In a move strange to fiction-loving me, much of my recent reading (or listening, as the case may be) has been of non-fiction. I’ve already written about my thoughts on the importance of having heroes in our lives, inspired by The Closing of the American Mind by Allen Bloom. I’ve also been listening to a really amazing book about living a creative life, Big Magic. (Warning on that one–it has some language. But if you can overlook the occasional F-bomb, it also has some really interesting and unique views on our creativity.)

But in both of these books, my dander was raised by nearly throw-away lines that demonstrated how each author fundamentally misunderstands the core of Christianity. Without quoting either Bloom or Gilbert directly, both made the assertion that the reason Christianity was flawed and even dangerous is the fixation on suffering. Both seemed to imply that Christians desire suffering–that we all have a martyr complex, thinking that by suffering we earn our reward.

I’m a bit baffled by this. First, is this really what most people think about our faith? That we just love to be miserable? And if it is…WHY? Where are the throw-away lines about the Christian Joy? The Christian PEACE? The Christian LOVE?
My friends, if we’re known for our suffering instead of those things, then we are doing something wrong.
Because yes, suffering is a part of Christianity. But we are not–or should not be–taught that our own suffering is necessary in order to achieve salvation. We are–or should be–taught that when we suffer, which is inevitable, Jesus will be there with us. That through His suffering, ours has already been paid. Because he willingly took that for us.
The beauty of Christian suffering is that we can rise above it, through Him. That we can sit in a prison in chains and sing for Joy. That we can lose everything the world says should matter and rejoice in all He’s given. That we know where true value lies and that nothing the world throws at us can strip us of that ultimate gift. 

The misconception seems to be that we seek pain, trials, hardship, and agony because we think that without it, there is no Joy. I wonder who these authors knew that believed this. I’m sure there were people. I certainly know of fictional ones who fell into this trap. One of L.M. Montgomery’s neighbor characters (whose name I’m drawing a blank on). Dorothea from Middlemarch. I’m sure there are plenty of others, and I’m sure they’re based on reality.

But I so want to talk to these two authors I’ve been reading and say, “Oh, man. Look. Suffering is at the heart of Christianity, yes–because suffering is inevitable in life. But we don’t seek it. He already did, so that we don’t have to. We seek Him, and what we find is that those dark parts of life aren’t so dark anymore.”
And I am so, so sad that this is what thinkers, people who actually give the subject thought, not assumption, come away with. I’m sad because that means that the Christians they know have shown them this untruth. That we’re preaching pain instead of Joy without actions. That we’re showing loss instead of gain. That the world thinks we’re dangerous, not because we oppose the evil they might love, but because we’re coming off as self-destructive.
Yes, Christ calls us to suffer for Him. As in, when we suffer–which we will–make sure it’s for a good cause and not a bad one. If we’re going to be accused, be accused of being a Christian, not a criminal. If we’re going to be persecuted, let it be because we’ve gone toe-to-toe with evil, not because we’re filled with hatred. Suffering is assumed for all–we’re just supposed to make ours count and have Joy in the face of it.
I pray that if any of these thinkers come in contact with me, their throw-away lines in their next best-selling books won’t be about how people of faith have a martyr complex. It’ll be how people of faith sure do exemplify what it means to seek the good with a Joy that goes beyond logic.
Let’s show the world that we’re not about clinging to pain. We’re about walking in love.

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