Friday, August 21, 2009

A Comfortable Christian

I recently started going to the Catholic Church. And although it’s quite embarrassing to admit this, one of the things I find difficult is the kneeling. It’s just so uncomfortable. And I’m a fairly fit 35 year old who doesn’t have arthritis or anything else that causes me pain.

It seems today that we’re pretty used to comfort. We like our air-conditioning and our lounges and our cushioned seats and our comfy beds. I know I get annoyed if I don’t have my own three pillows to sleep with. I just can’t get comfortable. And it is so annoying being uncomfortable.

But this idea that we need to be comfortable is pretty new. Not that long ago, people were cold in the winter, hot in the summer, slept on hard beds and just generally put up with a lot more discomfort than we do.

And not only do we just want to be comfortable. We act like it’s a God-given right sometimes. And there’s millions of products that are designed with the aim of keeping us comfortable. The beds, the lounges, the air-conditioning systems. Have you ever gotten into a car with someone who doesn’t have air-conditioning? Generally, they mention the fact in a very apologetic way. They don’t quite say it like this, but there’s the idea that they are very sorry that we may have to put up with some discomfort for the entire 15 minute car trip. How on earth will we cope?

But being comfortable is not a God-given right. In fact, I’m pretty sure that our desire for comfort does not come from God at all. And I really don’t think that Jesus’ main aim for the church is for it to be comfortable.

The reason why I find kneeling weird is that the Protestant churches that I’ve been to don’t do it. And I wonder why? Is it because it is too uncomfortable? And discomfort has no place in a 21st century church? We stand and we sit and that’s it. Hardly any new churches have wooden seats or pews. Some have cushioned chairs and air-conditioning.

But our desire for comfort goes behind physical comfort. We also create churches in which life is comfortable. In fact, some churches seem to promote the view that becoming a Christian will make you comfortable. God will start answering your prayers and blessing you. And all you really have to do is turn up to church and worship God in our air-conditioning building. You don’t even need to dress up, if you don’t want to. Jeans and sneakers are fine.

Not only that, but we worship a God we are comfortable with. We have our own idea of Christianity, and we get very annoyed when someone challenges that view. Why? Could it be because it makes us uncomfortable? Could it be that our view of Christianity seems to justify our own comfort? Who wouldn’t want to believe in a God who wants us to be rich and shower blessings on us and answer our prayers. Don’t anyone mention suffering, please. It could make people uncomfortable.

It’s funny because when I look at the prophets in the bible, none of them seem too concerned about making people comfortable. Neither for that matter did Jesus. Instead, they seemed to want to shock people out of their comfortable mindset. And the Christians of the past didn’t seem too worried about creating a comfortable life for themselves. Instead of driving in air-conditioning buses, they were heading for the lions. Instead of wearing jeans and sneakers, they were wearing hair-shirts. This idea that kneeling was uncomfortable would not have even crossed their minds.

(Image details: Den helige Franciskus i bon (1635-1639), Francisco de Zurbarán. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Image is in the public domain.)


  1. I hear ya. I have tendinitis in both knees from years of playing soccer. When I'm at any Mass without kneelers, I really start to feel it. This spring I went to a Latin "High" Mass celebrated at a Monastery in the crypt - very hard concrete floors and no kneelers. I had to "kneel up" on one knee for a while when the discomfort and pain were so great as to distract me from the Mass.

  2. Well it's good to know I'm not the only one who has problems kneeling. I would like to go to a Latin mass one day. Mind you, the idea of hard concrete floors with no kneelers doesn't sound too great.

  3. Do you think that is why the medieval Catholic
    Church tortured and killed so many people during the Inquisition? Because it didn't want them to be too comfortable?

  4. Torture was pretty common at the time. Governments also tortured people. If you were convicted of treason, you were literally hung, drawn and quartered.

    The Inquisition is often used to suggest that the Catholic Church is bad and should be abolished. And yet torture is never used to suggest we should get rid of all governments. That's because we recognise it as an evil of the time, rather than anything intrinsic in its make-up. It's the same with the Church.

    God is eternal and never changes. And the essence of the Church is always good. But the Church is made up of people who are bound and influenced by the time that they're in.

  5. If the Pope was infallible as the Church claims then he would not have been 'bound up and influenced' by the time he was in. He would, in all his perfectness have been able to rise above it. But he didn't. The Church not only went along with the whole torture and murder shenaningans at the time, they pretty much led the way. Read up on Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and their spiritrual advisor.

    By the way, no one says we should get rid of all governments. Only the ones that torture.

  6. The Pope's infallibility is not something I know a lot about, but I'm pretty sure he is only infallible when he speaks 'in cathedra', and that he is still capable of the same sins and failings as the rest of us at other times.

    And there are a great many governments that have been guilty of torture at some point. Do we get rid of them all? Or only the ones that are doing it now?

  7. I am a protestant pentecostal pastor and I agree with almost everything you said. It is totally unbiblical; our focus on making people so comfortable. Was the cross comfortable? I agree and I think postmodern ministries are addressing this somewhat. Unfortunately going beyond offering comfort in an effort toward unity- that is unbiblical. The Gospel is not about unifying with people who reject the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  8. Unity is a big topic and one that it's hard to limit to a short comment. But I'll see how I go. I think some efforts towards unity are themselves attempts to make everyone comfortable. We don't want to make anyone uncomfortable, so we say that all beliefs are valid. That way, no-one needs to feel bad for having the wrong beliefs.

    And it doesn't make sense to say we are all right. If I say Jesus rose from the dead, and someone else says he didn't, one of us has got to be wrong.

    However, I do believe we can listen to and respect the opinions of others, without necessarily agreeing with them. And I do think this is important, because Jesus prayed for unity, and we shouldn't be content to all go our separate little ways.

    However, it's important to remember that Church unity is already there. The Church is one, because Jesus made it one. Church unity is not brought about through our own efforts.

    One of the best passages I like in trying to understand Church unity is 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. The Church is one because it has the one foundation, Jesus Christ. However, some of what is built will not pass the testing. And that helps me, at least, to make sense



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