Stuff I learned on Sunday
We sang a hymn in worship yesterday with this verse:
Proudly rise our modern cities,
stately buildings, row on row;
yet their windows, blank, unfeeling,
stare on canyoned streets below,
where the lonely drift unnoticed
in the city’s ebb and flow,
lost to purpose and to meaning,
scarcely caring where they go.
I’ve sung this hymn at least half a dozen times, but I didn’t notice until yesterday how far off its depiction of modern city life is from my experience. “Blank, unfeeling?” “Lost to purpose and to meaning?” “Scarcely caring where they go?”
Is there anything to be gained for our witness to the gospel by characterizing our neighbors like this? I don’t think so.
I decided early in my adulthood that the happiness of people who aren’t Christians did not pose a threat to my Christian faith. The stock portrayal I was fed in the conservative evangelical church of my childhood was of non-believers who were depressed or depraved. If they were happy, it was surely because they were doing drugs of having premarital sex and would be duly punished in the fires of Hell.
Yet lots of my adolescent peers were neither churchgoers nor oversexed druggies (some were–both), and yet were nonetheless happy. Then my Aunt married a jolly little Irish-Catholic-turned-honest-to-God-Buddhist, and I knew the Miserable Heathen was a fiction for sure.
The vast majority of people I interact with lead lives full of purpose and meaning, and only a few of them claim any kind of religious faith. And I know a lot of miserable Christians. Neither the former’s happiness nor the latter’s misery affect my trust in God, as if faith has happiness as its object. It doesn’t.