Counterintuitive Christianity

I wrote this for another blog – rafflesedify.livejournal.com – back in October 2014. I suddenly thought of it this morning, and decided to reproduce the post on my blog.

(Original link here)

Mount Carmel

As we progress in life, our beliefs about humanity, history, morality and destiny are constantly questioned by others and by ourselves. Well, to be fair, “questioned” is a very mild word – sometimes these beliefs are attacked and vilified, especially in university, where the academic atmosphere of free speech encourages a whole myriad of arguments and viewpoints.

The plurality of beliefs can be quite confusing, even to the point of being disconcerting, especially when so many of these beliefs are mutually contradictory (and therefore cannot be adopted simultaneously). As if that wasn’t enough, beliefs can sometimes be challenged aggressively, creating a very poisonous atmosphere. Emotions flare, tempers rage, our pride is hurt.

Like many other university students, I have felt overwhelmed by challenges to my beliefs, especially my belief in Jesus as the Son of God, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. But even worse than that, I have sometimes witnessed in the UK a hatred for Christian doctrine, values and beliefs. Christians are often scoffed at for holding to “archaic” and “outmoded” beliefs and mocked for living a “blind” and “rigid” life.

In such instances, I am often reminded of Jesus’ words.

  • “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first… Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:18 and 20)
  • “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)

Jesus was loving, compassionate and innocent, and he was hung on a cross. How could I expect anything else for myself? As it is, the “challenges” I face pale in comparison to the extreme persecution of Christians around the world – in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, etc. Through the centuries, many followers of Christ have been heavily persecuted – not just mocked and ostracised, but injured, robbed and murdered.

Paul gave a thorough account of the trials in his life in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. He received the punishment of “forty lashes minus one” from the Jews at least five times in his life. He was beaten with rods thrice, pelted with stones once, and shipwrecked thrice. He faced danger from rivers, bandits, Jews, Gentiles and false believers. He endured hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, nakedness… the list goes on. Paul did not provide this account to boast about his perseverance, or to display his battle scars. On the contrary, his conclusion in the following chapter (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) was to delight in his trials and tribulations for the sake of Christ, “for when I am weak, then I am strong”, and because God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

When I am weak, I am strong! This counterintuitive conclusion is one of the most uplifting testimonies of all time! In fact, the Bible is full of counterintuitive and countercultural teachings. And living out this Kingdom culture is what Jesus meant by being “in the world” but not “of the world”. Here are just a few examples of the many astounding stories and teachings in the Bible.

The old hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” is a beautiful song extolling the steadfast nature of God in His provision and compassion. I was amazed to learn that the words “great is thy faithfulness” come from Lamentations 3:23! Ensconced in the heart of a book of melancholy and despair are words of hope and reassurance. Many of us would not normally encourage ourselves in God in a moment of affliction, yet this is what the author did.

In fact, this is what David did in Ziklag too. In 1 Sam 30, we read of the devastation that David and his army faced. The wives, children and property of the men were taken from Ziklag by the Amalekites. In one fell swoop, the men had lost everything dear to them, and David almost faced a mutiny from his soldiers. But his first action in his distress was to encourage himself in the Lord. The Lord strengthened David and his men, and gave them the victory over the Amalekites.

In the book of Judges, God whittled down Gideon’s forces from 32,000 to 300 in preparation for a battle with the Midianites. Army commanders usually increase their troop strength in preparation for battle, but not in this case! Once again, this is madness in the eyes of the world, but God gave Gideon and his men the victory.
In Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount is full of counterintuitive lessons. Blessed are the poor, those who mourn and the meek (v.3-5). Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (v.44). If someone slaps your right cheek, turn to him your other cheek (v.39).

In Mark, the disciples were taught that “anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35) and that “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:43).

In Luke, Jesus taught that whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it (Luke 17:33). He also taught that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Luke 14:11).

There are many more examples that I could use. The counterintuitive nature of Christianity is so encouraging to me because it means that when my circumstances are bleak and I am in a state of despair, things are not as they seem. God’s power is made perfect through my weakness. The same Jesus who said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” (Matthew 16:24) also said to the woman at the well, “Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

In death, there is life.

My prayer is that as I continue to face challenges, trials and tribulations in life, I will always trust unceasingly in the God who perfects His power in my weakness, and who uses the foolish to things of the world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27).