The rabbinic scholar, Samson Raphael Hirsch, commenting on religion wrote “All ‘religion,’ all so-called ‘honoring God in spirit,’ is worthless if the thought, the idea of God, is not strong enough to exercise its power practically in the control of our words and doings.” The Old Testament prophet, Amos, said much the same thing, stating “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.” He concluded “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Cf. Amos 5:21-24). Both Rabbi Hirsch and the prophet Amos agree that religion is not worth much if it doesn’t affect how we live our lives.
Their words are all too prophetic in the world in which we live. As we look at the society around us, we often see a disconnection between our religious life and the rest of our life. This became poignantly aware to me when I met a person who was stating how God was blessing him while at the same time he was stealing several thousands of dollars of merchandise from his employer. His idea of God was not strong enough to prevent his theft.
We live in a world that tries to divorce our religious life from our secular life. The concept of “freedom of religion” has been redefined to mean “freedom from religion”. Often this is an attempt to avoid having anyone else, or any system, tell us what we ought (or ought not) to do. In doing so, we lose the moral and ethical dimension that adhering to faith in God brings to a society. This has led to disastrous consequences for our society. We have seen these consequences in the corporate scandals that have plagued us during the past ten years. Several corporate leaders, while claiming to believe in God, actually robbed many people. The leaders of Enron are a good example. Their idea of God was not strong enough to affect how they ran their business.
As we move into a new election season, many of the candidates court people of faith. They claim to believe in and to follow God. Yet many times the ads attacking their opponents are full of half truths and innuendos. They may also make campaign promises that they never intend to keep. When they do this they are lying to us. Their idea of God is not strong enough to affect the moral and ethical side of their campaigns. They have lost the sense of what God really requires from his followers.
We can point at the sins of many high profile corporate, political and religious leaders. It is very easy to look at the faults of others. But we also have to ask “What about me?” Am I any better? Does my belief in God affect my words and actions? In many ways we are not much better. While we may not have all the opportunities of many high profile individuals, and our sins may not be as glaring as theirs, we do many of the same things. We deliberately mislead others when it is to our advantage. We excuse our little faults as being minor things of no consequence. We gossip and tell half truths. When we do so our faith is worthless in God’s eyes. Our idea of God is not strong enough to affect how we operate in our day to day lives. From time to time we need to ask the penetrating question: “Is my belief in God strong enough to impact all my words and actions?” May the answer be “Yes”!