The introvert in me burns for solitude. The Christian in me burns for the lost.
A house on a hill. A room with a window. A desk near that window. A typewriter on the desk. Piles of books about the desk.
Look down from the window and you see a garden. Then a long lawn. And a road that winds through the hills. Miles before it reaches civilization.
Morning, noon and night spent reading, writing and wandering. In the evening a novelist pops in for a pint. On the weekend a photographer and a poet crash until Sunday afternoon.
That was my idea of utopia. Bliss fit for an Emily Dickinson, J. D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon. Bliss fit for a self-absorbed intellectual snob.
Then Jesus wrecked that vision. Not all at once. But over time.
What Your Utopia Says about You
We all have our own versions of utopia. Some might be crawling with people. Others, like mine, might be devoid of people. But they all share a common theme: unfettered debauchery.
That debauchery could be mild–like endless days of reading and writing whatever I wanted. Or it could be extreme–like endless days of drinking and fornicating. But it is all damnable for one very simple reason: insertion of ourselves as the great I AM over the real I AM.
See, when it comes down to it, God doesn’t care about the brand of debauchery. He sees straight through it. He sees straight to the very root of the revolt: our rebellious hearts. Those very hearts that dream up our custom-tailored versions of utopia–the ones we carry with us into our Christian life.
The Truth Behind “Pick Up Your Cross”
It would be nice if we could cling to our utopian hopes when we become a Christian, wouldn’t it? To get Jesus plus [enter preferred pleasure]?
But do you know the verses that wreck it for us? That turns what the culture says we need [everything our heart desires] upside down to give us what God says we need [nothing but Him]?
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:34-35
Jesus certainly didn’t save his life. He gave it all. In word, deed and even death. So he’s not asking something of us that he is unwilling to give.
In America we don’t understand what it means to lose our life for the gospel. We think “pick up our cross” and imagine a nagging mother or a failing Chevy truck. We don’t understand that to his disciples those words meant crucifixion.
As G. K. Chesterton said, ”Jesus promised his disciples three things–that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble.”
Jesus Would Die in Three Years
Yet we live in our homes on the outskirts of a city with low-crime rates, an abundance of fine restaurants and clean theaters.
And two or three times a year we travel to a beach on an island in the Atlantic Ocean, a mountain in Northern Europe or seafood pavilions in South-east Asia–rehearsal for when we retire.
We say to ourselves, “I want to save for a tour of the Great Wall of China. I want to dog sled across Alaska. I want to write the great American novel. I want to send my children to Princeton or Harvard. I want to build my retirement portfolio so I can retire at 60 and enjoy it for 20 years. I want to live forever.”
We want a lot of things, but rarely do we ever say, “I want to die in three years.”
Jesus may never have expressed those very words, but his life did. He knew that his earthly ministry would be short. And he knew that his earthly ministry would be capped off by his death. And he knew that if it was possible to avoid his death, God would’ve granted it.
But it wasn’t so.
Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. John 12:27
For it was God’s will that must be obeyed. Not His. Not ours. We do well to imitate John the Baptist and say, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
Pity the Complacent
Not every Christian’s life will end in crucifixion. Some Christians will die by drowning. Others by stones. Still others will be beheaded, shot in the mouth or set on fire.
Of course, not every saint will die a martyr’s death. Revelation tells us there is a cap on Christian martyrs.
Others may only lose a limb or rot in a prison. In solitude. Or forgotten in the back country of a poor nation nursing lepers or passing out Bibles.
But one thing is for certain: we are not to pity these saints. Nor do we accuse these saints of being complacent.
These are not Christians who clung to the balance beam. They are the ones who stood on the beam and charged through a risky routine.
It is the complacent who are to be pitied :
For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them. Proverbs 1:32
Resist the Culture
The paradox of our utopian dreams is that if we indulge them they will quickly decay into hell on earth as one after another self-centered desire is gratified.
In time we manifest our worst fears.
The recluse becomes hateful, anxious and suicidal. The gregarious becomes demanding, sensual and dependant on the approval of man. And in time we taste the misery of being our own god.
The Bible never promises a utopia on earth. The only time we see a utopia is before the Fall and after the redemption of heaven and earth. Everything in between is simply corrupted by sin.
Even our utopias.
But it is to say that we should surrender our wishes for a life that conforms to culture. One that seeks security in an IRA, position of power or PhD. One that seeks definition in positive affirmations and significant achievements. Or one seeks solitude at the expense of the lost.
Instead, we should seek a life that does not love the things of this world except for this: God’s people. That is the closest thing in this world we have to gain Christ. And the closest we will ever get to utopia.
We get the real utopia (being in the presence of Christ) when we die, which very well may be an incentive to proclaim, “I want to die in three years.”