“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24
By definition, refugees flee persecution, poverty, uncertainty, and pain. But there is another kind of refugee. They are called heroes. A hero by definition is one who escapes from comfort, certainty, and safety. A fireman goes up a burning building. A soldier runs towards comrades under fire. A peace corp worker lives among the HIV infected. If you visit a safe and comfortable place, you will meet kind and successful people but you will find no heroes there.
Mature Christians are heroes. And there are very few mature Christians in America today. This essay will explain why this is so and why we desperately need heroes more than ever.
St. Antony (251-351 AD) gave away his possessions and lived in the desert. St. Francis (1182-1226) went from a convenient life to one of literally kissing lepers. David Brainerd (1718-1747) left his home to live among the American Indians. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) escaped the safety of America to die in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. These were all followers of Jesus Christ, who left heaven to suffer crucifixion on earth.
What is it about spiritual heroes that separates them from the rest of most Americans? That inspires our admiration and puts us to shame? Isn’t it their unusual depth? Their depth of courage, compassion, and humility makes the character of the wealthy, the envied, and the entertained shallow in comparison. There is an absurdity to their spirituality that makes our leisurely life so vulgar.
It is no mere coincidence that the people of depth are found voluntarily living among the suffering, in orphanages, slums, and hostile places; and that the more shallow people can be found in most parts of America. The explanation for this is almost scientific.
The condition of faith is uncertainty. For compassion it is pain; patience, discomfort; justice, exploitation. But the powerful and middleclass do not know discomfort, uncertainty, and exploitation. Indeed many Americans go so far as to consider this ignorance of suffering to be a spiritual blessing, not a material blessing exclusively, but a spiritual one as well.
Consequently, spiritual depth for Americans is measured in dollars, zip code, and reputation. The fruits of the Spirit are relaxation, fun, and titillation. In turn they see it as pointless to give up one material possession, one physical comfort, one hint of social privilege or a single emotional gratification for the sake of others. That would hinder their credibility as witnesses of God’s grace. That would be a quenching of the Spirit, a disruption of fellowship and community.
In other words, the American dream is the Christian’s nightmare.
To state the obvious for emphasis’ sake, followers of Christ shine their light in dark places because it cannot be seen in bright places. They go where suffering is, or else bear the name of Christ in vain. They endure painful solitude, confront maddening injustices, share in tears, side with losers, face the embarrassments of the impoverished, and bear the insecurity of the persecuted. They choose community outreach over basketball inreach; attending to convalescent homes over attending banquets; praying mission reports over playing video games; going to Cambodia over vacationing in Hawaii. Without a doubt, there are very few mature believers in the United States today because the modern American dream is to flee from these things which alone can inflict the marks of Christ – the only wounds that can heal humanity.
The greatest need for the Church in America is living spiritual heroes to replace the spiritual midgets that populate the country. We need more believers in the inner cities doing as Jesus did rather than believers in the suburbs wearing wrist bands that ask “What would Jesus do?” We need another St. Antony of the Desert who inspired the faiths of St. Athanasius and St. Augustine, the two pillars of the Christian faith. We need another St. Francis of Assisi who inspired reformation in a corrupt and decadent Roman Catholic Church. We need another David Brainerd who inspired the father of modern Protestant missions, William Carey, to go to India. We need another Dietrich Bonhoeffer who inspired a generation of theologians entering the 21st century.
Where are the heroes of our generation who will escape comfort, certainty, and safety for Christ’s sake and inspire other Christ-like followers? Oh God, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-27)