There is a version of faith that slides very nicely into middle-class, middle-aged life, giving those who are a bit insecure the answers that they need to be relatively confident members of society. In its Christian version, this sort of faith provides insurance against the fire of hell, the assurance that one is loved by God, activities of a generally wholesome and even charitable quality to occupy Sundays and a few evenings a month, and a host of like-minded, middle-aged, middle-class families with mortgages and work weeks with whom to socialize. In this rendition of Christianity, one is very safe, very secure, and perhaps just a wee-bit boring but very respectable indeed.
There is certainly a great deal of truth in the theology underlying this sort of Christianity―we are most certainly loved by God and biblical Christianity does teach that the death we will all face is not the final word. Yet the safety and middle-class respectability that characterizes this sort of comfortable Christian life is at odds with the biblical narrative and the theology that develops from it. Throughout the story of God and Israel we see people called into lives that are anything but suburban stability: Abraham is called to leave Ur, Joseph is sold into slavery, Moses is raised as a foster-child and then called to leave the palaces of Pharaoh to lead a very, very long journey through the desert, Gideon fights with only 300 men, David stands up to Goliath and then spends years hiding from and sometimes fighting King Saul, Mary agrees to be an unwed, teen mother…and these are merely some of the more well-known stories. Jesus himself is anything but a model of predictable security: his public ministry was itinerant and he faced fierce political and religious opposition, that eventually led to his execution.
While onlookers to the Christian faith often see as a belief system designed to give comfort and meaning to the insecure, the lives of the faithful described in the Bible belie that characterization. The biblical worldview is that God has created all that is and loves it, that Christ is lord over all, and that we are in the business of working with God through his grace to renew that creation and establish the justice and peace that characterize his rule. And this worldview does not merely provide a certain existential comfort and give suburbia meaning (although it can, somewhat miraculously to my mind, even render suburbia significant).
The Christian faith, grounded in God’s love and lordship, empowers Christians to live creative and apparently risky lives. Sometimes those risks look like leaving behind a good job and nice home in Orange County to build clean water systems in Burkina Faso or to live and work in South Central LA. Other times these risks are more subtle, something as basic as the man who risks professional and financial insecurity (and, even today, a certain social stigma) to be at home with a new baby or to be a part-time stay-at-home dad. Whatever the risk, the invitation implicit in the life of faith is the invitation to a life that is fundamentally redemptive, fundamentally creative and, by extension, completely unique to the particular life of a particular individual. When fully embraced, the Christian faith does not pacify our fears and quell our insecurities but calls us out of ourselves, out of our fears and insecurities and into a unpredictable life of great meaning and great hope.