Stephen Colbert and I both live in the Southeast and are Christians. I found our unexpected commonality in an interview excerpt on Mockingbird. We both think the Christian life has the same clear distinctive. Here’s my (republished) explanation.
So what are Christians for?
I don’t mean what are Christians for, as in “what are mosquitoes for anyway?”
I mean, what are Christians in favor of? Because everyone has a pretty good idea what Christians are against. I went to a big arts festival recently and there at the gate was a guy carrying a five-foot cross and placard proclaiming, “Stop! homosexuality, fornication, abortion, adultery …” You can probably guess a lot of the rest.
Figuring out what Christians are for is a little challenging even for Christians sometimes because God sets specific boundaries around how we are supposed to live, but beyond that, just challenges us with very big and difficult goals.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” People who follow God have been trying to wiggle around that one for as long as it’s been on the record. “Who is my neighbor?” one of them asked Jesus. And Jesus told the man that a person from the race he despised the most was his neighbor.
One of the texts that always seemed to me to be really clear about boundaries and vague about goals is in Galatians 5, where we’re told to avoid
sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies
but to allow God’s spirit, working through us, to produce
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
One day, trying to get a little more clarity, I tried lining up the boundaries against the goals to see whether there were even any parallels. Much to my surprise, there were. I’ve let you see a few of my notes to understand how I thought it through.
|Avoid: Sexual immorality, impurity||Allow: Love, faithfulness|
|Avoid: Witchcraft and idolatry
Both of these are attempts to attain goals without God’s direction and help. Idolatry makes anything but God the most important thing. Many Americans make money or “coolness” into idols. Witchcraft is what happens when we call on any spiritual force other than God—whether that’s the power of the universe God created or a force within ourselves.
I didn’t even see that patience was the counterbalance for witchcraft and idolatry until I went back to the text’s original language and found a compound word whose elements were “big” and “sacrifice.” That is to say, waiting patiently can be a big sacrifice—an over-the-top gesture of honor to God at a time when you’d rather just get something done yourself.
|Avoid: Hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage||Allow: Kindness, gentleness, peace
When the Bible describes “peace,” it doesn’t mean the absence of conflict, it means the presence of God and God’s way of life. God’s way includes that difficult “love your neighbor” thing, which definitely does a number on “fits of rage.”
|Avoid: Selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy||Allow: Goodness. See also kindness, gentleness, and peace.|
|Avoid: Drunkenness, orgies, debauchery FYI: the historic meaning of “debauchery” refers to every kind of excess, from overeating to wasting your weekends in bed.||Allow: Self-control|
The only “allow” without a parallel to “avoid” is the outcome of all the others: joy.
So when you come right down to it, that’s what Christians are for. Joy. If you meet a lot of Christians who seem joyless, they’re missing the boat. But you don’t have to. Get to know God yourself. When you look at those choices, would you really rather have the things God says to avoid? Or would you rather choose God’s joy?
You’ll learn more about what it means to choose God’s joy as you explore this web site.
P.S.: And while we won’t know for sure until we can ask God face-to-face, I’m guessing that the purpose of mosquitoes is found in Psalm 144: “Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war.” Swat joyfully!