There are three ways to respond to God: irreligion, religion, or the gospel.* Irreligion and religion are variations on a theme: avoidance of God. The gospel is an altogether different kind of music, a love song. Three songs by Derek Webb illustrate the variations and the difference. The first is a song of irreligion, called “Heavy.”
“Heavy” is what I imagine the prodigal son singing as he is leaving home, on his way to debauchery. He is fed up with work, work, work. He is tired of waiting for his inheritance. So he takes it, and he’s gone. As he leaves, he mentally replays what he’s told his father:
I have needs, I cannot deny them
I was made to want these things
I will stay if you can supply them
If you can’t, I’ll trade my ring
For a father who loves me enough
To provide what he’s made me to love
It’s very good, you said so yourself
Then you put it so high on the shelf
But I can almost taste it
Where has the prodigal gone wrong in his thinking? Is it that he has needs? No, he was made with needs. The problem is that he thinks his needs will be met in things instead of relationship. He is so bent on these things “high on a shelf” that he misses the Father altogether.
But that’s not his only problem. The prodigal feels that his Father is withholding what’s best for him:
It is fruit for which I am reaching
It’s simple supply and demand
If it’s abstinence that you’re preaching
Then you’ll have to slap my hand
The prodigal is like you and I because we sometimes respond to God with distrust and fear–thinking that he’s not looking out for our best. It’s the scenario in which we feel that, while we have done our best to please God, he is not upholding his role as a Father who rewards us, so we run away from him. This can even be the thinking of people who know the gospel, that God sent his son to die for their sins. Christians and folk raised on the gospel can intellectually understand that fact, yet miss what it really means for them. We miss the point of the gospel, like a prodigal who misses the point of his Father. (We’ll talk more about that in another post.)
By missing the gospel, or the Father, we don’t take our rejection of God very seriously. We don’t reckon how heavy our sin is–so infinitely heavy that it crushed God’s son. In fact, we make light of it, like the prodigal made light of taking his inheritance (preferring his father dead) and then ran off so proud and self-assured. This is our chorus of irreligion:
So I try to make light of things I can’t deny are so heavy
Whose weight is so great that your body is crushed underneath
Yet I stand on your grave and I claim I am tall and I’m steady
But tell the truth I’m bound to fall on you
Note that last line: the truth is, thankfully, that a Christian living in avoidance, distrust, or fear of God will eventually have to fall back on him. Just like the prodigal. But until then, we run from what seems so heavy, running so far we wear out the soles of our shoes.
What pulls you away from God? Where are you looking to fulfill your needs?
*I’m using Timothy Keller’s wording from his book Center Church.