As we drive slowly around a serious car accident, we think, It wasn’t me, to distance ourselves mentally. We think, They must have been driving recklessly, because blaming feels reassuring. We sense how vulnerable we are. But any evasion of plain dealing with God is idol-manufacture. And we do not let go of our idols easily.
In heaping our idolatries together, we assemble a culture—a brilliant, collaborative quest to prove ourselves. But, our modern culture rarely represents itself with religious language. Ernest Becker, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death, explained how we serve it every day with faithful devotion:
We disguise our struggle by piling up figures in a bank book to reflect privately our sense of heroic worth. Or by having only a little better home in the neighborhood, a bigger car, brighter children. But underneath throbs the ache of cosmic specialness, no matter how we mask it in concerns of smaller scope.
We crave reassurance that our lives are not zeroes. But unless we are resting in God, our uncertainty generates “a blind drivenness that burns people up; in passionate people, a screaming for glory as uncritical and reflexive as the howling of a dog.”
No idol can truthfully say, “My yoke iseasy” (Matthew 11:30).
In today’s increasingly dangerous world, our cheery but demanding idols, with their empty promises, are failing us. The fact is, death watches us, stalks us, takes aim, and shoots straight. There is no safe place, not even in North America, the land of optimism. We have terrorist hijackers, drive-by shootings, tainted blood transfusions, gun-toting kids at school, and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of maniacs. William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, put it vividly: Let sanguine healthy-mindedness do its best with its strange power of living in the moment and ignoring and forgetting, still the evil background is really there to be thought of, and the skull will grin in at the banquet.
Ignoring and forgetting is why we hold this banquet called the American Dream, in hopes that somehow, some way, we will find fulfilment.
Isn’t it time, with all other hopes proving false, to reach out for the strong hand of God?