One of the greatest obstacles to becoming a committed Christian is that Christianity is challenging. The task of living a fully God-centered life is no walk in the park, as the lives of the greatest and most fully converted Christians who have ever lived—the saints—will attest. Indeed, Christianity lived to the fullest involves struggle. But is the struggle worth it?
By Matt Nelson
Often the skeptic will see the struggle and be deterred. What he may not see—perhaps a result of self-inflicted spiritual blindness—is the outflow of joy that permeates every saint’s struggle; and if he does see it he will not want it—not because he does not want joy but rather because he does not want joy enough to give up his old ways.
But of course, even the most hardened skeptic cannot be considered a total write-off. Indeed some skeptics are eventually compelled to change their mind. This is the hopeful realization that drives evangelization.
The rejection of God today, however, is often not caused primarily by philosophical argument. Usually, it is a result of indifferentism towards religion—a result of what Bishop Robert Barron has called the “Meh” culture. The question is: Is this popular religious indifference warranted? Are Christians who toil for the cause of Christ wasting their precious time?
Imagine a friend offered you a free lottery ticket. Would you take it? You’ve got nothing to lose—it’s free! Too busy? Oh, but if you win—you win millions. You’ve got nothing to lose and millions to gain, so why not take the ticket? Of course, you’d take it.
The great mathematician Blaise Pascal, in his Pensees, saw a similar scenario regarding faith in Jesus Christ. He concluded that the struggle to believe was worth it. He saw that if you believe in Christ—or at least die trying—you will gain everything as God promised. But if you choose to say no without trying—if you choose to say “Meh”—you lose will everything. Dr Peter Kreeft unpacks Pascal’s Wager in his essay “Argument from Pascal’s Wager”:
If God does not exist, it does not matter how you wager, for there is nothing to win after death and nothing to lose after death. But if God does exist, your only chance of winning eternal happiness is to believe, and your only chance of losing it is to refuse to believe. As Pascal says, ‘I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true.’
The Christian life demands change and the toughest kind. It often means turning from the things that come easiest—things that satisfy our natural urges. But the ability to freely choose to say no to our urges and impulses is what makes us distinctly human. (This is why we do not lock up dogs and chimpanzees for rape and murder.)
To say no—and yes!—at the right time is what makes humans happy. This is true freedom. Christianity is an invitation to actualize the human destiny of everlasting happiness; and through the Church, God has provided the roadmap to get us there.
Christianity is hard because it aims to soften hearts. One of the tough facts of Christianity is that we must face up to the fact that we are fallen. We are often not what we ought to be. G.K. Chesterton writes:
“One of the chief uses of religion is that it makes us remember our coming from darkness, the simple fact that we are created” (from The Boston Sunday Post).
What makes Christianity hard is that it reminds us of our imperfections. We are much too prideful to enjoy such a thing—and this, I fear, is where the skeptic checks out. The skeptic robs himself of the opportunity to encounter the Good News. Chesterton famously remarked:
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried” (Chapter 5, What’s Wrong with the World).
This is the great modern tragedy arising out of an age of hedonism and “choose your own way” morality. One might call our times the “Age of Self-Sedation.” Instead of pursuing the supernatural high that explodes interiorly from personal union with God (the highest of highs), the modern man chases sex, drugs, travel, houses, fame, “likes,” retweets, and on goes the list. But it is to no lasting avail.
The Good News is, however, that there is a cure. The cure is Christ. And the cure is administered especially through the sacraments of the Catholic Church. The Church is a “hospital” for sinners:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17).
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