My preferred mode of exercise is running, but lately I’ve been slacking. Three months slacking. Rain and a toddler will do that to you. But this past weekend, what with the sunny skies, I finally got back outside and ran. It turns out, when you let your body lie fallow for three months and then push it hard, your body will pay you back for it! Man, that wore me out. But two days later, I was full of energy. It also happens to be that exercise releases endorphins that provide lasting energy and health.
Of course, that’s no surprise to anybody. We’re more aware of our health as a culture than ever before. It’d be the odd man out who would argue against the idea that eating well and getting exercise makes your body healthy. But I’m not so sure we’re aware of the health of our souls anymore. Have you ever considered that, the idea that your soul could become sick?
Recently, a book called Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress raced to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. I haven’t read it, but I’m familiar with the basic argument of the book. It’s simple. Despite the endless torrent of war and violence pouring out of our TV sets via the news, the world has never been as prosperous as it is now. Statistically speaking, poverty is declining at the fastest rate in human history, and is lower than it ever has been. Fewer people are hungry than ever, disease is being eradicated at unprecedented levels, and life expectancy is up. There are fewer armed conflicts than ever, and homicide rates are plummeting worldwide. Democracy and trade is flourishing. It may be surprising to you, but when you look at the numbers, it’s all true.
But when you look a little closer, you find something surprising. In those countries that are more prosperous and advanced, ours included, fewer and fewer people are happy. In America alone, suicide rates and opioid addiction are skyrocketing. I recently read an article from National Geographic that highlighted the results from the World Happiness Report, a study that measures, among other things, people’s sense of purpose, satisfaction, and joy. The United States placed average in the rankings, considerably lower than places like the Thailand and Colombia, even Mexico. We may be wealthier, but we’re not happier. In fact, we’re becoming less and less happy and more and more soul sick.
What our culture seems to believe is that more prosperity leads to more happiness, but ironically it is leading to less. As Christians, we shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve learned that God has made us for community, for family, that believing and following Jesus gives meaning to suffering and death, and that our jobs are more than a means to an end but are ways that we serve the world. These are the very things that a Me First culture that celebrates the individual over everything else has begun to strip away. There’s no amount of prosperity that can replace these essentials, because our souls crave meaning, purpose, and community. It’s who God has made us to be.
As a church, we have a unique opportunity to answer the ills of our society, in step with the Holy Spirit. As families crumble around us, it’s more important than ever to look to Jesus to strengthen our marriages. As people isolate into echo chambers on Facebook, we need to lean into communities of humility in LifeGroups meeting in each other’s homes. As we are bombarded by the message that there is nothing more to the universe than the atoms that compose matter, we need to speak to each other the mystery of a loving Trinity who gives shape and meaning to our lives.
All this to say, our faith isn’t just a hobby, it’s a way of life that is healing and nourishment for the soul. I hope we all take seriously the special calling and tremendous hope we have as followers of Jesus.
P.S. For those of you who were stirred up by Pastor Mark’s sermon last week, remember he said you HAVE to come back for chapter 10! Keep an open mind and join us this weekend.