Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Works Still Works : How Earning Heaven Is A Way of Human Life

One powerful inner spiritual prompting among people is one they are scarcely aware of and that is the compulsion to perform, to live out one's path in life by self-achieval, by one's drive to work, to do something to better themselves. 

That is the lot of life this side of Eden, on these rocky roads after the fall of man. Humanity is driven by the deeply personal conviction that we must earn our way through life, that we owe a debt of a tangible nature of almost any sort to someone, some entity or some institution to make progress in the world. Everyone, it seems, comes to believe that they need to pay their dues in someway to someone or something else to in order to "make it" in life. 

Even in the jaded and amoral life of the Millenials,  whose sense of entitlement helps them live a self-centered life reckoning themselves at the center of the upwardly mobile food chain,  there yet remains an inner core where this indebtedness, this owing something to someone stubbornly abides. A recent survey brought light upon a new social phenomenon known as "vacation shaming" as evidence of this. Millenials are more likely than any other generation to experience guilt when taking scheduled vacation, feeling quite literally shamed into staying on the job by an intense conviction that they should not let their managers down. They literally feel they owe their employers and coworkers their time so intensely, they will even forego it. This is just one part of the social pressures that they now face and even seek therapy for  , which has become a real burden that COVID-19's coming has contributed to.
To address this inner imbalance or the felt need to do something .. people will do what they need to do.

This video of a young and disillusioned anti war activist from the movie "The Experiment" shows this all too well. 

But millenials are hardly alone in dealing with the compulsions of demands made upon their lives by things they can't control, as we have said. All of us face an indebtedness of sorts in our daily lives that we do much to escape from in all manner of ways when the pursuit to achieve is too great. A rabbi's deft analysis of the ongoing American infatuation with British royalty  includes this observation:

The underlying attraction to royalty is the human desire for an effortless life, where all things are magical and where all beauty is innate. A meritocracy has its own rewards. It allows ordinary people to become extraordinary, but it always involves hard work: the entrepreneur who must burn the midnight oil to build his business. The rising politician who must travel around the country begging rich people for money to make his candidacy viable. Even human attraction involves such hard work. It means dieting and giving up the foods we love. It means exercising, running and weight lifting. But then there are people who are all those things—rich, beautiful, wonderful—without any effort at all. They are angels who live among us. They are magical. 

Such "angels" are those who seem to have "made" it and whom we want to be. They become the poster children for perfection, the pinnacle of our aspiration that appeals to us. And that's a tough path to follow, a bricked road painted bright yellow upon which we're to travel, following the many pied pipers calling us to join their quest. Legions of bright eyed, fast talking men and women who seem like they have it all together constantly look for new recruits for their programs of personal development creating armies of work gangs across America and the world. 

In short, Rabbi Boteach says, life is work for which we will do what it takes to achieve a respite from, which is why leisure activities - for which we often feel guilty for taking - are so sought after:

In giving us things like “Enchanted forests” and “Never Never Land” where no boys grow old, Disney tapped into our sense of tiredness and weariness at the constant struggle that life demands, the never-ending battles to make something of ourselves. The battle to feed our families. The struggle to be happily married. The demands of raising purposeful children. The struggle to sustain healthy self-esteem.After all that exertion, we need an escape, a place to which we can retreat where everything is wonderful without having to try. And royalty is fantasy in the flesh. An impossible, effortless, wealthy, magical existence that seemingly requires no effort or struggle.

The chase after life involves a longing for arriving. And if we can find a place where we can find refuge, we'll give it a shot. We'll listen. We'll consider. We'll mull over it. And when it comes to spirituality, millenials are no different from other age groups - whether younger or older - in exploring it in search of that freedom. Like all of humanity, they'll engage in it - as needed, in perfectly consumerist mindset - in the quest to come to grips with the struggles of life just as all people have in the past.

The ideal that one can strive, apply and gainfully labor in effort to achieve a self-understanding or mastery over your failings is a powerful one. It's a human quest that religion seeks to address .. and for which cultism and abusive religion claim to have found the answer. If there is any common thread among the bewildering diversity of spirituality's market share, it is this: that to seek God's favor, blessing and reality in your life, you've got to do something to earn His attention. There's work to do to gain grace from God. And in so doing, that universal weight of guilt and shame over your moral failures can be atoned for. You can bury that hatchet if you follow the rules, do the coursework, login for X amount of hours, put in that time, be accountable.. 

Works still works. Earning heaven by the sweat of your brow is something we can take to the bank. We get it. That resonates with the guilt driven and the work orientation humanity has brought to its tables globally throughout history.  Religion seems to demand lot of spiritual busy work, philosophy an application of mental disciplines and reflection, social scenes drop hints that you should fake it until you make it. Etc. etc. 

Yet the Bible makes clear that our personal deliverance doesn't rely upon anything we can do ourselves. Scripture makes no appeal to that human vanity whatsoever. For there is nothing, it reveals, that anyone can do to address what is surely the main problem of mankind - our need of a Savior to rescue us from the inner evil and squalor called sin, which weighs us all down. Man's problem isn't more stuff, or fame, or means but our need of freedom from our evil and who can loose us from those debts?

The Bible shows that as he died upon the cross of Calvary over two millenia ago, Jesus laid his life down to pay that very price in the one greatest work any man could achieve, but one only God Himself could pay,  the price for the literal salvation of man. And the three greatest words for work-wearied people despairing over the costs of a life spent in those personal debts are what he declared there with his last breath:

So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. 
John 19:30 

This wasn't the gasp of a dying man giving up to his mortality, but the judgment of a Savior whose life He declared was a work that ended for all time the struggle of mankind. He'd been saying so all of His life as He preached in ancient Israel:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15

And the Gospel of Jesus always points back to what He did and how His completed work changes life:

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Romans 10:4

This is too amazing to be believed: that all we have to do is repent and believe on Jesus to get off the maddening treadmills we all run on. 

But it's that simple. Cults, false religions and human effort can't handle it. But that is the truth. Are you still working out, putting in your sweat, running after something that you'll never catch? Turn to Christ alone by faith alone now!