Too much of nothing

Over three decades ago, in 1985, Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death predicted a loss of faith among Western Christians. He saw that endless streams of visual entertainment were pushing God to the margins for millions. God, he realized, isn’t a video-screen entertainer, and most people prefer lively entertainment more than the weighty and often confrontive content God represents.

Postman saw this coming in a day when television was still dominant—smart phones were only dreams found in comic books. So by now, with our video devices always with us, the visual saturation of the past is multiplied. Like any useful prophet Postman had climbed high enough to see the direction we were taking.

But as we come to Good Friday and Easter why not reverse course? Why stay locked into our all but empty life habits?

Let’s start by switching metaphors: to eating. A perpetual diet of popcorn and Pop Tarts sets up malnutrition if not starvation. Yet eventually, after eating too much of nothing, some of us will want real nourishment. The appetites of both the body and heart are made for more. Augustine famously said as much in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” We were made by God to taste and see his goodness.

Returning to the matter of sight, let’s recall that Jesus was well ahead of Postman. He warned that visual stimulation, more than any other, takes over unfocused souls: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt. 6:22-23).

So here’s a biblical challenge. Let this Easter weekend bring a new life-changing focus. Let the Spirit start his work in us and in our families on Good Friday, and then bring new life on Sunday.

We can start with what Jesus told Nicodemus in John chapter three. We all know verse sixteen even if we can’t recall the prior two verses. Here they all are. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The “serpent in the wilderness” reminded Nicodemus of an Old Testament occasion when the Israelites were wandering in the Sinai wilderness. They ended up camping in a site infested with poisonous snakes and many were bitten and died. So they begged Moses for God’s intervention. God’s answer was for Moses to cast a metal model of a snake-on-a-pole and to place it high up where everyone in the camp could see it. And then, “And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Numbers 21:9).

Jesus was equating this Old Testament miracle to what would happen to him when he was later “lifted up” on the cross. He would be that serpent figure—willing to become sin and die for us. Faith then amounts to a new focus in life: look at Jesus on the cross and live. Let him draw us out of a dead, unfocused life. And with him as the new “gaze” of our soul, to live—to be fed; to drink from the fountain of life; to join him in eternal life.

Another metaphor Jesus used to make the same point came from vineyards. Fruit—the grapes—only come from branches attached to vines rooted in the ground. Productive branches must always “abide” in a vine to have a place in the vineyard. And faith is the first fruit we produce by abiding in Jesus. It’s what gives us a place in God’s eternal reality.

Is the Spirit nudging us here? Is he reminding us of our addiction to entertainment and other empty ambitions? I hope so! And if he is here’s a sound and soul-satisfying response: gaze at Jesus this weekend—and in all our days to come—and live!

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