In their groundbreaking book, The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt argue that good intentions and bad ideas are a recipe for disaster. The authors examine the harmful effects of overprotecting children and young adults by idolising safety and comfort and conclude, “A culture that allows the concept of ‘safety’ to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy.”
Lukianoff and Haidt do not write from a Christian perspective, but their research rings true from a biblical worldview. James told his readers to count it all joy when they fall into various trials (1:1–18). Far from urging his readers to avoid trials at all costs, he wrote of the benefits that the discomfort of trials produce: “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
If we will grow in our faith and in our usefulness to God in his kingdom work, we must grow in the context of struggles. The quest for comfort works against the resilience that trials produce in us. And yet, if we will be honest for a moment, we will admit that we far prefer comfort to trial. It is only through the eyes of faith, with our gaze fixed firmly on our eternal inheritance, that we will embrace the benefits that struggle brings to us.
But how do we recognise the idol of comfort in our lives? How do we know that we have fallen prey to the temptation to unhealthily pursue safety? After all, is comfort not something that Christ promises to his people as they mourn (Matthew 5:4)? Is the Holy Spirit himself not called the Comforter? How do we know when comfort has moved from something that is beneficial to an idol in our lives? Let me suggest three diagnostic tools.
First, comfort may be your idol when you have chosen complete disengagement from the world. Of course, there is a sense in which we are called to separate from the unbelieving world (2 Corinthians 6:14–18). Contextually, Paul writes of our behaviour. Our behaviour should be different from that of the unbelieving world. But we cannot hope to reach unbelievers with the gospel if we will isolate ourselves from them.
An earlier generation tried this. Because politics were “worldly,” Christians removed themselves from politics. Because Hollywood was “worldly,” Christians removed themselves from entertainment. Because rock music was “worldly,” Christians isolated themselves into their own music labels. The result is that these (and other) areas of life were left without a gospel witness. It was more comfortable to isolate into Christian enclaves, but it did little good for the sake of gospel advance.
Second, comfort may be your idol if you are increasingly marked by consumerism. Consumerism plays to our idolatry of idolism. Consumerism gives you whatever you want to make you more comfortable in this world. It rejects the very Christian notions of sacrifice and servanthood. This attitude is seen in churches all the time. Congregants want their needs to be met even if it means that the needs and burdens of others are trampled on. Sacrifice does not come naturally to those who are not filled with the Spirit; a pursuit of comfort certainly does.
Third, comfort may be your idol if your life is marked by discontentment. When we are not given what makes us comfortable, it makes us grumpy and discontented. We complain and criticise instead of thanking God for what he has given to us. The comfort of Egyptian food was far lovelier to the Numbers generation than the manna that God gave them and it produced in them bitter discontent. We are prone to the same sin.
The pursuit of comfort will never produce in us Christian maturity. It will stunt our growth because, ultimately, it will force us to sinfully surrender to the world. We must ever examine our lives to ensure that we are not bowing to the idol of comfort but are instead embracing whatever struggles God sends our way as a means to growing in our faith and in usefulness in his kingdom.