I saw an interesting sign on my way home from Port City Java yesterday. A church sign read: “Things Go Better with God.” I thought to myself; “Really.” To give that church the benefit of the doubt, I’ll confess that I’m not wholly sure what they meant by “better.” But assuming they meant that life went smoother, with less upheaval, distress, and disappointment for believers than non-believers, then I find that statement curious.
The truth is that by almost any standard that the “world” uses, Christianity makes things worse not better; I mean, if you really practice Christianity! Being a practicing Christian means self-sacrifice, considering others better than yourself, giving your life away, attaining to the other, living simply, loving your enemies, seeking justice, caring for the least of these and a whole bunch of other things many of us would rather not do. How many people in your local church are ready to say, “O.K. I’m giving all of my life over for others, so that someone else might live better from the sweat of my brow. I’m ready to love until it hurts then love a little more.”
And if you don’t think that’s what life with God calls us to, then I dare you to go back and read your Bible. Moses’ life was better while he lived in Pharoah’s house, all the prophets had better lives before they started talking and people wanted to kill them, Jesus’ life could have been great if not for that whole persecution and cross thing, and Paul was a rising star until he decided to take a trip to Damascus. Now, how many of these people enjoyed more health and wealth than they would have if they had ignored God?
This church sign is completely antithetical to the church I know.
What’s more, it sets people up for heartache, crises and faith-failure. Those who walk with God don’t and can’t avoid life’s most devastating pain any more than those who don’t follow God. All my life I’ve known passionate believers who have watched their spouses slowly die of debilitating diseases, had children killed, seen financial reversals, and just about everything else that comes with living in this world. Life with God gives us tools and resources – you know, like God Himself – to deal with life when these things happen, but being a Christian doesn’t mean you can avoid it.
Every time I say something like this, someone mentions Jesus bringing Lazurus back from the dead and his family’s mourning being assuage. The problem with that is that Lazurus still dies eventually. Because of Jesus, the family mourns twice. For the family, having Lazurus around for longer was probably great, but in the end, he still dies.
I fear that this church – certainly made up of good people – may have fallen into the dreadful abyss of false marketing like so many entities do, they over promise and under deliver. I could not keep a straight face and tell someone that life with God means less catastrophe or bigger paychecks or whatever they meant when they promised “better” to the folks who drive up and down Fry Rd. But what I could tell someone is that life with God means exhilarating purpose, profound meaning, hard work, never-ending love and learning to love, expanding realms of joy, and discovering from your creator the beauty that is you. And if that is what this little church meant by better, than I’m full speed ahead. At the same time, if that is what this church means by better, then we have to get ready for all the self-sacrifice, persecution, and humility that comes with it, because it it through those things that we have true life with God.