I’ve long wanted to write a series of blog entries on why I am still a Christian. In evangelism, a lot of emphasis is placed on the excitement of the conversion moment, as if we all experienced a Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment full of dramatic reversal and complete transformation. These moments do happen occasionally and they make wonderful stories. But many more of us life-long Christians have a story that is more about a series of progressive choices, forks in the road, where we weighed the costs of each option and chose to follow Christ again and again and again. That is my story, anyhow.
I do not know how to sell Christianity to people in our consumer culture. The truth is, as Job kept trying to tell his friends, choosing righteousness doesn’t always lead to blessing and prosperity–and misfortune is not always a result of sinful choices. There is little in Christianity that would make a good marketing campaign. You won’t become a Christian and find life instantly easier or circumstances irreversibly changed in your favor. (Quite the opposite is often true.)
But I can testify to this: I have chosen to follow Christ time and time again in my life and after 15 years of consciously following Christ and bringing the light of the Bible’s wisdom to bear on every aspect of my life, I feel a deeper sense of peace, confidence, and hope then I ever imagined possible 15 years ago.
I am a reader and I’ve read a lot of books, magazines and newspapers over the last 15 years. I remember precious little of all that I’ve read. But during that time I’ve also been reading the same book over and over. While I’ve frequently found myself thinking, in the moment of reading, “Why do I need to read this again when there is so much that is new and exciting that is unread?”, the cumulative effect of reading and re-reading the Bible means that the verses and ideas and metaphors are readily available to my memory and often pop up to explain the circumstances around me. The ideas of the Bible truly form my world view–my way of looking out at the world around me–and they explain everything I read in the newspaper every day. I will continue to read whatever I can get my hands on, but I will continue to discipline myself to read the Bible because I have found it to be true over and over and over again.
It would be hard to convince a skeptical friend–hey, follow the Bible! If you stick to it, after 15 years it will all make sense! You’ll find rest for your soul, answers for your questions that satisfy, and hope to sustain you through life’s difficulties! Just give it time!
As young people, I fear we underestimate the importance of hope. J.I. Packer reflects on hope is his new book Weakness is the Way (which can be read in an afternoon and has a few gems, though it is a bit uneven). Packer recalls a gregarious teacher whom he loved as a student. He asks after this teacher, who was a Buddhist, many years later and finds that the teacher has lost much of his enthusiasm and is very melancholy and simply waiting to die. His worldview gave him little to look forward to in his old age and his hope had all run out. “Here was a long-lived man, brilliant in his day, now withering rather than blossoming as he aged,” says Packer. “Is that the best one can hope for?”
Contrary to the popular saying that “hope springs eternal,” Packer instead concludes:
For the first half of people’s lives, spontaneous hope does indeed spur them forward. Children hope to do this and that when they grow up; teens hope to go places and do things when they have some money; newlyweds hope for a good income, a good place to live, and good-quality children; established couples hope for the day when the children will be off their hands and they are free to cruise, tour, and see the world. But what then? There comes a point at which the elderly and those who, as we say, are getting on realize that of all the things they wanted to do, they have done all they can, and the rest are now permanently out of reach…
Yet life goes on…. Whether, as bodily health fades and minds and memories run increasingly amok, any better, more enriching experience of old age is possible is a question that secular social theory has shown itself unable to answer. But the Bible appears to have an answer (in Proverbs 4:18 and Psalm 71:18, for example).
This idea about hope resonates strongly with me as I stand on the cusp of middle age. I have almost everything I hoped for and now I will settle in for the long haul here in the suburbs. Without hope it might all just become monotonous. Christ gives me the hope of eternal life and the hope of using my life to build and establish his kingdom, even as I repeat the same day, more or less, over and over. I am part of something bigger and I look forward to something better.
But this is just one of the reasons I remain a Christian.