Get Real

by Rick Shrader

How, then, it may be asked, can we either reach or avoid [God]? The avoiding, in many times and places, has proved so difficult that a very large part of the human race failed to achieve it. But in our own time and place it is extremely easy. Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.

C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections

A famous Christian author once said that he was relieved to find that ‘‘Christianity, in spite of its revolutionary and apocalyptic elements, can be delightfully humdrum.’’ To the non-Christian, that is exactly what he fears (and yet hopes) he may find. It has been noted repeatedly that our generation cannot long endure quietness, stillness or any state where the physical senses are not externally stimulated. The house builder today who is privileged to work outdoors, opens his truck door and turns up his radio. The surgeon operates in a sterile room with music blaring. Even on a picnic in the Rocky Mountains you will likely hear a radio or smell cigarette smoke. These are merely symptoms of a deeper problem. Where Christianity proposes to help is exactly where worldlings do not think they want help.

Let’s take this a step further. We often hear today that people without Christ live in some world that is supposed to be more ‘‘real’’ than the Christian’s world. It is the ‘‘real’’ world of drugs or the ‘‘real’’ world of music or some other ‘‘real’’ state of physical stimulation which has ‘‘real’’ fun or ‘‘real’’ excitement. The same is often said of the ‘‘real’’ world of pain and suffering and heartache. I am not about to propose that such pain or such stimulation are not real in the physical sense. But when they say ‘‘get real,’’ the reality they mean is actually an escape from reality or at best an artificiality placed on top of reality. If what I am saying is not true then the Christian message is in serious question.

How often has a Christian walked away from a blessed church service or a wonderful quiet time or just from some Christian friends, out into the ‘‘real’’ world, to suddenly become aware that what he has just left is what is real and what he has entered is artificial. 1Timothy 6 is a commentary on this very truth. Rather than happiness being found in striving after things, ‘‘godliness with contentment’’ becomes ‘‘great gain.’’ The ‘‘man of God’’ is to flee the artificial stimulation and ‘‘follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.’’

G.K. Chesterton, in What’s Wrong With The World, illustrated this truth in comparing the rich man’s home and the poor man’s. The poor man’s simple home is the most exciting place in his life because it is the only place (for him) of freedom in a world of rules, laws and expectations. At home he is free to do what he wants. The rich man’s home, on the other hand, is (for him) the one dull place in a whole world of excitement that is available to him. He doesn’t worry about the rules or laws that plague the poor man because if he breaks them he merely pays whatever the cost. Paul warned Timothy not to run after this ‘‘love of money’’ but to seek the contentment instead.

The constant biblical appeal to the believer is to avoid the false (but physically real) stimulation to which the ‘‘natural’’ man gravitates. I think that this Christian reality which worldlings call boring but we call exciting is described with the biblical word ‘‘faith.’’ But it is faith as a noun more than faith as a verb, a difference that has largely escaped our generation. It is a state of being in which we live and are content more (if at all) than a secret power to obtain things we do not have. We walk by this faith. We teach this faith. We are weak or strong in this faith. It is a state of understanding that God exists and that the world which has the fewest artificial stimulations (or in this case distractions) is the world closer to reality precisely because it is a world alone with God.

Now a real problem is this. Our faith is usually no match for the stimulations. The ‘‘real’’ world of the worldlings takes over immediately when invited and seems to render the ‘‘faith’’ world powerless and muted. Our fallen nature gravitates to the immediate things and quickly forgets the plainer things. The Bible contrasts this with the word ‘‘lust’’ (literally ‘‘short desire’’) and the word ‘‘longsuffering’’ (literally ‘‘long desire’’). We are all aware of this battle at this lowest level. But we are just as faithless as the fornicator when we, in the name of religion, evangelism or worship, gravitate to other distractions stimulated by our desire for this artificial world whether it be audio, visual or emotional. Rather than being drawn into the presence of God (as we are often told) we are being barred from His presence and the real world of faith.

While the Christian is drawing nigh to God by continually stripping away the artificial, the worldling doesn’t think he wants the stimuli turned off. We know he really does. The artificially stimulated world he lives in is no more real than an athlete on steroids or a newlywed on a honeymoon. It is hard for a worldling who has never been there to understand the joy he is missing. He thinks it will be boring and lifeless and until he becomes a Christian it will be.  The worst thing we could do is to cloud the issue at this point.  He must see the faith for what it is in order to accept it.  It ought to be obvious to us that he is uncomfortable and unwilling. But once he crosses over into the faith life, he will see it for what it really is, ‘‘delightfully humdrum.’’