degree of right standing with God. Again, religious performances are not unimportant. Indeed, our faith is dead without them (James 2:17). However, the point is that it is not what we do and how we perform that saves. If it was, then let’s face it, we would be in deep trouble!
There is perhaps no more profound truth to reflect on related to this topic than Paul’s statement “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8a). There is no other religion in the history of the world that ever predicated salvation on grace through faith. The Christian gospel doesn’t tell us to stop being desperately sick and corrupt by performing a list of particular deeds. It in fact tells us to give up on this hopeless pursuit and be made right by the work of Christ, as we make him Lord. In C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, in the essay entitled “Is Christianity Hard or Easy?” he says:
If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short, but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be plowed up and re-sown.
It is only through his doing that our human condition is addressed, as we surrender to him. Praise be to our God!