Thursday, September 27, 2018

Reality as we would like it to be vs. how it actually is

The great king Marcus Aurelius said, "To seek the impossible is madness." Quite true.

But what is impossible? Much success is had by seeking what others incorrectly identify as impossible, and entire lives are wasted seeking what the individual erroneously believes is possible to find.

As someone once said, "wickedness never was happiness." Pleasure can be encountered in falsehood, but it is mortgaged against a future realization of truth. The price for illusory pleasure may be delayed, but is always greater than what it provides.

It is always better to embrace reality than to hide from it.

And yet, we love a lie.

There are far too many examples of this in modern culture to enumerate. Here are a few.

1. Recently, our city and county began their annual budget creation process. Both decided to raise property taxes. The reasons provided were that the services provided by the government--lush retirement benefits for public employees, health services for the poor, etc.--are both important and increasing in price. Every mention was made of benefits to the recipients without any reference to cost to the payers, in spite of the fact that the membership of both groups is largely overlapping. In other words, money is not produced in a vacuum. Many of the people on government health subsidies will lose their house (whether owned or rented) if property taxes rise. Those advocating for higher taxes are not grounded in reality. They live in a fantasy world where the world is unconstrained, and where we can legislate according to how we wish things were rather than how they actually are.

2. According to social scientists' long-running studies, women have become less happy with every generation since they started measuring about 100 years ago. Why? A comparison with the lifestyles of each generation provides a possible answer. Modern technology and social norms are markedly different than they were 100 years ago. The functions that were uniquely feminine 100 years ago are now considered obsolete at best, and evil/oppressive to some. You'd think that such a marked deviation in happiness would attract research into how to correct it, especially given the surplus of sociology majors in the developed world, yet this is not the case. Instead, those with the presumed duty of studying and rectifying the situation are championing the very changes that make it worse. Advocates for "women's rights" promote things like loose sexual morality, multiple partners, late marriage (if at all) and token single kids. All of these policies tend to do exactly the opposite of what these people say they advocate for. They create an environment where men have every incentive to pursue non-commital physical relationships with young, attractive women, and avoid marriage altogether. These poor women have a great time, as they suppose, while they are young if they happen to be attractive, then only realize too late that they have frittered away any chance at marriage to a reasonable candidate because they've been betrayed by a system that treats relationships like a drug, and treats them like an object. They settle for a guy they'd never give the time of day to 10 years prior, maybe have a token kid, then cheat on him or leave him shortly thereafter because "it isn't exciting anymore." Only late in life if ever do they realize they've wasted their lives. They love a lie.

3. Young people complain incessantly about the lack of jobs. In actuality, the jobs-to-working-people ratio is at historic highs. What is the problem? No, it isn't that there aren't enough jobs, or even that a large number of them are part-time or low-paying. The problem is that young people don't realize that they lack the skills required to obtain modern, high-complexity jobs. Where I live, there are over 1,000 open jobs in computer science paying 2-3x the average wage. The universities here will produce only 100 or so computer scientists per year, and only about half of them will be good enough at what they do to secure those jobs. There are many unfilled jobs for skilled trades (many requiring only 2 years of training, and some providing on-the-job paid apprenticeships). Those jobs tend to pay 2x national average wages. These trends are not unique to my state, it happens nationwide. There are plenty of jobs, and they pay plenty of money. The problem is that people aren't selecting the right fields for training.

4. Some people go to therapy weekly for over a decade, but would rather die than learn something about themselves. When they do happen to encounter a friend who cares enough to try to help them, they cut them off.

5. Some people work three jobs to make ends meet, but won't face their fears of failure by going after training that will triple their earnings potential.

Etc.

This is one of the most quoted passages of scripture, and it happens to be perhaps my favorite.

Unfortunately, most people stop on verse 16. The passage theme does not end there, and the most important part is what comes next.

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
(John 3)

Verse 16 describes the what. After that, Jesus provides the why.

By default, we are separated from God. Unlike in the garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve dwelled in the literal presence of God (they saw and spoke to him regularly), each of us is born into a situation where we do not see God, and we do not hear his voice.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the process by which we regain the same relationship with God that Adam and Eve had in the garden of Eden. A key part of this process are his commandments--progressive instructions that give us increasingly more accurate estimations of his character, so that we can become more and more like he is.

Because the gospel is a process of becoming more like he is, and because our default state is to be opposite to how he is, we ought to understand that the gospel is the process of being corrected, over and over again.

If we submit to the Spirit, which is the reason we are here, we will find that it leads us to places we never supposed. God will shed light on all the dark corners of our character, and we will find ourselves traversing wave after wave of personal, deep change. As we endure more and more polishing--and outright rebuilding--we will get to know God better through the ever-increasing influence he has on our constantly improving character.

You can predict how far a person will go in their life's purpose by seeing how they react to "the light," or to correction. Unfortunately, just as the default state of man is to be separated from God, the default state of man is to "sit in darkness," or not come to the light. This manifests in their refusing to consider something better, or actively fighting against it.

I know a few people who rejoice in correction, but it is by far the rarest trait I know of. Most of us bumble through life completely unaware of the sources of further light around us. Most of us run away from the very things we need most in life.

We are capable of so much more. Why intentionally ignore the pitfalls in our character, when doing so will invariable cause great harm to ourselves and others--far more harm than confronting the truth?

Why do we love a lie, when the truth is by definition more fruitful? Why do we turn away from the light?

Is it not because of a lack of trust in God? Is it not because we do not really believe that he knows more than we do, and loves us more than we love ourselves?

Trust God. Submit to him fully. Test him. He will prove that he is worthy of all trust.