When things go wrong, either in our personal lives or in the world around us, religion can start to seem irrelevant. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that it starts to feel like a useless hope. It feels like baggage that we no longer have a reason to carry around. Religious teachings can start to seem like meaningless ideals, and religious practices can feel futile. We might look at the messes in our lives and say, “My ideals haven’t stopped this from happening.” Or we might see tragedy and chaos on the news and say, “How is going to church going to change this?”
But all of this thinking is backwards. Religion isn’t a luxury item. It isn’t something that we ornament our lives with to testify that life is going great. It isn’t a beautiful thing that we do because we’re beautiful people. If religion is what it’s meant to be, then it only becomes more relevant the more things fall apart.
The clearest proof of this is the Lord’s well-known statement: “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17). People are so easily carried away by the idea that religion is for righteous people, but the Lord says “not so.” And good thing too—because where are these righteous people anyway? He came here for the sinners. He came to earth for the people who have created messes in their lives—not to congratulate them, but to help them. To save them.
This is why there are so many hard teachings in the Word. The Lord tells us how to fight spiritual battles—how to shun the evils that we unearth within ourselves. If we expect religion to be a beautiful adornment for beautiful people, these teachings are jarring. They’re a bit like a first aid course. Who wants to spend time thinking about injuries? If life was just a Saturday afternoon in an armchair, there would be no need to think about such things. It’s when something goes wrong that the value of first aid training hits home. Likewise, if we believe that nothing much is wrong with anything or anybody, it’s hard to understand why the Lord has so much to say about repentance. But if evil is real, it all makes sense. That bad stuff is what He’s trying to save us from. It’s why He tells us so many times that we need Him—we need His power. “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:30, 31).
None of this means that we’re supposed to have a negative outlook on life. The Word isn’t there simply to teach us that hard times are real and that we need to be saved. The message of the Word is that the Lord can give us joy in spite of the hard stuff—in spite of the evil—if we let Him. He says: “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you” (John 16:22). That’s not just some high-flying ideal. It’s a lot more powerful than the notion that life should be pretty. If the Lord is being “real” when He talks about the gritty and painful things—about loneliness and loss—then maybe He’s also being “real” when He promises that He can comfort us.
Much of the world seems to believe that religion is increasingly irrelevant. The world seems to say that religion hasn’t cured us of anything, so it’s a dead weight that the human race can dispense with. But this is backwards. The teachings of the Word are relevant because the world needs healing. This healing isn’t just something we can seek out for ourselves—it’s something we can share, if we have the courage. When do this, we aren’t sharing a happy little ideal. We shouldn’t point to religion as something that’s merely “interesting.” We’re talking about the most real things in life—about struggle and sorrow, and joy that will transcend them.