Every boxing day, millions of people tune in to watch the best young hockey stars take to the ice for the World Junior Hockey Championship. It’s an exciting tournament, especially for us Canadians who like to believe we are the best hockey nation in the world. This year was no different. Although I only had the chance to watch a few games, I was captivated by the action and cheered on our boys in red and white.
Last night, before the gold medal was handed to the US team, my heart sank with the rest of our country as our team gave up a 4-2 lead in the third period and lost the game in a shootout.
I wasn’t too disappointed that we lost the gold or even that it was the Americans who beat us. Whether or not “my” team wins has little real impact in my life. But as I watched the reactions of the Canadian players, I saw how disappointed they were in themselves for not winning the game. They worked and trained for so long, they played a respectable game, they gave their all, and yet, they could not hide their pain behind the tears of loss.
I sometimes wonder about our world-wide religious diversity and why, out of so many religions, I still claim to be a Christian. As Christendom comes to an end in North America (as it already has in other parts of the world), it is no longer beneficial to be nominally Christian. Most Canadians my age would not identify with our faith unless they truly believed in it. In our time, it is perfectly okay to be something else.
Although I’m not an expert on religions, I do think there is a common misconception in our time that all religions are basically the same. I don’t disagree that religions can have many common values, shared history, and other similarities. I also think we have a lot of good opportunities to dialogue between faiths to build relationships. However, that does not mean that the foundation, core, or purpose of every religion is identical.
This misconception leads some to see all religions simply as a way of guiding life, that each religion offers us rules to live by to make life good for us and the people around us. If we do well to follow the rules, to do what we are supposed to, then we can reach a higher level of enlightenment and end up in a “better” place when we die.
This is a very incomplete analysis, but perhaps this idea is one of the reasons why people reject the invitation to be a part of a church or why some who grew up in a home with Christian values no longer identify as Christian. Perhaps they have found other values to live by. Perhaps they are turned off by the idea of having to follow rules with the goal of being a good person. They see no need for a church or pastor to tell them what to do.
It is this misconception that I was reminded of while watching the World Juniors gold medal game. If our destination, heaven or hell, afterlife, eternity with God, or whatever you want to call it, is determined by how we live our life based on the values we have, we would all be in big trouble (this assumes that you even believe in life after death and that not everyone just automatically ends up in heaven). As good as we may believe we are, many of us would most likely end up dejected and defeated like the Canadian junior hockey team. After trying and working as hard as we can, could you imagine finding out that you didn’t win gold, that all your efforts weren’t good enough because of other mistakes and choices you made in your life? Could you imagine how disappointing that would be?
For this reason I am constantly drawn back to Jesus, because unlike other religions, it’s not up to me. Christianity is not about living a good moral life so that we can reach the presence of God. The Christian story is the exact opposite of that. It is about God’s love for all of His creation, that instead of us trying to work our way to God, He came to us.
The best part of the Christian story is that the battle has already been won. Jesus fought against evil and death (humanity’s greatest enemies) and has already conquered them. Jesus never gave into the selfish desires of evil. And as Easter reminds us, death could not hold Jesus down, but His resurrection gives us hope of our resurrection as well.
As cheesy as it sounds, Jesus has already won the gold medal for us. The game is over, and we didn’t even have to play. Jesus offers us life, and that life is open to all. Eternal life is not possible because of us but because of Christ’s victory. What is left for us is to accept the gift God offers us all, to join God’s team (even more cheesy, I know).
In talking with people about what happens after we die, many have said “I know I’m not perfect, but I think I’m a good person.” Christianity is not about being a good person (although the result of receiving God’s gift leads us to live a life of love). We can never be good enough to find our own way to God. He came to us, that’s the best gift we could ever ask for. I know there is a lot of hurt and abuse in the church, our institutions, and history. I won’t make any excuses for our failings. But when it comes to the gift of life Jesus gives us, there will never be disappointment.