By Anthony Casperson
When some people put a new video game into their console, one of the first things they do is look at the list of unlockable achievements. They’re not just interested in experiencing this new avatar’s life, but experiencing it to the full. They want to see all the things that are likely to happen if they put some effort into the game.
Granted, some achievements are ridiculous, like finishing the tutorial. But many of the items on the list are specific parts of the game that few are likely to see. Not everybody who starts a game will finish it. And some aren’t interested in getting a 100% complete gaming experience.
I’ve noticed on recent achievements that they list what percentage of players have unlocked the one I just did. On occasion, the percentage number is in the single digits. Such information proves that point.
I don’t usually seek out what the achievement list contains to begin with. But, I can understand the appeal. Unless the items are purposefully kept secret, you get to see what you’re in for with the game. Is there a morality system? Are there romance options? Do certain difficulty levels have better rewards? Is there a new game+ available?
You can get a feel for the game before really getting started. And in so doing, you have a head start on accomplishing the fullness of the experience.
Though far more impactful than the reward of having an “Achievement Unlocked” trophy pop up while playing a game, my mind recently thought of the similarities between achievement lists and the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. (Just hear me out before you try to see how to brand someone a heretic.)
The whole sermon takes up chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s record of Jesus’ life, but the introduction I’m thinking of is found in Matthew 5:1-12. It’s the part called the “Beatitudes.” The “Blessed are the…” part of the sermon.
As someone who has often championed the whole “You can thrive spiritually in the Depths of Darkness” perspective, that word for “blessed,” which is repeated in the passage, has given me pause.
Quite often, when pastors preach on the passage, they say that the Greek word can be translated as “happy.” Dance around when your spirit feels impotent. Smile in the face of mourning. Put on a happy face when people think you’re weak, just because you have handed control of your power over to God.
Do you know what that sounds like to me? Masochism. “Oh yea, I can’t believe I get to suffer. Let me go running back in line for another round. That was exhilarating.” No one should be that self-sadistic.
To be fair, some would say that what we should be happy about isn’t the suffering, but the reward paired with each type of suffering. But I have to ask if that is the case, why wasn’t the “blessed” word placed with the second part of each sentence? Why put the blessing with the suffering if the happiness is supposed to be with the reward?
So, that question made me look into what the fullness of the range of the word can be. That was when I found one translation of “blessed” as “privileged recipient of divine favor.” I like the idea, because it shows that our suffering in regard to following Jesus is a privilege given to us by God so that we can grow from it and achieve the reward associated with it.
But that phrasing is too…something. There’s a headiness to it that makes it difficult to understand on a practical level. And that was when I came across a possible translation of the word that made me think about achievement lists. It was “congratulations.”
Congratulations for deeply desiring the path of God in the desert of unrighteousness, the feast of those right in the sight of God now awaits. I applaud those who held their hearts out for others, the same love will be granted to them. My compliments to those whose hearts remained clean in the midst of the mess of the world, you will come face to face with the purest one. A trophy for those who struggled to bring peace for others, you will find rest in God.
The list of the Beatitudes sets forth what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Right when he loads up his sermon, he flips to the achievement unlockables, the fully disclosed list of what is in store for those who complete their walk in this new life.
Suffering isn’t a side quest objective. It’s part of the main story. Not all will unlock every achievement, but to fully experience the life of a follower of Jesus, some of these trophies will pop up along the way. Suffering for the sake of following Jesus is a part of the story.
Let’s not run from the difficulties of life, but rather face head-on the challenges laid out before us. The experience might take a lot out of us, but the reward will be so much better than a digital pop up. It’ll be the furthering of the goals of our God, both for his glory and our growth.