Monday, September 12, 2016

Christianity Afflicts the Comfortable

There’s an old expression that says the purpose of Christianity is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Now, of course, the true purpose of Christianity is to make saints; to get precious souls to spend eternity in Heaven rather than in Hell. But that old expression is true regarding the way Christianity works in people’s lives. Numerous times in the gospels Jesus commands His followers to care for the poor and the sick; that is, to comfort the afflicted.

Also, the Scriptures are clear that people who spend their lives chasing after the Three P’s—possessions, power, and prestige—are in big trouble. If these folks, who we typically label as the “comfortable” of society, forsake the things of God in their pursuit of the things of earth, then their eternal fate is in serious jeopardy. Jesus was very clear when He said a person cannot serve both God and money.

Just imagine spending 60 or 80 or even 100 years striving for physical comforts here in this world, only to spend all of eternity without a single shred of comfort. Yikes! It’s been a long time since I took a math class, but I’m pretty sure Infinity is a slightly larger number than 60 or 80 or even 100.

So a big part of the Christian message is designed to make selfish and worldly-minded people feel guilty, that is, to afflict the comfortable. By the way, although our modern secular society proclaims that feeling guilty is a terrible thing, guilt actually can be a good thing. Guilt is our conscience telling us, “Hey, something’s wrong here. You shouldna done that!” (Our consciences often speak in slang, such as using the contraction “shouldna” rather than the cumbersome “should not have.”) If we do something hurtful to another person, or if we are obsessed only with ourselves, then we SHOULD feel guilty about it, because that behavior does not conform with God’s plan for our lives.
I recently heard another spin on that old expression. This one says the essence of the Christian life is to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” In other words, Christians have to get in the habit of doing things we don’t really want to do.

There is no way around it: the proper Christian life is quite uncomfortable. We are called to deny ourselves, sacrifice for others, love the unlovable, and witness for the truth of God in a culture that mocks religious faith. We are called to step out of our comfort zones on a regular basis. 

Living in a post-Christian culture that mocks religious faith makes it difficult enough, but the biggest obstacle to doing God’s will and stepping out of our comfort zones is the fact modern American society is obsessed with comfort. You thought we were obsessed with sex and violence? Nope, those things are just diversions because we’re so bored. Our real obsession is comfort. The vast majority of our consumer products are designed to give us comfort, or at least to provide us with the things we need with the least amount of effort on our part.
Personally, I hate writing about this topic, because I am totally caught up in the comfort rat race. For example, as soon as I hear it’s possible to turn off the lights via an app on your iPhone, I search for and download the app, genuinely excited about the prospects of not having to get up out of a chair and walk four feet to the wall switch. I suspect if someone ever invents a combination reclining chair/refrigerator/toilet, I’ll probably go days at a time without standing up.

So it’s not easy being a Christian in our modern world. With our high standard of living nowadays, virtually all of us fall into the category of being “comfortable.” Jesus’ message is meant to “afflict” us, if we can just turn off the video devices long enough to hear His voice.

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