I couldn’t take it anymore. Yesterday, as I took a break from my paper on Blondel, I checked my Facebook for messages and to see what friends were up to. The following is things I tended to see:
- The most amazing thing ever happened to me…
- That was the best time ever
- This is the coolest song I have ever listened to
- Today can be an amazing day if you make it so
- Let yourself be encountered by the awesome amazingness of Jesus today
Then I did some browsing and came across websites that had roughly the same things to say about their products (though, admittedly, I did not see anything mentioned about Jesus in the advertisements). I had to step back for a bit. I was overwhelmed by the seeming awesomeness of the world. Everything was perfect and wonderful, and it made me want to puke.
The world is indeed amazing, and full of wonder. Even the most minute of things has wonder and awe built into it. What disturbs me about the above sayings, and many other sayings like it, is that it does not really reflect reality. Is that really the coolest song you have ever listened to? What about the previous song, or the one before that which you declared to be “the coolest song ever”? I am the last person to say that Jesus isn’t awesome and amazing. But the encounters we have with Him are often hidden and full of the mystery of His Presence. We do not recognize Him right away.
What disturbs me about the over-excitedness and enthusiasm of the world is two things. First, people believe you when you say something is great. They try it out, only to find it is not so great. And then they tend to not believe you in the future. They have high expectations of the experience and, when those expectations are not met, they discredit that which they experience. This is particularly true of faith-related matters. We must be passionately in love with Jesus Christ: I agree with this. But it does not need to be pronounced each day like a thirteen year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert, either. Love is not manifested in excitement, it is manifested in death to self for the sake of others. It means actually going through the hard knocks of reality, embracing the world, loving it with every fiber of your being, and giving every drop of your energy, life, and love for it. Look at someone like Mother Teresa. She had a very serious demeanor about her. She smiled often, but she was also serious too. But the world does not remember her because she was excitedly in love with Jesus. The world remembers her because she lived her love for Jesus each day.
Often, especially in relation with youth, we try to tap that youthful energy to be about screaming, excitableness, and pure-enthusiasm. Enthusiasm becomes the litmus test for our faithfulness to Christ. Youth have energy, and, I believe, there is even a place for such youthful excitement at times. But that energy is meant to be tapped so that they can be trained in the love of Jesus Christ. That is the challenge, and it is a challenge because we live in a world that overemphasizes this excitement.
Thus, to an extent, I do not blame people for this. It is all they know. And that is because it is all they are exposed to. This brings me to my second point. We are in a commercialized culture: all we know is advertisements. And what do advertisements say? “Use this cream and your skin will be healthier”, “use this drug and your marriage will be happier”, “buy this car and your life will be fulfilled.” Advertisement, as the great culture critic Neil Postman once said, is no longer about selling a product according to its own merits. Instead, advertisement manipulates a product so as to make it seem like you will be the happiest person with it in your life. But it is not the case, and we all know it. When we buy that cream, that electronic device, that car, we are, initially, excited about it. But our excitement wavers because we realize the fulfillment it promises is no fulfillment at all. If everything is exciting, then everything becomes dull.
What we must do, instead, as Christians, is to be critical towards the world we live in while also loving it. It means toning down our excitement and not buying things at face value. It means using our energy for something greater: for Christian love. It means using every fiber of our being, day by day, to loving God and others with a deeper love. That is the true call of Christians. Excitement comes and goes, but the love of Christ is forever.
I wrote on a similar topic before. Check out The Heresy of Happiness.