When Atlas Shrugs
“There is a Way of Life that seems correct to Man, But the end result of it is Death.”
~ Proverbs 14:12 ~
In the early 20th century English poet William Ernest Hensley wrote the now famous poem Invictus. In the poem, the narrator describes their inner strength and resolve to face and overcome all obstacles. Looking both death and God in the face the narrator declares the superiority of their freedom over His sovereignty, regardless of the cost.[i]
The poem reads with raw power and fierce determination. The narrator is the hero of his own story, the one on whose shoulders his world rests. It is everything that Post-modern society embraces as the essence of existential self-actualization.
The problem is we are not capable of being the hero of our own lives. The proof is all around us. Our shoulders are not broad enough and our backs are not strong enough to bear the weight of reality as it is.
This is why all of our heroes eventually become morally ambiguous. Like the Ancient Greeks and Romans, we have fashioned gods that reflect our own virtues and vices in a semi-conscious attempt to justify our own egregious failure to be the Savior we have declared ourselves to be. For all of our clamoring about personal liberty, we remain unable to actually find the freedom we so desperately desire.
This, in a nutshell, is the problem facing post-modern Man. Either live in a world that breaks us indiscriminately. Or live in an ultra-virtual world where reality is regarded as a choice, intimacy is relocated to sex, the pain of life is numbed and we all play superhero-dress up complete with the now accepted complementary moral ambiguity.
In the end, the Choice is ours… But so are the consequences.
Of Cause & Effect
“Do not deceive yourself, ELOHIYM will not be shamed; for whatever a man sows, he also reaps.”
~ Galatians 6:7 ~
Every cause has an effect, and no effect exists without a cause. This one constant in an ever-changing world is found in every philosophy and every religion. It lies at the heart of scientific inquiry. It is the cry of the heart of every person who has ever sought for justice.
A faith in the veracity of this proposition seems to be interwoven into the very fabric of mankind’s psyche. It is always there, always reminding us of the frailty of humanity; of our inability to evade the consequences of our choices.
As GK Chesterton pointed out so eloquently in his book Orthodoxy, all decisions to embrace one thing involve by their very nature a rejection of the alternative.[ii]
As a pastor and a teacher, and even more so as a husband and father; I have seen this reality play itself out in both exhilarating and exasperating ways.
And yet, the fact that choices have consequences can be almost a trite turn of phrase; one to which, I fear, we have grown too accustomed. So much so that that often we forget that every choice we make has effects both in the immediate and in the future.
For just as Adam and Eve did not physically die the moment Adam ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3), so often we dismiss the dangerous consequences of our choices because they are “out there” somewhere. And we assume that if the consequences aren’t immediate, then they aren’t worth worrying about.
So we revel in our present momentary pleasures, trying to forget our Human frailty and disparaging of the thought of long-range consequence; let alone the eternal weight of our actions.
And yet we cannot long neglect these things. Eventually. Unavoidably. Crisis comes and we find ourselves left without defense against a most merciless adversary. It is here, in the valley of the shadow, that we begin to question why…
Why we had to have one more drink? Why we couldn’t have just turned the computer off? Why we couldn’t have listened more and accused less? Why we fought so hard for things that didn’t matter and gave up so easily on what did? Why we wasted so much time?
We will never know on this side of eternity how many lives were ruined by the choices to throw away careers, passions, marriages, even children; all for the sake of the ever elusive rewards of possessions, lust and the conveniences which so often masquerade themselves as freedom and security.
The sovereign Maker-King is our covenant God and He created us for more than this. He is THE CAUSE without a Cause, the One who existed before all of this and who set all things in motion according to the working of His divine providence, that we might have Life in Him.[iii]
Of God & Men
“Empty, wasted breath; Everything is meaningless…”
~ Ecclesiastes 1:2 ~
According to the bible, no one in all of human history was better acquainted with these things than King Solomon. The final book attributed to his scholarship is that of Ecclesiastes; a book which one of my brothers once described as having a distinctive tone of Eastern Mysticism to it due to its assessment that when all is said and done everything in life, in and of itself, is empty and pointless and worthless.
Ecclesiastes can unsettle you. It is somewhat dark and morose even by biblical standards. However when you consider that the scripture calls Solomon the wisest man in history; that for this reason he had everything anyone could ever think to want to have; and yet he found that all of it left him miserable; at that point one should sit up and pay attention (1 Kings 4:29-34).
Most of us go through life thinking that maybe we just need what my mentor John Garner used to call the It. Now the It is different for everyone, but whatever the It is we will seek it out till we get the It. Unfortunately, once we have the It we always find that It is not the It we had thought It would be. And so we run after the next It.
But Solomon had exhausted all the options, for him, there was no next thing… No more alternatives. No more options. No It.
In the end, he looked back. And when he did he found that in the final evaluation he regretted every choice that he had ever made. He found no delight in all the things he had desired. Everything he had strived for was empty. Even the momentary pleasures he had experienced, caused him pain in the scope of the whole.
This, of course, is not even remotely what God intended or desires for us. As He told His People through the prophet Jeremiah. God’s plan is to provide good things, to prosper and to give hope (Jeremiah 29:11). For He who did not withhold His own Son, will not withhold any good thing from those whom He has redeemed (Romans 8:31-39).
While the promise to be returned to the land is intended specifically for the People of Israel, the spirit of Jeremiah 29:11 – that God blesses those He is in Covenant with – applies to His People throughout all the Nations (Galatians 3:8-9).
Of Congruence & Freedom
“Walk in the Light, as He is in the Light…”
~ 1 John 1:7 ~
Solomon’s experience was the opposite of the divine intent, the direct result of not living in accordance with those eternal principles which God established at the beginning. In fact, it is this incongruence which lies at the heart of the human tendency to pursue those momentary pleasures that ultimately brings us pain and despair.
Yeshua engaged this idea through a parable recorded in Luke 16:1-16.
In this particular parable a slick steward, when threatened with the loss of his job, forgives the debts owed to his master so as to win the friendship of the people in hopes that they would show kindness to him after he was fired. Yeshua commends the steward’s shrewdness – though not his dishonesty – saying that the children of this present age are wiser in this present age then the Children of Light are. The key is that the unrighteous steward made choices that were congruent with what he believed; which is to say that he believed that if his life was to be successful, he had to make it happen.
The lesson for the People of God is that we are to live congruently with the Truth of God; which is to say that if our lives are to be successful according to God’s expectations then we must live according to His principles. The Children of Light live unwisely when they live as the children of this present age do, out of sync with God’s principles.
We who have been brought into Covenant with the sovereign Maker-King must walk worthy of the calling with which we’ve been called; living a balanced life that holds in tension the realities of Heaven and Earth, without doing violence to either.[iv]
It is only when we do this that we can find freedom in the embrace of the eternal.
THOUGHTS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
In what ways can you identify with the Greek myth of Atlas, punished by the gods and forced to carry the weight of the universe on his shoulders, trapped by the circumstances of your life?
- What is the IT that you are currently pursuing that is actually keeping you from being able to experience the freedom God created you for?
- Since frustration and failure are the results of a Way of Life that is incongruent with the Truth, what are you willing to do to experience the true freedom God created you for? Perhaps more importantly, what are you unwilling to do?
[i] William H. Roetzhiem (2006). The Giant Book of Poetry. Jamul, CA: Level Four Press.
[ii] G. K. Chesterton (2001). Orthodoxy. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook.
[iii] J.P. Moreland & William Lane Craig (2003). Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
[iv] Worthy (1990). The New Analytical Greek Lexicon of the New Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.