As a Christian in 21st Century Australia, I can look forward to a pretty good life.
In fact, I can live a very satisfying life. I can be comfortably well-off, I can have an excellent education and a successful career in any field of my choosing. I can marry, have children, get my baby bonuses. I can live in a Good Neighbourhood and send my children to Good Schools and document every passing year with a tasteful family photo in my tastefully decorated living room.
In so many ways, I want that Good Life. Except of course, I’m a good Christian so I don’t come straight out and say it like that. I say I just want this or that, and make it sound so modest that it couldn’t possible be greedy or sinful!
So I tell myself that I don’t want to be rich. But I just want to be comfortably well-off and I’d rather not have to do without. (Do without what, you ask? Pretty much everything.)
I tell myself I’d never be greedy. But I just want to be satisfied. I’m easy to please, I think, I just need nice things and new books and overseas holidays. I’m not asking much, you know? Just the comfortable life of any Middle Class Australian!
I tell myself that I don’t expect to be happy all the time. But I don’t want to suffer. At all. And I treat suffering like it’s a freaking Dalek wielding the Elder Wand who just turned up on my doorstep, rather than something that a) everyone experiences and b) is for my sanctification.
I tell myself that I’ll do what is right and ignore the criticisms of the world. But again, I do want to be well-liked and well-respected. Not excessively, of course! I just want people to say, “Oh yes, Laura, well she’s Catholic but goodness, she’s a good sort of Catholic, isn’t she? Not like those other bad Catholics! Those annoying Catholics! Or worse, those crazy Catholics!”
And that’s The Good Life, isn’t it? A life of well-being where I can be well-off, well-rounded, and well-liked by all. It all sounds Welly Good, doesn’t it? (Sorry, couldn’t resist…) And I know there’s more to life. I know it’s just keeping up with the Joneses and like everyone else, I feel a little guilty about that. (It’s why we laugh at Mrs Bucket… Because there’s something in us that knows we’re like that too.)
But we’ve been doing the same thing since Mr and Mrs Homo Sapiens noticed Mr and Mrs Homo Jonesiens had a better north-east outlook from their cave, and we’re not about to stop any time soon. Our comforts are so respectable, how bad could they be?
And then I hear something like this and it kicks my dreams of The Good Life up the butt.
But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.
Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
The life I dream of – the Good Life of being rich and full, happy and well-liked – is the life Christ curses.
Why? Because all that goodness will end and what will I have then? I will have been so satisfied with the passing trinkets of this world that I will have missed the eternal treasure.
Rather, Christ says
Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
This isn’t the Good Life of my comfortable dreams, it’s the Blessed Life of the Kingdom of the Heaven.
Poor. Hungry. Weeping. Hated. This is the Blessed Life.
I don’t have some great plan on how I’m going to pursue this Blessed Life.
Some Christians are called to pursue it in a very deliberate way by embracing a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience – and to weep for the sins of the world and go into the hardest, sharpest places where sin rules and destroys so much.
But we are all called to embrace this life inwardly. Because ultimately, it doesn’t consist in the outward stuff but in the heart-attitude. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Co 13:3) An attitude that says, “Lord, whatever You will, I will embrace with my whole heart. Riches or poverty, joy or sorrow, praise or scorn, it’s all the same to me because You will use it all for your glory.”
Like I said, no great plan. Mainly because I’m really, really, really, really, really, like really bad at renunciation or anything actually hard. (I’d much prefer to blog about it…)
But I do know this.
If I keep my heart small and fill it with passing comforts of this world, it will die.
But if I tear it open to the pains of this world, and embrace God’s will for me, and be willing to suffer for good, then I will have a treasure in Heaven that the Joneses would envy.
Even Mrs. Bucket would approve of that.