Is Christian Faith Just a Psychological Crutch for the Weak?

27 October 2010

I had the privilege of speaking at the Christian Union meeting looking at the topic of faith being perceived as just a psychological crutch. Below is a copy of my notes, as always comments, thoughts and general feedback always apprecated!

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine - John Lennon

People tend to take these lyrics in one of two ways; the first group listen to this song and love it. It describes a world of the here and now, what you see is what you get, a world that is explore-able and explainable. In this world there is no issue with religion getting in the way of science. To many this is very appealing.

The seconds group look at this song negativity; 'this is all we get from life?' To this second group of people the idea of death; nothing after us is a frightening concept; they get around 70 years, and then thats it! Surely life must have more value than that? Other people in this group find the lack of justice in the world a real problem; there is so much bad stuff going on, so much war and anger, pain and hurt caused by other people, and they get away with it! This idea just doesn 't make sense, it isn 't fair. Either way this group cannot bear to think that there nothing after death.

We 've got two view points; the first group looks at the world and says we can create this perfect world if we just work together, and the second groups looks John Lennon 's song and think; this just isn 't achievable. Lennon invites us to call him a dreamer, and I do, because that 's what this is. The world that is described is a nice idea, but that is all it is, it 's a pipe dream. We can imagine what a wonderful place that would be; but that is all we can do.

Tonight 's talk is titled 'Faith - it 's a Psychological Crutch... ' John Lennon 's song looks at faith, but faith in humanity, in ourselves. What I hope to unpack is that as Christian 's our faith should be founded in something that isn't a dream but a reality. This faith is available for those who admit that they can 't do it for themselves?

What tends to happen is this statement '€˜faith is a psychological crutch' is thrown at us by the kind of people who generally think they are sorted; they are strong and don 't need faith, and therefore the people with faith are weak are the ones that need help. Someone I know had this statement followed up with '€˜Well, I 'm just saying it for your own good. Someone like you doesn 't need religion!' Jesus came up across this view point constantly! In Matthew chapter 9 Jesus has dinner with Levi (aka Matthew) and the Pharisees turn up, these are the guys who teach in the synagogues, and look down on Jesus, and rather than confronting Jesus, the Pharisees said to His disciples '€"why does your teacher eat with such scum?" To which Jesus responds, "healthy people don 't need a doctor; sick people do." What tends to happen is that people who think their own spiritual life (or there lack of) is sorted will reject Jesus. But if we take a step back, look at our own lives, look at the lives of the people around us, look at the state that the world is in and then come to the conclusion that everything is well is in denial. Jesus follows up the rebuke to the Pharisees with the words "€œI have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners".

Look at what Jesus is doing here, the Pharisees think they have it sorted, they think they are strong - Jesus says that he is here for those who can see that they need help. Jesus makes it really clear here in these verses; Christianity is for those who need something to cling on to, Jesus is for those who are weak, those who are spiritually needy. The thing is, that all of us are spiritually needy, whether we acknowledge it or not. Within Ecclesiastes 3:11 it says "...he has put eternity into man 's heart...", God has put a desire in our lives for God to fill, C. S. Lewis wrote it like this:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists... If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

We all have things we need, or things that we desire, be that food, drink, sex, knowledge, and these things have real ways of satisfying them. However people satisfy them in different ways. When I am hungry I have a choice; I can choose to eat a biscuit to satisfy my hunger or I can choose a cooked meal. The thing is the biscuit can keep me going for a couple of minutes, then I'm back in the kitchen nibbling on something else, a meal can keep me going for a whole lot longer. Our need in life is kind of like that, we can try to find satisfaction in the things in this world, but that is like the biscuit and will only last a short time, or we can find satisfaction in Jesus who will support us for all eternity, definitely more like a long lasting meal! One place this is really demonstrated is in John 's gospel; Jesus is sitting with a Samaritan woman at a well and he says to her “anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life."

So, if faith is for those who acknowledge they are weak, does that mean that when we become a Christian everything will be perfect, and we won 't go through hard times? Definitely not... For so many Christian 's throughout history following God has not been easy, faith in Jesus is not a simple way out. Jesus ' words to his followers made this very clear to them when he said in Luke 9:23-24 “... if any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will loose it. But if you give your life for my sake, you will save it." The words here say that following Jesus is not going to be easy, Christianity is for those who acknowledge that they are weak, and Jesus really drives home that you need to be following him, relying on him all the way. Jesus can 't really make it much clearer when he says ‘take up your cross and follow me '; Christianity involves sacrifice, it means turning over to God the things which we rely upon. Even the strong people have crutches that they rely upon, things that satisfy them for a short time. For the Pharisees mentioned earlier their crutch was their ‘holiness ', they relied upon that to gain self worth. In university here in Lincoln we all have things which are used as crutches to gain satisfaction; qualifications and merit, drink and sex, etc. As sinners in this room we all have issues, are there things here that we rely upon rather than relying on Christ. One thing I struggle continually with mirrors the Pharisees exactly; relying on the things I do - going to church meetings, quiet times, Synergy and Converge attendance, etc. I am so inclined to focus on the things that I do to get my satisfaction that I so often miss what has already been done; everything that I need for self worth is found in Jesus, I so often have to reassess myself and remind myself that my reliance needs to be upon Christ.

Another thing that isn 't hidden by the Bible is that following Christ has another kind of sacrifice, if you think back to the early church, people like Stephen and Paul suffered and died for their faith. If it was just a psychological crutch designed to support them surely they would 've turned from it pretty quickly, and then suggested to others that they should do the same... Instead Paul says that for his faith he endured “forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked." (2 Cor 11:24-27) And why does he say these things? “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying." (2 Cor 11:30-31). Paul acknowledged his weakness, not make him look big and holy, instead to show how much he needed God.

But suffering for Christ isn 't just something that happened back in the early church. All across today 's world persecution is happening, from people who are taken from their homes, beaten and thrown into prison, the families who thrown out their sons or daughters for becoming a Christian, or even the snide remarks people at work or uni make every day. The point is whatever your situation, wherever you have come from Christianity is not going to be the one fix, simple solution to your problems, in fact one of the visitors to my church said that before he was a Christian life was fine, it was when he became a Christian all his problems started!

So if Bible sells Christianity as something that could quite possibly end up leading to lashings, beatings, stoning, being ship wrecked, and many of it 's leaders ending up in the grave prematurely, what on earth would make anyone want to believe it?

Well Paul would answer with the response - you should believe it, because it 's true, and because Heaven is a reality. Remember back to Lennon 's song, the picture that is painted is an image of peace, with people working together. Paul hung on to his faith because he was convinced of the truth of it, he was also convinced of the reality of heaven. In Philippians chapter 1 Paul says “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. I 'm torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live." This dream that Lennon describes cannot happen here on earth, but in heaven it will be fulfilled to a so much greater extent.

Paul was sure of his faith, Luke the author of Luke 's gospel wanted to assure other believers so that they could have the same kind of faith that both Luke and Paul had, the first four verses of Luke 's gospel show why he wrote it “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theo, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught." Luke goes back to the eye witnesses to show Theo what he believes is true and trustworthy. The point I 'm trying to make is that is that Christianity is true, it isn 't a made up, blind faith which relies upon weak minded people needing a psychological crutch, instead Christianity is a rational belief that sane, not crazy, people can believe.

Christianity is a faith based upon facts, there are many eye witness accounts both inside and outside the Bible to back this up. Christian 's shouldn 't just believe that there is a God simply because it feels comfortable, and likewise, as we 'll discover next week, we cannot discount the existence of God because of science, everybody needs to look at the evidence for God. I don 't have time to go into this evidence today, but there are plenty of people who have done the research, looked into more of the big evidence questions and come down on the side that it is true. One of these investigators, Lee Strobel, wrote the book ‘The Case for Christ ' looking into various claims of Christianity and the conclusion he came to was Christianity could only be true.

The author, and atheist, Carl Sagan, in his book The Demon Haunted World writes "€œit is better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusions, however satisfying and reassuring." Remember back to Imagine by John Lennon; the world just isn 't like the song that is described. It sounds good and satisfying... But it 's a delusion. The universe is broken, the world is a mess. The strong people join Lennon with this delusion, they find their satisfaction in it for a short time, they lean on their crutches that the world provides. But in reality that doesn 't work, it doesn 't fulfill, it 's the rich tea biscuit next to the five course meal.

We need to realise we are weak people who need a strong saviour to hold us up. We need to be weak people who are fully reliant on Christ. Then we will enter into something so much bigger, so much better than the world imagined by Lennon. I want to conclude with some of the words closing the book of Revelation, it paints a much brighter picture that Imagine, of a world we can genuinely look towards:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, "€œLook, God 's home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever."

And the one sitting on the throne said, "€œLook, I am making everything new!" And then he said to me, "€œWrite this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true." And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega - the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

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