The world is a hostile place for believers. Everything we go through and experience, Jesus went through and experienced before us, including living in an unbelieving world. Yes, many people were slavishly religious (at least on the surface) in Jesus’ day, but there was precious little genuine faith, any more than there is today. Had there been genuine faith, more people would have known, by God’s Spirit, that Jesus was the Messiah. As it was, very few knew, and of those who claimed to know, some still doubted.
In fact, the conditions that Jesus lived under were uncannily like the conditions that Moses lived under, which were uncannily like the conditions that David lived under, which were uncannily like the conditions that Elijah lived under, and those which Isaiah lived under, and Paul lived under, and so on and so on, all the way up to now.
In other words, nothing much has changed spiritually in the world. The ratio of genuine believers to religious believers has remained pretty much stable over the millennia, with a few minor peaks and troughs. However, Jesus warned us that, at the very end of time, there would be a precipitous trough that would bottom out, never to rise again. Thank God we’re not there yet.
Thank God there’s still time.
But that’s not to say that believers don’t have a hard run of it these days. For the past several decades at least, across former Christian nations, fewer and fewer people identify as believers. That puts Christians in the minority in those nations. Of those who do identify as Christian, most have very little knowledge of the Bible or even of the Ten Commandments. They have a vague notion of the importance of being “charitable” or forgiving, but otherwise their lives resemble the lives of those in the world in nearly every regard – they marry, divorce, remarry, have children, get a job, get a mortgage, worry about money, worry about their kids, worry about their health, support the troops, etc. They may or may not attend church services, and if they do attend, they may or may not actually want to be there or to pay attention to the sermon. In fact, many claim to be Christian based solely on their weekly attendance at a church service. Otherwise, they live the life of the world, never wanting more.
Yes, I’m generalizing here, but my experience over the past few decades bears me out. Genuine born-again believers are a rare commodity, and even of those, few live their lives according to the example set by Jesus. Even sadder, very few express a desire to live like Jesus and his disciples. They dismiss that lifestyle as an historical relic that has no relevance in the 21st century. Walking away from your job and your family and everything that ties you to the world is crazy talk, right? Right?
Wrong. Jesus’ example of how to live and move through the world is as valid today as it was 2000 years ago. And just as he and his disciples were thought crazy for choosing to live as they did, we, too, are thought crazy – even by Christians – for believing that we should be living as Jesus did.
I’ve spent the better part of the past two years living in isolation out in the country for no other reason than I felt driven to be there. Now I feel driven to be back among the unwashed hordes. It’s been a culture shock of sorts. I’d forgotten how deeply anti-Christ mainstream Canadian society is. That’s not to say there aren’t pockets of light among the gloom. That’s not to say I haven’t encountered unusual kindnesses in unexpected places. But it still takes some getting used to that hotels don’t as a general rule put Bibles in the night tables anymore. It takes some getting used to that saying the name of Jesus in a public place draws sneers (and in some cases growls). It takes some getting used to that the only time God’s name comes out of most people’s mouths is as a curse. It takes some getting used to that crosswalks are now synonymous with multi-colors, even in the smallest of small towns.
This is the world. I was insulated from it for a while, and now I’m not. Even so, I feel like I’m moving through a parallel universe that is in the world but separate from it. No, thank you, I don’t drink. No, thank you, I don’t smoke. No, thank you, I don’t do drugs. No, thank you, I don’t date. Yes, I’m a Christian. I feel like I should get a card made up, like the gypsies in the Paris subway. I could flash the card to people so they’d know upfront who and what I am and could either dismiss or engage me. I’ve taken to wearing a simple gold cross necklace that may or may not have belonged to my great-grandmother (it’s passed through too many hands and stories to know for sure) as an identifier. Yes, I’m Christian. Yes, I really am a Christian. Yes, I believe that how Jesus lived is how his followers should live. No, thank you, I don’t date.
The world is a hostile place for believers. It might even be ever so slightly more hostile to female believers. Certainly, the Marys in scripture were perpetually getting psychologically back-handed by the male disciples. Jesus had to defend them on more than one occasion. True to his promise and true to form, Jesus is right here with me now through God’s Holy Spirit, protecting me as he protected the Marys. I never feel alone or vulnerable. The world may be hostile, but the Kingdom wraps around me like a warm and soft bubble with the toughest of outer sheaths. Nothing evil can penetrate as long as I, like Jesus, remain loyal to God.