10 April 2017

What are you looking for?

Over the past fortnight I’ve been trying to read Ernest Becker’s 1974 Pulitzer prize winning novel, ‘The Denial of Death’ on kindle. It’s certainly not light reading and probably meant for someone with a much higher IQ than I’ll ever have, but I’ve persisted because it is so highly regarded as a book. Becker, an atheist, analyses the work of some of the great psychoanalysts of the past few centuries. What you discover is that many thinkers such as Søren Kierkegaard, Otto Rank and Becker himself acknowledge the universal longing for a transcendent ‘beyond’ (God), in which to find redemption and to surrender one’s life to. Rank would say that the ‘need for a truly religious ideology is inherent in human nature and its fulfilment is basic to any kind of social life.’ And in the absence of this spiritual narrative, people reach for the ‘next best thing to fulfill them’ which, as Becker admits, ‘at the same time limits and enslaves them.’

Powerful stuff, but what does all this mean? I think it means we are all longing to make sense of the story of our lives and understand how we fit in the universe. And when we lose that transcendent story of God, we lose part of ourselves and become a prisoner to all our God-substitutes.

In western history, Christianity was that redemptive story that provided a foundation for identity, morality and life. But with the rise of secularism and the retreat of Christianity, people are left without a God, without a redemptive story and without a common truth foundation on which to find meaning and orient their lives.

I wonder how that is working out for us?

I suspect that in spite of all our enlightened thought, all our technology and scientific genius, people today are actually more disoriented, depressed, conflicted and confused than ever before. Perhaps the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes is as true today as ever - we are prone to become lost in the pursuit of our God-substitutes which is simply ‘a chasing after the wind.’

In that classic U2 song from the 80’s, Bono tapped into the deep unsatisfied yearning in us all. He sang,
I have kissed honey lips, Felt the healing in her finger tips
It burned like fire, I was burning inside her.
I have spoke with the tongue of angels, 
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night, 
I was cold as a stone.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

I wonder, have you found what you are looking for?

This week we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. This historical event changed the course of world history in more ways than I have space to list. But more so, the death and resurrection of Jesus changes the course of personal history, as it did for me many years ago and continues to do so today. What if, after all our searching and all our advances, we realise that the deepest longings of our life lead to a blood stained cross and to a king who takes your shame and exchanges it with forgiveness and freedom.

Jesus plainly said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ and authenticates that claim with his resurrection. What if Jesus actually is what we have been looking for?

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.
(Lyrics: U2, Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For)