The Core of Christianity.

Whenever I read blog posts or status updates by my non-believer friends its clear to me that most atheists are under the false impression that the belief in God is at the core of Christianity. Maybe you’re a believer and you think the same. I’d like to offer you a challenge.

I’d suggest that perhaps the core of Christianity isn’t belief in God at all. Now, the foundation of christian belief starts with the fear of God.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” Prov. 1:7

So yes the belief in and fear of God is foundational, but I’d suggest that it’s not at Christianity’s Core. While belief, faith in the unseen God is the foundation of Christianity, Its center column (to continue with the building analogy) is far more visceral than the simple belief in God. This core element is pivotal, because while the existence of God cannot be irrefutably proven or disproven, this core piece is so innate and so key in all of humanity that it is Christianity’s greatest proof when present and also its most difficult apologetic question when it is absent.

The existence or God is not at the Core of Christianity; Love is. If it were not so wouldn’t the Bible be filled with philosophy; arguing for the existence of the diety around which it is centered? No, His existence is presupposed throughout all of its pages; instead, it tells the story of our need for an unstoppable love, created by a relentlessly loving God.

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

Theologically, 1st john is one of my favorite letters. It gets right down to it: God is love. Why was it that God sent his only begotten son? Was it for Anger at our disobedience? Was it for a desire for the world to be morally righted according to his law? No – For God so LOVED… Why is there a whole chapter dedicated in 1st Corinthians to explaining one word? Is there any other word that is so extensively defined anywhere else the Bible? And could it be any more clear when that chapter ends with these words:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor 13:13

Better than Faith: mere faith is important – even foundational to Christianity. Better than hope; we have hope for eternal life and yet we’re told that something is better than that hope. Love is the greatest of these.

So, go ahead tell me I can’t prove the existence of God. I wasn’t supposed to prove it anyway; that’s what faith is for. Go ahead tell me that the world is a terrible place and that its getting worse; I know that man is fallen and I have hope anyway. But I’d like to see you try – I’d love to see you try to disprove Love – true, relentless, fierce undying, sacrificial, love. Love wins.

Why I Pray

Do you pray? Do you know why?

A study was released in 2006 that seemingly proved that prayers for healing were ineffective. This is the largest study of its kind and to many it seemed to prove that prayer was a useless escapade and that if there is a God, he doesn’t seem to be listening. My first reaction was depression. I thought “God! – Why didn’t you show up?” and for a little while I let it affect my faith, but then I did some of my own research both in the scriptures and elsewhere and I realized that this study doesn’t change anything because that’s not why I pray.

So how do we as Christians react to this study? Well, we could point out that most of the studies before this one seemed to show the opposite to be true – such as a similar study in 1988 which showed that people who were prayed for anonymously needed fewer meds than those in the control group. Or we could point to the fact that statistically those who are involved in church are more likely to heal from diseases. But I really don’t think any of these prove anything. I’m not saying I don’t believe that the most recent study is conclusive; I think none of them are, and I don’t think any of them ever will be.

Why?

If someone asked a wise and generous millionaire for $100 randomly, he might say yes, he might say no – he could have good reasons for both. Perhaps he knows that the person in question is just going to waste that money or perhaps he knows that if he doesn’t give his money to that person, they’ll have the opportunity earn it themselves and in the process learn something. He might even say no and then offer them a job and in the long run, give them way more that $100. He also might give to people who didn’t even ask for it. If someone with whom he’s close asks him for $1 wouldn’t he be more likely to give them the money? Even more so if they were asking for that money so they could use it to help someone else in need? Obviously this analogy has its limits, but I think it changes things we you stop thinking of God as a giant slot machine and start thinking of him as a person. You can measure the statistical likelihood of a slot machine giving you a jackpot and it will not change over time. God is dynamic and while his character is unchanging, in scripture it’s clear that he’s not a slot machine.

So is it useless to Pray?

Medically prayer is shown to be effective for the person praying in that it promotes healthy blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and lowers heart rate. So regardless of what you believe, it is not useless to pray.

But do all of the effects of prayer have to be measurable by numbers? Think of your best friend, your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend – do you find a conversation with that person to be ‘effective’ or ‘ineffective’? Do you only consider it a ‘success’ if you received something from them? Do you quantify all of your relationships in statistics – saying that the relationship isn’t ‘effective’ if you’re not receiving what you ask for? I hope not – most people wouldn’t stand for that. Why do we expect a relationship with a living God to be any different?

The Real Authority

A few years ago there was a distinct drop in pretty much every car’s estimated miles per gallon. Why was this? Did every car actually get less efficient? No, It was because the testing standards became more realistic – the auto industry realized that their mode of testing wasn’t really testing anything real – instead it was just measuring what the MPG would be if a professional driver on a closed course were driving their car. They had to actually study what they were trying to study. I’d suggest that in addition to the fact that prayer isn’t quantifiable, these studies are much the same as the original MPG test; the conditions didn’t actually consider what real prayer looks like – what its purpose is or even simply, how to do it. That brings us to the question, “What then should prayer look like?” For the answer to that question we have to go to where we should have started: Scripture.