Who Will Be Standing at the Door?
A few nights ago, while watching the news, I found myself muttering the same words story after story. “How can people think that way? What kind of values drive these attitudes? How can they see the world this way? I can’t even begin to conceive where these people are coming from.” We are all acutely aware that a nihilism – at best – or an outright narcissism is becoming our national religion. Watching the fruit of this unfettered selfishness playing itself out news story after news story, I struggle for some perspective that might help me make sense of a worldview that is so utterly foreign to mine.
That’s when an idea came to me. Perhaps I should try an experiment. Perhaps a place to start would be to imagine myself seeing the world from their viewpoint. Would it be possible to adopt their perspective long enough to gain a little insight into their perspective? The idea intrigued me, the challenge was there, so I took it on.
I started with the premise that there is no God. Of course, this is such a radical departure for any of us that it’s almost impossible for a first step. But try to imagine for a moment looking at the world as though this really was all there is. Our world is a cosmic accident spewed out of the big bang, and for some reason our tiny little hot rock spawned life that has developed into humanity. That means that life on this earth has no greater purpose than survival. From there I asked myself what brings life meaning? Where do I find purpose in all of this? The answer seems simple, purpose in life comes from whatever will make me happy. My own personal happiness was all I had to hold onto. After all, if life has no greater purpose or meaning, and my own life is filled with unhappiness and sorrow, what’s the use of living?
From this affirmation a worldview began to emerge. I am an individual carbon form living totally by chance on a small rock flying through space. I have no greater purpose than to do all I can to ensure my own happiness. OK, that was a good start. The next logical question is, ‘what would make me happy’? Well, being able to control my life, to ensure that the factors that lead to happiness are abundant and things that steal my happiness are kept at bay. Suddenly I began to see all of life in this dualistic battle, clinging to agents of happiness, and defending myself against anything that would come against it.
The next step was to ask about things that I am entitled to. What are my rights? What do I deserve? What are things that I am owed as a human being on this rock? Certainly, if I’m going to gain all the happiness possible, I need to take advantage of every entitlement, defend every right, and ensure that I get the full measure of what I deserve. I could feel my back stiffen. How dare anyone deny me of an entitlement, challenge my rights or take from me what I deserve.
When I started with looking at everything in life that would bring me happiness and naming the things that could stand in the way of experiencing it, amazingly all of life began to fit into these two categories. It was clear that everything depended on my freedom. In fact, only complete unbridled and unchallenged freedom would give me the opportunity to build for myself a life filled with everything that would bring me happiness. My goal, then, was to stand in defiance against everything else and everyone else.
What about people? The relationships in my life either served as agents toward my own happiness or became threats to it. The government either gives me everything I deserve, or it needs to be changed. Family, friends, work colleagues and people on social media either support my choices or they are offensive and must be cut out of my life. And there must be no limitation on my pursuit of happiness.
From here, my ownership mindset was given full reign. Everything in my life around me is mine. I must claim it for myself, hold onto it, and defend it if I am to benefit from it. My life is mine, my body is mine, my gender is mine, every expression of how I want to live out my life is mine, my choices are mine, and my beliefs are mine. Only by being able to live as the supreme owner of everything in my life do I have any chance of attaining the happiness I so desperately need.
And then a new thought began to dawn on me; how heinous my foes looked. How dare anyone claim that I am mistaken in my viewpoint. How dare anyone tell me how I am to live, what decisions I am to make, or point to a truth greater than the pursuit of my own well-being. Even worse, how dare anyone challenge my absolute ownership. I will do with my body what I like, it belongs to me. I will do with my children what I like, they are mine. I will believe what I want to believe, follow who I want to follow, hate who I want to hate, all in the unequivocal pursuit of protecting what I own.
The further down this path I went the more those people on the various news stories began to make sense. If I truly held this worldview, I must admit, I would likely be standing with them, shouting similar phrases, demanding similar rights, and hating those who would dare to question or challenge me.
And then a last cold reality hit me. Christians, followers of Jesus, must be seen by those who hold this worldview as the epitome of the intolerance and threat that stands between them and their own self-centered pursuit of happiness. And that was me. As an evangelical Christian, I am the embodiment of everything they hate. By believing in God, I challenge the entire ownership structure that sustains them. By believing in sin, I steal from them their justification for so much of what they do. By believing we must be saved by grace I am anathema to their visions of self-salvation. No wonder Jesus said that he was a stumbling block to those who don’t believe, foolishness and a threat to those who follow the way of self.
But then another thought lit for me a path of hope. Surely at some point, this narcissistic worldview must begin to fall apart. Surely people on this path must come to themselves and face the stark realization that the happiness they seek will never be found. It’s a cruel myth. They’ve made a deal with the devil without even believing in him. The more they pursue, the harder they try, the angrier they get. The more they defend their rights, the more they grasp at entitlements, the more they play out the absolute ownership mindset they have adopted, the sooner they are brought to the end of themselves and realize the entire thing is a fraud.
And that thought took me back to a fascinating movie from 1998. If you remember The Truman Show, it was a story about a television producer with a god complex who created a sound stage so large you could see it from space. In it he created an entire world completely controlled from beginning to end with actors perfectly directed to create an imaginary environment for one individual, Truman Burbank. From birth to adulthood TV viewers watched Truman grow up in his sanitary, fake world. His entire worldview was shaped by the counterfeit images around him, and he was led to believe the world was a happy place. Everything was perfect in his world, because it was manufactured, and it was fake.
Near the end of the movie, he begins to figure out that he’s caught in a great deception. Fighting against his pseudo-divine director, he gets in a boat and sails out to sea. He survives a fierce storm and determines to venture on until finally, after intense dialogue with the director, he’s allowed to sail on and find his destiny. The final scene is stunning. The mast of his boat suddenly comes to the edge of the soundstage and bumps into the wall. What looked like clouds on the horizon was simply a well painted set. Next to where he struck the wall, there is a small set of steps leading up to a door. It was his way out, his opportunity to leave the world of delusion and go outside to see what the real world is really like. He climbs up the stairs and as he stands and opens the door he ponders if a life outside will really be better than what he was leaving.
I think about those who hold so tenaciously to this warped worldview of self-centeredness, godlessness, and a relentless pursuit of a happiness they’ll never find. I believe that every one of them, all those screaming people on television, all the God haters, all of them will have their day when the mast of their boat will hit the wall. They’ll come to the realization that it’s all fake, it’s not real, they’ve been deceived, and the happiness they pursued is an evil illusion.
Hopefully many will see the stairs and the door. As they climb those stairs and begin to wonder if there’s something else, something greater than the emptiness of the narcissistic life, I wonder who will be waiting for them at the door? If it is the door of a church, it pains me to think that there are some churches whose greeting might actually rob them their last chance for hope. I can imagine some who would stand at the door and speak sin and shame into their life, telling them they’re not worthy to come through the door because of all that they have done. They will send them back to float around in their little boat until they can be judged worthy. And then I wonder about those churches who would tell them that there’s really nothing all that much greater on the other side of the door. Instead, all they need to do is be true to themselves, love one another, try to be good, because that’s really all that life is about. Jesus was a good man who showed us to live a good life, and if they can do that, they should be just fine in their little boat, for the church has no transformational message for them.
The thought of either of these two churches standing at the door brings me great sadness. Yet I wonder about us. As those who believe we are stewards called by God to share the good news of his gospel with everyone, I wonder if we will be ready at the door? Will we be prepared to give them a word of hope, and point them to the true life God has for them that can only be found through the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. Will we offer them the chance to escape their bondage to self-gratification. Will we introduce them to Jesus, in whom they will find freedom from those chains and truly walk through the door ready to embrace what Jesus called life in all his fullness?
I have no doubt that in our lifetime tens of millions of people who today are screaming for their rights, claiming their bodies are their own, championing the right to glorify their sin, and living the deception of this godless worldview, will all have their day at that wall. All of them will have that moment when they realize there’s nothing more in this world, and all this left is either delusion or despair. When they look for that door who will they find waiting for them? Who will introduce them to the God who loves them, who died for them, who gave his life for them, and who has for them the life they were created to live?
I pray that the true followers of Jesus will be at the door, and we will see a revival like never before.
Are you ready to stand at the door?