This week's question comes from my youth group at Loganville Christian Church. The question arose, "Other than getting a 'Get Out of Hell Free' card, why be a Christian?"
To answer this question we must begin on some common ground. That common ground is that there is something about Christianity as a belief system that makes sense, i.e., there's something to believe in. Thus, let us assume Christianity is a viable faith.
So why would anyone want to be a Christian? If we were to believe the many profitable "evangelists"on our televisions, we would assume that being a good, devout, and "generous" Christian automatically guarantees a happy, healthy, and prosperous life. Now I don't know about your experiences, but I've not noticed that this is particularly true. Indeed, when I read the accounts of the early Church martyrs, when I read Christ's radical invitation to "take up our own crosses," and when I meet faithful Christians who are poor, oppressed, or disease-ridden, I have to disregard the claims of the "health and welfare" gospel. Instead, when I recall Christ's words about giving all I own to the poor, taking up my own cross, and the expectation of persecution for those who live radical Christian lives, I have to agree with C.S. Lewis whose personal theology included the Buddhist theological claim that "life is suffering."
Perhaps it was never meant to be that way. Certainly, the ancient garden of Eden sounds like creation was supposed to be a paradise. But life is no longer a paradise, if it ever really was. I don't know why life isn't "wonderful" for most (all?) Of us, but I do know suffering, stress, oppression, anxiety, worry, sickness, fusses with a spouse, unemployment, etc. are the realities most of us know. Indeed, the Buddha and C.S. Lewis are correct: life is difficult, life is suffering.
However, C.S. Lewis seems to have gone one step further in his beliefs. He not only assented that life is suffering, but that God isn't so concerned with us being "happy" (though I am reminded happiness is state of mind, not a destination). Instead, he says God is most concerned that we grown and learn to love and be in relationship with each other. And that growing includes learning to experience "God with us" in both the good times, and the knowledge that God is never more present with us than in the tough times.
How do I know God's there in the tough times? First, I occasionally live the tough times and God has always been there for me and with me. I know because I've experienced God's presence. Secondly, I am reminded that some 1,900 years ago a man named Jesus was put to death on a Roman cross for his radical theology and social views. And where was God in this toughest of tough times? There are those who believe it was God who hung dying of the cross. Some believe God watched with a broken heart as the life-blood seeped from the man. Others believe God was within Jesus himself, offering strength, hope and comfort to the tormented Jesus. And still others believer God was both on the cross dying as well as away from the cross watching with a broken heart. In each of these beliefs we are reminded that God is never closer than in the tough times.
So what are the advantages of being a Christian--assuming Jesus Christ is more than an escape from hell? Just this, Christians have the unique opportunity to be in a relationship with God. Not a melding of our spirits into the Divine Being, as in most Eastern faiths, but a personal relationship that allows for individualism. Christians can know, feel, sense, experience, and interact with God's presence--a presence that offers strength, peace, and comfort in the here-and-now. Christians have what Jesus called the "Comforter" as a constant companion--in the good times, and especially in the tough times.