Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Less than two years ago, the Center on Halsted, Chicago’s magnificent new home for GLBT-related services, opened. A Whole Foods grocery was up and running next door not long thereafter. Strolling along the opposite side of the street with a friend, he halted to stare at the adjacent establishments. “Do you see what I see?” he asked. Both places were busy. Both were beautiful—particularly given the block-long eyesore they replaced. Both were tremendous assets to our neighborhood. Knowing my friend, who never passes an opening for a zinger, I felt sure he spotted something I missed. “Look,” he said, motioning toward Whole Foods with a gesture worthy of Vanna White, “all natural.” OK. So? “Now look,” he said, directing the same smooth move toward the Center, “all unnatural.” When I didn’t respond, he offered to replay it. “I get it,” I said with obvious irritation. “You’re clever. Too bad you’re not funny.”
“Unnatural” is a despicable word loaded with malicious connotations. Worst of all, though, people who tag others as “unnatural” at the same time boast of being “natural.” They expect everyone to define the world—and themselves—on their terms. Such arrogance and ignorance are astounding. With very, very few exceptions “unnatural” is a misnomer because it’s no easier for humans to override their native instincts than any other creature. What seems unnatural to one is inherently natural to another. And while I seriously doubt someone would, or successfully could, consciously defy how he/she is created, there is an unnatural lifestyle every one of us should pursue. If we do, we’ll discover it redefines how we act, speak, think, and what we believe about everything else.
Anyone with a glancing knowledge of Christianity knows that its followers—make that its true followers—hope for one thing only in this life: to live righteously before God and man. Not once, but three times, in three different epistles written to three different audiences, were early Christians given the key to living right: The righteous shall live by faith. (Romans 1.17; Galatians 3.11; Hebrews 10.38) This concept seems basic in theory, but it’s supremely difficult to practice. It ignores social logic, disputes life experience, discounts personality, and rejects common sense. It’s entirely counterintuitive to our emotional—and in some cases, physical—wellbeing and survival. In fact, when we follow Jesus, we embrace the most unnatural lifestyle known to man.
Proof the Christian walk completely defies human nature isn’t hard to find. It’s right in front of us, in black and white. Read everything Jesus said. Never will you find Him endorsing “natural” thinking and behavior. Look no further than The Beatitudes (Matthew 5.3-10) and you’ll discover a sterling example of how thoroughly unnatural His impulses were. They rule out every “normal” characteristic and response we have. They oppose every emotion we channel to protect against every real or imaginary threat to our earthly success. They accept—they actually welcome—situations and outcomes we instinctively avoid. According to Jesus, the losers win it all—heaven, comfort, the earth, righteousness, mercy, God’s presence, and God’s name. And how do they gain these divine riches? By faith—remaining confident in their hopes and holding to what’s true with no visible evidence to support it. To the natural mind, this is crazy talk.
But Jesus knew what He was saying and He meant every word. Essentially, He pressed His listeners to forget everything they’d learned about earthly life and adopt the ways of perilously naïve creatures. He urged them to walk through the world like aliens who look at and experience what everyone else does yet draw entirely opposite meanings and rewards from it.
And that pretty much sums up how following Christ works and what it feels like. It lifts you out of the world—out of yourself—to see and understand things from a radically different angle. It hoists you above human instinct and reason. It confuses those around you and dramatically alters how you manage your life. Consequently, it often leaves you alone with your doubts and problems. When you follow Jesus’s unnatural lifestyle, however, you see them through eyes of faith. You look at doubt and discover hope. Visible problems become invisible solutions. There's just no better way to live.
Originally posted 7/12/08.