I sometimes seriously wonder if I am a Christian.
The other night I was convicted.
During this pandemic, I have had many thoughtful friends and family ask me how I and my family are doing. “Good. God has been gracious. So far, no sickness. We’re ‘blessed!’”
Living and laboring in one of the nation’s hotspots (Detroit and the metropolitan area), fighting against this dreaded virus has been especially nerve-wracking. Beating it, a blessing.
While colleagues, friends, and hundreds of thousands of others have tested positive and been subject to weeks of torment—and many precious moms and dads and grandparents and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters have lost their lives—the Bonzelaars, thus far, have been safe and sound. “Blessed.”
During this period, my overwhelming emotion has been one of relief and gratitude.
Like I said, though, I was convicted.
It’s good to be grateful. We should, regardless of our lot—good or bad. Scripture tells us to “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).
But when we (at least me) declare how “blessed” we are to be free of the pain and suffering of others, maybe our (at least mine) religion has become self-serving—consumer-oriented, hot-tub brand. Lillian Daniel writes, “I do not think God particularly wants us to feel (blessed). I think God wants us to witness pain and suffering and . . . get angry and to do something about it.”
Gratitude alone—feeling “blessed”—is not strong enough to move us to action against the injustice, abuse, and tragedy around us. In fact, an attitude that exclaims, “That was a close call! Glad it missed me. I’m so blessed!” can render us indifferent and passive to the troubles of others.
You might disagree. But it wasn’t a “blessed-and-highly-favored” attitude that moved Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak out against the racial disparities of his time. Nor is it a spirit of personal well-being and good fortune that motivates us to fight for the rights of the hurting, needy, and homeless. It’s getting worked up and being angry that gets us off our couch and into the battle zone.
Time and again, when Jesus saw the sick and helpless, he was moved with compassion. The Gospel writer Mark records once that when Jesus was approached by a leper, he was “filled with indignation” (1:41). He was infuriated by the poor man’s wretched condition. Consequently, he reached out and touched him, healing him on the spot. His attitude was not, “I’m glad I’m not you. Boy am I blessed!” No, Jesus was upset, stirred in his spirit, and did something about it.
Maybe you think I’m suffering from a little “survivor guilt?” Perhaps. What I do know for sure is that when “Blessed!” becomes a punch line for, “Whew, I just missed that freight train! Talk about ‘Blessed!,’” our faith is more focused on ourselves and the easy life. Such a faith won’t inspire selfless behavior, let alone carry us in the hard times of life.
I confess: My first response to all the heartache I have witnessed over the last several weeks has not been one of grief and sadness for those impacted by this monster. It’s been fear (“Protect me God!”) or relief (“Still virus free!”) . . . I’m “blessed.” Either reaction is rooted in self-preservation and focused strictly on myself—not the plight and pain of others. Thus my question, “Am I really a Christian?”
I want a heart like Jesus—one that breaks for others and isn’t so self-absorbed. One that is driven to act and make a difference—regardless of the consequences.
I want to be a Christian.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
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