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I’m not a Christian because Jesus makes me happy. In fact quite a few times He doesn’t. Quite a few times, I wish I could get my own way. That things could be different. That I didn’t have Him as Lord over my life. But then I remember why I am Christian. Why I do want to be with Jesus. Like Jesus. How I’m not exactly “happy” when I go a way other than His, following myself. But Jesus’ narrow path, and light burden isn’t exactly easy either… So then, why am I a Christian? Why do I follow Jesus? There are many ways to answer that, depending on what way you look at it. How you ask the question.
Sometimes people try and “sell” Christianity and Jesus as if he’s like some kind of cleaning product. Kills 99.9% of your problems! Sure that 00.1% may bug you every once in a blue moon, but man, it’s gonna be great most of the time. I know that’s somewhat of an exaggeration. But it does reflect a certain attitude, a way of thinking about and presenting the faith to people that is false. Promising something to people that Jesus doesn’t promise Himself; Happiness in this life. Being a Christian doesn’t mean less problems. It can in fact often mean more! John the Baptist, greatest of the prophets, cousin of Jesus; beheaded. Eleven of the twelve disciples, later Paul; killed for their faith. Early Christians; persecuted. A great number of Christians all over the world; daily persecution. Then there’s just the everyday problems of the human condition that everyone faces. Health problems, family, finances, insecurities, depression, self esteem, social strife, death. You name it. What exactly does Jesus do? Don’t Christians go through all those things like everyone else? If Jesus isn’t promising that you won’t face these issues, in other words, be happy, then why be a Christian at all? The question is, why, when there are many ways to go through all of these things, am I choosing every day, to go through them with Jesus?
I choose to be with Jesus because I think He’s the Truth. As C.S Lewis said “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” When thinking about what we as humans experience of reality; consciousness, personhood, morality, logic, beauty, life, love and much more. All the things which any worldview must account for. Having them all held together by some unifying principle. I see Christ and the truths summed up in Him as a good and solid foundation for all of it. Not only that, but just like a light when it’s switched off. When I take Christ out of the picture, things go dark and I can no longer see properly. In other words, Christ makes sense to me, and through Him the world and human experience make sense. Those moments when I get distracted by various situations and circumstances. Moments when going “my own way” seems like a good idea, I’m reminded about what is true. About the bigger picture. Reality Himself. In those moments I choose to follow Christ because He is the truth.
But Jesus is not some mere object of thought. Someone for us to ponder. Like any person, He is someone to interact with. Someone we can know, not just know about. Jesus offers us truth that can be known by experience, not just by thinking about it. This full truth, that can be experienced is the truth of who He is. The Son of God, one in nature with His Father and Holy Spirit. Together the three person’s enjoy an eternal divine relationship of perfect love and bliss. Lacking and needing nothing. Being goodness itself. It’s to this reality, this truth, this divine relationship that Jesus promises bring us into forever.
A foretaste of which we can experience now in various degrees. But primarily through prayer, the Church, Scripture, the various sacraments, loving others. All of these are ways in which we get to know and experience Jesus and have His divine love and presence transform us. Making us into the type of people that could enjoy an eternal divine union with God and others. With the promise that the transformation won’t just be about character. But about bringing all of human nature, soul, body, and even all of creation, into this divine life. In other words, deification. A relationship with begins to transform you now and goes on forever because God is without limit. I choose to follow Jesus not just because I know the truth about Him in my head, but because I experience the truth of about Him in my life.
And this brings me joy. Joy means that I don’t always have happy situations. That I still face many of the same problems. But because of this truth that I know, and truth that I experience, it transforms those problems. I can face life knowing that no matter what happens to me, God will work it for my good. That there is nothing that I’ll ever really miss out on, because I have eternal life. That death does not have the final say. That resurrection will be the end result. That the wrongs of the this world will be righted. This joy rooted in knowledge and experience of the risen Christ doesn’t take away the problems. At least not immediately. But Jesus changes those full stops into commas. He gives hope. Real hope. Hope not in the sense of wishing, but rather looking forward to a sure outcome. Jesus makes it possible to face life as more than just a symbolic victor. Whose medals and achievements will rust and fade away, as our bodies return to dust. Rather there is true victory and true reason for hope in Christ, as we sing every Pascha: Christ is risen from the dead, Trampling down death by death, And upon those in the tombs, Bestowing life!
I choose to follow Jesus because the truth I know and experience about Him gives me joy throughout life, with hope at all times, no matter how dire.
All of this combined is how I experience God’s love towards me. Not just as an idea in my head, or something we sing about on Sundays. But as a living reality, with practical implications for how I live my life. How I treat others. What my priorities ought to be. This love is the reason for my very existence. The divine goodness which will transform all creation, the very life and energy of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that I’m called to enjoy forever. An inescapable, infinite, conquering and victorious love.
“”Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.””
This loving-goodness is infinite, so it’s satisfying. This love is unchanging, so it will always be good. And it is eternal, and so will never be lost. I choose to follow Jesus because He gives me rest. As the purpose of our being, is to reach full actualization in the love and goodness of Christ, since we are eternal beings. Eternal and free beings. So we can choose to remain eternally frustrated by rejecting Him. Or we can come to Him, banking on the promise that He won’t reject us (John 6:37), that He will satisfy the hunger and thirst of our very existence (John 6:35), giving rest to our souls (Matthew 11:29). I no longer look for the meaning of life. I don’t feel incomplete. I’ve found my very existence and identity. Sometimes life can cloud my vision, and I forget. But when I’m reminded of these truths, and I come to Christ to experience them, my soul rests once again. As Saint Augustine said “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” I choose to follow Jesus, because He gives me rest.
We serve a Lord who isn’t a stranger to human existence. Not just because He knows about it. But because He knows it first hand. Having become one of us, in order to transform our situation from the inside out. Rather than wipe it all away, He faced it head on. Setting the precedence for the rest of us. Paving the way so that we could follow. That’s why I chose this icon of Christ the Bridegroom, because that is our Lord. Bound in chains, crowned with thorns. Beaten to a pulp. Ready to be hung on a cross and die. That’s who we’re told to pick up our own crosses and follow. I chose it because it is this Jesus who is the hope of Christians. Such a life of self-denial, of trial and tribulation is what we can expect in one form or another. Being a Christian, and knowing Jesus doesn’t mean there won’t be any trouble. It does mean however that you get to face them, knowing Who you’re with and the divine image that He’s working out in you. An end so glorious that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).”
I choose to be a Christian and be with Jesus, not because He promises life won’t have problems. Or that they’ll be easier. But because He promises that ultimately, everything that is trying to stop my happiness has been defeated. That though there is strife now, there is also true happiness to be had forever. This world is tough and there are serious problems. But how do we conquer death? How do we conquer evil? Not with more of the same. But with love. And many times it does seem we are sheep for the slaughter. But death and evil can’t defeat us, because it tried its best at the cross and failed.
Χριστός ἀνέστη! Christ is risen!