This Saturday, Anita and I went to the Ethical Culture Society to hear a psychologist speak. The talk, sponsored by an atheist group, was followed by Q & A. The psychologist was asked by one atheist why surveys have consistently indicted that those who believe in God – and the vast majority of these are probably Christians – are happier than others. Another asked if any studies have shown that atheists exhibit better mental health than others. The psychologist was unable to respond affirmatively to either question.
This is tremendously embarrassing for atheists, who pride themselves for their rationality and their grasp of reality. They therefore think it just that the “good life” should belong to them – not to the deluded theists – but this is not what the studies show.
Consequently, it is a bitter affront to them that Christians should be happier. It’s as if Jacob had stolen their birthright. How then do they explain this “illegitimate usurpation” of what should have been their inheritance? Generally, they seem to credit this reversal of fortunes to supportive Christian community.
However, I think that they are mistaken. Although it might be true that Christians generally enjoy a more fulfilling social life, I think that this is the result of certain cognitive-affective fruit that are gradually born out of a relationship with Christ. Let me try to identify some of the fruits of faith in Christ:
1. The Christian has been given a gift of forgiveness and righteousness (Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21). Our identity and significance has been established! When this truth has become cemented into our being, we find that we no longer need to prove ourselves or to impress others. The desires may still remain, but these needs can no longer exercise dominion over us. We no longer need to live in denial about ourselves. There’s nothing left to deny. Our Savior can turn every negative into a positive.
2. The Christian can better accept suffering and failure knowing that, even in the midst of these, Christ is working everything together for good (Rom. 8:28). If instead everything that you have is in this life, then there is a greater urgency about getting what one wants here and now.
3. The Christian can better accept his/her inadequacies and insecurities, knowing that it’s no longer about us, but about Christ who now owns us (Gal. 2:20). This enables us to get our sights off ourselves and onto the One who loves us beyond understanding (Eph. 2:16-20).
4. More concerned about God’s opinions, we become less concerned about humankinds opinions and their enslaving effects (Proverbs 29:25).
5. We can also accept our sin and shame, knowing that His blood cleanses us from everything (1 John 1:9).
6. Despite our painful circumstances, we can still hope, convinced that we have an all-powerful God (Gen. 18:14). What can the atheist hope in beyond himself? And because everything rests on his own shoulders, he must deny those things about himself that aren’t worthy of his self-trust.
7. It is a delight to serve the Lord (Psalm 1:2-3), and this gives us meaning and a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
8. It is also so satisfying to have the truth and the understanding that it brings (Proverbs 2: 10-11). It then becomes a wisdom that enables to peacefully navigate the challenges of life.
9. We are co-heirs with Christ for all eternity (Rom. 8:17). Knowing this, we can better endure the disappointments of this life and are less inclined towards envy. We already own the world!
10. When we know that our basic needs are met, we are liberated (John 8:31-32) to attend to the needs of others. Consequently, our relationships tend to become deeper and more fulfilling. Their co-dependent aspects slowly lift as the morning mist.
This is just a partial list of the fruits of a life in Christ. But fruits are produced in season. It had required many years before these truths had percolated down into my heart from superficial believing. Painful trials had to first be transformed by the Spirit, through the Word, into soul-food.