I like to listen to podcasts when I am doing activities like driving. Podcasts are a bit like talk radio programs, except they are downloaded and can be listened to on demand. There are several different podcasts that I listen to regularly and one of those is called 99% Invisible. This is a narrative based podcast that focuses on the thought that goes into the things we often do not think back. Topics include graphic design, architecture, and the small design decisions that are made in everyday items. The topics are absolutely fascinating and the show is well produced and engaging. One of the points that is made frequently is that good design just works. That is why the show is called 99% Invisible. When good design is working, it is barely even noticed. Often it is only when design is done badly that it stands out in the worst possible way.
I think that faith has some similarities to the idea of good design, because faith lived out well just works. If we are living faithful lives then there is no need for us to broadcast we are Christians. If we are closely following Jesus then we do not need a bumper sticker, a T-shirt, or a radio station to declare that for us. We will not need to tell people we are Christians because they will know we are Christians by our attitude, actions, and presence. Good design is perfectly integrated into its environment. All the while, good design flawlessly fulfills its function and it can even elevate the beauty or usefulness of the environment. Good faith is the same way. Good faith is perfectly integrated into our life, it does not offend or rub people the wrong way. It fulfills its function flawlessly of making us more like Christ, all while elevating the world around us as we transform it into a more loving and redemptive place.
Design goes awry when it is not consistent to its purpose, and our faith is the same way. Our faith should lead us to be more Christ like and the church word for this is holiness. Holiness is expressed in our faith life in two ways, through personal holiness and social holiness. Personal holiness are the actions we personally undertake to be more Christ like. They are the habits we adapt or the actions we refrain from participating in so that we can be more Christ like. Social holiness are the actions we take in order to serve others, to meet real needs, and put the love of God into action in the world around us. Just like design can go awry, faith goes awry when we confuse personal holiness with social holiness. This happens when we take the practices of personal holiness and try to enforce those on the world instead of meeting the world where it is at. When the message people outside of the faith get from Christians is you need to act the way I act, then the message they hear is not God loves you or Jesus saves. What they hear is self-righteous judgement.
Ultimately this hurts our Christian witness, because people come to know us for what we are against, not what we are for. It makes our witness in the world about what we stand for, but witness in the world should not be about us, it should always point to Jesus. When our faith works, we live a life of personal holiness where the way we personally live is consistent with what we believe. When our faith works, we live out our faith in actions that seek to love others humbly and sacrificially. A faith that works is one that is defined by both personal and social holiness.
There is a difference between good design and good faith though. Good design fades into the background and is not noticed. Good faith shines out like a city on a hill. Good faith beckons people to God as you “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)