It has now been acknowledged that the coronavirus can effect our sense of taste and smell, but it should also be recognised that it can effect our sense of perspective too, causing us to pay far too much attention to things that are not of sufficient importance to warrant it. Not that that is anything new.
In the preface to his book critiquing the effect of television on our culture, Neil Postman compares the concerns of George Orwell in ‘1984’ with those of Aldous Huxley in ‘Brave New World’. He writes:
‘What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture’
What is particularly astonishing is the fact that Postman’s book was written in 1985, long before the exponential rise in the number of TV channels and the dawn of Facebook and Twitter which together have only served to confirm Postman’s view that Huxley, not Orwell, was right. It is not religion, as Marx asserted in 1843, that has become the opium of the masses but rather it is entertainment that numbs us to what is real and valuable. It was for good reason that Postman’s book was entitled, ‘Amusing ourselves to Death’.
The truth is that we will all die as a consequence of our sin. The world seeks to distract us from that fact by filling our minds with things of negligible value compared to the infinite worth of a God who can save us from the very thing we long to forget.
A week does not go by without some new ‘must see’ televisual feast being presented before us to distract and lift us from our otherwise supposedly tedious lives. Of course there is, for example, nothing inherently wrong about watching the endeavours of a dozen amateur cooks but does ‘The Great British Bake Off’ really warrant the attention it generates in our newspapers each year when a new series begins. Thoroughly enjoyable though it is, our lives would not be so very diminished if we never saw another disappointing signature bake, another plucky attempt at a technical challenge, or another triumphant showstopper.
To be entertained is in danger of becoming our ‘raison d’ete‘. To simply be amused, a word, incidentally, that means to be devoid of thought, must not become the goal of our existence. The truth is that there is a God, one by whom we were created to both know and delight in, but, just as a world that doubts the goodness and ability of God to provide and protect his people looks elsewhere for their security, so a world that doubts the very presence of God looks elsewhere for satisfaction.
Increasingly sportsmen have become those we should all aspire to be like. And when sport and television combine, as they do for example during the Olympics, we are all too easily persuaded that there is nothing more important than how fast someone can pedal a pushbike, nothing more amazing than someone doing a head over heels, and nothing more thrilling than someone jumping into a pool of water. Now don’t get me wrong, though not as much as a day at the cricket, I have missed watching the Olympics this year as much as the next person, but we simply mustn’t buy into the assertion that it has any ultimate importance.
What we glory in reflects what we consider most important. And so we must all ask ourselves what or who it is that we glory in – what, or who, it is that absorbs our attention. The reality is that it is God who is of ultimate importance and we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, not the latest comings and goings on Strictly Come Dancing.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 reads:
‘Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.’
To ‘boast’ here does not mean to brag – it is not that we should brag about the fact we know something about God. On the contrary, if we know anything about God at all it is down to the graciousness of God in revealing himself to us. Rather to boast here is ‘to value’, ‘to consider important’, ‘to take delight in’. Here then is a warning to us as to what we should glory in.
Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.
We could go on.
Let not the tennis player boast in the accuracy of their serve,
Let not the gymnast boast in their agility
Let not the sprinter boast in their speed.
And less you consider that none of this refers to us, or perhaps that I am jealous of those more athletic than me, let’s bring it a little closer to home.
Let not the clinician boast in their clinical acumen
Let not the craftsmen boast in the work of their hands
Let not the welfare advisor boast in the sensitivity of their counsel.
And neither let the Christian boast in the success of their ministry,
No, let him who boasts, boast in this
Let him who values anything, value this, delight in this, consider this important:
That he understands and knows God, that he understands and knows that He is the LORD, who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, and that in these things He delights.
We are to value the fact that we know God and delight in those aspects of his character that He himself delights in. To know God is the meaning of our lives, the true purpose of our existence. Praise God that it is so – for only knowing God can satisfy the longings of our hearts.
The sporting endeavours of ourselves or others will not satisfy our souls
The lightness of any Victoria Sponge ever baked will not satisfy our souls.
Even the joys we may experience at work or home will never ultimately satisfy our souls.
But knowing God will.
Augustine of Hippo wrote in his Confessions;
‘Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee’
Augustine was right. This is no great surprise since his words were simply echoing those of Jesus who said in John 17:3
‘…this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’
To know God then is to live – to truly exist – to have eternal life. It is the whole point of our existence. What a privilege it is, therefore, to have been brought into the family of the triune God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What an honour it is to be called by our Heavenly Father, the sovereign creator and sustainer of the universe. And what a joy it is to have his Spirit with us, speaking to us through his word. Oh that we might have ears to hear from Him, that we might know him better.
So in these days of pandemic let’s not spend too long attending to the news, God’s story really is bigger news than anything we’ll find reported there. And let’s not allow ourselves to be distracted from all the bad news by the ‘bread and circuses’ that are continually offered to us but which never succeed in satisfying. Rather than amusing ourselves to death with yet another box set on Netflix, endless amusing cat videos on Facebook or, even, one more work out with Jo Wicks in the mistaken belief that a healthier body will bring us ultimate satisfaction, let’s be as we ought, different from the world, and find instead contentment in the God who is there. Let’s not doubt his presence or his ability, not only to provide and protect us, but also to truly satisfy us.
For ‘some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.’ [Psalm 20:7]. ‘[He] make[s] known to [us] the path of life; in [his] presence there is fullness of joy; at [his] right hand are pleasures forevermore’ [Psalm 16:11]. Therefore, let us fix, or even feast, our eyes on Jesus, ‘the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross’ [Hebrews 12:2]. For he is ‘the image of the invisible God’ [Colossians 1:15]. In seeing and knowing Jesus we see and know the Father, and to know God, as already mentioned, is eternal life [John 17:3].
It is not in ourselves, therefore, that we should boast but rather in Jesus Christ, in his character and what he achieved on the cross. ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ [James 4:6]. May it be, therefore, ‘far from [us] to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to [us], and [we] to the world’ [Galatians 6:14].
Because to know God really is enough. His grace is sufficient for us [2 Corinthians 12:9] and ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’. [1 Timothy 6:6].
So then, even in these days of great difficulty, may we grow in godliness. And, as we do, may we all know contentment, may we all know great gain, and may we all know his amazing grace.
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