There are a lot of really smart people in this world. Very smart and very creative. Just think of all the movies, music, stories, shows, and books that have come out of the minds of these smart, talented people. I was thinking the other day about the sheer variety and quality of the many things one can do with one’s time in 2019 — and I thought that maybe all this variety should give us pause.
In our own worlds
Some of the things I notice — and dislike — about myself have to do with these good things that are so available. I like for people to “like” and re-tweet my pithy comments and links on Twitter. I like to check the University of Alabama football recruiting website and find that a 5-star quarterback has committed to play for the Tide. I like articles on news sites that tell me I am right on any particular issue. I like binge-watching wonderful shows about monsters and 1980s music. I like to click something and watch something unfold exactly the way I want it to unfold. That is to say, I like creating and living in my own world. Scientists tell us these sorts of experiences create dopamine surges in our brains that give us pleasure, so it is no wonder I come back to these things so often.
Why do I dislike this about myself? Perhaps I have told you this particular story. When my oldest son was just a toddler, I had subscriptions to a couple of Alabama recruiting websites. It was close to National Signing Day and kids were committing to schools. I was riveted. As I clicked “refresh” on one of the sites, I looked down and saw my son playing by himself with some of his toys. The words of Harry Chapin hurtled back from the 1970s to my ear, “The cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon…”
The Real World: It’s Hard
Ugh. Why was I on my computer worried about kids I’ll never know when my own kid would have loved to play with his dad? I’ll tell you why: real-life relationships are tough. They are hard. Sometimes they are boring. Sometimes they are infuriating. Sometimes they are painful. Sometimes tragic. Sometimes people you love seem bent on self-destruction. Relationships require constant upkeep and work — sometimes that work is not reciprocated. And, when relationships die and end, a part of you dies and ends as well. Real life is definitely not the world I created. Real life does not unfold the way I want it to unfold. In real life, the shots of dopamine are few and far between.
So why would I not take the path to my own world? All those wonderful, smart, creative people have made it so easy. Why would I not want escape rather than vulnerability? That’s the real question. Why would anyone choose real relationships in an uncertain world over worlds of their own that they control? You might think that I saw the error of my ways and reformed myself and that I can now present to you the new, changed David. Wrong. Ask my wife and family. A world of my own creation is often more than I can resist.
The Hope of the Gospel
Here’s the thing about the Gospel, though: it is not a way for good people to get better. It is not an ethical process or a way of personal enlightenment. It is good news from outside that you hear and receive. Good news of forgiveness for people like me.
Jesus Christ actually had a world of His own — a world in which He was Lord. He gave it up to take on flesh here on Earth. I have a coffee table book in my office titled, He Was One Of Us. Think about what that means for a second. All of the things I mentioned before — loneliness, hardship, obtuseness, love, compassion, impasse, forgiveness — He gave up His own world to experience them. He then lost His life: people plotted against Him, mocked Him, betrayed Him, denied Him, and crucified Him. God’s love for us is such that He went through all of that in order to bring us home to Him.
In my own experience, sometimes I (by the indwelling Spirit) remember and come out of my tendency to escape. He shows me my tendencies and reminds me that I am deeply loved even in those tendencies. He shows me I am provided for, forgiven, justified, and adopted. He causes me to engage in the great project of love with all of its risks and vulnerabilities. And, He shows me what I so often forget: the real world with all its danger and His sublime love. He gives me what I need to love well.
And then, as I have done so many times before, I return to my own world — until, once again, He calls me back out into His world.
— David Browder