This weekend, my sermon revolved around the glimpse of heaven offered to us in Revelation chapter 7. In my preparation and research for the sermon, I stumbled upon the following words attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century atheistic philosopher: “In heaven all the interesting people are missing.”
I didn’t utilize the quote in my sermon, but I have been haunted by it since I first read it. Why would an atheistic philosopher (who most likely found the idea of heaven to be ridiculous) suggest that the heaven’s population is devoid of interesting people? Why would he come to the conclusion that believers in Christ (who, for Nietzsche, most likely represented the heavenly population) are something less than interesting?
Part of me wants to get defensive. “How dare you, Nietzsche! How dare you suggest that we believers are uninteresting! I’m not going to listen to your highfalutin criticism and your philosophical blasphemy! You obviously have a bias against Christianity. Therefore, I will not dignify your quote by giving it any attention whatsoever.”
But here’s the thing: What if Nietzsche had a point?
What if we Christ-followers have allowed ourselves to become so predictable, so formulaic, so dismissive, so mundane–so NORMAL–that we have lost our capacity to be truly interesting?
Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am not suggesting for a minute that it is our responsibility as Christ-followers to entertain the masses or to capitulate to all of the proclivities of a sin-sick world. We are after all (according to Willimon and Hauerwas) “resident aliens” who live life by the alternative narrative found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A world that does not know Christ as Lord will never fully be able to comprehend our peculiar way of doing life. Therefore, we must tread carefully upon this issue of endeavoring to be “interesting” to the world.
But isn’t there a right way for us to be interesting? Isn’t that part of what Jesus had in mind when he told us to be the salt of the earth? Wasn’t he suggesting that we make the world a more flavorful place, simply by virtue of our presence, our passion, our love, and our unwavering devotion to an always-compelling kingdom?
Allow me to get to the heart of the matter. I want Christ-followers to be some of the most interesting people around. I want us to be well-read and well-versed, not only biblically, but culturally as well. I want us to be good conversationalists who are as comfortable talking about current events as we are talking about the liturgical calendar and worship wars. I want us to be attentive to the stories that our culture is telling in its literature and media, so that we are fluent in the language and imagery with which our culture communicates. I want us to be compassionate scholars of Scripture whose knowledge of the biblical story equips us to discern the creative ways in which the eternal is still intersecting with the everyday. I want us to be the kind of people whose personalities are engaging, whose eagerness to hear the stories of others is authentic, and whose devotion to Christ is so wonderfully secure that defensiveness, dismissiveness, and combativeness are completely unnecessary.
I want us to be interesting, in other words, in all the right ways. I fear that, too often, we are not.
No, that’s a cop out. Let me make it more personal. I fear that, too often, yours truly is not.
Given my journeys into spiritual snobbery, my reliance upon predictable patterns and relationships, my fondness for self-righteousness, and my penchant for dismissiveness, I am often more insular than I am interesting. Anyone else have that problem?
Billy Joel gave fresh expression to Nietzsche’s viewpoint when he sang the following words in his song, ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun.”
I am simply suggesting that we hear in Nietzsche and Joel a reminder that we live in a world that desperately needs for us to be interesting in all the right ways. Our evangelism, in fact, may just depend upon our willingness to incarnate the truth that Jesus is, among other things, incredibly interesting.