I had an interesting conversation this morning where I was asked the following questions: “When people look at Christians, what should they see that sets us apart? Are we just a club of “nice people?” There are lots of nice people in the world, after all—Buddhists, atheists, Hindus, and many more. Why become a Christian rather than some other option?” It was one of those moments where you think you should have something profoundly insightful to say based on your years of study and unusual sagacity and clarity of thought, but where what comes out of your mouth doesn’t exactly qualify.
Because the truth is, it’s not always obvious that Christians are significantly happier, healthier, or wiser, more well-adjusted, content, or balanced, less prone to depression, anxiety, or consumerism than any other identifiable demographic (religious or otherwise). What’s going on? Does Christianity not work? Are we not doing it right? What would it look like if Christianity “worked?” Why do people bother with Christianity if it doesn’t instantly traffic in the “results” we’re looking for?
This conversation stuck with me throughout the day, including as I was reading through a chapter on embracing grief and loss as a part of mature spirituality in Peter Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Church. Near the end of the chapter I found this list of “results”—things that would come to characterize us if we learned to make grieving a normal part of a life of faith:
- We become compassionate as our Father in heaven is compassionate… Absorbing our own pain, we learn to forgive.
- We have a greater heart for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the marginalized, and the wounded.
- We are less covetous, less idolatrous… Life is stripped of its pretense and nonessentials.
- We are liberated from having to impress others.
- We are able to live more comfortably with mystery.
- We are characterized by a greater humility and vulnerability.
- We place God at the center of our lives and begin rejecting superficial, trivial pursuits.
- We experience an enhanced sense of living in the immediate present.
- We enjoy a new vivid appreciation of the basic facts of life—the changing seasons, the wind, the falling of leaves, the last Christmas, people made in God’s image.
- We have fewer fears and a greater willingness to take risks.
- We are kinder. A love flows out of us that is not based on people’s intelligence, success, money, appearance, or expressions of love for us. People no longer feel evaluated, judged, or analyzed by us. They do not feel controlled.
- We understand that what bonds us as followers of Jesus living in community is our brokenness.
- We sense the reality of heaven in a new way, understanding more fully that we are only aliens and sojourners on earth.
- We are finally at home with ourselves and with God.
What do you think of this list? I would want to question a few of these, or at least hear more about what he means and how he’s using certain terms, but overall it strikes me as not a bad description of what ought to result from a life of discipleship. Might something like this count as part of an answer to the questions posed above?
The last one, in particular, grabs my attention. It seems to me to be the most important, the most all-encompassing, and probably the most elusive. I think that Christians, of all people, should be people who are becoming “at home” in the world. I don’t mean “at home” in the sense of being satisfied or complacent with ourselves and our involvement in a world where much evil is done. A huge part of what it means to follow Christ is to actively resist all that falls short of God’s creational intent.
But if we truly believe that our faith is a response to the way things really are—that God really is good and trustworthy, that the world really is in the process of being reclaimed and redeemed, that we really are called to play a role in this process, and we really can look forward to a hopeful future—then perhaps it can be seen as a kind of being “at home.”
An inescapable (and probably appropriate, in some contexts) element of Christians’ self-understanding historically has been that we are not at home in this world (the whole “I’m just passing through this place on my way to heaven” idea—as in the second-to-last bullet point above). Perhaps, with enough qualifications and clarification of terms, the opposite could also, paradoxically, be true. Christians ought, of all people, to be most at home in this world if for no other reason than that they belong to God, and they live in a world whose past, present, and future also belongs to God.