Watching language bloom in a child is a wonder. No lessons, no stack of “Conversational English for the Modern Toddler” programs, no study abroad semesters. Just a tiny mind exploding with growth, soaking up the sounds and goings-on all around. Somehow, kids put it all together. But one day you’re cursing a nail that won’t sink straight, when that little voice behind you echoes your mutterings, and the new phase of conversation with your child begins, starting with “Don’t say that!”
We were made for immersion, absorbing information from lives around us. Molded by it. This ability was knit into us as a gift, joining us to a great continuity. But we’ve gotten ourselves into a bit of a predicament.
The world we inhabit has fractured considerably since the earth was the freshly spoken word of God. Where once we might have taken perfect delight in the Lord and basked in perfect work and perfect community, now we soak in a dark and hostile brew. Our sinful patterns are various—here trying to prove we don’t need God, there trying to kill the very thought of Him—and they reverberate through the generations. It’s a sad reality: We are the latest in a long line of people who have inherited (without even realizing it) the old and hardheaded craft of trying to usurp God and steal His seat. It’s our senseless birthright. Enmity with God is our default setting—those invisible patterns of the soul that crop up as our doings and sayings—and we can’t help but pass it along.
If all this makes the world seem dour and bleak and altogether in doubt, then—praise God—we might be on the verge of something new. I believe it’s a work of the Spirit to open our eyes to what it means to be truly lost. Helpless. So hopeless that even our righteous acts are soiled rags (Isa. 64:6). It alerts us to the truth that the path of righteousness won’t be found with a simple course correction. If we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), we’re going to have to interrogate our world from top to bottom, sifting wisdom from error and awakening to what we must leave behind in order to take up the way of Jesus.
I find it striking that God chose to walk among us, that of all the means available to an infinite God, Immanuel would be the route of our salvation. Jesus entered this world we are saturated with. Of course, He was rejected by the people as if an infectious germ, but in actuality what He did was infect our darkness with His light.
Where once we might have taken perfect delight in the Lord and basked in perfect work and perfect community, now we soak in a dark and hostile brew.
What Do You Want?
We can’t always see the enmity we’re immersed in, because we tend to notice the wrong we aren’t rather than the wrong we are. What we need, then, is an ongoing conversation—one that sheds light on the unseeable seductions we thoughtlessly label as The Way Things Are. In that spirit, I say, sure, we may not spill each other’s blood in the streets, but boy, do we think about it.
Our urgent need for contentment is addressed throughout Scripture. Jesus preached it pure and simple: Remember that each day has enough trouble of its own, and consider the lilies of the field. Don’t dwell on lack or fear of lack; do dwell on the abundance and splendor of how God provides. But in the United States alone, advertising is a $200-billion-per-year blitzkrieg on Christ’s elegant two-fold meditation. The message is constant: “Sure, you have. But, do you have better?” It’s a noxious question. A huge engine in our economy is fueled by that old and diabolical insinuation: Is this good world really good enough?
This is a question, an invisible enmity, that we should resist in our gut. A consumeristic culture advertises fulfillment with each next purchase. Our closets and junk drawers, teeming with yesterday’s gadgets and garb, prove we’ve learned the message well. Ads have so accustomed us to being customers that relationships, jobs, and even churches can grow stale. Everything is disposable. The habit of trying to eke fulfillment out of created things that will never satisfy has become a lurching, insatiable spiral of craving.
But the church can give refuge from the nauseous Tilt-A-Whirl of want, buy, get bored, and buy more. Jesus’ infectious culture of contentment has the power to shake the clutter from our soul and reorient our hunger towards fulfilled satisfaction. It spins counter to the toxic cycle of more and as a result stills the heart and engenders all kinds of holiness: patience, thankfulness, the good work of renewing broken things. That’s a culture I want to emulate and help pass along.
Photograph by Levi Brown