The voted motto of my graduating high school class was the hopeful instruction: "Live life to the fullest!" Though I suspect we all had different ideas about what living life to the fullest really meant, we were united in our longing to seize every opportunity and meet life in all of its abundance.
Joy Davidman tells the story of an old missionary ministering among a tribe of cannibals. The missionary was hard at work trying to convert the native chief. The chief listened patiently but at last said to the missionary, "I do not understand. You tell me that I must not take my neighbor's wife. Or his ivory, or his oxen."
"That's right," said the missionary. The chief continued, "And I must not dance the war dance and then ambush him on the trail and kill him."
"Absolutely right!" exclaimed the missionary.
"But I cannot do any of these things! I am too old," the man replied. And then he concluded as if with an epiphany, "To be old and to be Christian, they are the same thing."(1)
The story is a careful glance at a common vision, though as the chief reveals, it is one with limited perspective. I remember quite distinctly when "living life to the fullest" felt like something I was not supposed to do. I remember resenting the religion that handed me a list of rules that set me apart from my friends. And I remember thinking that God was something I wish I could evaluate later in life. Just as the chief concluded, Christianity seemed to me, a religion of old, grumbling individuals who walk about frowning at young people who are living life to the fullest. To be Christian, in many minds, is to be old and life-less. To embrace life as a Christian is to embrace something like Narnia under the curse of the White Witch, when it was "always winter but never Christmas." Somehow we have come to believe, or perhaps we have come to exude, that to follow Christ is to sacrifice our enjoyment of life and live as shadows in this world, hoping only for the next.
Yet how have we construed that this was even remotely the message upon the lips of the vicariously human Son of God? How has the good news he embodied, at which curtains were torn in two and trumpets sounded and all the earth trembled, somehow been transmitted into a despairing yoke of boredom? How have we come to the conclusion that following what we enjoy and following Christ himself are two completely different pursuits?
In reality, it is a freeing discovery indeed to realize that following Jesus means not less humanity but more. As it turns out, my longing to be satisfied is not in conflict with God's deepest hope for me, with God's proclamation of shalom for the city, or Christ's embodied decree that he has come to show us the very fullness of what it means to be human.
In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul prays that we would all come to know that "to live is Christ."(2) Such a promise invites us to become children filled with wonder, living life at its fullest through Christ himself, holding onto the promise and the reality of a joy worthy of our destiny. To be Christian is to live with the certainty that God is glorified in our delight of the Son and honored in lives lived to the fullest by the Spirit. For to be Christian is to follow the one whom death could not swallow and in whom life itself has no end.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Smoke On the Mountain (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954), 13.
(2) Phil. 1:21.