Summary: Is Christianity a crutch for the weak minded and naive? How should Christians respond to the criticism?
I wonder if you have heard this statement. It goes something like this. “Christianity is only for those who are weak; it only offers consolation to life’s losers.”
Have you heard it or seen this criticism? Just watch TV or go see a movie sometime. The world often portrays Christians as being somewhat weak and naïve—We are portrayed as the kind of people who need our faith as a “crutch” just to get through life. Some critics of religion (I don’t put us in “religion” but bear with me) suggest that non religious people are stronger because they are brave enough to face life without the crutch of “God/god.”
In fact, over the last few weeks I have visited some atheist websites to prepare for this message. And it was not uncommon for me to see an image of a weak, ham fisted Christian contrasted with a hardier, wiser atheist who has no need for such nonsense to get through life.
That portrayal has obviously resonated with American culture. After all, we admire strength and rugged individualism. Plus, we live on knowledge in an information heavy world. In our modern world, if you don’t know an answer to a question, you just look it up online. My oldest daughter who is training in computers has a teacher who tells her classes, “Make Google your best friend.”
If this is true in today’s society, then are we better off without God? Do we need him?
Is God just the machinations of weak minds? Are Christians pathetically naive?
Is religion as Karl Marx describes it, simply, “An opiate (a pain killer) for the masses”?
Is Christianity just a crutch?
I want to explore this topic today as we continue our series of messages “Alien Experience: Living in the World, but not of it.”
Our Text for today starts with 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
As you turn let me offer a brief context. In 2 Corinthians, it is apparent as you read that some in the church in Corinth were questioning Paul’s authority as an apostle. So in the chapter before ours, Paul tells about all the things he could boast about, both good and bad, that make him an apostle. In chapter 12, he continues.
1 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained (addition mine: in boasting about myself), I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.
All this talk about visions, and being caught up to paradise sounds strange doesn’t it? Most of us haven’t seen visions, or had dreams, or been caught up in heaven not knowing if we were in the body or out of it. It’s strange. But realize that Paul is telling about his qualifications to be an Apostle. Paul is establishing his credibility with the church in Corinth.
You see, in order to be an Apostle, one would have had to have been an eye witness to the ministry of Jesus. Paul was not one of the original twelve. In fact he came quite late to the party after Jesus had ascended into heaven. So Paul was not physically present during Jesus’ ministry. So what Paul is saying is this. “I don’t qualify as an apostle because I physically witnessed the ministry of Jesus.” My experience was different.
“Fifteen years ago”, he says, “I saw the ministry of Jesus a whole different way.” (through visions and dreams and being caught up into heaven) That’s why in other texts that Paul writes, he refers to himself as an apostle abnormally born.
And Paul makes this appeal using a literary technique where he writes about himself in the third person. It sounds weird, but I think Paul is trying to drive home the impact of the story without having to focus on himself.
I would be like me saying, “There once was a man who failed in Bible college, but now he is leading a church, isn’t it wonderful that God can use failures.” Oh, by the way the man who failed is me. Paul is driving home the point of his calling. You can see it when Paul writes further (verse 5)
5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. . . .