I feel the tension constantly. As I mature in Christ, I feel it growing. Yet, I know even less how to live in that tension than I believe I once did. Or perhaps I never truly knew how to live in it at all.
There is a tension that exists between this world and the next. The World has its ways and Heaven has its own. Our age today is one in which the overlaps are disappearing, making it harder to navigate a practical Christian life in an impractical world.
An example might help.
A couple months ago in my church, the speaker talked about our need to cast off the World’s views on image. Our appearance does not define who we are, nor does God look at the external but what is within us, unseen by others. Plastic surgery, laser peels, liposuction, hair restoration—they are all symptoms of a dying world; Christians must move beyond them.
Now this is a fine message for people who are obsessed with their appearance. For the woman who thinks that no one can love her because of the way she looks, this is manna. For the teenager struggling with a body that suddenly seems to no longer be the body once known, this is life-giving. It is God’s truth. We cannot ignore it.
But there is a big “however” with this that brings the tension.
The World does care about image, and it cares in ways that have gone far beyond plastic surgery to merely look nice. Suddenly, your image, the way you look, may be the only thing separating you from working and being unemployed. It may mean the difference between the medicine that keeps your sick child alive and not having that medicine due to lack of health insurance benefits provided by an employer.
Newsweek ran a special issue detailing the “Office of the Future.” The center of the magazine had the largest gatefold I had ever seen in a magazine. This six page spread revealed all the gadgets, all the ergonomic devices, all the new concepts that will drive businesses in the near future.
Contained within that gatefold, however, was a statement that went far beyond mere gadgetry and futuristic technology. Instead the message reflected a societal change that was inescapable: none of the two dozen people shown working in the “Office of the Future” were over the age of thirty-five. There was not a gray hair or wrinkle in sight.
Almost prophetically, the very next issue of the magazine had a cover story on Botox. Inside, there were interviews with men and women who often told the same story: “I got Botox injections so that I would not lose my job solely because I was the oldest-looking person in the department.”
The sadness of this is profound and asks us in the Church if we are truly able to help people find the intersection of this world and the next. In this case, the Church can say all it wants about not letting how you look control your life, yet the World is giving a different response that has profound influence in our daily existence.
It’s the tension. And not only do we Christians in the 21st Century not address it well, we often mouth platitudes we don’t believe ourselves as a reassurance that nothing is wrong. But something is overwhelmingly wrong.
It would be easy to point fingers at the sales rep who dyes her hair, gets a face peel, and semi-annual Botox injections. Christians easily point their fingers and yell, “Vanity!” Yet how many of them are willing to go the second mile to prevent the loss of that woman’s job due to age discrimination or to hire her when her boss thinks he wants someone more youthful and hip-looking to represent the company?
The rules of the World’s game are monstrously complex and changing every day. We have to live in this world, though. If the Church is to be the agent of God this side of heaven, then we need better ways to play by the World’s rules while never forsaking the righteousness of Christ.
I don’t have the answers on many of these tension issues, but I know that we must find them. The practical realities of day-to-day living do not give us the option of quitting the game. As Christians in this time and place in history, we have to not only challenge the World, but beat it at its own game.
We need people to step up in order to help us live in this tension—and we need them today.