It’s a classic scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, one man trying to convince another man he is dead. When this fails, he finally gets the job done himself. Surprisingly, this is an interesting commentary on the system that underlies how many of us “do evangelism” or “tell people about Jesus” today. What underlies our motivation for “telling people about Jesus” is this story: only Jesus can make you truly happy/fulfilled. This is an incredibly meaningful story for people who are not happy/fulfilled and it is incredibly motivating for those who are doing the telling.
But what about people who do think they are happy without being a Christian? This is where the cracks of this system come to the surface.
To say that only Jesus can make you truly happy/fulfilled implies that everyone who is not a Christian must necessarily be unhappy or unfulfilled, even if they deny it. And it’s in this awkward encounter of Christians trying to convince non-Christians that they aren’t happy, even if they think they are, that something significant is revealed.
Underneath the seemingly innocent statement: “only Jesus can make you truly happy” is an entire economic system wherein Jesus is a product and we are his advertisement. If we believe that Jesus’ primary purpose is to make us “fulfilled,” satisfied,” or happy,” then our paradigm for the Gospel cannot tolerate someone being truly happy without Jesus. It would render the work of Jesus impotent, the product dysfunctional, and more importantly—if we want to psychologize a bit—our very reason for being Christian is compromised, since we too bought the product from someone else.
So in order to maintain the belief that true happiness/fulfillment only comes from Jesus, we often do two very harmful things. First, we pretend we are happy when we aren’t. After all, if Jesus is the product that gives me happiness and I’m not happy, I have only three choices (1) say the Jesus product is broken (2) user error or (3) pretend I am happy so I can avoid numbers (1) and (2). Secondly, we have to create a need in those who do not feel they have one. We have to either (1) tell everyone how sinful they are or (2) tell everyone how unhappy they are. Only then will be people “discover” that they “need” to “buy” our product. That is, we are arguing with people about whether they are dead yet. . .
But for many this discussion begs the question, “If Jesus doesn’t do something for you, why would anyone want to become a Christian?” And to ask that question is to still be participating in that same economy, to be trapped into posturing Jesus as a product.
But the economy of Jesus is not one that creates need to sell product but that encourages generosity out of abundance, it is not one where Jesus makes you happy/fulfilled but where he makes you faithful. God is not the product, he will not be sold and bought. He will not be named and he will not be tamed. The story is his and we are invited to participate.
Note: I must admit that perhaps there is a sense in which this is an appropriate way of speaking of Jesus. After all, doesn’t the Bible itself participate in this economy? What’s the difference between talking about a savior who saves us from our sins and a product who makes us happy/fulfilled? I have no idea but it seems to be a fine line indeed. . .