Disenchanted believers

We live in a disenchanted world. We are pandemic worn, disillusioned with the government, and wary of good news. Disenchanted people have come to believe that our world is composed only of what we can see, and what we see will largely disappoint us. We have matured out of the idea that there is magic or mystery, no sparkle of hope that there is more to the world, to us, than meets the eye. 

But if you’re a Christian, this reasoning is lacking. The world we read about in Scripture is in fact an enchanted world— a world of angels and demons, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego alive in the fiery furnace, prophets who foretell the future, God himself walking among men, raising people from the dead and weaving the most spectacular happy ending ever imagined. As my daughter’s favorite children’s book says, “The world is awake, it’s a wonderful place, alive with God’s power and glad with his grace.” 

God’s world is an enchanted place; not only is there more to our surroundings, our earth, and our bodies than what we can simply see, our world is a place of delight and mystery. As Paul says, we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). The whole of scripture testifies to a world beyond what is observable and filled with spiritual forces. It’s why some of the most famous modern Christian writers tell stories of Narnia, Middle earth, wizards, and magic rings—these tales more accurately describe our world than we tend to think. Our world is alive with beauty and wonder and he has made us to pay attention to him—to be enchanted by him—anticipating his next move with expectation and delight. To be enchanted with our God means we can’t look away from him, marveling at his light in the midst of the brokenness around us. Christians are an enchanted people, believers in much more than simply what we see, but could it be that we too have become disenchanted?

Disenchanted believers, disenchanted world

Are we really believers if we are disenchanted? To be a Christian who does not actively believe in a God who breaks the bounds of our scientific world, who speaks supernaturally to his people through his word and uses his Body, the Church, to reveal his grace today is to not be a Christian at all. And yet this is the position that many Christians find themselves today; disillusioned with the Church, disappointed with the voice of God, and settling into a faith that doesn’t ask or expect much from the one they claim as Savior.  

In Christ, we are invited into relationship with the author of life. Christians should be enchanted with Jesus, delighted with his beauty, curious after his will for our lives, and hungering for his presence, but more often than not, we end up looking much like our non-believing neighbors and enchanted with other things. In a recent article regarding the misconduct of a famous Hillsong Church pastor, a non-Christian writer said, “It looks very much like [Christians] want to become like me.” Though this is a sad and very public example of Christians not looking like the one they worship, it raises the question: am I so enchanted with Jesus that I look different from my non-believing friends? And if Jesus has not captured my heart completely, what has?

But we are not made to look for transcendence through consumption, we are made to be consumed by the transcendence of Christ.

Consumer transcendence

Though our world is largely a disenchanted place, the hunger for enchantment remains. It’s why new age spirituality is popular today: crystals and tarot cards offer a gateway into the divine. James KA Smith talks about this hunger for enchantment in terms of transcendent consumption. We want a taste of the transcendent, the sacred and spiritual in the midst of our mundane reality. In his book, Desiring the Kingdom, he describes the spiritual liturgies that we create in activities like shopping. Transcendence is wired into our hearts, but apart from God we go looking for that enchantment elsewhere, and as we do so, we turn transcendence into something that we can consume, a commodity to be found or purchased

We see the same hunger for enchantment in Athens when Paul addresses the Areopagus. After seeing an altar with the inscription “To the unknown god” he says,

Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything…“‘In him we live and move and have our being’. —Acts 17:22-28

Paul speaks to their desire for the divine saying, the transcendence you long for is found in Jesus, the one whom we were made to be enchanted by. “To the unknown god” still captures our society’s hunger today as we turn to objects and spiritual rituals hoping our consumption will give us a taste of the transcendent. But we are not made to look for transcendence through consumption, we are made to be consumed by the transcendence of Christ.

Enchantment, disenchantment, re-enchantment

One helpful lens of understanding our experience of the world is through the dialectic “orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.” We are oriented to the world as it is, then something coming along that causes us to feel disoriented. It might be going to college, having a baby, or the death of a loved one, but our lives are rattled and we find ourselves disoriented, unsure of who we are or our direction. Disorientation is something we must work through, slowly moving into reorientation, where we learn how to navigate the new circumstances that were once disorienting. This cycle repeats again and again throughout our entire lives. 

But this cycle also helps make sense of enchantment and disenchantment. Perhaps the trials we encounter that drive us to disenchantment are a temporary place where the Lord invites us to become re-enchanted with him, uncovering deeper depths of his provision and grace when we need it most. Disenchantment, then, becomes a stepping stone toward re-enchantment. We don’t need to be afraid of disenchantment as a faith-ending experience, but rather learn to expect it as a natural rhythm of human life. 

Today, if you find yourself feeling disenchanted, know that disenchantment doesn’t have to last forever, but can be a place of uncovering new dimensions of the heart of God and kingdom. Here are ways forward from disenchantment to re-enchantment:

  1. Identify the root. Ask yourself when was the last time you were enchanted with the Lord? What circumstances (active or passive) changed in your life to bring you to your current disillusioned state? Are you frustrated that the Lord didn’t answer a prayer? Does scripture seem confusing, harsh, or unapproachable? Did something happen in your church that has made you question whether God is really at work? Do you wish there was more to your relationship with God? Identify how you got here. 
  2. Uncover the false narratives. Romans 12:2 says, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. When we find ourselves disenchanted, it is easy to fall into non-gospel ways of thinking. We turn to things to make us feel better rather than seeking the Lord, feel hopeless, doubt God’s goodness, or think he doesn’t love us. Rather than simply drifting into these ways of thinking, Paul charges believers to not be conformed to the ways of the unbelieveing and disenchanted world around us. 
  3. Cultivate habits that help you abide in God’s story. Mike Cosper in his book Recapturing the Wonder says, “If we want to leave behind our disenchantment, we have to find ways to immerse ourselves in these stories. We have to counter the stories of our disenchanted world.” Especially when you feel disillusioned with the Lord or the church, talking to other believers and staying connected to community is essential. The church is God’s hands and feet in our lives today, so turning to other believers for encouragement and prayer is a great first step forward. Secondly, draw near. Scripture invites us to draw near to God (Heb 7:19) through his Word and prayer, asking for his presence to soften our hearts, assured that he draws near to us as we draw near to him (Jas 4:8).

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