I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.
-C.S. Lewis in God in the Dock
In our world of satisfy self at all costs, C.S. Lewis’ quote is profoundly alarming. Plus, doesn’t our mantra for convincing others to follow Christ involve sharing the “happiness” that comes from doing so?
I think the difficulty in appropriating Lewis’ statement is that there is the tendency to equate following Christ with the American Dream. In other words, if you follow Jesus, then all will be well on this earth. You will graduate from college, land a great job, find the perfect spouse, own a house in a suburban neighborhood, have 2.5 kids, and retire happily ever after.
Now don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not condemning those who have a nice house, job, etc…. There is nothing necessarily wrong with those things, but they are not the goal of Christianity. If that were the case, then we have much to explain to those whose relationship with Christ has caused them to lose everything. Family has abandoned them. Money has become scarce. And even their lives are in danger. And yet they still continue to follow Christ. Why? Consider the words of Paul…
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him (Phil 3:7-9).
When Paul found Christ, his life radically changed. It was now through Christ that he found the righteousness he so longed for. It was no longer Paul working to achieve right standing with God, but instead resting in what God had accomplished through His son on the cross. Paul no longer had to perform for God to love him. And for Paul, this was an incredible release!!! Therefore, Christ became his treasure and all else became “rubbish.”
As you most likely know, Paul’s commitment to Christ didn’t result in a life of ease. Things became more difficult for him. New problems came his way. Paul’s encounter with Christ is much like that described by Elton Trueblood when he writes:
Occasionally we talk of our Christianity as something that solves problems, and there is a sense in which it does. Long before it does so, however, it increases both the number and the intensity of the problems. Even our intellectual questions are increased by the acceptance of a strong religious faith…. If a man wishes to avoid the disturbing affect of paradoxes, the best advise is for him to leave the Christian faith alone.
Though Paul endured a life of hardship and abuse, he continued strong in his faith. Peace with God meant more to Paul than comfort on earth. Paul knew that regardless of what happened to him, his goal of gaining Christ would be fully realized one day. That is why he could say “to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
So why follow Christ? Why take the road least traveled? Why encounter new problems? When we have such questions, I think we do well to go back to Paul’s words and remind ourselves of what we have in Christ: To be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Phil. 3:9).
There is nothing but Christ that can satisfy the deepest longings of our souls; the longing to be made right and anew with our Creator. And once this truth has apprehended us, we hold on to it regardless of what comes our way, knowing that we will never be abandoned or forgotten.