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Joyful fanatics

Is it good to become beside ourselves for Christ?

Issue: "Bob Geldof: Whose jubilee?," June 25, 2005

I haven't been myself lately. A chain of events whose recounting is not appropriate for this page unsettled temporarily the contented stagnant waters of my heart, making a return to torpid pools unthinkable.

Here is a question for you: Is it possible to be too excited about Jesus? (Are you personally in any danger of that?) Possible to go off the deep end and think about Him overmuch? To rejoice beyond propriety? To talk about Him as freely as about a football game? To have an almost giddy confidence in what He will do next? To fast and pray for deeper life with Him? To be overly preoccupied with evangelism?

I am on the verge of wanting to hang out with people I used to dismiss as fanatics. Now a fanatic, of course, is anyone on that great bandwidth of Christian experience who talks about Jesus more than you do-your own position being counted the sensible standard. So, for example, on one end would be the Christian-Democratic parties of Europe that most reading this magazine would not even recognize as Christian (all that remains is the name, the smile on the Cheshire cat). On the other end would be, well, Paul the apostle, "beside himself" for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:13), being lowered in baskets from walls, and such.

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Between teems an endlessly subdivided landscape. There are Christians who talk about God in church, but would never at a party. There are Christians who pray in church but would never in your kitchen. Some will drop and pray right there between fridge and microwave. (I remember my first kitchen praying experience; it was 22 years ago with a woman named Audrey L., who judged that our conversation had reached a point where immediate intercession with Christ was in order. I thought her quite . . . fanatical.) Making one's way in any culture becomes, as far as that goes, a matter of understanding what is appropriate behavior in the group you find yourself in, whether they are the church-and-kitchen praying kind of people or just the within-the-nave praying kind of people.

Now I have been a Christian for a long time, even a kitchen type. So I always fancied myself at the extreme right of the spectrum (that is, opposite the European political Christians), all other shades of Christianity sloping off to my side in their myriad shades of perfidy.

Along comes R.R., and he has joy like a fire hose. Letters came to my door, page after page fairly bristling in my hand for uncontainable elation-what Jesus had done for him, was now doing, was certain to do. He was the demoniac of the Gadarenes now "dressed and in his right mind." He was Mary Magdalene, loving much because he's been forgiven much. He read Scripture greedily and like you read your girlfriend's letters.

Because I never had real joy, I'd learned to redefine "joy" in the Bible as an abstraction. Because I had no real faith, I took "faith" in the Bible as poetic, metaphorical. I had no real "abundant life" to speak of, and so was forced to make the term a figure of speech.

The optometrist has a contraption in his office with a series of graduated lenses through which you read the wall chart. Lens A seems good to you at first, but then he tries Lens B and it's a better fit. You had not yet seen as clearly as you could.

There have always been joyful Christians vaguely fluttering around me, those baffling folks on the fringes of my consciousness who count it fun to sing their gospel songs and show no interest in the depressing ballads that I favor. They never were my cup of tea. But like I said, I haven't been myself lately. I'm tasting promissory notes of joy in Christ. Is this sanity or fanaticism? Scriptures long frozen like wax figures at Madame Tussaud's are warming to life.

Is this sanity or fanaticism? When you just don't know, what can you do but let Scripture be the plumb line? Try overdoing this verse if you can: "Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory" (1 Peter 1:8).

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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