Our lives should be getting better.
Considering the insatiable march of science and technology offering us ever more conveniences, time saving devices and life lengthening strategies, we have every reason to be the most productive and satisfied generation since the beginning of time.
But arguably, we most definitely are not.
Yes, we continue to find faster ways to do everything, but at break neck speed we discover our quality of life rapidly deteriorating. For sure, life has sped up. We can accomplish more today than anyone who has ever breathed air on this planet. For millions of people who lived before us, the smallest measurable increment of time was some portion of an hour. Now we can dissect our lives into milliseconds. But managing those milliseconds becomes increasing complex in our modern society. Faced with more options than anyone who has lived before, we are living life at a pace that defies any degree of sanity.
We are frantic.
We are frantically living life in pursuit of a good life. Many of us are truly pursuing all that God has for us. Well, that and maybe a little bit more. Unfortunately, this frenetic pace rarely produces the satisfaction we are expecting. In an ironic twist of fate, all our efforts at finding fulfillment often end up producing a mediocre, frustratingly flat existence.
We find ourselves frantically living a flat life.
A flat existence void of much that God intended us to enjoy and experience. A flat subsistence lacking the extreme elements of life that ultimately refine us; sharpening senses, developing character, increasing wisdom, and completing the work God has begun in us.
It is not just the pace of life that robs us. We are busy dodging the highs and lows of the human experience. And in the process we arrive at some dull degree of mediocrity.
God is a God of extremes. Yet we shy away from them at every turn. We predictably protect our selves from pain, conflict, aging, and anything that we find uncomfortable in the moment. We dream up elaborate methods of escaping discomfort.
And why not? If we have the ability to avoid a pothole, why plow through it? If we can exchange the ugliness of the world for beauty, why wouldn’t we? If we can distance ourselves from the consequences of evil, most of us will try. But here is the sad part.
Many of our pain-saving strategies backfire.
They diminish our ability to experience the other end of the pendulum. As we over medicate ourselves out of life-pain, we also lose the capacity to appreciate the fullness of joy God created for us. By carefully avoiding all extremes of relationships, consequences, decisions, and experiences, we aim solidly for and actually achieve a middle-of-the-road, mediocre subsistence. Oh, we tell ourselves this is the good life. Look at all we have. Look at everything we protect ourselves from. Look what we have accomplished. But what is missing in the process?
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Jesus came to give us life and to give it abundantly. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a study in narcissism. We definitely have a mission: “to go into all the world making disciples,” but Jesus intended us to execute those orders with abundant lives. Not abundance evidenced by the accumulation of resources, but evidenced by a wealth of experience producing a full, complete, and mature life.
For some the obvious strategy for a full life is simplicity.
Do less. Use less. Consume less. Accumulate less. Reject most modern developments.
But the answer is more complicated than simplicity. Certainly, it is one piece of the pie and might slow us down long enough to drink some coffee and smell some roses. But simple subtraction is not enough.
Living a full life requires making hard decisions.
Living a full life entails leaning into pain rather than away from it.
Living a full life involves facing significant endings that might force us to participate in another’s pain.
Jesus never shied away from the tough choices in life. He didn’t live a full life by simply eliminating a mortgage and car payment. In some ways, his lifestyle was decidedly extravagant: attending parties with the wealthy and the wicked, drinking and creating fine wine, and wearing covetable undergarments.
It is intriguing to wonder how Jesus would navigate our current society. Where would his lifestyle fit on the spectrum of simplistic to complicated living? Would he be on social media? Would he text? Would he battle road rage? Would he actively build his 401K? Would he frantically haul children to one ball game after another? Would he eat out? Would he be a gym rat? Not that any of our activities are inherently evil, but for many of us, the sum total of them provides a rather flat life. And the disappointment of every rung of the ladder we climb leads us to reach for another.
We reach for more because we inherently suspect there is more.
We sense we have missed something along the way. We wish we had the zest for life that someone else seems to have. We would like to relax with deep satisfaction at the end of a day, not weary from frenetic activity, worried about the future, or hopeless about our situation.
King Solomon was sorely aware of this tension. Of all historical kings, he reigned supreme in his era. No one matched his intellect, wealth, achievements, harem or social standing. But with access to absolutely anything his heart desired, he notably bumped up against the barriers of human contentment.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, he records what has been deemed a rather cynical view of life. Solomon had clearly been around the block a few times. He knew what it meant to achieve, to buy, and to use. But ultimately, the stuff of earth had run its course.
In the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon takes his well-won wisdom and launches into a list of poignant life contrasts. More than just an incredibly poetic piece of wisdom literature, this series of couplets are incredibly instructive for living the full and abundant life Jesus would call us to live. Through them we are faced with the extreme experiences of life that will undoubtedly touch us all.
By courageously engaging them without fear we allow God to complete that good work he has begun in us.
… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.