Are You Living in the Real World?The longer I live, the more I realize that a large percentage of the people who are living on this planet are living in a fantasy world. It does not matter whether we talk about atheists or believers, rich or poor, male or female, elderly or a child, or what culture you live in, there is a massive failure of people living in the twentyfirst century to deal with life and with normal human experiences in a realistic way. The result of this fantasy living is that people have unrealistic expectations about what life should and can bring. In addition to that, people have their values misplaced and are frequently negative in their nature. There is also a tendency to trust in things that are not trustworthy--be they false religions, material things, personalities, or a combination of these. What we propose to do in this discussion is to look at some ways this happens and suggest some ways that we individually and collectively can avoid some of the consequences that fantasy living brings.
Fantasy Living in Religion
It is not difficult to believe that organized religion is in trouble in America today. Church attendance has plummeted since September 11, 2001, and many churches find themselves with a membership that consists of a group of golden-agers who are desperately hanging on to the past. Other churches find themselves struggling to provide enough entertainment and good feelings to keep people coming, but not really bringing the kind of blessings to members or to society that the Bible teaches and that Jesus intended.
One of the fantasies that religious people seem to have is that Christians do not have the same kind of problems that everyone else has. The notion is that if I am a good Christian and do all the things that I am supposed to do, everything will go well for me and I will not have the problems that everyone else has. For some people religion is an escape mechanism or at least a Band-Aid to avoid problems. When death, divorce, sickness, poverty and the like come to people with this mind- set, they quickly struggle with their faith and perhaps abandon it. They also become desperate and are unable to deal with the life they find themselves imbedded in. When Paul described his life as a Christian he said that he had learned to be content in whatever state he found himself, and he specifically mentioned that he had learned to be content when he was in poverty as well as when he had plenty (Philippians 4:12). There is no place in the Bible where Jesus guarantees insulation from all the things that afflict mankind. We are told that "God causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust" and not understanding that can bring expectations that when they are not realized can be very destructive.
Another fantasy that is foisted on religious people is that prayer and faith will solve all their problems. It is popular for preachers to tell people that if you pray enough and if you have enough faith, everything is going to turn out the way you want it to. This is a lie, and no where in scripture is there a promise that prayer and belief provide diplomatic immunity from problems. Jesus prayed that the death He was facing would not happen and that God would accomplish His ends in another way, but Jesus died on the cross anyway. Paul prayed that his "thorn in the flesh" would be removed, but it was not. It is a monstrous lie to tell people that if they have enough faith and enough prayer everything will be solved, because there is much more involved in God's purposes for our existence than our own particular problems and needs.
This is not to say that prayer is not a wonderful thing and that much good is not done by prayer. It also does not mean that having a solid faith is not helpful in facing the problems of life. It just means that God frequently enables us in ways we do not expect, and like Job, we may have awful things happen because of the actions of Satan that may bring us pain for a while in this life and even cause us to die. I have often wondered if Job did not frequently remember those children he had lost in the afflictions of Satan and ache for what he lost. The reality of life is that people get sick and die. Terrible things happen even to the innocent and pure. Making this world a fantasy existence is a sure way to produce spiritual paralysis and desperation.
Still another fantasy that plagues religious people is that religious leaders are infallible and have all the answers. We live in a time when men and women with enormous charisma and great talent have become the key to the existence of mega-churches. It is wonderful that God has blessed some of us with this kind of talent, and that some of these people will use this talent in the right way, and lead and challenge all of us so that people can be reached with the Gospel of Christ and the needs of the world can be addressed in a positive way.
The problem is that many of us have put these gifted people on such a pedestal that they cannot fulfill all of the expectations that we have for them. A man that is a gifted speaker may have very poor personal skills in dealing with people one-on-one. He may have weaknesses in managing his money or may be unable to deal with stress in a positive way. When we expect too much of any human we set them up for a fall. No one can be an expert on everything, and it takes a special person to be willing to say I do not know or I cannot help you with that when they are in a place of great expectations. Expecting too much of any person in anything is a major error, and it is happening in the Church in major ways. I have had several of our ten-talent people confide in me that they are being crippled emotionally and spiritually by those who attribute abilities to them that they do not have the ability to perform.
The Christian system offers hope. It gives people direction. It provides support and the direct help from God with problems. It unifies, brings love and purpose, and provides a basis for dealing with the reality of failed relationships, problem kids, struggling marriages and friendships, sickness, financial disaster, personality conflicts, and death. It can help us learn "to be content in whatsoever state we find ourselves," but it is not a cure-all and Christians do not live in paradise here on earth.
Fantasy Living in the World of
People who reject the existence of God or at least have no involvement with God have their own fantasy world in which they live. Some of their misconceptions may be the ones that we have already mentioned that apply to believers, and that may in fact be why they reject the existence of God. There is, however, a completely different set of misconceptions that set upon a fantasy existence for the disbeliever that is equally destructive and can cause the same kind of problems.
One of these is the belief that man has the capacity to solve all of his problems. Many atheist and humanist credos state that man has the ability to solve all of his problems and that he cannot rely upon God. In some areas it is obvious that this is not true, but there are no consequences to the belief being wrong. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the question of the origin of the matter/energy that makes up the cosmos will never be explained by a natural process. The fact that this will probably never be done, however, is of no significance. Nothing in science and technology depends upon this, and misunderstanding it produces no consequences. The belief that man has the capacity to know the results of his actions and to be able to avoid the consequences of what he does is an area where there is a very direct consequence. No one would have ever guessed that major ecological problems would result from the just small amounts of fluorine in freon in air conditioners. Now we know that freon has major influences on the ozone hole in the atmosphere, and that is something we cannot immediately correct. We have no doubts now that benzene and benzene derivatives are primary causes of leukemia. No one shoving a pacifier in their child's mouth 40 years ago would have believed that leukemia might be related to what the pacifier was made of. In addition to hundreds of examples in ecology, there are the unexpected results of moral decisions. Think of the new problems that have surfaced in children in the past 25 years that we now know are the result of moral or behavioral errors on the part of their parents--fetal alcohol syndrome, crack babies, HIV positive babies, etc. No one would have thought that such disorders would have been possibly linked to adult behavior in the past. Those who used drugs as teenagers certainly did not expect their moral decisions at that time to affect the health of their babies 10 years later. Man does not have the capacity to know what the result of his actions is going to be. We know now that a host of psychological disorders are related to recreational drugs, environmental factors, and even diet.
It is a fantasy to believe that when you choose a life style, a moral decision, a recreational drug, or a relationship that you can know what the result of those decisions are going to be. Schools have tried to teach value clarification, but even the results of how those values were applied by young people living in a different subculture than those who wrote the curriculum turned out to be totally different than anyone would have expected.
Another fantasy is that man can set up a moral system apart from religion that works. Many people will argue this vociferously, but the fact remains that the data supports the statement I have just made. Einstein once said "Religion without science is lame, but science without religion is blind." How do we make decisions about how to use the discoveries that science makes, The Nobel Prize came into being because the man who invented dynamite was so appalled at the uses that were made of his discovery that he put the royalties into a Nobel Prize award to reward those who did things to promote peace and learning. How will cloning be used--to allow organ transplants, solve the world's food problems, and repair the damage done to people in disease and accidents, or will it be used to produce diseases that kill whole populations of human beings? The only moral standards that have transcended political and geographic boundaries have been those based on what was held to be religious truth. To be sure, people have corrupted and abused and ignored those truths, but the fact is that the truths remained and people knew that the truths were being violated. Very few clergymen or devoted parishioners in Nazi Germany felt that the extermination of the Jews in World War II was morally correct. Hitler embraced philosophy and naturalistic explanations to justify what he did, and enlisted religion by force and applied it in opposition to what the Bible taught.
It is a fantasy to believe that men will discipline themselves when power and money are involved. The man who answers to no God will make his own desires the standard that justifies his actions.
Another atheistic fantasy is to maintain that eternal life is possible and desirable by naturalistic means. Scientific literature of all kinds is being circulated today prophesying the end of death. The idea is that one by one we are finding ways of replacing those parts of the body that fail. We have dialysis, mechanical hearts, organ transplants, and a variety of electronic means of sustaining life. At the present time any claim to make physical life unending by science is premature at best, but that is not the main issue.
Very few people living on the earth today would say that death is their number one problem in life. Extending human life by artificial means does not mean giving quality of life to anyone. In recent years I have been invited to speak to numerous groups that are in their closing years of life. Over and over, I hear people say that they do not want to continue to live on and on. Death is a natural part of life, and quality of life is a much more important factor than length of life. The only reason one could possibly give for wanting to live indefinitely is if they were 100% convinced that there is nothing positive beyond this life.
If in fact you believe that there is nothing beyond this life, then I would suggest you have bought into perhaps the greatest fantasy of all--and that is that this life is the best thing you can possibly have. Atheists will respond by saying that heaven and hell are fantasies, but there is a realistic way to have hope for life beyond this world, and having a hope for something better is not a destructive fantasy if it is in fact a fantasy. Carl Sagan reflected on his mother's faith by saying he wished he could believe as she did that there was something better than this life. The real problem here is that there is no hope of anything significant if there is not eternal life beyond this world. If this is the best we can experience, what is left? As life tumbles in, what do you hope for if you have eliminated God and His promises from your thinking. Utter nothingness is all you can hope for. In addition to that, you have thrown away all of the blessings of hope and goodness that the believer experiences in life.
The wise man Solomon said it best, as he thought about his multiple wives, great riches, great fame, and enormous numbers of children he summarized man's purpose and direction by saying "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. I have seen everything that is done under the sun and everything is vanity and vexation of the spirit" Fear God and keep His commandments; to do that is the sole role of man.
--John N. Clayton
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