WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT CHRISTIANITY?
For many people, the reluctance to accept Christianity is as practical as it is theoretical. They want to learn what the benefits of Christianity are, or what the benefits of Christianity are for them.
Some Christians may be surprised by this question, but it isn’t a bad one. In a low sense, it can mean: how is Christianity going to give me financial success and a problem-free life? Christianity doesn’t deliver that kind of formula. Christians’ life, far from being free from problems, is often fraught with hardship and sacrifice. In a higher sense, the undecided person is quite right to ask how Christianity will make his life better. After all, he’s not only deciding to believe it but whether to base his life on it. Addressing specifically to unbelievers who has an open mind, here is a list of several concrete ways in which Christianity can change our lives.
First of all, Christianity makes sense of who we are in this world. We all need a framework in which to understand reality, and part of Christianity’s appeal is that it is a worldview that ensures things fit together. Science and reason are seamlessly integrated into the Christian framework since modern science has originated from the Christian framework. Christianity has always accepted both faith and reason. While reason helps us learn things about experiences, faith helps us discover things that transcend experience. For limited, fallible people like us, Christianity offers a detailed and accurate account of who we are and why we are here.
Christianity also imbues life with a powerful and an exhilarating sense of purpose.
Although atheism posits a universe without meaning in most of its current forms, Christianity makes life a decent drama in which we play a leading role in which the most ordinary event takes on a great significance. Modern life is generally characterized by gray disillusionment. Christianity offers us a world that is once again enchanted. This isn’t a return to the past or rejection of modern reality; instead, it is a reinterpretation of modern reality, making it clearer and more meaningful. Now we see in color what we’ve seen in black and white before.
WHAT CAUSES THIS CHANGE OF ORIENTATION?
Christians live sub specie aeternitatis, this means “in the shadow of eternity.” Life can be incredibly unjust, and this is a common source of frustration and cynicism for many people. In the Gorgias and other Platonic dialogues, Socrates tries to show that “it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.” Evidence of that is a failure because there are bad people in the world who excel, and there are good people who happen to grief. But Christianity produces a broadening of perspective that prevents us from being jaded by this realization. Christianity teaches us that this life is not the only life and that there is a final judgment under which all the worldly accounts are settled.
A business tycoon or a law partner who cheats people and exploits his wife may be seen as a prosperous man of the world, but the Christian sees him, sub specie aeternitatis as a truly pitiful figure. By contrast, the poor peasant who crawls to the altar on his knees — a failure by all the world’s standards — is one who is preparing to receive his heavenly reward. Sub Specie aeternitatis, he’s the fortunate one. Here we have the meaning of the expression “the last shall be first.” It means that the standard of earthly success and divine reward is very different. Without the perspective of eternity, the necessary inversion of values would be lost to us. Viewing things in a new light; however, the Christian will face life and whatever it brings with a sense of hopefulness and peace that are uncommon in today’s world.
Contrary to what secular critics assert, Christians don’t and cannot consider their life on earth unimportant. Indeed, it is of the highest importance. The reason is obvious, and yet often goes entirely unnoticed: it is this life that decides our status in the next life. Our future for eternity depends on how we live now. So to live sub specie aeternitatis, distant from being a way to avoid the responsibilities of life in this world, is simply a way to imbue life with a value that will outlast it. It is to give life even more depth and significance as it is part of a larger narrative of truth and purpose.
Christianity also provides a solution to the cosmic loneliness that we all experience. No matter how successful a secular life might be, any rational person must know that we are alone in the end. Christianity eliminates this existential loneliness and ties our destiny with God. Our most profound relationship is with Him, and it is a relationship that never ends and is still faithful. A secular person may wonder what this relationship feels like; It’s an unforgettable experience of the sublime. Have you ever had time with someone you love, where you transported to a transcendent world that appears out of space and time? Typically, these encounters are rare and never last more than a short period. The sublime is a part of daily life for the Christian. Milton describes this as a joy transcending Eden, “a paradise within thee, happier far.”
Another excellent benefit of Christianity is that it enables one to cope well with suffering and death. Time magazine wrote on the case of a woman who had undergone several tragedies. Her husband was laid off, and she had a miscarriage. Her first cousin was diagnosed with cancer a month later. And two hurricanes battered her hometown in Florida. Eventually, one of her best friends died of a brain tumor. Here’s the woman’s reaction: “We’re putting our lives in God’s hands and trusting He has our best interests at heart. I have clung to my faith more than ever this year. As a consequence, I have not lost my joy.”
Joy is not natural under these circumstances, and that is the point of this woman — only the supernatural can produce lasting happiness in the face of the tragedies of life. When we are in distress and feeling hopeless, our spirits are lifted as a result of the hope we have in Christ. We don’t know why we have the situation, but we have faith that there’s a reason, even if it is only God who knows what it is. Maybe God is trying to teach us something or to bring us closer to Him. Also, Christianity gives us the hope that when a person dies, we will see that person again.
Then there’s the matter of our death. We generally do our best to avoid thinking about death, and many of us resist going to funerals. Funerals remind us of our extinction, and the idea that one day we will cease to exist is a source of fear and terror. But Paul says, “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?” To Christians, death is a temporal end but not a final end. The secular individual thinks that there are two stages for humans: life and death; But there are three things for the Christian: life, death, and life to come. That’s why, for the Christian, death isn’t scary.
Ultimately, Christianity helps us to become the better person we want to be. The honorable and decent things we do are no longer a matter of thankless routine. It isn’t about the sort of morality we’ve made for ourselves. Instead, we are pursuing our higher destiny as human beings. We’re becoming what we were meant to be. And not only does Christianity help us strive to be better, but it also teaches us how to be better.
In marriage, for instance, Christianity teaches that marriage is not just a contract. If we treat it this way and use it for our benefit, it doesn’t work very well. To Christians, marriage is a bond not only between the two parties but also between them and God. The operating principle of Christian marriage is sacrificial or agape love. This means that marriage works best when each partner focuses primarily on the happiness of the other.
This can be tried as a secular proposition, but human selfishness makes it very hard. Christian marriage is a lot easier, as God become an integral part of the relationship. And when we have difficulties in marriage, we pray to God, and He gives us grace. Agape isn’t so much human love as it is the love of God shining through us. This is a valuable resource that is open to whoever is asking about Christianity. When we make agape the foundation of our marriages and relationships, we find that the whole system works and that we are much happier as a result.
We desire to be better parents, and what better examples can we give to our children than Christian fathers and mothers who practice the sacrificial love of agape? We desire to be good citizens, and can we find a more inspiring example of true charity and compassion in Mother Teresa? A man who saw her hug a leper told her he wasn’t going to do that for all the money in the world. She responded that she wouldn’t do it either; she did it because of Christ’s love. This is the same motive that appears to have driven humanity’s greatest acts of sacrifice and heroism.
We desire to increase the level of our individual lives, bringing conscience into harmony with the way we live. Christianity provides us a reason to follow this inner guide: it is not our innermost desire, but God’s voice speaking through us. We want to be good, because goodness is the stamp of God in our hearts, and one way through which we relate to Him is by following His ways. Like Thomas More said, in the final analysis, we are good not because we need to be, but because we want to be.
Seemingly incorrigible criminals, drug addicts, and alcoholics have changed their lives by becoming Christians. Physicist and atheist Steven Weinberg once said, “bad people will do bad things, and good people will do good deeds but for good people to do evil things — that takes religion.” Whatever the merits of Weinberg’s observation, it requires this analogy: “For bad people to do good things — that takes religion.”
Ultimately, we are not only called to happiness and goodness, but also holiness. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” What counts for God isn’t only our external conduct, but also our inner disposition. Holiness doesn’t mean simply performing the obligatory rituals on the outside, but remaining pure on the inside. But holiness is not something we do for God. It’s something that we do with God. Without Him, we can’t do it.
We need Christ within us to be more like Christ. Prophet John the Baptist, standing waist-deep in the river said: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” In Galatians 2:20, Paul says a similar thing: “nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me:” This is Christ’s counter-cultural challenge to us. In a society based on self-esteem and self-fulfillment, self-care, and self-improvement, Christ calls us to the heroic task of self-emptying. He must increase, and we must decrease. This is what we do by allowing his empire to be an ever greater domain in our hearts. Happiness and goodness flow from it.
For the Christian, human joys are a little foreshadowing of the unspeakable joy that is full of glory, which is in store for us. Terrestrial happiness is just a foretaste of eternity. As the Book of Revelation 21:4 puts it, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” In this spirit, the Christians await this final moment of glorification, rejoicing in the gift of life, proclaiming every day, “Even so, come Lord Jesus. We are ready.”