The Purpose of Religion

By Michael E. Brooks
“Nevertheless the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam, but the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you” (Deuteronomy 23:5).
As one who was raised and lived nearly all his life in what many refer to as a “Christian Country”, other religions remain strange to me in many ways.
Not only do they sometimes recognize and worship different gods, and acknowledge other laws or rules, but their worship, religious service, moral standards and ethical conduct are also very different from those to which I am accustomed.
Another startling contrast between religions is their stated or perceived purpose. We often take for granted that all religions share the desire to appease whatever deity may exist, or at least that divine being to which a given religion is directed.
Men honor and worship God in order to seek his blessings and forgiveness. We presume that as a given.
I have learned however that the above purpose, though basic to Biblical religion (Judaism and Christianity) is not at all the objective of many other world religions.
They seek not to appease or honor gods, but rather to manipulate and control them, using religious rituals as the means of binding or obligating divine powers to grant the desires of the supplicants.
These religions are not about man’s service to the gods, but rather about ways to exercise power over them.
In the Old Testament story recounted in Numbers 22-24 King Balak of Moab sought to defeat his enemy, Israel, by compelling their own God to curse them. He hired the prophet Balaam to cast a spell over Israel which would bring about the desired effect.
Both Balaam and Balak perceived religion as a means of control and manipulation of divine power. If Balaam, through sorcery, could get the upper hand on God, Balak’s purpose could be achieved.
There was only one problem. God did not listen to Balaam. Rather he demanded that Balaam listen to him. It was God who controlled the situation, not man.
All of Balaam’s magic rites and secret spells were of no affect. God could not be manipulated by mere humans.
Religion is not about using God or controlling him. We cannot place him in a situation where he is obligated to act according to our desires, without regard for his own nature and laws. We are not in charge. God alone controls all things.
Though many professing Christianity today would be outraged if accused of practicing sorcery or witchcraft, they nevertheless share the same misconception about the nature of their religious activity.
That is, they believe that doing a few special rites (prayers, baptism, hymns, giving, etc.) will compel God to act on their behalf, regardless of whether they sincerely love him and keep his commands.
The truth is God is always consistent with his own nature. Balaam could not force God to act contrary to his love for Israel. Neither can we force him to ignore justice, righteousness and truth.
Christian religion is designed to assist man in serving God, not the other way around. Let us always keep that relationship in its proper order.

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