“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”- Romans 1:22
Take 10 seconds and answer this question: what was your most lasting fantasy from childhood – the one you held onto longest (perhaps secretly still do) or the one that most vividly sparked your imagination?
True confession – here’s mine for the first time anywhere: when I was twelve I fantasized about joining the Jackson 5 as their bass player and 6th vocalist. The year was 1970, and the J5 had just released “I’ll Be there” in August. By September, I knew my life plan – I’d somehow be discovered by Berry Gordy and whisked away to the magical land of afros and bellbottoms.
Looking back, there were so many things wrong with this fantasy I don’t know when to start! To begin with, the only song I could play on bass at that time was a bad version of In a Gadda da Vida, but that’s another story.
We all have fantasies, things we wistfully cling to. As we grow up, most of us put away our fantasies (or so we tell ourselves), replacing them with grown-up concerns of daily life: landing that “real” job, getting married, picking up a mortgage, having a kid or two … you know – the whole “responsibility” thing.
Faith is no longer something we live, but rather something we squeeze in on Sunday mornings
For many of us, letting go of childhood fantasies gradually transitions into also replacing other so-called “fantasies” in our lives. We give up believing in Santa and Easter Bunny, and soon enough lose the belief in a sovereign God who guides our lives. We lose our fear of monsters in the closet only to find we no longer fear an Enemy looking to deceive us from a path to righteous living. Faith is no longer something we live, but rather something we squeeze in on Sunday mornings between pancakes and football (or Saturday nights for the sleep-in crowd).
And sometimes we not only give up fantasies, we replace them with new, “improved,” more comfortable and convenient fantasies: “someone else will provide for my needs;” “I’m not to blame for my own poor life choices;” “I’m the maker of my own salvation;” and one of my favorites – “I’ll be fine if I just play by Man’s rules.”
I call this last one a “Fantasy of Obedience” and it finds its roots at the very beginning of Man’s history … the Garden. Not satisfied with the perfect order created by God, Man listened to the whispers of the Enemy, believing obedience to his own flawed human will was superior to obeying God’s perfect design.
Comfortable theology is designed to obey our desires
How often do we fall victim to this? “I don’t want to offend anyone so I’ll just agree,” one person says. “Well, the experts say the writers of the Bible didn’t know today’s science so …” says another. “Everyone says society has evolved and the Bible needs to catch up,” still others argue. And “I don’t need fairy tales to live a good life,” say those who reject the Word altogether.
Convenient and comfortable theology designed to obey our desires – theology eerily reminiscent of Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 4:3: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.”
Paul was not the only voice cautioning against Man’s obedience to Man. Peter wrote in his 2nd Epistle: “There will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who brought them.” John wrote in his first letter: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Jeremiah warned that false teachers filled their followers with false hopes, leading them “into futility.” Ezekiel proclaimed in his prophesy that God’s hand “will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations.”
And Jesus himself warned his followers of the same in Matthew 24 when he taught about false teachers during the last days: “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.”
Sound familiar? Visit the Religion section of any bookstore and you’ll find book after book from “Christian” authors justifying any and every interpretation of desire-based belief.
Humans are hard-wired to obey … and rebel
Humans are hard-wired to obey … and rebel. We obey when it’s comfortable or convenient and rebel when it’s not. The Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus in this very question as reported in Mark 12: “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” Jesus, avoiding the trap replies: “’Whose likeness and inscription is this’ And they said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were amazed at Him”.
We increasingly seem to render our obedience to man-made rules but fail to render our obedience to God. Man’s rules, filtered through polls and focus groups and public opinion and social media, are designed to manage our obedience rather than guide our righteousness – just enough to keep us paying our taxes and enabling those in power to maintain their positions, but not enough to offend our personal desires.
We render to Man’s rules because “out there” in the world we desire an earthly reward – the best looking, the most gifted athletes, the richest business icons, the most talented performers … if we just obey the rules society sets up we can become one of these privileged few. The world becomes our prize.
Ultimately these are little more than misguided fantasies. We gain adulation through obeying the world but lose something immeasurably more valuable – our souls. We become like those described by Paul in Romans 1, our hearts darkened, exchanging truths for lies, obedient to our own desires and “Professing to be wise, (becoming) fools.”
My childhood fantasies of singing “ABC” with the Jackson 5 may have been amusing. Our fantasies of defying Righteous Truth are, in the end, sadly ruinous.