When we were children we played at making mud pies. In imitation of one parent, we made “chocolate” pies by stirring mud in a pan. In imitation of our other parent we might go to work in make believe cars carrying a “briefcase” made of cardboard. Much of what passes for religion is similar to children playing in their parents clothes. Great saints are rare. It is much more common to find those who repeat the words and actions of the great examples. Such imitations capture the external appearance of piety and faith, but fall short of the one thing that makes religion great, which is love.

We can still learn from such imitative religion. We can imagine what a parent might do for a living if we watch the child’s imitation. If the child crawls under a wagon we might reasonably assume that the parent is a mechanic. A child who stands behind a box and pounds on a book is probably the offspring of a preacher. We might even figure out what the child had for dinner by seeing their impression of the cooking process. We can learn much from observing such impressions, but we never want to eat the meal they have cooked.

Even scripture is an uneven affair. The church teaches that one Spirit inspired the whole Bible; still, it is quite clear that scripture was written down by people at various levels of understanding. We must face the disturbing truth that scripture seems to be spoken at these different levels. How can we tell the difference between a great and obscure revelation? It’s not really so hard. Jesus said that when we understand any scripture in its fullness we will hear a call to love. Childish religion isn’t like that. It doesn’t really feed or clothe us. It doesn’t give us light for living and loving. As Jesus said so many times, the test is always love. If we remember this one teaching, sifting through scripture is no more difficult than distinguish between pies made of real chocolate and ones made of mud.