Here’s a thought (and be prepared to wince): “Christianity is not a therapy for those who wish never to be upset.” It comes from Robert C. Roberts in his book, Spiritual Emotions: a Psychology of Christian Virtues, (Eerdmans, 2007). You’ll find it in the chapter on peace. It reminds me of a comment John Wesley once made about people wanting “a pillow for the soul.”
We rarely admit it so candidly, but isn’t this sort of peace pretty close to what we really want? Isn’t this desire what we have in mind when we talk about the “peace” that Christians have in Christ? Isn’t this why we memorize and quote verses like, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything…and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding…”?
Now, I want peace of mind, too. Who goes around saying, “I want to be mentally tormented?” One of the blessings of walking with Christ is peace – a sense of settledness, even rest – that one feels even if one’s circumstances are not peaceful.
But when we turn peace of mind into the ultimate aim (to see how much we want peace of mind, think about how much we talk about stress), we take what is good and twist it into something evil. The Christian’s peace of mind starts to look suspiciously like “therapy for someone who wishes never to be upset.” On the contrary, the follower of Jesus is supposed to share the sufferings of Christ. How else do we feel compassion – which literally means “to suffer with” someone? Consider the implications of Philippians 3:10, for example. I often think of what Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, prayed: “Let my heart break with the things that break the heart of God.” Now that is a truly dangerous prayer.
Dare we assess the health of the Americn church on this question? Go to a Christian bookstore and see what is being published. Ask the manager which books sell the best. Check a Christian bestseller list. Are more people reading Joel Osteen or Shane Claiborne? (I hope you’ll google for book titles.) Listen to sermons preached. How many times have you heard that God loves you no matter what, which is true, to be sure? How many times have you been challenged to risk sharing in Christ’s sufferings?
If we truly take the biblical God seriously, then we have to ask, how long will God permit this Christian self-indulgence to go on?