Tell me something. If you were going to invent a religion – yes, I know, that’s probably not on your to do list but humour me for a moment, think about it: if you were going to invent a religion and your aim was to get people to behave well, how would you go about it?
Would you go for the carrot, or the stick? Would you try to scare people into behaving well because hey, if you’re naughty then something really really bad will happen to you? Or would you promise people heaven if they do the right thing?
One thing I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t do. You wouldn’t tell people that the way they behave doesn’t ultimately matter.
Which is why I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a cartoon suggesting that Jesus – you know, the one who died to atone for the sins of mankind so that anyone who believes in him gets a ticket to heaven – was invented in an attempt to get people to behave.
Seriously… The cartoon was comparing Jesus to Santa Claus, but totally missing the point about the humungous difference between the two: grace.
The mythical Santa is totally about rewards for good behaviour. If you’re good, so the story goes, you get presents. If you’re naughty, you don’t. Each child (so the story goes) gets what they deserve.
And if you look at some religions invented by human beings, you find similar patterns. You find myths about deities that weigh up your good deeds vs. your bad deeds, and decide accordingly – so according to them you get to hell or to heaven depending on your behaviour.
If someone wants to get people to behave, that’s obviously the way to do it. If you want your kids to behave, you either promise them punishment for misbehaviour, or you promise them a treat if they’re good (or both).
If you hired someone to come up with a plan for getting the general population to behave better, and that person came back saying “Let’s tell them that no matter how bad they are, we’ll accept the blame and take the punishment for them” – you’d sack them on the spot, wouldn’t you? I can just see you in your office, shaking your head and muttering: you had one job…
No, Jesus is not some human invention for getting people to behave.
Jesus offers us a deal that says: no matter how badly you behave, you can get to heaven. It’s on me.
Oh, and one more difference between him and Santa Claus:
Jesus is real.