To my unbelieving friend:
There is a wondrous treasure buried within the New Testament.
Rumors of it reach your ears occasionally, its light glinting for the briefest of moments from beneath the religious dirt. The word “buried” is apt, for reading a massive text like the Bible feels much like digging. Without a map, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s one reason people rarely find it.
But it’s there. And the Apostle Paul says that if you knew what was inside, there’s nothing you wouldn’t sacrifice to find it.
Haven’t you ever asked yourself what Paul was so jazzed about, so obsessed about, that he would “consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phillippians 3:8)? The man is either bonkers, or he knows something we don’t.
You’re probably thinking one of two things right now. One is, I’ve never heard Christianity described like that. It’s usually just a set of rules, a moral obligation to believe. No. It’s much more. Rules don’t get anyone out of bed in the morning. Paul speaks almost giddily of what he’s found, as if it’s a prize worth losing his very life to seize.
The other is, The prize is heaven, right? Cherubs on clouds with harps? May I say here that it’s tragic that religious imagery has distorted heaven like veal into a gross caricature. So bear with me if, although heaven is the greatest gain, and its true nature is far beyond our wildest dreams, I choose to speak of another treasure.
It is a secondary prize of Christianity, yet one the world itself is constantly chasing and has developed many counterfeits for, one that generates books and magazines and TV segments and entire industries and religions, and astonishingly, one that many of its Christian possessors don’t even know how to use.
It is the ability to become ironclad.
Here’s a map.
In the mid-19th century, the ironclad warship changed the face of naval warfare. Now, instead of taking chunks out of oceangoing cruisers, explosive shells simply bounced off their metal hulls. It was an incredible advantage; a ship’s crew and assets became almost invulnerable from enemy fire, sealed within an impenetrable layer of armor.
What if you could have that…for your soul?
What if the tragedies, outrages, and pain of this world could never touch your joy? What if, in the midst of the world’s fusillades of darkness, your heart and mind could become ironclad, kept as light, hopeful, and satisfied as if there were no tragedy?
And I’m not talking about our own iron, that defiant, fist-shaking hardening we do. “I won’t let anything in.” That’s exhausting. Our own efforts can’t keep that up forever. There’s no real joy in it, either. It’s protecting an empty shell. I’m talking about iron that protects something precious – your heart and soul. An immense treasure, I daresay.
Are you interested?
I know. You don’t want a God who merely insulates you from pain; you want a God who removes its source, suffering. After all, he certainly could accomplish that. Why settle for less?
I too am appalled and angry on a daily basis at the injustice, the savagery, and the chaos taking place in this world. To you, the attitude of Job is remarkably blase: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? (Job 2:10)” You holler back, “Uhhh…YES?!?!?! I haven’t done anything to deserve this pain! It outweights any bad I’ve ever done. Why does an all-powerful God show no semblance of taking care of his world? If that’s the Bible’s idea of a just and loving God, I want nothing to do with it.”
But amongst the shells fired by Satan, none are so insidious as despair and emptiness. I would submit that those are the real enemy. Paul frequently uses military imagery, invoking a clash of kingdoms. We might do well to heed his viewpoint. This is a war. (Do you really need any proof?)
Now consider this map:
“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16)
“…know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19)
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
Let those words sink in. “Transcends all understanding.” As in, you don’t understand how you feel content and good despite all that’s going down in your life – but that’s exactly what happens. I can testify to that experience. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve found myself saying such things. I’ve lost count of how many church friends have said them, even in the midst of agonizing trials. No substances required, no self-toughness.
Imagine the most peaceful day you ever had, when your heart was at rest and optimistic, things going well, nothing to worry about. Imagine having something close to that available to you every day.
Come on. Wouldn’t you give anything for that?
God doesn’t make a lot of promises regarding life on earth. We cannot fend off all frustration, win every battle, “activate our full potential” in exchange for a nice tithe, or any such. You see right through that claptrap, and rightly so. If Jesus didn’t get out of suffering, neither do we.
But one promise he does make? Knowing Jesus brings you peace. Like water to a desert-bound soul.
This is something every Christian theologian agrees on, from the bespectacled exegesis master to the glitzy megachurch guy who really could stand to sell his private jet. Whatever other error they spew, this is one thing they all nail. That should tell you something.
You’re tempted to ask, “If this peace is available, why aren’t more Christians using it? Why does the whole lot look like insecure, pearl-clutching loudmouths?” Eh. There are reasons. For one thing, this peace has to be chosen. Many simply surrender to despair, self-pity, or idolatry instead. For another thing, it takes practice. It was years before I learned to regularly pray my way into this peace, training my mind and heart to coordinate their movements into reflex, like snowboarding. Some Christians simply give up on this discipline too soon. And some…well, they honestly haven’t read their Bible carefully enough to know it’s available. Perhaps if we all found and lived out of this peace, Christianity’s reputation would be different.
But nobody dismisses cars as a category because some drivers don’t read the owner’s manual. No. This peace is available. And it has an advantage even over the gaining of heaven: it’s available right now.
Now, there is a cost. As anyone who’s faced a day’s worth of email spam knows, nothing good comes without cost. But look at the cost through Jesus’ eyes:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44)
Again we see a man giving up everything to purchase this treasure. But note that he doesn’t just grab it and run off. There is a legal transaction that must take place. He has to buy the field first; then he has rights to the treasure.
The man pays up gladly. No qualms. The cost is nothing compared to the reward. That’s true of any transaction we make at the grocery store; otherwise, we wouldn’t pay.
What if it’s true of the kingdom of God?
Fullness. Peace. Transcendence. A joy clad in iron, untouchable by anything except the love of Christ. No more clenched fists, no more disappointing self-help. Oprah can’t touch the wreckage of a tornado. But there’s something that can. Something real, something light, something hopeful – and itself only a taste of what’s to come. Brought to you by closeness with the One who died and rose again to purchase it
Open your fists. Accept Jesus’ treasures.
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
It’s worth it.
If you have more questions or decide to accept the offer portrayed in this post, get in touch with me or the Christian who shared this with you. We’d love to chat more.