Driving to work one day, a commercial on the radio offered the compelling thought of “recess time” for adults. Immediately, memories of school came to my mind: the daily struggles of learning and discipline, math and reading, tests and exercises. “Was the strain of school any different from the chores and deadlines that bombard you today,” the advertiser seemed to ask effectively. “And yet, the refreshing reward of afternoon free time and recess: Where has that gone?” In fact, the commercial’s invitation was to a steakhouse that promised the delight of recess for those craving a break, though it certainly prompted the thoughts of much more. The nostalgic use of my own memory was powerfully utilized to urge me not to miss out on life itself, via missing out on recess, store-bought relaxation, and steak.
The world of advertising continues to woo us with packaged worldviews and lifestyles, and this time of year the packaging is particularly eye-catching. We are led to believe that if we buy this product, experience this item, or go to this place in this vehicle, then, and maybe only then, we will really live into this new year.
I do not doubt that there are people who would claim to be satisfied by the pursuit of materialism as a way of life. Nonetheless, we have an abundance of evidence clearly stating the futility of pursuing these ends. If we are purely material beings with our lives confined to the years we have on earth, then perhaps living for pleasure might be a legitimate goal. Yet it seems that the human spirit cannot be reduced to mere matter. Such a contrast is seen in the movie Chariots of Fire when the vision of life modeled by Harold Abrams—who lives for success in this world alone—is set in sharp relief by Eric Liddel, who runs for the glory of God and in running feels God’s delight. In our best moments, we often recognize that we are somehow destined for higher, greater, more enduring things.
The story of Christianity makes plain this enduring identity. The coming of Jesus as an infant among us is a story that invites intimacy and purpose, setting before us the conditions and challenges to having a true life under the guidance of the living God. One writer speaks of the story of God coming near as the “sacred romance”; it is a love story, in which humanity is pursued by the passionate love of God. But as in all good love stories, the sub-plot introduces the problem of other loves and other lovers.
Sadly, this sub-plot continues to be mistaken for the main story. We exchange the more lasting qualities of life for limited objects and temporal pleasures; we buy well-packaged, but empty, promises. Even discovering repeatedly that we are let down, we choose to romance stones. Hundreds of years ago the prophet Hosea described a similar people who ate but never had enough, who drank but never had their fill, and who prayed to gods who could not save. “They have deserted the LORD to give themselves to prostitution, to old wine and new, which take away the understanding of my people. They consult a wooden idol and are answered by a stick of wood. A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God.”(1) A people following after false loves are lost and foolish, and we are often both.
Yet a finite love can never touch our souls. An object that had to be created itself will never be able to reach beyond creation with hope or meaning. If we have been made by God and for God, and if knowing and following God is the essence of life, then any other kind of life is a departure from our original design and thus, by definition, can never fully satisfy us. The story of God becoming one of us and coming near reminds us that we are meant to flourish and function as human beings in the context of a love story, in the participatory framework of a life with God through Jesus Christ. “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart… Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.”(2) Even now, in this new year, he who became flesh that life could dwell among us seeks your will, your heart, your all.
Stuart McAllister is global support specialist at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Hosea 4:10-12.
(2) Joel 2:13-14.