Humanity often depresses me.
I include myself in that broad generalization.
It’s hard to see the big picture of God’s belief in our eternal value when constantly confronted with the ramifications of our temporal brokenness.
I work for the U.S. federal government, and I will subtly suggest many of the stereotypes about bureaucratic inefficiency, redundancy, and endless red tape could – maybe – hold more than a grain of truth.
It seems a cruel joke that the nuances of leadership of any decently sized organization are far too complex for one person or small group of people, yet at the same time the more people become involved in anything, the more complicated of a mess things tend to become.
It leaves one feeling hopeless and resigned to a certain kind of utterly powerless and inefficient existence as a small cog in a massive machine that keeps going through sheer inertia, tax law, money printing presses, and the silent agreement amongst the rest of the world to continue to believe that the American dollar has value.
So what’s the deal? Why do we as people keep finding ourselves – time after time, civilization after civilization, political theory after political theory – in such a mess?
Any number of contributing factors can be trotted out, but I want to focus on one we Americans typically don’t think about, at best, but far more often outright reject: the idea that nothing actually belongs to any of us.
This is downright anti-American in many ways. We cherish “our” rights and freedoms; our jobs and our money; our family and our nation; our beliefs and our passions.
But what does it really mean to “own” something? We act as if it means we are sole proprietors of a person(!), place, or thing, but by the nature of reality that can’t possibly be true – anything we “have” is actually on loan to us until we either decide to part with it, it decides to leave, it is taken, it is broken, or we die.
There is no true ownership because there is nothing physical that is permanent, including ourselves.
Even our abilities do not truly belong to us. Our intelligence; our determination; our physical strength; our work ethic; our empathy – they all come from something other than our self, be it genetics, environment, or some unquantifiable concoction of the two. And they are subject to leave at any instant – accidents happen; talents inexplicably disappear.
And the one thing we could make any semblance of a compelling argument for owning – our will – doesn’t exist in some objective vacuum from which purely rational or sane decisions are made. We are constantly influenced by numberless variables far beyond our control that shape our decisions.
I think these distinctions are far from inconsequential semantic technicalities: they color how we perceive reality.
On the one hand, there is a belief structure that lends itself to pride and selfishness (and doesn’t comport to actual reality) – I own things; this belongs to me; get your hands off my stuff; you should just work harder; back off.
On the other hand, there is a belief structure that lends itself to humility and selflessness (and reflects actual reality) – nothing that I “have” is intrinsically my “own”; I have no “rights” to any person, place or thing; I am the caretaker of all things that I find myself in direct influence over, including whatever abilities I benefit from.
The latter emphasis applies especially to those who would call themselves Christians, yet I would guess the majority of those who accept this label in America don’t put the belief into practice. Nothing belongs to us, from our lives to our vocations to our families.
You are not your own. You were bought at a price. You must die to yourself by daily picking up your cross and following Christ.
How many of us do that? Even among those of us who try at all, how many can say that our marriages weren’t motivated by something other than the Kingdom of God? Or our families? Our choice in majors? In careers?
This is an extreme call usually met with a lukewarm response. Who will leave their families to follow Christ? Who will give up everything for the sake of the cross? Is this not our vocation, those who call themselves Christians? Is this not the heart of our discipline?
We are called to joy in Christ regardless of circumstance, not temporal happiness with a decent-paying job, a house with a pickett fence and 1.6 kids. Christ is calling us to full-time work in the Kingdom. It is our number one priority to the point that it supplants everything else in our Top 10 list with room to spare.
It’s time we started plumbing the depths of what this really means (to our personal lives; our decisions; our politics; our ethics) and living with humility in this truth.