"I came that they might have life and have it abundantly." John 10:10
Joy was an early melody I heard from God. Our verse for the week to be a promise that in Christ we can have a joyful life, life as God intended it. From an early age I believed in a kind of sacred fun. My God smiled. I thought we were supposed to also.
Contrast that with what often passes for Christianity. J. B. Phillips, in his book Your God Is Too Small, wrote that many Christians labor under the illusion that God is like a “Resident Policeman” who always uses a guilty conscience to motivate us. God is so oppressive to some people that they cannot imagine the words fun and Christian in the same sentence.
This tradition of denying oneself any pleasures of the world (asceticism) has a long and unfortunate history in Christianity. Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th century monk, would not allow himself to enjoy the beauty of the world. John of the Cross (16th century) taught that Christians should shun all joy and hope. These men and others like them view pleasure as far too tempting and dangerous to have any place at all in the Christians life.
The legacy of their teaching is seen in many people even today who are vaguely suspicious of any Christian who smiles too much! Some of the meanest people I know are Baptist ministers. Their favorite biblical story is the cursing of the fig tree. I made that up, but the point stands. Many Christians are undoubtedly Christian, but they’re not happy about it.
Perhaps Nietzsche summed up the challenge best. He was asked by a friend why he was so negative about Christianity and replied, “I never saw the members of my father’s church enjoying themselves.”
How out of step this thinking is with the life and teaching of Jesus Christ! He sought out people with whom to enjoy life. He went to wedding feasts and other parties so much that he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton (Luke 7:34). He made friends with all kinds of people who really needed friends. He even taught that at the end of time he would throw a huge banquet for all of his followers. As any Cajun might put it, this Jesus, he knew how to pass a good time, yeah!
Abundant life, the kind that Jesus came to give, certainly means that we can have a laughter of the soul no matter what takes place around us. The object of our hope lies beyond circumstances. It is grounded in God, who, in turn determines our very existence in Him. Once we find secure and abundant life in God, then we are free to enjoy the life He has given us here. And that should be the “serious” business of every Christian.
God is neither oppressive nor concerned to instill guilt in us for everything we have not done right or well. The fact of the matter is, abundant life is far closer than you probably realize and much more accessible. Take the gift He offers you today. It’s there. God really does want you to enjoy yourself. So smile.
Dr. Terry Ellis
September 21, 2014