Push Back Against the World
“I suppose that our whole present life, looked back on from [eternity], will seem only a drowsy half-waking. We are here in the land of dreams. But the cock-crow is coming” (C. S. Lewis).
Voter fraud, fascism, communism, healthcare, immigration, racism, human rights, vaccinations, stimulus checks, Hollywood, Disney, Playstation, Amazon shopping, Facebook, TikTok…these are just a few of the hot topics today. Life is not boring. The whole world shouts out with so much clamor, chaos, and bedlam. Everything is urgent and immediate. It dings on our smartphones every 30 seconds, it pulls us into a frenzy, thrilling and depressing. Is it all so important? Is it all so real? In actuality, we are blind. We experience only a dim shadow of reality. Our only chance of salvation from our blindness is a heart straining for Jesus.
“As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ (Lk. 18:35-38).
A blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. Imagine this poor fellow. He is sitting in the dust at the curb of the road. His clothes are torn. He has never showered. His skin is parched and leathery. Crowds walk past him, day after day, kicking dust in his face. He sits with hands turned up, hoping that someone in the crowd will drop a coin or crust of bread. This blind man represents our soul.
We are born into poverty. Our families are dysfunctional. Our parents are flawed. Our head spins with all the lovely temptations at every stage of life. We are confused, lost, and insecure a hundred times a week. All this becomes the norm early on, just as poverty was the norm for this blind man. Like him, we are also blind. We hardly comprehend reality. Sigmund Freud hit the nail on the head when he described the mind like an iceberg. We barely understand ourselves — just the tip of the iceberg — let alone life around us. We get caught up in the headlines, the buzzing news, and exciting technologies. We miss entirely the spiritual reality in the here and now. When we look back at life on our death bed, or on the other side, you can be sure we will have a very different perspective.
God made us for one purpose: to be in a constant state of prayer and worship. That is it. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov says to be truly alive is to be “like the angels and archangels who have no rest day or night from the divine love which stimulates them and are therefore incessantly and insatiably satisfied with glorifying God.” The angels do not forget God. He is constantly in their presence. Day and night, they stand in vigil before Him. The scriptures describe the universe in that same way too. The sun and moon rise and fall at God’s beckon. The planets turn in obedience to God’s will. The birds wake up in the morning to sing praise to God. We, on the other hand, are the ones disconnected. We forget God, and step out of our one duty. Jesus Christ died on the cross that we can wake up from our forgetfulness and join the angels in worship.
“When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet” (Lk. 18:36-39).
Why did they order him to be quiet? The blind man new that he was blind, and he cried out for help. Instantly, the crowd hushed him. This is the climax of the scripture. Why? Why not let the poor man hope? What was wrong with him calling out? The world does not want us to seek help. It wants us to shut us up.
As soon as we reach out to God, three enemies suppress us: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The devil is behind it all. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (2:2-3).
It sounds medieval today to take the devil seriously. Yet, as C. S. Lewis once pointed out, the existence of evil is the easiest Christian doctrine to prove. You simply need to open your eyes. The forces of evil in our world cannot be explained by materialism. All our lectures about evolutionary psychology and social injustice sound nice enough in the universities. In real world they fall flat. A real force is alive on earth, and that force aspires to tear apart everything good, true, and beautiful.
The flesh is the bent part of our soul. It is not our body. It is our dysfunctional passions, our egoism, and self-worship. We all know this part of us, like an old friend sometimes. It is addiction. St. Paul describes it this way: “I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rm. 5:15). An addict could not say it better.
The world also tries to shut us up. Men and women in this world are capable of a degree of evil that is baffling. It goes beyond reason. It is easy to understand how hunger can drive someone to thievery, or jealousy to murder. Yet, there are powers in our world and country that stop at nothing. King David complained to God about this: “Why do the heathen so furiously rage together against the lord and against his anointed?” In his reflection on the 20th century, Winston Churchill marveled that so much evil could be accomplished in an age of such civilization and progress. Nothing has changed.
In a speech in 1961, Aldous Huxley warned the American people:
“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.”
Was Huxley right? We will see. What we know for sure is that no society, in all of history, has ever been so distracted with pleasures, entertainment, drugs, sex, and media. Psychologists are already beginning to see the impact of this on our minds. What is the impact on our soul? Can we dare to push back against it?
Life pushes us down. Temptations and obstacles weigh down on us immediately whenever we try to better ourselves. We cry out for help, and the world, the flesh, and the devil tell us to be quiet. What hope do we have? We have the same hope as the blind man on the road to Jericho.
“Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God” (Lk. 18:39-43).
They told him to be quiet. He cried out all the more. This is the beauty of Christianity. There has always been noise and distractions. The world, the flesh, and the devil told the man to shut up 2,000 years ago, as they tell us to shut up today. Yet, this simple, blind man shows us the path. The more the world told him to be quiet, the more fervently he cried out to Jesus Christ. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” This is our path today. This is our task in Lent, now, to push back against the culture as hard as it pushes back against us, and to cry with all our heart: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!”