Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vanity

This week's eNews is the first chapter of what I hope is a very worthwhile book. It begins with the same first line as Rick Warren's international best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life: “Life is not about you.”

It's a great beginning. It's true. The problem with The Purpose Driven Life is that, so far as the rest of the book is concerned, it's a lie. A purpose-driven life, as defined by Warren, is actually all about you. To be fair, he insists that you get God involved in the matter. But that, of course, is something you must do.



But life is not about you. This is the Gospel Truth. Together we're setting on a journey through what that really means, so far as the Bible is concerned. It's a relevant thing to believe. And it's quite freeing. I hope you enjoy.


---



Life is not about you. It's true. But if you are anything like me, then chances are you spend most of your time wishing it was. That is why you get angry whenever things don't seem fair, when they don't quite go your. When things happen against you will, it frustrates you. From all that we can see and observe, this is just what it means to be human. It is just in your nature to desire life to be about you. You want to be catered to. You want respect. You want things to go the way that you think they should. The problem, the cog in the gears, is that life is not about you.



But knowing that life is not about you doesn't seem to help. You keep trying to live as if it is, and this amounts to the greatest source of stress, frustration and despair in your life. Your dreams, your goals, your decisions and choices, every moment of your day is pursued by you and for you. But since life is not about you, it never quite works out. The meaning you chase can't be caught and put in a bottle. The hopes you set forth are built on the sinking sands of time. It's a trap and a foregone conclusion. You are more or less cursed to spend your entire life insisting that life is about you in the face of the hard reality that it is not. You keep looking for meaning in what you think and say and do. But the meaning of life is simply not there.



What About Me



Imagine trying to read the latest best-seller fiction novel by starting at the center of the book. After a few chapters you could no doubt figure out who the main characters are and what the plot is more or less about. But even if you finished the story, you will never really understand the book. You missed the beginning, the set up, the foundation. Life is the same way.



You can't understand life by starting in the middle. And you are in the middle. You are not the beginning and you were not at the beginning. Life didn't start with you. Not even your life started with you. You don't remember being in your mother's womb. Not only did real life, reality, started long before that conception, but it will also go on long after you retire to dust and the grave.



That is why questions like “Why am I here?” “What should I be doing?” and “How can I improve my life?” are not the way to find the meaning of life. They might give you a moment of reprieve here and there, an instant of inspiration, or a glimmer of fulfillment. But the answer to every one of those questions is all about you. For that reason, the answers can never be greater than yourself. The answers to these questions can never amount to anything more than vanity.



Although American culture lives and breaths and eats vanity for breakfast, the hard truth is that the definition of vanity is “meaninglessness.” Believing that the meaning of life is somewhere deep inside of you is a pretty depressing thing, when you think about it. One day you're going to die, taking all that meaning with you. Meanwhile, there's an entire cosmos out there that's going to keep going on, more or less ignoring that fact that you ever existed. If that bleak thought doesn't give you pause, nothing will. If meaninglessness is something your can get excited about before coffee in the morning, then you don't need to read this book.



But if you're tired of meaninglessness, then the answers start by recognizing your vanity for exactly what it is. Your life does have a purpose and that purpose is not about you. Real meaning goes far beyond you. Real stories start at the beginning.



Something Else



The beginning of the meaning of life is that there is a God, and you are not him.



Of course, there are plenty of haughty individuals who will dispute this claim. This book isn't for them either. This book is for the vast majority of you who believe there is a God, and life as if you were him (or her, as the case may be.)



But unlike you, the real God is both all-knowing and all-powerful. Not only is he the Creator of all things, but by his very creating he also gives meaning to what he has done. He is the source, and for that reason, he is also the purpose. The heavens and the earth and all that lives in them were fixed in their places by him and for his meaning. Stars, galaxies, sun, moon, oceans, mountains, rivers, valleys, beasts, flowers, insects, fish, air, land, light, darkness, morning, night – everything that is has been handmade by the God who is actually God. He is a craftsman, and he is more than a craftsman.



When a watchmaker makes a watch, he sets it in place and lets it go, hopefully never to see it again. But the God who is actually God does more than just make all things, he also sustains all things. He is the one who keeps the watchmaker's watch ticking long after it has been sold. In fantastic transcendence, the God who is actually God controls everything in the universe, from nations and kings and the vast movements of history, down to the mating of goats in the fields an the most personal decisions of your own free will. Every day of your life has been written about in his book. This does not make you a robot. This makes you a creature.



Most people would prefer it if God didn't have complete control over every last inch of the cosmos. The problem with such a god is that he wouldn't really be God then. If God is a God, then he is not mere god. He is God. He is immanent (right there with you) and transcendent (over and above all things.) This is to say that he is both omnipresent (everywhere at once) and omnipotent (holding all power. A God who is actually God is as far beyond our own understanding as your thoughts are beyond the mind of a rock.



Most people would prefer that it not be this way. We'd much rather have a god then a God. A benevolent fair-godmother is much more appealing than a despotic supreme Being. It's downright terrifying to even imagine that the only reason you crawled out of bed this morning to make that coffee is because God decided not to kill you in your sleep last night. In fact, right now, you are sitting there living and breathing completely against your own will. The universe which God made is forcing air into your lungs, no matter how many times you push it back out. You can try and hold your breath as long as you like, but you won't stop God from winning that battle. You might as well try to will your heart to stop beating.



Humans don't like God being God because that means that you don't belong to yourself. Life isn't about you, and this does not make you happy. Your life is not yours, and it never was. This seems, at first glance, to be a crippling, enslaving possibility. Strangely enough, the opposite is true, but we'll get to that. For the moment, its more important to realize that trying to live as if you were in control of your life is about as delusional as a wave thinking it is free from the pull of the moon. Spending your entire life chasing as slow, dying attempt to keep your life is as much a waste of time as not eating in order to not get hungry. It's like throwing an eighty-five year long tantrum. It doesn't change the fact that no matter where you run or what you think, God is God, and you are not.



If, mostly against your will, you can swallow this much, this alone is not the answer to everything. But it opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. First and foremost, if you are not God, then who is?



He Is



If you ask around, you will find that most people believe in some kind of god. They even use a captial “G.” But if you listen carefully and compare notes, you will find quite quickly that there are as many “Gods” on the market as there are people who say they believe in “Him” or “Her” or “It” or “Not.” From what people say, it looks as if there is a God, then he-she-it is a great chameleon, the all-living Jell-o spirit, perfectly capable of fitting into any mold that you might desire. But you will also find the compelling irony that who people believe they have discovered their God or Goddess or Ungod to be almost always is a very near reflection of themselves.



My God would never say that,” they might say. Or, “I believe God is like this,” they opine. But all of these many gods are, by definition, not God. They simply can't be. They are more like carved images of wood, created with the hands, in order to represent what we want to worship and what we want to see happen in our lives. They are gods that say more about what you want truth to be than what might actually be true. They are opinions. And the problem with gods that are only opinions is that they are not very useful Gods at all. They are just figments of your imagination, counterfeit deities, gods who are so utterly weak that “he” must cease to even be “himself” whenever you decide its time for a change.



There is an old, horrible joke about “where a gorilla sits at a party.” The groaner answer is, “where it wants to.” The God who is actually a God is much bigger than a gorilla. Rather than sitting politely in whatever view of him you feel up to espousing today, he is much more likely to reach a mighty hand out of heaven and twist you into the shape he wants you to be. You get no say at all in how he is defined. You can set no limits on what he is or can be. He is the way things are. His voice is the power to make it so. He crafter the universe for his own pleasure, and he has total claim on the governing of your life, because God is God, absolutely. And it is one of his job descriptions that he gets to define you.



Good News



Admittedly, it is a pretty bleak picture to realize that you can't know anything about God on your own. You might be able to observe nature and order in the world, and put together some kind of idea about one of those gods out there, and that god might even be good, an intelligent designer and the life. But this kind of god would still be limited to you, trapped in your own perceptions and subjectivity, unable to be bigger than your own ideas. You might as well try to catch the wind in your hand.



The good news, the part that most people who believe in their many gods forget or ignore, is that the God who is bigger than you is also more than capable of letting you know who he is. You may not be able to discover the unknowable knowledge of the hidden God, but God can reveal himself to you. You can't find God, but God can find you. This is the meaning of the word revelation. Revelation is what happens when the God who is actually God decides to give meaning to life.



When the God who is God decides to let you know who he is, there is no contradicting it. It is not a mere personal experience or opinion any more than it can be ignored. When a pure Word of unchangeable Truth breaks into our reality out of God's heaven, it is more powerful than all of our time, space and contexts put together. It is no melding or amalgamation of philosophies and world religions. When the God who is God speaks, it is Word. It is Truth. It is his Voice. And while it is not so much about you, it is most definitely for you.



Only the Beginning



This is not a book about how you can fix your life. You can't. Whether you recognize it or not, any and every attempt on your part to create, chase or discover meaning will bring you only to the feet of your own vanity. Don't feel to bad about it. We've all been there. We all are there. Hopelessness. Despair. Meaninglessness. Spending all our time trying so hard to resurrect the dead vanity of our ambitions and desires. It's ugly, but it is not all that there is.



This book is about believing not only that God can fix your life, but that he already has. That's a big promise to make early on, but its the Gospel Truth. You will never find the meaning of life on your own, searching through the dirty rags of your own life, but God will give it to you for free. This is the promise of the revelation he has made through the man Jesus Christ. There is a light shining in the darkness of this world, and despite all our attempts, the darkness has not overcome it.



Life is not about you. You can't imagine how much this opens up the possibilities. You don't have to! That's the whole point.



Inwardly Digesting


(Each chapter in this book contains a tool to help you read, mark, hear and remember the truths of the Bible which we will be exploring. “The Meaning” is a catch-point the summarizes the point of what we just read. The “Verse” is a passage in the Bible that you might want to memorize to help you learn this Truth. And a “Prayer” is given for your use, that you might go to God in response to what he has revealed.)



The Meaning: There is a God, and you are not him.



Verse: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.”



Prayer: God, One and only Maker of heaven and earth, in your grace, give me a thirst for your revealed truth. Help me to accept and understand my own limitations, as well as the reality that I am not my own, but your creature. Teach me to worship you, and not the gods of my opinions. Be who you are to me, that I might believe in you. Let me see your purpose, your meaning, your life. I am in need. Be true to me. Be the God who really is God. Help me to find the freedom in knowing that I am not you. I ask this of your mercy and for Jesus' sake. Amen.

4 comments:

Xrysostom said...

So is Vanity your ongoing title or is it a chapter heading? I must say this this installment has engaged me.

keepn2it said...

Well this is more than engaging... I hope you continue on in the same course and post them before the book comes out (I can't wait) I have a young person of the "me" generation that needs to hear this now before he does something stupid and rejects GOD

RevFisk said...

Thanks for the comments! :D

No. "Vanity" is the title of "chapter 1." Chapter 2 "Entropy" should come out this week - I hope. (I made the somewhat frivolous decision to embark on this just as Advent is starting >.<)

Originally, I had titled the book "The Meaning of Life," but I really don't like that. It's too trite, although thematically it does capture what is going on. More recently, I jotted down "The Wisdom of Foolishness: Real Meaning, Biblical Purpose, Crucified Freedom, (Jesus), and Everything Else Your Pastor Doesn't Preach About Any More."

I'm still pretty uncertain on it. If you have ideas as we move through it, be sure and pipe up.

+pax Christi+

wrmyers said...

Great start! Looking forward to the rest of it. A slight editing suggestion. In para 7, change "and life as if you were him (or her, as the case may be.)" to "and live as if you were him (or her, as the case may be.)"

Pax,
Bob

  ©Template by Dicas Blogger.