“Notwithstanding we believe in God, we still practice Christianity…”: religious forms that point to God

A passage in the Book of Mormon reads:

24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. 25 For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments. And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. 27 Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away.

2 Nephi 25:24-27

I grew up in the Latter-day Saint tradition and find meaningful expression in its scriptures, stories, and community. In the Book of Mormon narrative, this passage was written by Nephi, a Jew whose family left Jerusalem and traveled to somewhere in the American continent shortly before its conquest by the Babylonians six centuries before the time of Jesus. In the narrative, they have knowledge of the coming of Jesus and the concept of Christian atonement. Here, Nephi explains that he and his family still choose to “keep the law of Moses” even though they believe it to be a religious practice that points to the eventual coming of Jesus when “the law shall be fulfilled.”

From Nephi’s perspective, Christianity was the “true” religion that he believed would eventually be revealed to the world, but nonetheless he believed that God was asking him and his family to continue the tradition of the law of Moses because it helped them learn the concepts and principles of God, Jesus, and Christian atonement, even though the law of Moses itself was a “dead” religious practice.

Putting aside the theological and historical issues and focusing on a more metaphorical interpretation, can we apply this idea to contemporary postmodern Christianity?

What if…

We apply Richard Rohr’s conceptualization of the Universal Christ (the panentheistic universal presence of God, incarnated throughout all of creation), the theology of which I am a fan, to the passage above where “Christ” is mentioned?

We apply Christianity as the religious form that points to the Universal Christ to the passage where “law of Moses” is mentioned?

We might apply it to ourselves like this:

And, notwithstanding we believe in the Universal God incarnated throughout all of Creation, we practice Christianity and tell our Christian stories, looking forward to the ultimate unitive reunification with God that will render human religious forms no long necessary.

This is why religions are given to us (because human brains need stories and rituals to structure their understandings of the world), so we know that religions are symbols and metaphors of higher realities, not the higher realities themselves. It is God that makes us alive and gives us our being and in whom we put our faith, but we use Christianity (or Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism, or whatever) to help connect us with God because that’s the most effective tool available for us at this stage of our progression, evolution, and development.

And we talk of the Universal Christ, we rejoice in the Universal Christ, we preach of the Universal Christ, we prophesy of the Universal Christ, and we write with the best language, symbols, and stories that we can to describe that Universal Christ, so that our children may know to what source they may look for life, love, beauty, relationship, and goodness in the universe.

In the meantime, I take my kids to church, read them Bible stories, and pray Christian prayers so that they have a vehicle to help them learn about and connect with God at this stage of their emotional, psychological, and spiritual development, but as they get older we can help them learn that religions are symbols of the things, not the things themselves, but that they’re helpful to get us to where we might want to go.

And then, when they learn about the very real and common imperfections of human religion, they won’t turn away from God because they understand religion to be only an imperfect vehicle to get us to God, not the end destination itself.

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