“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’” Matthew 7:21-23
I read a news article this week about a mother in Phoenix, AZ, who used a taser to get her son to church on Easter morning. The 17 year old boy wanted to stay home with his friends who were freed by their parents from mandatory church attendance. His mother had a different idea. When the boy refused to go with her, she ran to get her taser and, coming back into his room, tased him according to the boy, his brother and cousins. Despite the mother’s denial, the taser marks could be seen on the boy’s leg by the police.
What kind of faith comes from coercion? What kind of faith grows from enforcement? I’ve counseled people who are struggling with their faith, and helped people discover ways to “fake it till they make it”, but it’s one thing to voluntarily go through the motions hoping to prime the pump of faith, and quite a different thing to be forced at the risk of bodily harm to act faithfully. Coercion in the realm of faith is oxymoronic. If I am forced to confess faith, then almost by definition, I have no faith. If I only believe in order to avoid harm to myself or others, is that real faith?
This past Sunday we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are asked to have faith in Christ and his resurrection. This isn’t faith as a proposition we believe in intellectually, like 1 plus 1 equals 2. No, this is a call to put our trust in Jesus, to make his example and God’s will the guiding principles of our life. Going to church is not faith – I’ve long said that sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in McDonald’s will make you a hamburger. No, the Christian is the one who chooses to follow the lead of Jesus in their every day life. While corporate worship, reading Scripture and praying are all important, the most critical element of our faith is the choice to act in a certain way, according to God’s will. But if we are coerced, then there is no choice, and thus there is no faith.
So as we go through this Easter season, let us be reminded that no one can force another to believe. Nothing we say or do can force faith on another. It is our lives, the example of loving words and actions that may attract people to faith, never a taser.
Prayer: O Risen Christ, you could have called down angel armies to coerce our faith; you could have engaged in splashy miracles far and wide to make us believe in you. Instead, you invited our faith by your love and sacrifice. Teach me by your example so that I, too, may lead others to you through loving words and deeds, and recognize that coerced faith is no faith at all. Amen.