When I first saw the picture on the cover of this issue of our bimonthly, I laughed for several minutes--not just because of the oversized boots and all the hardware, but also because of the hobby horse behind our good guy in the white hat. A friend of ours designed the first of those spring-supported horses. Our oldest daughter used to ride it so violently that the whole frame would come completely off the ground as she moved it up and down. The horse would gradually slide across the floor as she moved it from front to back. It was a source of great fun for a long time, and always invoked stories of fantasy and journeys of imagination.

Our culture seems obsessed with fantasy rides that not only deny common sense, but which have massive amounts of evidence against what most people in the world believe. The little boy on our cover will quickly discover that he is not ready to ride into the real world and solve all of its problems. Unfortunately the adult world seems much less able to deal rationally with the evidence and much less ready to accept the realities of life. What we would like to attempt in this article is to explore some common fantasies that exist within our culture, which have implications for faith and the things that Christianity proposes as a path to real fulfillment and happiness.

Television and the media in general portray pleasure as the ultimate source of happiness for human beings. Portrayals of parties, vacations, amusement parks, foods, drinks, and sex all carry the message to our society that if you get the toys necessary to find pleasure, this will lead to happiness. From the crowd at Dairy Queen on Friday night to the strip joints in Las Vegas, pleasure is peddled as the path to happiness and what everyone wants. Those who work with people who have attempted suicides universally report that those people are not people who have been unsuccessful in obtaining the toys of pleasure. Drugs, sex, material things, and success with their peers are not lacking in most people who are suicidal. They have simply not found happiness when these things were achieved.

One of the most interesting discussions of this point is found in Ecclesiastes 1-2. Solomon was a man who achieved everything possible in terms of pleasure. He was a king, he had numerous wives, great wealth, and was revered by his peers. He looked at his life and his statement is "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." He looks at his intellectual success and says "I gave my heart to know wisdom" and concludes "in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow" (1:17-18, KJV). In chapter 2, Solomon continues by saying he gave himself to laughter and to wine. He goes on to talk about gaining material possessions and says "whatsoever my eyes desired, I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy" (verse 10). He tells us that these too brought "vanity and vexation of spirit" (verse 11) and says he hated life (verse 17).

It is pure fantasy to believe that drugs, money, sex, success, or any combination of these things will bring happiness in life. Our society becomes more and more anguished as people continue to pursue these things as keys to finding what they want in life.

I have often said that whoever invented the term "golden agers" must have been a teenager themselves. Those of us who are up in years have phrases that more accurately describe what it is like to be old and getting older--phrases like "growing old ain't for sissies." The fact is that being of retirement age brings a whole new set of problems, and that people who work their whole lives for the happiness they think they will find when they get old are badly deceived.

No matter who you are, how much money you have, or how well you have taken care of yourself throughout your younger life, you are going to have pain and frustration in old age. The process of aging wears out a person's body, and there is a constant growing list of things that hurt. Pleasures that were available when you were younger become harder to find and more difficult to achieve. This includes everything from sex to travel. In addition to all of the physical pain and problems, a person's own concept of self worth becomes an issue. When you can no longer be successful in your secular employment, and when your role in other areas outside of your work is diminished, personal struggles with purpose and value in life become an issue.

Old age is not golden. It is a fantasy to believe that if you work hard all your life, and take good care of yourself that you are going to be in paradise when you retire.

I just went through a three-month battle with a hypersensitive tooth that involved multiple fillings, a crown, and ultimately a root canal. Multiple nights with throbbing pain, constant aching, and hypersensitivity to even moderate temperature change made this tooth the focus of my thoughts. I frequently thought if I could just get this stupid tooth taken care of my life would be wonderful, and all my problems would be over. After an abscess, antibiotics, and the root canal I finally was able to go to sleep with no pain, and I could even drink cold water again. So now that my tooth problem was over, all my problems were gone--right? Wrong!!

Every one of us has gone through what I just described. The current problem is always the one thing that stands between us and happiness as far as our thinking goes. This is pure fantasy, because life does not work that way. It is true that some problems are more exhausting and traumatic than others, but believing that we will be totally happy when a certain situation is resolved is self-deception.

Turn on your TV, listen to your radio, or read any periodical that comes your way and someone will be telling you how to solve all your problems. From Dr. Phil to the herb specialist on the corner, everyone has an answer. Some of these solutions offered by every kind of person imaginable may actually be helpful. There are psychological and nutritional helps for what ails us. My wife has lived nearly sixty years with insulin-dependent diabetes, and the number of people who have sent us answers to how to cure her diabetes is astronomical. We have had special lights, herbs, diets, drinks, pills, medical procedures, massages, electrical treatments, and miracle workers offered to us. I have spent hours researching things sent our way by well-intentioned people. Some of the treatments were actually dangerous. We had one herb recommended which it turned out would have been catastrophic for my wife's failing kidneys. Some of the suggestions might have helped, but were impractical for our situation.

The bottom line is that very few people have lived with insulin-dependent diabetes for 60 years, and modern medicine and some amazing answers God has brought our way have allowed us to have a very high quality of life in spite of the chronic disease that my wife has had to contend with. We have frequently had the medical establishment make mistakes, and sometimes have had to go against the advice of doctors. No one has all the answers. It is a fantasy to suggest that one procedure, chemical, treatment, or diet will eliminate old age or the natural consequences of certain failings of our bodies.

Remember the title of this article, and the picture that triggered it? Are you ready to ride? Have you decided what is really important in life, and are you ready for the journey to where real joy and happiness can be found? As a "Golden-Ager" I have found great comfort and joy in doing what Jesus has called me to do. When the Bible calls us to a life of service to others, it is not presenting something that is a martyr complex; it is giving us a formula for how to find real happiness. Not only will we find satisfaction and contentment in this life, but we have the hope of the ultimate joy and happiness in eternity. The Bible is full of admonitions along this line. "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35) is not just a cute saying or a way to extract money from people. It is a formula for finding real contentment and joy in life. Doing whatever ministry to which God has called you is a ticket to the greatest fulfillment and joy in life.

I have had people ask me, "when are you going to retire from your ministry?" The Does God Exist? program was started in 1968 and I had worked in this general area for several years before that. I have been involved in this ministry in one way or another for well over 40 years. I do not plan to retire until I can no longer do the work. Why? Because I have some complex that makes me want to take abuse? The answer is that what I do brings me great satisfaction and joy. There are many things I can no longer do or enjoy that I used to be able to do as a young man. Mountain climbing is no longer an option for me, and I cannot run anymore. I need more help than I used to while white-water rafting, and tennis is much harder for me than it used to be. None of these things ever brought me the fulfillment or the joy that my ministry has brought me, and as my wife and I have worked together our relationship has been enriched and nurtured by what we have done together to serve God.

There are a lot of fantasies out there, and we need to be aware of the fact that they are fantasies and not buy into them. Find your ministry, your way of serving others, and jump into it with prayer and with dedication. God will make good things happen, and you will find the greatest joy this life has to offer. Are you ready to ride?

--John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, JanFeb07.