Gore Vidal has said that one of the characteristics of our society is “a passion for the immediate and the casual.” I think that’s a pretty good analysis. Go through the checkout line at the grocery store, and look at the magazine headlines. “Lose 10 pounds in 10 days!” “Amazing Abs in just 30 Days!” And we fall for it all the time. We buy it and try it. Like moths to a light bulb, we are drawn to things with the words “quick” or “fast” in them. Ever see a magazine headline that says, “Lose ten pounds really slow!”? “Amazing Abs in Just Five Years, If Ever, Because the Model on Our Cover is a Genetic Aberration Who Even Still Could Only Eat Lettuce for Two Weeks Before the Photo Shoot to Look This Way!”? No, and you never will, although these headlines are more honest.
It’s got to be immediate because we don’t have time. We’re busy! And if we don’t have much time, then we can’t get too heavily involved in it either. It’s got to be quick and easy. I think that’s what Vidal meant by casual. We can’t afford anything that’s too intense. Look at those same magazine covers, and you will also see that they promise their programs are easy and don’t involve hard work or sacrifice. “Eat What You Love And Lose” Great! Potato chips and ice cream! “7 Secrets of an Organized Home.” Just 7! And they’re secrets! By that they don’t mean that nobody knows about them, they mean that they produce great results with little effort. And that’s what we need because we don’t have much time!
There’s another aspect of our society that Vidal didn’t mention except by implication: we have a passion for anything that stimulates us, that excites us. We are easily bored. And the unpardonable sin in our culture is to be boring. We abhor bored. We need to be stimulated constantly. In our culture anything can be sold if it’s packaged freshly, but when it loses its novelty it goes on the garbage pile. Because we are easily bored, we have to fill our lives with more stuff, which means we have less time, so the stuff needs to be quick and easy, but quick and easy doesn’t really provide the results we want, and without the results we get frustrated and bored, so we add more stuff that promises to be quick and easy and exciting, which means we have even less time, so things have to be even more quick and easy…
And we are worn out. And the words of the prophet Jeremiah challenge us: “If you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5)
…or fly with eagles?
…or walk with God?
We live in a culture where people are worn out from the footrace with men and have no energy left to walk with God. People want to walk with God, but the principles of immediate, casual, and stimulating still apply to their desire. As Eugene Peterson points out, “It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate.”
Walking with God is something that is done when there is adequate time. Lacking that, we squeeze it in where we can, meaning it’s better if it gives us the results we want quick and easy, without hard work and sacrifice. And we bore easy. So we want to be stimulated with lights and music and funny stories and visual effects. We want special events like rallies and conferences and new programs! We want to go see a new personality, hear a new truth, get a new experience and somehow expand our humdrum lives. Spirituality in America is caught up in the latest and greatest. We’ll try anything—until something else comes along.
It’s ironic that the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, an atheist who announced that God was dead, provides us with a spiritual insight that provides an answer to the mood of our culture. “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is…that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
For the Christian, discipleship is a long obedience in the same direction—and the direction is set by Jesus.
Long, not quick.
Obedience, which takes discipline and commitment. No one is casually obedient.
In the same direction, which can get pretty tedious. It’s not very stimulating.
But at least it’s honest, and can deliver on what it promises—a life worth living for all eternity.