311 African migrants recently drowned seeking peace and safety in Europe. For once, there was public outcry, and the calls for justice and compassion were stronger than the usual negative rhetoric condemning those who pursue a ‘better life’ on our shores.
I’m always perplexed by our dismissal of those we see as being here ‘just for a better life’ because surely that’s what we all want for ourselves? Aren’t we all seeking life in all its fullness? Don’t we all relish moments of joy, peace and flourishing, desire God’s best, and claim his promises to prosper not to harm us? Don’t we celebrate victories when people are healed, captives are freed and justice prevails? The good life indeed.
But what about those times when the better life doesn’t materialise? When prayers go unanswered, captives remain enslaved and the world is unfair? When the kingdom doesn’t seem to come?
In the hope of future security, those 311 people boarded a precarious vessel with all they couldn’t leave behind and set sail. They staked everything on the possibility of a better reality ahead and lost their lives in the process. I don’t want to stretch the analogy too far, or detract from a tragedy that deserves a response, but there’s nevertheless something challenging about that image of people who took massive risks in the present for the sake of future hope.
The Bible doesn’t say that if we live by faith everything will come good here and now. Jesus even said that we need to lose our life to find it, and many Christians around the world actually do. But all this, for me, begs the question of what our pursuit of a better life should look like here and now in a comfort-aspiring western culture? And what life do we need to lose in order to find it?
These questions have been playing on my mind as my friends and I have looked for a place to rent near church so that we can create a laughter-filled home, cook, have people over, invest in our neighbourhood and foster community. For us, this is life. Sadly our enthusiastic kingdom vision doesn’t quite tally with London’s property market and my charity sector salary. Agents keep asking us, slightly condescendingly, how flexible our budget is and, with the best will in the world, we’ve struggled to see how certain houses could ever really be habitable.
It’s been a journey and a half. Looking around my generous and affluent church, I’ve coveted other people’s property ownership and wished I’d spent my 20s working in the private sector. I’ve felt tossed about by doubt and I’ve been properly fearful. I’ve moaned at God about the fact that other people’s daily bread comes from Waitrose. I’ve cried (a lot) and wanted to jump ship.
But I’ve also prayed (a lot) and sometimes the clouds have lifted from our horizon-hidden view of unseen realities. This is the home stretch and we push on.
By faith, I think, is the better life. It just isn’t always that comfortable.
(Image via Paul Keller on Flickr)