I have come to the pinnacle of success in business. In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success.
However, apart from work, I have little joy. – The last words of Steve Jobs
Self. It’s the number one killer in the world today. It destroys marriages. It rips communities apart. It leaves children orphans. It threatens social stability at every level. It damages lives. It leaves people bereft of friends and loved ones. It is the source of wars and fights. And it is the real reason we must tragically open graves on a daily basis.
When Adam and Eve first sinned, they didn’t just break a simple rule. They effectively opened the door of Pandora’s Box unleashing hell. Man was created in God’s image. It’s something we don’t reflect upon often enough. There are many things that means, but one consequence of this wonderful truth is that being made in God’s image means we were given great creative skills and abilities – abilities that far surpass that of the animal kingdom. Man’s ability to cultivate, build, think, imagine and create is vast. But man was created to do these things in a way that reflects the creator back into the creation. But because of Satan’s lie man’s abilities were high-jacked. We were created to serve God. After God created Adam, he told him to tend and keep the garden God had created. The words in the original language are the language of worship. Adam and Eve were to bend all their ingenuity in the service of their God. But, when they accepted the lie of Satan, all those abilities were now placed in the service of self. Focusing those abilities on self has become the source of much evil in the world.
This is not to suggest that good things aren’t accomplished today or that people always and only do things that are inherently evil. It does mean, though, that most things in life are not done for God. Most people engage in the various activities of life with self in mind. Daily we go through life pursuing our ambitions and dreams. We think about our future, our jobs, our daily objectives, our next big score, our likes, our dislikes etc. etc. etc. … but rare is the person who thinks about these things in relation to God, and rarer still is the person who uses their God given ingenuity in service for God and for the glory of God. Sadly, when we fail to employ our God given abilities as an act of worship, we fail to achieve true success; and we fail because we are not living for the purpose and design for which we were created. But in that failure comes a very real dissatisfaction in life.
Despite the many achievements we have enjoyed, many people still lack real satisfaction. People can and do attain great success in the various accomplishments of life. There are great thinkers, engineers, doctors, inventors, builders, artists, musicians, and the list can go on and on … yet there is not a single achievement that has brought lasting contentment to people. No matter how successful, we are still dissatisfied. No matter how technologically advanced we have become, no matter the quality of life we have achieved (which is the best the world has ever seen), no matter the diseases that have been eradicated, there still lies within the heart of man a desperation. This gives rise to the belief that we haven’t done enough and must press on. If we can only change this one thing, all will be well. However, when that one thing is attained, and the desired goal realized, the dissatisfaction remains; and we believe that we have not done enough. There is more to do. There are more things to fix. And when our desperation becomes great enough, we believe others are to blame. If they would just get on board; if they would only see things our way; if they would just get out of the way… all would be well. But they don’t. They then become our opponent. But they are thinking the same things. If only they would see it this way and not that; if only they wouldn’t be so ignorant; if only they would get out of our way. And they don’t. Catastrophe, conflict, war, pain, sorrow, misery, and tragically, death are the result.
The problem is born out of a true need all people have. But we fail to understand what the real problem is, and as such search for a tragic solution. Hence, we envision a future without the perceived problem and seek to fix the symptom of the problem and not address the real problem itself. But we have forgotten what it was like to achieve a solution to a smaller problem only to discover that it was not enough; it didn’t fix what was really wrong. Rare is the person who pauses and looks at the problem from the different point of view. The history of mankind is replete with wars and tragedies. And behind many of them lie this scenario where it is believed that the vision, once realized, will bring about our peace, happiness, and fulfillment. All will be well … then.
Another word for that vision is utopia – the ideal paradise. People seek to attain utopia in their personal lives, in their homes, their neighborhoods, and nations. But no matter their achievements, no matter how far they travel to find it, it always eludes them. But, the satisfaction they seek cannot be had this side of heaven. Heaven is heaven not because of where it is, but because of who is there: God. Rare is the person who thinks about their dissatisfaction in life and considers that, perhaps the one real problem they have is that they are disconnected from their creator. “Tend and keep the garden” God told Adam. In other words use your creative powers and ingenuity as an act of worship in service to me. Worship me with your abilities and skills. Or, to quote the apostle Paul, “Do all things unto God, and not unto man.” This will bring the satisfaction we long for. Instead, we do all things for the glory and happiness of self, and are miserable as a result.
True happiness, then, comes through using our God giving abilities as worship. But worship is so much more than singing songs and listening to sermons. Worship is a sermon lived. Worship is using our God given skills in a way that reflects God’s glory back into the world. God is the master lawgiver. God is the master sculptor. He is the master engineer and designer. All skills and abilities find their source in him. So many of the problems we experience in life are a result of forgetting this great truth. Instead of using these things as an act of worship to the One who gave them, we use them to worship ourselves.
As a result we live in a world where our satisfaction seems to always be stymied; either by a bad situation, or by a certain person, or a group of people. We will achieve happiness and our little utopia, so we think, when we remove the obstacle that is preventing us from doing so. Last week an assassin tried to take out some politicians. In his mind, they were the obstacle. He’s now dead. The newspaper reported a story of man who murdered his wife and kids. They were hindering his freedom, or so he thought. He now faces capital punishment. Hitler sought to rule Europe and murdered the Jews as he went, because they were the problem. Most of Europe was destroyed trying to stop him. In the 20th century Communists sought to convert the world to dialectical Marxism, and killed a 100 million people because capitalists were the hindrance to world peace and prosperity. Islamist jihadists seek to kill their way to utopia, because the non-believers are the problem. Many people live in constant fear as a result. There is no end to the tragedies that have been unleashed on the world because someone stood in the way of someone else’s potential achievement of their utopia.
I wonder, though, how many leaders have walked a battle field after a hard won victory only to realize the problem was still there. There are many battlefields in life. The ugliest one does not lie in a meadow turned killing field. The ugliest one lies within the human heart seeking to carve out happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment in life apart from God.
Adam and Eve were the first people God created. They weren’t born. God raised Adam from the ground and crafted Eve from Adam’s rib. There were no birth defects or genetic problems that distorted their life. They did not inherit their parent’s disabilities. They must have been beautiful. I can’t imagine their native intelligence. They had it all. Until. They bought the lie that happiness and satisfaction could be theirs apart from God. Nothing good came from that titanic mistake. Instead all the suffering we experience in life did. Despite their intrinsic God given abilities, they experienced profound sorrow as they were driven from God’s presence – a sorrow that still plagues the hearts of man today. And a sorrow that can only be removed when one is reunited with God.
But there was another man, the second Adam – Jesus. He did not make the same mistake our first parents made. Instead of looking away from God, he embraced the will of God completely. His life was lived for God. His death was experienced so we can die to self. Sin, in all its varied and ugly forms, is nothing but pure-self on display. Jesus killed sin so we can be free of its insidious power to deceive and enslave. He did two things for us: 1st, through his cross he freed us from sins power and from God’s judgment against sin. 2nd through his life he showed us what a life lived for God looks like. He never raised a sword against anyone. He was never unkind, hateful, or vengeful. He did not fight those who sought to kill him. He never defended himself when falsely accused. He did not plead that it was someone else’s fault. But it was. It was ours. And instead of removing us because our selfishness is the problem, he chose to die for us. And as he died he suffered greatly. His suffering was real. But he never took his eyes of the Father. “Not my will be done, “He said, “but yours.” His prayer is our answer. His sacrifice our salvation. And though our sin brought him more suffering and pain than we can imagine, because he was doing the Father’s perfect will, he never lost his joy (see Hebrews 12:2).
Most people will go through life looking for others to blame for their dissatisfaction and unhappiness –and their misery will continue, and they will probably destroy someone along the way. But we can be those who look inside ourselves and realize an unhappy life is a life disconnected from God. The great news about heaven is that we don’t have to wait to go there. Jesus brought heaven to us. He said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Once we turn to him, he brings heaven to us. Once there, firmly ensconced by his life and presence, we realize there is no one to blame. There never was. It’s only then that we can get on with life as it was meant to be lived. And as we employ the skills that he has given us, we discover that no matter what we do, with him taking delight in our work, we will “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”