Imagine that you are going through one of the hardest times of your life. Your performance at work is much to be desired, and your relationship with your loved ones appear to be going down the drain. You turn to drinking to ease your troubles, but this habit only serves to make things worse.
One day, a colleague of yours comes up to you and starts talking to you about your recent listlessness, and asks you if you were “okay”. You start to tell him how life isn’t exactly going as planned, and that you just started binge drinking to “drown your sorrows”, “like they do on TV”, but that it wasn’t exactly helping.
This colleague of yours then tells you that “maybe you should try going to church”, and invites you to sit in one of these Sundays during mass. Though you tell your colleague you’re not much of a “God person”, and that “it won’t help”, he insists, and you agree if for no other reason than that you’re trying to get her off your back.
After the first church session, you feel a little strange. You’re feeling surprisingly refreshed, and you start to think if God had suddenly entered your life. You do not attribute this to your colleague’s church’s friends welcoming you, nor to the fact that this was the first time in ages you’ve had a decent conversation with anybody, but rather, to the healing effect of the church.
The next day, your boss tells you that he just managed to get a very important client, and apologises if he had been nasty these past few weeks toward you “and the rest of the guys” as he was feeling a little overwhelmed by the pressure getting this client was causing him.
At home, your wife, seeing that you looked a little happier than other days after work, smiles at you, and asks, like she did on all the other days, “and how was work?” Finally after weeks of saying “f***ed”, you reply, “it was great!”
Your reaction causes her to give you a hug and a kiss, and you feel the tension at home lifting already.
Before you go to bed, you start thinking about what changed to cause these events to occur. Then you realise that the only thing that changed was your going to church. You start to attribute all these good things to the church, to God finally saving you, and you decide to attend church more regularly.
Soon, you start going to church even after your bad patch is over, since you’ve made new friends there, and it’s now “part of your life”.
And then you “become Christian”.
But did Jesus really save you from your troubles? Would having conversations outside the church context have helped as much as attending church? Would your boss not have told you about the client even if you hadn’t attended church? and would your relationship not improve just because of that news, allowing you to go home and actually look happy, prompting your wife to hug and kiss you?
Because people tend to go to church when they need it the most, the church doesn’t have to do much to cause you to think that it helps. You could put a horseshoe on your door and your life would have improved, causing you to think that it brings luck.
This phenomenon is called a regression toward the mean, in that in life, there will always be ups and downs. If life appears to be going horribly wrong, chances are good that over time it will start to get better. But because one turns to church during the worst times, regression toward the mean will make it look as if it’s helping.
If we were to start going to church when everything in our lives were going extremely well, and suddenly troubles started to happen, we would think exactly the opposite.
So does Jesus really save? In terms of the church forming a healthy, supportive community, yes, definitely. But in terms of causing miracles and turning your life around through supernatural means, probably not.
I stumbled upon your blog looking for the definition of dry humor (sorry for the spelling 😉 and also got to read this lovely essay on the nature of faith and its effects. It was very touching and I agree completely (it that matters).
I think you have the wrong understanding of what Christ did on the cross to ‘save’ us. What Jesus did NOT do is die so that we all could supernaturally have our lives turned around so that we feel good and happy and have beneficial things happen to us. In fact, he promised that believing in him and the sacrifice he made would often make us be persecuted by others. Why do we need to be saved? Because of our sin nature that we inherited through Adam’s original sin against God, which separates us from God. God has offered us a way to be reconciled with Him, though, by accepting forgiveness in the ultimate sacrifice of His son Jesus. All we have to do is believe in Jesus and His sacrifice. Without both this offer (on God’s part) and acceptance (on our part) there can be no reconciliation. It’s a two way street. But don’t think for a minute that being reconciled means life will be peachy.
Thanks for the opportunity to comment. You write well, even if I don’t agree with what you’ve written.
Thanks for your input 🙂
Always nice to hear another person’s view on this.
As someone who later on chose to become a Christian (as opposed to just going with the flow and thinking that I was one which is what happens to a lot of kids who grow up in Christian homes, or thinking that you must be one since you do all the Christian things and you go to a church which is like the scenario you gave) I understand where you are coming from.
The bible does state that Jesus ‘saves’, but not in the way that a lot of us like to think. By this I mean the kind of ‘you feel uplifted, refreshed, everyone is nice to you, flowers bloom, you have an extra hop and skip in your step’ (although the thing is, a lot of people DO experience a kind of emotional ‘high’ if you like, when they become a Christian).
Despite whatever joys people may ‘feel’ when you become a Christian, the bible says that the real joy stems from something much deeper. It is the joy of knowing that God loved you so much that he gave up his one and only perfect son, Jesus so that you can have eternal life (read: heaven).
But why do you need this Jesus then? And what makes Christians so sure that they can’t get into heaven by any other means? Well, that’s where the real meat is. Christians call it ‘the gospel’. Basically, just means good news.
The bible says that a perfect God created a world. This God also created humans…who turned out not to be so perfect. Humans from the very beginning rejected God, preferring to well, be their own master and ‘God’, or in some cases, deciding to have other things as their ‘God’ – everything from cows and cats, to money and sex, to family and work.
This is the problem that Christians and the bible calls ‘sin’. Basically, rejection of God. (Sorry if you already know all this jargon, just didn’t want to confuse you if I wasn’t already!) When we die, the bible says that we will face God, a perfect God who will judge all.
And this, will not be a very happy reality to face being outright God-hating/rebelling, or maybe just apathetic God-ignoring, or chasing after wrong ‘Gods’ people.
However, the bible says that because of his love, God sent his son, Jesus, into the world. Not just to tell people about God and tell them what ‘true’ faith was (trust in God and NOT repetitive tradition and rituals) but to actually die in our place. Jesus gave himself up as a sacrifice, a substitute for those who otherwise would have faced God’s judgment.
So. Basically, Jesus did not come so we could feel warm fuzzies, have our spouses and bosses like us more, have birds sing when you walk by, or as some people like to argue, wage wars.
However, maybe because death is not really a hot topic nowadays, and right now is much more glamorous and fun to talk about, and feelings are being highlighted (and unfortunately even manipulated) in some churches, people, including Christians, sometimes forget that Jesus actually came to save us (sinful people, not perfect religious think you have it all people) from God’s judgment. And that in light of this, they are to live lives of thankfulness and seek to please God, by loving him and their neighbour (read: everyone).
This isn’t a natural thing at all, to want to really love when it hurts and is sacrificial and there is absolutely nothing for you to gain. But God enables Christians to do it, if they continue to trust in him as from the first time they decided to believe and trust that Jesus’ sacrifice is enough to save them.
Perhaps it seems a little out there, I suppose it is. I for one know if I was a perfect God, and I saw all these people who either denied my existence or hated me or thought they knew better, I probably wouldn’t be too fussed about wanting to love them and figure out a way how I could restore relationship with such imperfect people. But that’s why the bible says it is such good news. And that’s a real reason to experience joy, even though like Bob said it doesn’t mean your life will always be peachy keen…your after-life will be (ie. supernatural turn around), and in the mean time, God is here for you as well (and the supportive church family doesn’t hurt either…though sometimes being a group of imperfect people as they are, they aren’t always so great!).
Ok, I know this has been a really long comment and I hope you’re still with me and if so, thanks 🙂
I wrote this much because it’s something I really believe, and hey, don’t just take my word on it, go explore it yourself. It’s worthwhile thinking about and sooner rather than later, making a decision about. This is an Aussie site that gives a simple summary: http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/2wtl/box6.asp
All the best Donn, and keep up the writing and thinking and great Chinese song translations! (I came here googling for the ni wen wo ai song…or rather, the moon represents my heart song)