Why I’m Still a Christian (part 2): Counterintuitivity

Series Introduction: I’m writing a series of posts that share my testimony–not the story of how I came to be, as they say, “born again” but an explanation of the aspects of the Christian Worldview that I treasure more and more as I grow in the faith. Check out Hope (Part 1) here.

Counterintuitivity is one of my favorite features of Christianity. When I read the gospels (or even during my recent reading of Job*), I find so much of what the Bible has to say goes against my intuition. Jesus constantly subverted the expectations of his hearers. He surprises the sinner by extending generous grace to “sinners and tax collectors.” He surprises the religious authorities by condemning their pride and neglect for the weightier matters of the law. He was not what anyone expected.

I recently read a book by Rosaria Butterfield chronicling her journey from an atheist, feminist, lesbian professor to a conservative Reformed Presbyterian minister’s wife. She was, as she says, simply transformed by the power of God’s grace. Her book gives me much to meditate on in the way of counterintuitivity, but one particular moment stood out. She says when she used to train for marathons, her training partner would turn to her at mile 20 and say “This could be the best moment of your life.” As crazy as he sounded at the time, Rosaria reflected on the truth in these words and realized that you never know how your worst moments might impact your future success or failure. Looking back, a struggle or disappointment might have been the seed for a new strength or opportunity. It goes against my intuition to celebrate my worst moments, but that is the hope of living in God’s will. He crafts good things out of all things (Romans 8:28 hangs in our living room to remind me of this truth).

In fact, the Bible insists that death is a prerequisite to life. Jesus explains this through the imagery of seeds in John 12:24: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Who would imagine that a seed must be dead and buried in order to produce fruit? It is counterintuitive and yet it works. It is the only way.

There are many counterintuitive ideas in the gospel that sound appalling to the world but make perfect sense to the believer: Who would imagine that freedom would come from becoming a slave to Christ? Who would imagine that empowerment would come from submitting to your husband? Who would imagine that denying your self-centered pursuit of happiness would lead to fulfillment? I don’t know how to explain these things to those who don’t understand. These are the counterintuitive realities of my life best summed up by the words of 1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

I watched a high school student walking across town in her fast-food uniform last night. She looked miserable. Her embarrassing lack of a car, or even a ride, was obvious to everyone who drove by her as she walked down the main street of town. I thought of the Beattitudes, the most counterintuitive of all Jesus’ sermons. Didn’t he say “Blessed are the kids who have to walk to work, for theirs is the courage to face hard things?” (Or something like that?) I have long desired to write a new set of Beattitudes for my classroom: Blessed are those who fail, for they will learn how to succeed. Blessed are those who do not get it the first time, for they will learn perseverance. Blessed are those who are disappointed in their first draft, for they will grow through revision.

I’ve found the principle of counterintuitivity reinforced time and again by my experiences in the world. The world looks more like the gospel tells me it will look than my intuition tells me it will. Intuition tells me that being really, really good will earn me favor and success or that being really, really self-centered will ensure my happiness. But I find that my success is a grace undeserved (and I sort of wonder what kind of miserable, arrogant people we would be if our success were truly linked to our efforts–we would either suffer under the weight of our own regrets or demonstrate insufferable pride over our accomplishments. “Just do it like I did,” we’d say to our miserable friends and neighbors who envied our success. “It’s simple, really.”) And I find that the more “me time” I feel I deserve to take in pursuit of my own happiness, the more I am indignant that others get in the way of my “me time” by being self-centered themselves (ha! the irony!). And so I am happiest when I give my time and energy away freely and then find delight in any surprising moment to myself.

And so I am still a believer. I choose to believe Jesus’ words more than what my eyes can see. It is counterintuitive, but I trust the Bible more than my own understanding just like Solomon advised in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him (or submit to him in the ESV!) and he will make your paths straight.”

*I read Job in a single sitting, per Dr. Rosaria Butterfield’s suggestion, and discovered that the theme which stuck out to me the most was this: Good people do not always get rewards. Bad people do not always get punishments. It goes against Job’s friends’ instincts, but Job understands that the world is not as simple and obvious as they want to make it. So struggles with infertility, singleness, joblessness, hopelessness, depression are not punishment any more than children, marriage, dream jobs, dream vacations, or dream houses are payment for good behaviors. Every good thing is a gift (and every good things usually turns out to be fraught with challenges of its own). Every bad thing can be redeemed.

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