|photo via Unsplash, by Luke Pamer|
Jesus will make your life better.
I've heard that claim.
Maybe not exactly in those words. But this is an assumption behind the appeal of self-improvement forms of Christian spirituality.
This assumption is mostly correct. Jesus will make your life better.
Yet I often wonder: Better than what? And when?
I prefer to say that Jesus may or may not make your life better. But he will eradicate your death.
The preamble for the collect for Proper 27 offers blessed clarity for this way of phrasing the offer.
The prayer begins, "O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life: . . ." (BCP 184).
Jesus came to eliminate the known causes of eternal dying, the devil and his works--notably, unbelief and sin--and to supply the necessary conditions for eternal living--membership in God's family and a trust fund of eternal life.
Even so, this project creates some difficulties for people who live in a world inhabited by and infatuated with the devil and his works.
This is why I avoid saying that Jesus will make your life better.
In the absence of ease, I have discovered that he will give grace to deal with the consequences of learning to live life by him, with him, and in him. In addition, he may also give you companions to offer compassion and continuing motivation in the struggle of faith, hope, and love.
I've found Flannery O'Connor and Dallas Willard to be wise, understanding, and realistic companions in this struggle.
Here are two, brief quotations that provide comfort in the form of sober reflections on the pain of a plunge into reality and the challenge of conversion.
Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.
-Flannery O’Connor, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction, Mystery and Manners, pp. 77-78
To change governing ideas, whether in the individual or the group, is one of the most difficult and painful things in human life. Genuine “conversion” is a wrenching experience. It rarely happens to the individual or group except in the form of divine intervention, revolution, or something very like a mental breakdown. It can cause deep and permanent damage to the most intimate relationships, as Jesus forewarned (Luke 12:51-53). At a group level, the sixties illustrate this in the recent past of American and much of Western Society. And in many parts of the world, Christians are persecuted and killed today because they threaten the idea systems of others in their country.
-Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 98
So take heart, Jesus will give you life, life that is far better than death. But things might get a little more challenging for a time.