Andrew Conway explores how an insightful question from a teenager caused him to reflect on the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ
Would you rather face one elephant-sized duck or ten duck-sized elephants?
Humorous contributions such as this were among the responses that filled our question box on a youth weekend some years ago.
We were staying in a beautiful lakeland area of County Fermanagh and, among the variety of exciting activities on offer, was the opportunity for young people to submit anonymous questions for the leaders to answer in a panel show-style format.
Naturally there were joke questions that brought a smile to faces and thoughtful questions that touched most of the subjects you might expect today’s teenagers to be grappling with. Among them was one question that was among the greatest blessings I have ever received.
The greatest question
“What’s the best thing about being a Christian?”
Four leaders answered the question, and all four gave answers that, while overlapping, were nonetheless significantly different from one another.
God is perfectly able to determine what is truly ridiculous, whereas we are not
Any committed follower of Jesus - or indeed anyone who is beginning to explore the Christian faith - could be greatly blessed by thinking through this question. And, if you reflect on it for a while, you may find you keep coming up with different answers. Your stage of life and current circumstances may shape your answer. What you consider to be the best thing about being a Christian while you are enjoying the still waters of life may vary from what you value most about your faith when journeying through the valley of the shadow.
But without wanting to undervalue the variety of possible good answers to this question, might I suggest there is one answer that trumps all others?
The best thing about being a Christian is simply knowing Christ. It is having a relationship with him and being in his company! The giver himself is greater than all his gifts, and all the multitude of blessings that come our way flow from our relationship with him. This is eternal life – to know him (John 17:3).
Right to ridicule
We may know the worth of knowing Christ. But the world does not. In fact, our Christian faith is often ridiculed by others. What should we make of this? Should we bemoan it, or protest it? Or perhaps we should respond in kind? If atheists ridicule our beliefs, should we respond by ridiculing theirs?
In contemporary debates about freedom of expression, many argue we have a legal ‘right’ to ridicule others. In a free society, we are permitted to pour scorn on other people’s views.
Ridicule is an ancient idea. Elijah ridiculed the prophets of Baal, and Isaiah ridiculed false gods. In fact, anyone who heard Jesus accuse the teachers of the law and pharisees of straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24) might naturally have concluded that he was ridiculing them.
I definitely have something worth being ridiculed for
But even if Jesus rightly used ridicule himself, that doesn’t automatically mean that he sanctions us to do the same.
There are things I can do in good conscience (like stay up past 10pm) that I wouldn’t let my young children do. This isn’t hypocrisy, just a reflection of the fact that not all things which are fitting for me are also fitting for them. Its conceivable that God may legitimately employ ridicule in his word without implying that we can too. For one thing, he is perfectly able to determine what is truly ridiculous, whereas we are not.
So do I have a right to ridicule? Like many ethical questions, there may not be one easy answer. But I have no doubt that, as a Christian, I definitely have a right to be ridiculed. What I mean by that is: I have something worth being ridiculed for. Something of such "surpassing worth” (Philippians 3:7-8) that, even if the whole world should laugh at me (or do much worse) it is still worth it.
If I’m ridiculed for my faith (and I surely shouldn’t consider ridiculing anyone else before I consider what it might be like to be ridiculed in return) then I can rightly take that as an occasion to be reminded how awesome Jesus is and what a marvellous blessing it is to belong to him. As Christians, should people say all kinds of evil against us we can nevertheless rejoice and be glad (Matthew 5:11-12)!
The privilege of being ridiculed for Jesus may become a more common experience for Christians in the West. Many of us may encounter it at some stage or another. While potentially hurtful, let’s allow it to remind us that knowing Christ is the best thing about being a Christian; indeed, the very best thing imaginable! And that is worth any level of ridicule.