Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have helped us think better about so much of day-to-day life, as well as about thorny issues of economics (for which work Professor Kahneman won the Nobel Prize). One of their key concepts is that of the anchor point, and I came across it this morning in (of all places) Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians.
One's anchor point is the main point of reference in a decision. It's the answer to the question, "Well, compared to what?"
"This is a pretty big car!" Compared to what? "This is a long walk!" Compared to what? "This is a beautiful picture!" Compared to what?
The main point of comparison one has in mind, even if only subconsciously, is one's anchor point. If you're comparing them with limousines from the 1930s and 1940s (a Packard, say, or a Duesenberg), then many of today's larger cars look positively shrimpy. If you're comparing it with the Camino de Santiago in Spain, today's afternoon stroll looks like, well, a walk in the park. If you're comparing it with Vermeer's View of Delft, your middle-schooler's sketch of the family cottage is promising at best.
In Ephesians, Paul refers to himself in an arresting way, made more profound by ambiguity in the original Greek. In 3:1, he says he is "a prisoner for Christ"—or, as other versions put it, "the prisoner of Christ." For doing what Christ has called me to do, Paul says, I am in prison. But, Paul could also be saying, I am gladly bound to Jesus—indeed, as Paul describes himself often elsewhere, as Christ's slave.
As a middle-class Canadian who yet chafes under the constant irritations of not ever having quite enough money, or career success, or comfort, or security, I wonder why my life as a Christian isn't better. Do you wonder similarly? Why can't I just be free to do the work God has given me to do? Why does every season of life seem to throw up distractions, impediments, even enemies?
Why can't I just have enough cash as to allay any anxiety and let me then concentrate on higher things? Surely just twenty-five-percent more would settle things nicely?
Why can't people just receive what I say and do in an appreciative spirit? Why do so many instead misinterpret me, disagree with me, chide me, and even oppose me?
I wonder if the Apostle Paul thought any of these things. Maybe all of them? Especially while sitting in a prison cell, literally a prisoner for the sake of Christ?
C. S. Lewis, as usual, got here first. "Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable" (God in the Dock).
Perhaps it's because we have just witnessed the coronation of a man often characterized as petulant about not being taken seriously enough, not granted enough honour and blessing. But I do sometimes hear myself whining as an entitled princeling who somehow has got the notion into his head that life should be smooth, easy, and inclining gently ever upward.
If, instead, I remember that the life I long for—or something far better—will indeed be mine in the world to come, but that I live in this vexed world for now; if I remember, as Bonhoeffer warns, that we currently experience, and endure, the penultimate, not the ultimate; if I remember the many New Testament warnings of troubles, trials, and tribulations in this life as positively normal—then perhaps I will find today quite tolerable after all.
It's maybe not such a fine day for a pampered prince(ss), true. But for a prisoner of Christ, I might even find it a day the Lord himself has made in which I should, all things considered, be glad (Psalm 118:24).