In a recent interview with Parade
magazine, Brad Pitt explains why he no longer embraces Christianity. It turns out that he was raised as a Southern Baptist, but when he got to college he came upon some stumbling blocks that led him to cast aside his faith altogether. He describes his current feelings on “religion” in this way:
“Guilt is the thing I find most evil about it. It’s the thing I rail against the most. . . Religion works. I know there’s comfort there, a crash pad. It’s something to explain the world and tell you there is something bigger than you, and it is going to be alright in the end. It works because it’s comforting. I grew up believing in it, and it worked for me in whatever my little personal high school crisis was, but it didn’t last for me. I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!’ It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.”
Let me say first of all that I think that Pitt raises some valid questions and that they deserve a serious answer. But I would also offer the following disclaimer. If I were to sit and talk with Brad Pitt and to hear his whole story, I’m sure that there would be much more to his journey than what comes out in this short interview. I have to assume that he is only giving a glimpse into some of his feelings about Christianity. So I’m not going to presume to speak as if I know Brad Pitt or as if I can speak definitively to all of the exceptions he takes with Christianity. Nevertheless, I would like to address the two stumbling blocks that Pitt mentions here and to argue that they need not be stumbling blocks to anyone who might be considering the claims of the Christian gospel.
Pitt says that two of his objections to Christianity are (1) that it promotes guilt and (2) that it portrays God as egocentric. There is a real irony about the first objection because it says that Christianity promotes the very thing that Christ in fact came to removeâ€”the guilt that comes from sin. Jesus himself says that is why he came into the world in the first place, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (John 3:17). In other words, Jesus’ redemptive work is not about heaping more guilt upon sinners because of their sin. It’s about removing their guilt and putting it on Jesus instead. This removal of guilt is possible through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for sinners. As the apostle Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The only guilt involved with becoming a Christian is acknowledging that you have it so that King Jesus can remove it.
The second objection is not a new one. As a matter of fact, C. S. Lewis also stumbled over the apparent “egotism” of God when he read the Psalms. When Lewis read of God calling His people to worship Him, it made God look like an old woman seeking compliments. But then Lewis had a breakthrough:
“My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation” (C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms [New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1958, pp. 93-95]).
In other words, if God is truly who He claims to be (that is, the First and Best of beings), it is not unloving for Him to call His creatures to worship Him. In reality, it’s the consummation of human joy to call them to express their love for their Redeemer. So the stumbling block that people have is not so much with the fact that God calls for His creatures to worship Him. The stumbling block is that sinners often do not see God as intrinsically worthy of the worship that He calls for. That is what Jesus faced when the Jewish leaders rejected Him. They did not see the worth of the King who stood in their presence. That is why Jesus said,
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field” (Matthew 13:41).
In other words, the Kingdom (including its King!) is a treasure. But people by and large are blind to the immense value of this treasure. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is that the former has his eyes opened to see the immeasurable worth of Christâ€”to know that it would be worth giving away all that he has (including his life) in order to have Christ. The Christian will lose everything joyfully in order to have Christ because He is a greater treasure.
For those who are considering Christianity and who are stumbling over the fact that God calls on His creatures to render worship to Him, would you consider the possibility that perhaps God is commanding something that no fallible creature could ever command? If a fallible creature called on others to worship him, that would be the essence of pride, arrogance, and sin. But God is not like His fallible creatures in this respect. God is the first and best of beingsâ€”infinitely holy, infinitely true to His promises, infinitely loving towards sinners, infinitely sacrificial in the death of His Son, infinitely just in the cross and resurrection and in His promise that he will one day make all things new. It is not arrogance for God to call us to worship and to know Him. It is the essence of love to invite others to come into the infinite joy of knowing so great a God.
Would that God might remove the stumbling blocks and the blinders that prevent people from being drawn into the joy of knowing Christ.