Saturday, December 5, 2009


Frances Schaeffer said "Christianity cannot simply be a superior form of utilitarianism," and I agree. I don't buy the social gospel, I don't buy that becoming a Christian will mean a healthier, wealthier life. If Christianity guaranteed those human interests, there wouldn't have been any martyrs, no Christian martyrs anyway. I don't buy that, the gospel doesn't promise that. But what does it promise? It promises heaven - oh, how casually I say that word, as if I can comprehend its splendor, as if golden streets and pearly gates mean anything when compared to the indescribably terrible and wonderful experience of being in the presence of God. It promises heaven. It promises salvation from hell - again, the industry terms mean nothing, four over-used and undervalued letters describing the deepest pain that a human could endure, separation from the previously constant experience of God. Christianity doesn't promise wealth, health, but it makes promises, heaven and hell, it makes promises.

And it satisfies the most basic human desire, the desire for meaning. There has to be something, it has to be logical, there has to be a purpose. Scientists find patters and plans, philosophers find connections and correlations, the average person doesn't seek for meaning like that; they look for it in jobs, or family, or sex, or drink, or drugs, everywhere. But they want it, they need it, everything we do is because we find meaning in the doing. Even those who claim that there is no meaning - that all things are admissible - they lie, they wouldn't do anything unless they thought that there was a purpose for doing it, no matter where they get it. We need purpose, we need meaning, and Christianity promises meaning.

How, then, is Christianity anything more than a superior form of utilitarianism? Oh, of course, it's not about achieving money or health or quality of life or any of those human interests... but it's about achieving the human interest, it's about providing meaning. How - if it promises meaning - can it be anything more than a superior form of utilitarianism?

Can there truly be a non-selfish reason for choosing Christianity? I don't think there is, whether you chose because you want the meaning it provides, whether you make a Pascal's wager, or whether you are just afraid of hell or bought the social gospel... Maybe you were just scared that you're whole family would go to heaven and you would miss them, I don't care! whatever the reason you accepted salvation, you chose to be saved, which means that you thought yourself worth saving, it was about you, it was about what Christianity had to offer you, what Christianity could do to satisfy your needs. Christ's act on the cross was about saving you, you personally, and it was about giving you meaning and giving you an eternity in the presence of God, because God delights in the joy of his creation. God did what he did because he wanted to, and because he loved you.

But you? Me? I can't imagine that we chose Christianity without looking for what it would give us. That's why so many people buy the social gospel, because it raises the offer. It says Christianity promises more than it does. The meaning is enough, but it's still a satisfaction of a basic human need. It's still about you, and your need, and filling that needs. It's a beautiful thing, being filled, but it's utilitarian. It's the best utilitarianism.


Today, Mr. Bianchi prayed "Thank you, God, for giving us your joy always, for being with us in the storms of life and seeing us through them." And I felt sad inside.

The truth is, I'm not always filled with joy, or, at least, I don't feel like I am. Maybe I misunderstand joy, maybe I confuse it with happiness, but I'm not always happy, I'm usually sad or depressed or burdened. And the storms of life? I don't always make it through it one piece. Life - what little wind and water of it I have experienced - hasn't left me intact, has wrecked me before, left me high and dry, has shattered me.

I have no delusions, I know that this is self inflicted misery. Every time I'm down, it's because I chose to be. Every time I fail in an endeavor, it's because I tried to do it my way. And I look around at my church, at all the happy people, at all the bible-carrying, smiling, hand shaking people, and I say "I hate you for what you have. I hate you for the world - utterly separate from mine - that you dwell in. I hate you for being happy." I can't understand them, my mind cannot grasp this "nothing is wrong" mentality, this mask of perfection. It's a lie, it has to be a lie! How can they walk into church every Sunday without being weighed down by the depravity of the world that they have witnessed all throughout the week. The world is a depressing place, and yet there are smiles. Is every smile really a lie? I've heard stories, others, the smiler, waking up in the morning and - their first thought - joyful, praising God for the day. That's not me. My first thoughts - how tired I am, how badly I slept, how early it is - they're never happy. My mind, most of the time, is filled with the problems I see in the world around me, not the beauty that I know is there.

Oh, Hayley says how nice it would be to stop living. To throw off this mortal coil. This world of heartbreak, this world of pain and suffering... this world of sin, and the weight of that sin pressing upon me. How can this be grace, it can't. I can't have accepted grace to feel this weight, and so I'm afraid of ending this life, I'm afraid that the weight that makes me wish to be in the presence of God will be the very thing that separates me from him. I need grace to lift this burden, but sometimes death looks more - horribly, terribly - appealing.

"Everyone thinks about jumping off buildings."
Sometimes I want it to end, the tiredness, the constant failings, the burden.
"But the harder I try, the more clearly can I feel the depth of our fall and the weight of it all. And so this might could be the most impossible thing; Your grandness in me, making me clean."

But I don't feel that might, that grandness, I'm empty as a broken cistern, cracked and dry, depleted from weeping. And I hear all of this talk - all these Mr. Bianchi prayers - thank you, God, for this unimaginable joy you give us, for filling us to overflowing, for grace, for your love. And how I want those prayers to be mine, how I want to praise God for the peace he gives, but my cracked, dry lips can only say the words, they can't feel them. Sometimes I wonder, "Am I a Christian at all? Why don't I feel this way?" And I study the creed, and I know that it is what I believe, and I'm left without answers.

I used to be a pretty happy-go-lucky guy. At least, I think so, I can't even remember. Maybe I wasn't, maybe this dissatisfaction and anger has always been here, always simmering beneath the surface ruining everything I touch and profess. But I think I used to be happy... I think I've changed. I was - once - the kid that won humorous interp. I was the funny kid, I was the comeback kid. I think I was. But I'm not that kid anymore, I doubt that I could really invest myself in something so profusely silly as a humorous interp, I doubt I could do that piece. I've grown weary of this world, so that leaving it preoccupies my thoughts at times.

But I wouldn't be telling the whole story if I pretended that I was suicidal all the time. I'm not, hardly ever, never, really, never seriously, never pills bottle seriously, never plans seriously. I'm just "I wish it would end" serious, and even then, very rarely. Sometimes, I'm really pretty happy, when I'm with my friends, when I'm with you (I hope we know each other well enough that you know when I'm talking to you). When I'm with you, you guys, I'm happy. I was happy today, reading poetry - even scary or depressing poetry - I was happy with you. But, maybe you noticed that I was holding back a little, maybe a pause before I spoke, a glance at an empty corner, a refusal to say what was on my mind, maybe you noticed that I wasn't perfectly happy.

Why? Because I was angry. Angry that I was made happy by loving and being loved by my friends when I didn't get the same happiness from loving and being loved by God. I wanted to be happy when it was just me and God, alone, together, even when I wasn't with my friends. I wanted God to make me happy. I want to be happy with God like I am happy with my friends.

Now, I ask you, am I asking too much?

Christianity doesn't promise happiness, but I believe that it promises meaning. The fault, if one exists, I willingly claim as my own. Maybe I am simply not made happy by the meaning, maybe I'm expecting joy to be too much like happiness, maybe I'm not a real Christian - I'm afraid, sometimes. Maybe, maybe I'm wrong, and Christianity doesn't promise meaning. It's not a question you have to answer, it's not a question I expect you to answer, it's not a question that I can answer. Not right now. Not this way.


  1. Christianity isn't about our need. And yeah, the blessings and the peace and the love and the meaning that come from following Christ are fantastic, and, maybe we use them as incentives when we evangelize. [And maybe, that's wrong?] But Christianity isn't about us and our meaning. It's about God. And his glory. And how do I say this in a way that doesn't sap it of meaning and make it trite? Sometimes I think, "Wow, Jesus must love me so much, he came all the way down from heaven to die on a cross just for me." But really, he came and he died and he endured what he did so that God would be glorified. that's all. Christianity is about nothing else, except learning to glorify God. And sure, there's stuff in it for us. Because that's the kind of God God is.

    sometimes I feel like I don't get Christianity. at all. I have filled so many angry journal pages with my confusion, I tried "quitting" Christianity once. But as much as it all confuses me, as much as I don't understand how it works, or why x happens or doesn't happen, or whatever, the simple truth that revives my fragmented faith is that, there is nothing else. John 6:68 -- this is the truth and I don't understand it, but how can I give it up?

    what can I say? I've wondered the very same thing? that I've felt the very same way? that I've asked the very same questions? But, I don't feel like that any more, I haven't wondered that in over a year. I don't remember how I stopped feeling that way and started feeling, happy? Happy is NOT the right word. Hey, I've been miserable these past few weeks. But, hm, at peace? Contented in the hope that there is something to be hopeful about? Yes. I don't know how I went from feeling like you described to feeling "happy" because God made me happy. I don't know, and I hate that I don't know. I wish I could recommend a five step plan to losing that burden, because that's what I wanted. But there is no plan. Just more questions.

    Seek Him. That's all.

    This is a very bold post. You put words to something I've wondered about for so long. Thank you. I'll leave you with a lyric from the Fray:

    "Happiness damn near destroys you / Breaks your faith to pieces on the floor / So you tell yourself, that’s probably enough for now / Happiness has a violent roar"

  2. "O Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight"

  3. Micah, I hate being needy, but I have to say that I really sympathize with this post today, maybe almost all of this past week. And... it bothers me that I can't seem to hold on to joy.

    Instead of thinking, "the world is a depressing place, and yet there are smiles," I only think that my life is blessed and the world is uplifting but I'm not smiling.

    I don't know why I'm saying this except perhaps because of "an outpouring."