Is Religion a Private Matter? (The Audacity and Gratitude of a Witness and 1 Chronicles 16:8)

“O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.” 1 Chronicles 16:8 (NRSV)

“Faith and religion are private matters.” So goes a mantra in our nation today, and while most Canadians, Christian and non-Christian alike, will find little difficulty in giving thanks this Thanksgiving weekend, both may stumble on the “make known His deeds” part of the above verse. There is an aversion to “chatting up God” on the part of Christian, and there often seems to be an evasion of such chats on the part of the unbeliever. And so we go on and on about the weather and hockey, both of which are very public matters and both of which are of great concern to the typical Canadian while matters of faith are kept private. Furthermore we can not go around telling people we are right and they are wrong can we? Would that not be arrogance? Nor can we ram our religion down peoples throats can we? So shall we tone down the Christian rhetoric and let our actions speak for themselves? Or should we heed this Psalm of Thanksgiving and “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous works among the peoples” (verse 24)? Here are three observations:

First, religion cannot be a private matter because truth is not a private matter. And if our religion is not true, then we should want nothing more to do with it. In any field of learning privacy would be considered a curse. In educational matters you do not want your teachers keeping knowledge to themselves and in medical matters you do not want the doctors keeping knowledge of possible treatments private. In important matters it is of utmost importance that all facts and opinions are clear and accessible. So why would we want to make the most significant questions one could pose private? Questions such as “Who is God?” “Has God revealed Himself?” and “why should it matter?” There needs to be discussion and a sharing of ideas, retreat into privacy will not do. Religion can not be a private affair because truth is never a private affair, unless of course one has reason to value lies.

Second, the declaration of truth will always be accompanied with exclusive claims. We need not waffle when someone points out that by sharing Jesus with them we are insinuating that we are right and they are wrong. Surely it would not be the first time you are right and someone else is wrong? It is okay for that to happen! Remember that the person who raises that objection is usually thinking that they are right and you are wrong, so that cuts both ways. In fact there has never been a statement of truth that has not been exclusive. To say that my eyes are blue is also to say that my eyes are not brown, grey, or green. That is just the way truth works.

Third, thanksgiving for what is true naturally fits with the declaration of what is true. If on this Thanksgiving weekend it seems fitting that you give thanks to God, then it is also fitting for you to tell others about Him. If God does not strike us as real enough to declare, then God should not strike us as real enough to thank. I don’t know about you, but I cannot help but be grateful to God, He is very real to me, and I find my gratitude growing each year. Is my witness also growing? If it seems inappropriate to tone down our gratitude to God, then it is inappropriate to tone down our declaration. We do not want to ram religion down people’s throats, but we do want to get truth into people’s ears.

As Canadians we love to talk about the weather and hockey, and as Canadians we have an aversion to talking about religion. In a matter of days our weather and hockey talk will be lost, turning out to have been of supreme insignificance. But our conversations on matters of faith can impact a life for a lifetime, and can echo through all eternity.

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