The Fine Line Between Justice and Revenge

SEPTEMBER 2019   |   Pastor Zachary Pudlo


I Reject Your Facts

Disclaimer…this isn’t a political blog. That being said, this was a line that caught my attention a few weeks ago. It’s not because I agreed or disagreed with the person who said it (again, not intending this to be a political view). It caught my attention because the sentiment behind the statement, “I reject your facts”, is one that we all share at times. There are times in our lives where we are faced with overwhelming evidence of something, and yet we reject it because we don’t want it to be true. The example I’ve used in classes I’ve taught in the past is the example of a sports player who clearly commits a foul and everyone in the building knows it. That player still tries to argue with the referee even though everyone in the building knows it was a foul. Just type “Blake Griffin uses iPad to argue a call” into your web browser and you’ll see a basketball player clearly hook and pull a player to the ground, then try to use an iPad to argue with the referee. What’s the point? Often times we believe what we want rather than what is clearly the truth based upon facts.
Human Nature and Belief
Human beings struggle to admit failure. Blaise Pascal once wrote, “We have an incapacity of proof, insurmountable by all dogmatism. We have an idea of truth, invincible to all scepticism. Two things instruct man about his whole nature; instinct and experience.” Pensees 396-397
His point is that evidence is something that people tend to avoid. Instead, he says experience and instinct are the two main motivating factors in a person’s life. I’ve seen that firsthand. It’s happened in classes I’ve taught where the evidence for a specific Biblical teaching is laid out plainly in the words of the Bible, but because a person has grown up believing something different, often influenced by family, that person will not agree to that Biblical teaching.
People will often believe something, not based on evidence, but based on experience, instinct, and I will add one more, emotion. Emotion is a huge factor when it comes to what a person believes. Going back to the example of a person who sees the clear evidence of a Biblical teaching and yet won’t believe it because they have grown up believing something completely different. Why won’t they believe the evidence laid out before them? I’ve noticed how often times it is because they are afraid of what their family or friends would say if they changed their belief. Even though they see evidence for something, they will not believe the evidence because they know that emotionally, it will cost them a significant price to change their beliefs.
Jesus speaks to this several times in his ministry. On one specific occasion he spoke these words. “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mt 10:37–39). Jesus is telling us something that is true of any belief. Faith in anything is going to cost you something. It could cost you family, friends, a reputation, or even a career.
Despite evidence, people often defer to emotion when it comes to belief because they are afraid of what it might cost them to hold on to the truth. I’ll use this past week as an example. The Governor of New York issued a statement this past week after signing New York’s Reproductive Health Act saying, “Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion.
With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body.”
What does the scientific evidence say about abortion? Any scientist would tell you that at conception there is human life. Feel free to skim or read “WHEN DO HUMAN BEINGS BEGIN? ‘SCIENTIFIC” MYTHS AND SCIENTIFIC FACTS’” by  Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D. She separates the scientific evidence from the “myths” floating around. So, isn’t abortion taking a human life, a.k.a. murder? According to science, yes. But to label abortion murder would be a difficult thing for a politician to do. It would mean potentially losing the votes of thousands, maybe even millions of voters. So belief and policy come about because of emotion. What can get votes? What can give people freedom to do whatever they want? What can give a person the possibility to live without consequences for their actions? Those are the determining factors when it comes to belief, not what does the evidence support.
Evidence for Forgiveness
Ok, so we all know that politicians will do whatever it takes and compromise even the lives of the innocent to get votes and stay in power. But all people reject facts to varying degrees. Christians aren’t immune to ignoring evidence. The words and evidence of the Bible suggest we should love all people regardless of their race, age, gender, social class, and even moral behavior. And yet, it doesn’t take long for me to scroll through the facebook newsfeed to see name calling and verbal abuse. I see people who say that God wants them to love all people, and yet they ignore that evidence based on their emotions.
We ignore what God tells us, and we ignore what he has done for us. If we ignore God, shouldn’t he just ignore us. If you read the words of the Bible you do see a God who has emotions. He gets angry time and again with people who ignore him. And yet, his response is that of love time and again. See the evidence for that in every page of the Bible. One could even make the case that is the main point of the entire book…man fails and God forgives.
The greatest evidence for his forgiveness is seen on the cross. It’s on the cross that God stopped at nothing to make sure that forgiveness would be brought to this world. The cross is the greatest evidence of man’s constant and continual failures, and God’s constant and continual love and forgiveness.
What’s all this evidence mean? When we see another person clearly doing something against all evidence we tend to look down on them, condemn them, call names or think bad things about them. I encourage you to do something other than rush to judgment. Instead, first remember that you and I do the same thing at times. It’s human tendency to judge and look down and think ourselves better than others. And despite that arrogance and ignorance, God still loved and forgave us. So when you see a person acting and behaving contrary to evidence see that they are confused. See a person who needs help, who needs the truth, and who, more than anything, needs Jesus.
It’s easy to reject facts and evidence for one’s own personal gain. Jesus’ cross reminds us to look to evidence first. Look to the cross and see the evidence of your own failures and need for a Savior. And look to the cross and see the patient love of your God. That’s something we all need when we deal with one another. When you see someone clearly rejecting the evidence, see someone who is searching for something with their emotions. They are searching for love, family, forgiveness, fame, etc… What they really need is the evidence that they have all those things and more in Jesus.

The Difficulty of Truth


I am a bit behind the times. I recently watched some of the scenes from the most recent live production of Jesus Christ Superstar after I found out how many awards for which it was nominated and won. I even compared some of the scenes from the original from the 1970’s. One of the scenes that stuck out to me was the scene depicting Jesus encounter with Pontius Pilate. In each version the writers depicted Pilate as struggling with the definition of truth, much like he does in John 18 when he simply says, “What is truth?” However, the writers of Jesus Christ Superstar expand on that. Here’s what he says in the rock opera:
“What is truth? Not easy to define. We both have truths. Are yours the same as mine?” (2018 version)
“What is truth. Is truth unchanging law. We both have truths. Are yours the same as mine?” (1970 version)
What struck me about Pilate’s response in this production is his absolute difficulty with understanding the truth. It seems the Bible and each version of the rock opera depict Pilate as not wanting to believe what he knows to be true. He knew Jesus was innocent. He knew it would be immoral to unjustly punish Jesus. But he also knew that if he didn’t prosecute Jesus he would be in danger of losing his high social status and official position.
The Danger of Denying Truth
In a 2016 survey of over 1000 adults, Barna Group found that 57 percent of American adults admit that knowing what is right or wrong is a matter of personal experience. In other words, moral truths are a matter of choice. Even 41 percent of adult practicing Christians agree with this as well.
The implications of this belief system, which is what it really is, are vast and scary. Consider the following as just one example of what happens when morals become relative to each individual: A stranger walks into your home in the middle of the day. He walks to your refrigerator, opens it, and takes a beer and makes a sandwich for himself. After this he walks up to your bedroom and begins looking through your possessions pocketing the jewelry and whatever other items he desires. As he begins to walk out the door, stomach full of beer and food he didn’t purchase, pockets filled with valuable items not belonging to him, you shout out to him, “Hey, you can’t take my stuff! That’s wrong!”
If there is no absolute moral truth, then his response could be, “Says who?” If there is no absolute truth, then you would have no moral basis to say that it is wrong to steal. Taking it even further, you and I would have no basis to say anything is wrong including murder, rape, torture, and every other vile thing you can imagine. If someone says “Moral truth is relative,” then they had better be ready to deal with the consequences of a world that actually lives that way.
When put this way, most people begin to realize they do believe in some moral absolutes. So the follow up question is this: Why do so many try to avoid moral absolutes?
Truth Formation
In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt says our inner lawyer is often times the source of our own truth formation. He says,
“One of the reasons people are often contemptuous of lawyers is that they fight for a client’s interests, not the truth. To be a good lawyer, it often helps to be a good liar. Although many lawyers won’t tell a direct lie, most will do what they can to hide inconvenient facts while weaving a plausible alternative story for the judge and jury, a story that they sometimes know is not true. Our inner lawyer works in the same way, but, somehow, we actually believe the stories he makes up.”
Here’s his point: Lawyers often know the truth but they will conveniently ignore or dismiss it in order to fight for their and their client’s best interest. That happens to each of us internally. We all have an internal moral compass which tells us what is right and wrong. And even though we know certain things are morally wrong, the inner lawyer inside of us often dismisses those arguments in order to fight for what we really want.
Here’s how Haidt says it, “Over and over again, studies show that people set out on a cognitive mission to bring back reasons to support their preferred belief or action. And because we are usually successful in this mission, we end up with the illusion of objectivity. We really believe our position is rationally and objectively justified.” In other words, what we want to be true becomes our own personal truth. Our personal desires and agendas are what form our personal truths. Objectivity is often an afterthought.
What does this look like practically? Well, John and Jane Doe have two very different views on coffee. John loves his coffee. Jane hates it. What do each of them do? John goes on the internet and finds a few different articles that show the health benefits of drinking coffee. Jane does the same, finding articles that show the health risks of drinking coffee. Each one only looks for data to support what they want to be true. Each one only looks at the data that proves what their pride wants to be true. To John, it is true that coffee is good for you. To Jane, it is true that coffee is bad for you. And so their truths are formed on what they want, rather than what is objective.
Moral Objectivity
Human beings have a way of doing this morally as well. As the election season is again upon us, I can’t help but think about how our language has become so bitter and angry as a society. On one hand people will say hateful rhetoric is simply not tolerable. And then go and smear a political candidate all over facebook. In our hearts we know it is wrong to curse and swear at someone. In our hearts we know it is wrong to name call. We know that’s the truth. But our inner lawyer says, “But what that person is saying is wrong. So it’s ok to name call.” Our inner lawyer finds ways to make murdering unborn babies ok, even though, objectively, that unborn baby would be considered life if found anywhere else in the universe. Our inner lawyer finds ways to make gossiping and lying ok, even though we cry foul when someone else gossips and lies about us. Our inner lawyer finds ways to justify almost anything and make it our truth.
But we often forget that when we justify wrongdoing, it harms our relationship with God more than anything. He is the one who placed the moral compass inside each one of us. And when we go against that compass, we are damaging our connection to God.
But here’s where it’s important to explore one more truth. The uniqueness of the Christian gospel. You see, with all our moral failures, and all our attempts to make them seem ok, it’s difficult to find comfort and hope. Every religion has its own explanation for how to find peace in the face of our repeated failures. But when you look at them all objectively there is a pattern that emerges. Each religion suggests the only way to put your moral failures right is through your own actions. If you’ve done something wrong, you must do something right to make up for it. Every religion in the world says it’s up to you to put it right before God.
All except Christianity. Christianity teaches that God alone can make it right. And that’s why Jesus came. He came to take the punishment for all our moral failures. That’s a difficult truth. It’s difficult because it means we have less control than we’d like to believe. It means we are more lost and morally bankrupt than we can possibly imagine. But it also means we are more loved than we could possibly hope. Without knowing the fact that Jesus is the one true God who came to make our failures right, we have no hope. Without this truth, you’re just like Pilate, in a sea full of “truths”…lost and without comfort or hope.
If you are looking for honest truth look no further than your own heart. Be objective. You’re heart isn’t pure. It isn’t perfect. But there is hope. And for that you have to look to someone other than yourself. Look to your God who saw your heart. He saw every dark twisted corner and crevice and still loved you. Knowing this makes facing the harsh truths of life and of our own brokenness much less difficult.

A Divided Nation and A Divided Will

September 2, 2018  |   PASTOR ZACHARY PUDLO
“As every divided kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself.” ? Leonardo da Vinci
The Nature of the Will
I ran across this quote and couldn’t help but wonder how Leonardo da Vinci could get away saying this. After all, wasn’t he known to be a true renaissance man? Didn’t he dabble in not just art, but also math, architecture, science, music, and the list goes on and on? Maybe he was speaking from experience. A divided mind saps itself. I suppose most of us can relate. We do live in a busy world where personal life, family life, work life, and everything in between seems to tug us in different directions.
But as I read through this quote I couldn’t help but think about how often times our own interests tug and pull against one another. We have divided wills raging within us. For example: Last night I wanted to sit down and write this blog. But I also hadn’t had a night off for the week and dishes had piled up in my sink. I wanted to write, but I also wanted a night off from normal duties to clean up and relax a little. Or another example: I can resist ordering dessert from any menu. I have no trouble with that. But if you place dessert in front of me I WILL eat it. Most of you can probably relate. We all have a will within us that is divided. We have conflicting desires raging within our own bodies. Why is that?
Theories for the Division
There are about as many explanations for why we have these conflicting desires within us as there are people in the world. Almost all of them have to do with the way the human being is made up. For example: Plato would attribute the conflicting wills to the conflicting desires of body and mind. Our body has one desire, and our mind has another. Freud would attribute the divided self to the division of the Id (Instincts), Ego (Reality), and Superego (Morality). For Freud, the reason we would have conflicting desires is because our instincts conflicted with reality and morality. More recent theories would attribute conflicting desires to the different sections of our brain as it develops from youth to adolescence to adulthood. Though there are countless more, these are just a few examples of ways human beings have tried to explain the motivational factors that drive and move us day in and day out and the reasons why we have divided wills and desires raging within us. 
An Ancient Explanation
In Galatians 5:17 Paul offers up this as a possible explanation, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do
whatever you want.” Paul is saying that the reason for the inner conflict is more than just a matter of the brain or instinct. It goes deeper than that. It is a moral/spiritual conflict. He says something similar in Romans 7:21-23, “So I discover this principle: When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law.  But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.” Paul is saying we all have desires within us. But those desires often go against what we know deep down to be true… a higher being created us. He designed us for a purpose, and when we go against that design and purpose we know we have to answer to him.
The Division in Me/Society
We live in a society that absolutely believes in living morally. Ask most Americans and they will say they 100% agree with the golden rule…love your neighbor as yourself. And yet, our culture also has attached itself to the statement, “Be true to yourself.” The problem is those two axioms are fiercely opposite one another. At our core, we are selfish. That means when push comes to shove, we are going to choose ourselves over our neighbors.
We are divided as a society because we are divided at our own individual cores. We hear people preach day in and day out about the pollution that is overrunning our world. And yet, those same people take private jets to their private islands. We hear of a congress that passes laws and taxes and penalties, and yet exempts itself from those same laws, taxes and penalties. The same congress that can’t balance a budget and yet wouldn’t dream of decreasing their own paychecks and pensions in an effort to balance that budget. (This certainly isn’t meant to be a political blog or rant of any sort. I only bring this up because it’s the first type of blatant hypocrisy that comes to mind.) And here’s the scary part…would we act any differently if we were in their place? Who of us wouldn’t use a private jet if we could afford it? Who of us would voluntarily say, “Please, cut my paycheck!”?
We are divided at our cores. Who of us can say we have perfectly loved our neighbors as ourselves? Have you ever cried out for more to be done to help the poor and homeless while still living a comfortable life yourself? Have you ever cried out for justice in this world while still knowing you’ve had moments where you’ve been unfair. What’s the point? We are divided. We are inconsistent. We are hypocrites. We believe in justice, and have ourselves been unjust. We believe in peace, and have
ourselves sewn discord. We believe in loving all, and have ourselves shown unkindness to certain people.
I recently heard an interview with Dr. Jerry Root. He recounted a time when he was eating lunch at Oxford University. He was asked by a member of the faculty why he was a Christian, knowing the faculty member wanted to have a debate about it. He mentioned that he hadn’t become a Christian till college. And then he said, “But it took at least three weeks before I became perfect.” When everyone busted out laughing he said, “Your laughter betrays you.” He went on to explain that because they all laughed they showed how they all knew it was impossible. No one could be perfect…including them. He went on to explain that we all know deep down that we are divided. We believe in justice and have at times been unfair. We believe in love and have at times been unloving. And he said he couldn’t possibly live without knowing that there is a thing called forgiveness.
A Unifying Conclusion
Da Vinci, Plato, Freud, the Apostle Paul…they all knew what we know too. Deep down we are all divided to our soul. We are all hypocrites who believe one thing and do another. Paul is the only one who burst out with complete joy and adoration knowing this when he said, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25) Paul rejoiced because he knew that his only hope was forgiveness. And that’s what he saw in the Son of God dying on a cross for him. He saw someone who was never divided. God saw people who turned from him, denied him, abandoned him, even hated him, and he still loved them with an undivided heart. God was committed to justice and to punishing sin, and still was committed to loving the world. In the crucifixion God accomplished both.
When you see an undivided love for you in Christ, it changes everything. It gives you the power to love someone, even when there is a part of you saying you should get even. It gives you the resource to be fair, even when there is a part of you that wants the rules bent for your own benefit. It gives you the ability to be forgiving when you see others be unloving or unfair because you know you yourself have committed the same crimes, and yet… you’ve been forgiven.
We are a divided as a society because we are divided to our very core. We want morality, and yet we ourselves will break the moral code if it means benefiting our own self. The only unifying solution is a resource so powerful that it heals my deep need to only benefit myself. An undivided love of God alone can do that.

Can I be Anything I Want to Be?


January 28, 2017  |   PASTOR ZACHARY PUDLO

“In American books between 1960 and 2008, just be yourself became 8 times more frequent, learned about myself 4.6 times, believe in yourself 6.5 times, express yourself 2 times, respect yourself 2.7 times, be honest with yourself 3 times, love yourself 5.7 times, I love me 6.7 times, and stand up for yourself 6 times.” I have to thank Dr. Jean Twenge for doing the research and publishing it in her book Generation Me. What’s the point? In the matter of two generations we have become a generation that is quite obviously self-focused. It’s no wonder we encourage children to be whatever they want to be. We want them to focus on what they want for themselves more than anything else. But that begs the question, are we leading children down the wrong path? Do we really believe that any one individual can be anything they want to be, or are we leading them down the wrong path in telling them this?
Setting Up for Failure
In What Really Happened to the Class of ‘93, Chris Colin notes how frequently he and his classmates were told, “You can be whatever you want to be” and “Nothing is impossible.” Why is this message being propagated more and more? It’s about building self-esteem. We want children to believe they can achieve anything? We want them to reach for the stars and achieve greatness! But is building their self-esteem the best way to motivate them on towards greatness? Is self-esteem the way to success? The statistics certainly don’t back that theory.
In 2012, 58% of high school students expected to go on to graduate or professional school, nearly twice as many as in 1976. Yet the number who actually earned graduate degrees has remained unchanged at about 9%. If building a child’s self-esteem is supposed to inspire that child onto greatness in academics, why isn’t this reflected in the percentage of those getting degrees from post-graduate schools?
The past couple generations have been flooding our minds with the idea, “You can be whatever you want to be.” One of their intended purposes in saying this is to build self-esteem which in turn is supposed to lead to great success and achievement. However, it doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect. Despite what we think, there is no direct correlation between high self-esteem and success. High self-esteem does not lead to high performance. There are multiple studies that all come to the same conclusion. Asian Americans have the lowest self-esteem and still have the highest academic performance of any ethnic group. Furthermore, Asian American adults have the lowest unemployment rate among all races. If anything, the statistics would show us the lower a person’s self esteem the more driven and successful they will be.
If anything, we are setting our children up for failure by giving children false hopes when we tell them, “You can be anything you want.” There are countless movies that illustrate someone going from a nobody to the very best practically overnight. Included in that list are some of my childhood favorites: The Karate Kid, Little Giants and Happy Gilmore just to name a few. Is it right to tell young people they can be whatever they want to be? What are we doing when we tell a young man whose father stands 5’3 and mother is no more than 5’0 on a good day that he can be an offensive lineman in the NFL? What are we telling a young man whose father is 7’0 and mother is 6’3 that he could be a horse jockey if he really wants to be one? Aren’t we setting these young people up for failure if we tell them to go against the very fabric of their nature?
Do we really want the upcoming generation to think they are destined for greatness and it will happen overnight? Furthermore, do we really think successful careers will lead to ultimate happiness? If so, why is depression, drug use, and suicide so prevalent in Hollywood among some of the most successful people in the world? Could it be that being successful doesn’t lead to ultimate happiness? Is it possible that we were designed and created for a deeper purpose?
A Deeper Purpose
Psalm 139:13 says God “created my inmost being…and knit me together in my mother’s womb.” The Christian teaching on this: God was very involved in designing each human being. He is compared to a knitter who will carefully plan their creation, design it and form it delicately by hand. The goal is to create something for a very specific purpose. That’s what God goes on to say in the New Testament as well. In Romans 12 it says we have all been designed with different gifts and purposes. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:6-8)
God clearly designed us each uniquely and with an intended purpose. When we try to be something for which we weren’t designed we are not only going against the fabric of our nature, but also against the designer’s intended purpose. It is foolish to go against our design. When I was younger I often liked helping my dad with projects around the house. That included car maintenance projects. I distinctly remember having a number of different tools which all served different purposes. If a screwdriver one day said to me, “I want to be a hammer. Start using me to hammer nails in,” I would first off be surprised that the screwdriver was speaking to me. After that initial shock, I would deny it what it wants. If I began to use the screwdriver as a hammer that tool would soon be ruined. It would be going against it’s design.
Not only is it dangerous for the tool to go against its design, it is also much more freeing to do what you were designed to do. I am reminded of an episode from the TV show Scrubs where the main character takes a fish out of the stream, tosses it onto dry land and says, “You’re free.” Despite the fact that it might seem freeing to take a fish out of the confines of a stream, it is actually not freeing at all. It is going to lead to death. Despite what we might think, we are most free when we stick to the confines of our design (see the cover article of our July 2016 Newsletter for more on this). 
Some might say, “If we don’t tell young people they can be whatever they want then they won’t dream big at all”. To that I would argue quite to the contrary. As some of the opening stats show, the overwhelming focus on self is only a recent historical phenomenon. But before this shift think of all the people who have dreamed big
and accomplished great things. The list is too great to even begin!
The Biblical teaching motivates us to great things. God designed us and knew we are all capable of great things simply by living according to our design. A famous quote often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, although it is really in a memoir of Laurence Hutton recalling a meeting with William Makepeace Thackeray, sticks with me. “Whatever you are, try to be a good one.” Notice the focus. It’s not on what you want to be, but on what you are, what you were designed to be. This quote is far closer to the Biblical teaching on vocation. God has made us. We are who we are. And we will be most free when we do our best at what we were designed to be. That’s what we should be encouraging our young people these days. We should encourage them to find what they are good at first and foremost. What gifts has God given them? And after they have done that, then we can encourage them to dream big about those specific talents. Not only is this according to the design our creator intended, but it is also the most liberating path to take.

Plugging into the Machine

The Experience Machine
In his 1974 book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick put forward an interesting thought experiment. Imagine there were a machine you could plug into and it would give you any experience you wanted. You could choose to experience winning an NFL championship, space travel, falling in love, or any other item that may be on your “bucket list”. The machine would stimulate the neurons in your brain so you would feel exactly what it would be like to do any of those things. In reality, you wouldn’t be doing any of those things. You would be unconsciously attached to a machine with wires attached to your brain. Would you do it? Would you plug into the machine? If all that mattered were pleasure, then we all should plug into this machine and encourage everyone else to do so as well.
In this thought experiment, Robert Nozick “suggests that we shouldn’t plug into this “experience machine”. Why not? Because deep down we want more than just to FEEL, we want reality. And if this is true, that means hedonism doesn’t really work. Feeling pleasure and happiness are good things. They are created by God, after all. But they aren’t the only thing. Deep down we want and need MORE.
The Failure of Experience
We search for “MORE” in so many different places. One of the classic examples of this is King Solomon. In the book of Ecclesiastes he explains how he pursued everything under the sun.
4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them…8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well —the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. (Ecclesiastes 2:4-5,8-9)
Solomon had everything the world could offer. He experienced everything he could imagine. He was truly “plugged into the experience machine”. And yet he concludes, “11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun…17 So I hated life.”
It’s been about 3000 years since Solomon wrote these words. In all, we have come a long way since then. One would think we’d have learned a lot more about happiness. Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Samuel Beckett, wrote a rather short play in the mid 1900’s called Breath. The play begins with the sound of a baby being born. The theater lights up for about 30 seconds only to reveal a stage full of garbage. The audience then hears the gasping sound of a person dying and the stage goes dark. The end. What’s it all mean? Life is short and meaningless. Our lives only amount to a pile of garbage. Doesn’t that sound like the same conclusion to which Solomon came 3000 years ago? What have we learned over these 3 millennia of existence?
It wasn’t more than just a few years ago that there was a commercial that seems to have discovered the answer to lasting happiness. In the commercial a baby is born. For the next 20 seconds the commercial depicted that baby growing up, getting old, and finally crashing down into a grave. Then the ad came: “Life is short. Play more Xbox.” Finally, we have an experience that gives us lasting happiness! If only Solomon had the little black box called Xbox he would never have fallen into such despair. If only the Xbox were invented 60 years ago Samuel Beckett would never have written such a depressing play, right? The Xbox is just another machine. It isn’t what our souls need.
More Than Experience
As America slowly becomes less religious, it seems like the growing belief is that religion isn’t needed to be happy. True enough. That’s not primarily what Christianity offers. That’s not what Jesus, the Son of God, came to give. C.S. Lewis, an Atheist turned Christian, understood that well. “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” Christianity doesn’t offer us happiness. It offers what our soul desperately is looking for and needs. Truth and reality.
Especially in America we aren’t suffering from an experience problem. We have every experience under the sun. After all, it is the land of opportunity. No, it’s not an experience problem. It’s a heart problem. We think plugging into the the Xbox machine, the relationship machine, the success machine, the money machine or any other machine will make our hearts content. That’s not how we were designed. That’s not the purpose for which God has made us. As Augustine puts it, “my soul is restless until it finds rest in you.” God made us for him. And only until we find our hearts contentment in him do we stop searching for our own perfect “experience machine”.
That happens when you see how God came for you. It’s not just enough to be loved by God. We need to first be known by God. And God knows us. He knows how little we think of him at times. He knows we think Xboxes, relationships, success, and money can give us real happiness. He knows how twistedly selfish we are down to our very core. He knows us better than we know ourselves. If your family knew every thought that went through your head, how do you think they would respond? Do you think they would look at you the same? Treat you the same? Love you the same? God knows everything. He knows and his love for you doesn’t change.
Christmas is a wonderful reminder of just that. Christmas is the celebration of God enacting his plan of love. God becoming a human being is a powerful reminder of his love for you. He isn’t a God who keeps his distance. He isn’t an abstract impersonal force. He became one of us. He could have come as a spirit or a dog or a tree. But he came as a person to remind you that he came for you. He doesn’t just know us from a distance, he loves us up close.
All You’ve Ever Wanted
This Christmas don’t fall into the trap that so many advertisers try to make you believe. If you only plug into the “[fill in the blank] machine” then you’ll be happy. Then you’ll have all you’ve ever wanted. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking God is just another machine there to give you what you want. Don’t fall in love with or be in love with the IDEA of God. Love GOD. Look to him and see that he is your God. Look to the manger and see he came for you. Look to his life and see how he didn’t spend his time trying to “plug into the experience machine”. Look to the cross and see how He lived a life full of trouble and practically sought it out. He sought it out because what he wanted more than anything else in the world was you. Could it be that deep down all your soul has ever wanted was Him?