Living the good life

Comfortable life . . . comfortable gospel?

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“Many Christians are at risk of their vision of the good life being unwittingly shaped more by consumerism than by Jesus,” says Gershon Nimbalker, Consumed campaign director.

According to a new research report conducted by Consumed and McCrindle Research group, Christians in Australia are far more likely to list financial independence (51%), owning a home (42%), being well regarded (32%) and travelling the world (31%) as defining what it means to live “the good life”.

When Jesus promises “life to the full” or “the abundant life” (in John 10:10), is this what He meant? Is there anything wrong with possessions and comfort?

I guess that depends.

Recently infamous televangelist Benny Hinn renounced some of his former “prosperity gospel” teachings . . . again. Critics want to see outside accountability and reparations. Remember Zacchaeus?

Yet, while many of us would refute prosperity gospel teachings, most of us don’t have any issue with a comfortable gospel.

The comfortable gospel says give your heart (read: emotions, thoughts and feelings) to God, believe in Jesus, do the best you can and you have a right to a comfortable life. We go so far as to acknowledge that we will have pain and heartache. We blame sin and move on. But basically, life will be comfortable, right? And God wants that for us; He’s ultimately working towards eradicating heartache and pain, so as long as we do our bit . . .

The problem with this idea is that it does seem to fly in the face of a lot of what Jesus emphasised during His earthly ministry. “Sell all your possessions and give them to the poor,” we might have heard Him say. But we’ve learned to justify all the challenging parts away.

The stats show that, not only do we define what a good life is more by creature comforts, but those comforts take us away from the good works we are commissioned to do.

Consumed’s report goes on to state that less than a quarter of Australian Christians surveyed felt that having an impact on their communities (23%) or the world (17%) are activities that defined a good life.

This is not just an Australian problem. Right throughout the Western world, consumerism and capitalism create and drive culture. Even in our Pacific island context, the kind of society that is embraced and desired is one with Western comforts and gadgets.

" . . . we've learned to justify all the challenging parts away."

And there is nothing wrong with that . . . or so we tell ourselves.

But the chalice is tainted.

The research suggests there are consequences if we allow consumerism to shape our lives.

Australians who often felt the need to buy something new were more likely to report feeling anxiety (31% compared to 21% who didn’t), loneliness (24% to 16%), sadness (26% to 16%), frustration (36% to 25%) and stress (36% to 27%) in their daily lives. There are real world symptoms of this consumption. We must be alert to the danger.

Seventh-day Adventists are particularly upwardly mobile as a denomination. We emphasise education and health—good things in themselves—and as a result we have a higher quality of life, longevity and better prospects as our education helps us secure lucrative careers. The danger is that this can distance and distract us from the real struggles and social ills people are suffering from and dealing with—sometimes in quite close proximity to our comfortable and plush urban churches.

We forget about “the least of these”. And our souls can be lulled to sleep by the comfortable worship experiences, the comfortable lives and the comfortable gospel that we cherish.

Jesus said, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Are we willing to lose our comfort for His sake?