Between Marx and Christ


Karl Marx derided religion as myth. He described it as an opiate which is taken to help us cope with our oppressions and social injustice. And he attempted a better solution: He offered the hope of a classless society based on the belief that the problem with humanity is the acceptance of private property. The possession of property placed the owners in a class distinct from those who lacked property. The Bourgeois versus the Proletariat. The solution, therefore, is to abolish this thing called ‘private property and the animosity would vanish. All mankind would eventually work together to build a better world where there is neither lack nor surplus.

However, as the experience of several decades later would show, he only succeeded in replacing a ‘myth’ with another myth. The communist ideal actually produces in the societies that adopt it two classes: the dictator and his subjects. It replaces the supposed oppression of the capitalists with the tyranny of the despot, bringing along a whole sackload of torture, misery, and fear. Far from being a solution, the attempt to abolish classes only worsens the problem.

So, we need to look more closely at the ‘myth’ he attempted to replace.

There is little doubt that religion can indeed be (and often is) no more than an opiate for many. It relieves them from the harshness of their present lives. In fact, many scholars argue that this is why people believe in God in the first place: they desire someone who will resolve all the problems and inequities in human life and identify this being as ‘God’.

This is a distortion of religion, however. True religion, as the apostle wrote, is to care for widows and orphans in their affliction (James 1:27). Far from being an escape from the problems of life, true religion (which is biblical Christianity) is an encounter with the problems of life.

The Christian religion, when correctly understood, believed and practised, does not lead to oppression (whether via class, race, or gender). This is because it is centred on love: God’s loving us and us loving our neighbours without regard to their status or position. The central symbol of the Christian faith is the cross and the empty tomb. We find the holy God, who created all things, man inclusive, stripping down to take up our human nature with all its limitations and entering into our world with all its miseries. And he took upon himself all that was evil in our world (pain, misery, death), destroying them on the cross. Furthermore, he rose from the dead to herald the restoration of all things, a task to be fully consummated in the future when Christ returns.

So, we see that religion, true religion, is not escapist but transformative. God loves his world, broken though it is, and has come to renew it. When he entered into our universe, he held the hand of the weak, cured the pain of the wounded, healed the disease of the leper, and wiped away the tears of the sorrowful. And he leaves to all who follow him to follow in his steps.

Contrary to Marx, the problem with our world goes beyond class or private property; it reaches much deeper. It stems from the condition of the human heart. In the words of Charles Colson, “The world is not divided into white hats and black hats; it is not divided into good people and evil people. Rather, good and evil coexist in every human heart.”

And it takes religion, true religion, to deal with it. Christ did not abolish class because he knew that was not the problem. Neither did he condemn private property, for both concepts are parts of God’s good creation which have merely been distorted by sin. Renewal, and not elimination, is what our world needs.

False theories of salvation, like Marxism, will attribute the human problem to some aspect of God’s creation (such as class, money, sex, etc) and seek to eliminate that thing. The biblical Gospel, which is synonymous with true religion, correctly sees that all creation is corrupt and in need of redemption. And this is what God has both accomplished and is working out through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Removed Heads or Renewed Hearts

Removed heads or Renewed hearts

In the incident recorded in John 8:1-11, whereby a woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus by the Jewish religious leaders, the issue was not about the fact of the sin. Both groups, Jesus and the men, were perfectly in agreement that adultery was wrong. Jesus was not repudiating the ten commandments.

The difference between them was the desired goal. The men were after condemnation. All they wanted was for Jesus to affirm the sentence. Never mind that they were being hypocrites for not bringing her partner along; it always takes two people to commit adultery. They had no love for the woman. They did not desire to see her changed and transformed. All they wanted was her head. Jesus, however, wanted change; He wanted restoration. He had not come to destroy but save. He didn’t want people’s heads; he wanted their hearts renewed. Removed heads means no society; changed hearts means a new society. This was his goal, and it still is today.

In our dealings with others, what do we seek? Do we seek that people suffer for their offences and negative actions? Are we glad when, say, a prostitute is murdered by ritualists, or a corrupt politician dies in a car accident? Do we sense that self-righteous delight that ‘they got what they deserved’?

Or, like Jesus, do we weep over the misery and decay which sin works in people’s lives? Do we seek renewal in people’s lives, helping to bring them closer to the God who loves them and desires to give them new lives. If we belong to Christ or seek to follow Him, this must be our approach towards others, including the ‘sinners’ in our society. For He did not come to save the righteous, but to call the ungodly to repentance.

The King who rode on a Donkey

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38)

Triumphal entry

I wrote in an earlier post about how Jesus turned the world upside-down, especially in relation to power. And there are few incidents in his earthly ministry which portray this like his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Here was the King of the Jews about to make an entrance into the capital city of his nation. His preferred vehicle? A donkey. Kings in the ancient world don’t ride on donkeys; they ride on stout, well-maintained horses. Their vehicle was a symbol of their glory, power, and prestige. Just imagine a modern president riding a bicycle to a state function.

The procession of Jesus into the city was no doubt as subversive as his entire teaching was. He was going against established customs and traditions which were contrary to God’s revelation. And one such area was in the use of power. He had warned his disciples to avoid the oppressive use of power:

“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-26)

Power was not a tool for oppression but for service. God though He was, Jesus had come to serve and not be served (Matt. 20:28). After he had ascended into heaven, his disciples would recall how he went about healing people oppressed by the Devil (Acts 10:38). For Jesus, power was a tool for liberating the captives, and not for enriching or promoting oneself (Isaiah 61:1). He was a King, but a different kind.

And this was precisely what he demonstrated on that first Palm Sunday. A King on a donkey was a contradiction in terms. Yet, here was the power of God’s kingdom. It advances through the humble and faithful efforts of Christ and his disciples, not the machinations and strategies of earthly power. And the redemption which Christ accomplished was itself the climax of a lifetime of selfless service. Can we attempt to do otherwise?


The Church’s Mission

A major reason for the church’s ineffectiveness in the world is her eagerness to follow the world’s agenda.

Our agenda was set by our Lord years ago when He taught us to pray:

Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be your name,

Your Kingdom come,

The pursuit of God’s kingdom on earth is her agenda. We become ineffective when we allow our church - people
government or international organizations like the UN to define for us what is pressing for humanity. We have a prophetic role in society and prophets receive their orders from God, not from the state. No matter how much our commission resembles the UN charter, we dare not take it as our manifesto. The Church answers the question of human origin differently, she describes the human situation differently, and she offers an entirely different prescription.

This desire to receive honour from men was rebuked by our Lord ages ago. He said to the Pharisees: “How will you believe who receive honour from men?”. We play to the world’s tune because we seek prestige. We seek to be respected and recognized as educated, progressive, and ‘modern’. To put it bluntly, we dread the world’s disapproval. Alas, our fathers in earlier ages gladly accepted the scorn of the world, for they knew it made them more precious to Christ. Even the very name ‘Christian’ was a term of scorn. They were content to be ground like grain so they could become bread for the Lord. They knew the world’s smile was a snare; the world had murdered her Saviour because He told them the truth. Will they treat His followers differently?

There is an ongoing battle between the seed of Satan and the seed of the woman. The Church has proclaimed allegiance to Satan’s enemy, and should we expect him to aid our cause? The church is on a spiritual mission, and her power can come only from God.

Our faith should rest in the power of God to accomplish his purpose and not in the charm of human wisdom.