Do Christians drain the joy from life?
The message we often hear is to deny ourselves. To take up our cross. To follow the one who had nowhere to lay his head. This can be interpreted as not spending any money or effort on pleasure or beauty. Or the good life as no good.
On the other hand, another message we may hear is that God wants to bless us with good things. This can be interpreted as feeling we’re entitled to good things, and that being able to acquire good things is a sign God loves us. The good life as unfettered consumption.
But what if the problem is not that Christians shouldn’t pursue the good life, but that we have the good life all wrong?
What Is The Good Life According To God?
God neither wants to kill joy or favour the rich. To put it another way, the Christian life is neither asceticism or materialism. It is both a life of joy and a life of sacrifice. More than that, joy and sacrifice are closely intertwined in Scripture, as we see in Hebrews 12:2: ‘For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross’.
For most of us in Australia, we realise that God does not call us to either a life of no pleasure or a life of pure self-indulgence. We bumble along somewhere in the middle, at times giving generously and at times spending it up. Too afraid God might call us to reject the good life, we fail to reflect seriously on what it actually is.
Too afraid God might call us to reject the good life, we fail to reflect seriously on what it actually is.
My concept of what I need and how I spend money is shaped by the culture around me. It is likely I justify consuming more than I should and not being as generous as I could. Why? Because I am a product of Western culture, which views the good life as individual consumption.
One way of understanding this tension and navigating the ethical dilemmas we face is to see the good life as one of hospitality. Hospitality is the act of sharing the good things we have with others so that they too might enjoy them. Rather than removing joy, joy is shared and increased.
The gospel itself is the good news of an act of hospitality. God desires to share all good things with us. We are welcome at God’s table. Yet, this hospitality came at a cost to God.
What Does Hospitality Look Like?
So, how might this look in practice? Close to home, an easy way to picture this is with food. Making a delicious meal is one way to enjoy the good things God has made. Meals are social, so we can invite to our table those in our community who are in need, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.
In my own life, an act of sharing a few meals has resulted in sharing meals for life, as we expanded our family to include our friend’s daughter when our friend died. True hospitality takes you down paths you didn’t imagine, which cost much but give even more.
And when I buy from a social enterprise which helps people, I can enjoy what I have purchased knowing the purchase has also given to others. But when I buy that which has come at the expense of another’s wellbeing, I should recognise that instead of giving, I have taken from another. Every purchase provides an opportunity to choose a comfortable life for myself and discomfort for another, or the truly good life of the gospel in which joy multiplies.
Communal Not Individual
The good life isn’t individual but communal. As the proverb goes: ‘Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it’, (Prov 15:17). God’s love in Trinity overflowed to us in creation. As we enjoy that creation together, our model is not to exploit but to share, giving much but gaining even more.