This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Genesis series “In Beginning”
This spring Sandy and I turned off the satellite feed to our television. Since then we haven’t seen any regular TV programing. We still have the TV set, but only use it to watch videos. During that time, I have only seen three regular TV shows. Once while I was working out at the Rec. Center, CNN news was on and I watched their report on the Katrina hurricane disaster. They were telling about the difficulty of the rescue work and how snipers were shooting at the rescue helicopters. Later, I found out they were reporting rumors and that rumor turned out to be false. It was interesting that the only TV news report that I have seen in the last six months turned out to be false. That hasn’t encouraged me to stop reading the news and go back to TV. Another time, I watched a Braves game with a friend of mine and that was fun, but it was the playoffs so they lost. Last night I watched an hour or so of the North Carolina State/Florida State football game. That is the extent of my TV watching for the last six months.
I thought I would really miss the sports broadcasts because I like most sports, especially baseball. As it turns out, I have not missed it very much. I usually read the recap of games on the internet. I have a subscription to Sports Illustrated which gives me interesting insights into the games and doesn’t take that much time to read. There aren’t that many games entertaining enough for me to give up three hours of my life to watch. There are a few, but not many. I have found I like listening to baseball games on the radio more than I like watching them on television. After being without TV for six months, I find I really don’t miss it.
Some things have changed in my thinking since I haven’t been watching TV. For one thing, I have become more disillusioned. I once heard someone say that to be Christian is to be disillusioned. I have found that to be true. I am surprised at how many illusions we have about how we think things really are. We build a good deal of our lives on those illusions and a surprising number of them come from television. We have a tendency to think the people on TV are more real than the people we see at night in WalMart.
When I was in my first church, Sandy and I once had Thanksgiving dinner with a retired couple in our church. They had invited other retired friends. We were sitting around talking and a soap opera was playing in what to me was the background for I didn’t know any characters on the soaps. However, all the others did. I did notice that the people on the soap opera were also having Thanksgiving dinner. I wondered when they had filmed it. Then our hostess expressed in a loud voice a name of someone who had surprisingly come to Thanksgiving dinner. As I was getting up to greet this new person, I realized that she was talking about someone coming to Thanksgiving dinner on the soap opera. To the others, the people on TV were more real than their neighbors. I thought that an odd way to look at life, but they did see those people every day and they were beautiful and appealing people. Now that I have been without TV for awhile, I realize that somewhere in my subconscious I also thought of the people on TV as more real than those I fail to notice as I walk past them on my way home to watch the people on TV.
A sociologist at the University of North Carolina did a survey on the religious thinking of youth. He found out that their thinking about God was remarkably similar and it did not matter that much if they were Presbyterian, Catholic, Baptist, or Muslim. Almost all believed in a god and saw him as a cosmic therapist/butler they could go to when they were in trouble. He would solve their problems or help them get what they wanted, then quietly go away. They believed in an afterlife and that good people went to heaven and bad people went to hell and that most people were good.
You might wonder where these youth got these heretical beliefs. The survey team found they got them from their parents. Today that is the way most people believe and it is a total illusion, and that illusion is perpetuated by television. The people on TV are good looking, nothing really bad ever happens to them, and most of their problems are solved before the show is over. The people who read the news and report about all the terrible things that happened that day are well-dressed and very well made up. We know better, but on some level we think those reading the news are real and the terrible things that are happening aren’t really real. When something terrible happens to someone we know, we often say that we didn’t think things like that happened in real life. Television helps us confuse what is real from what is not. One of the great illusions that gets perpetuated is that people are basically good and nothing bad happens to them that they can’t fix it. When we say that people are basically good, we are somehow thinking about the beautiful people we see on TV and not the people we see screaming at their kids at WalMart at ten o’clock at night. We hide behind our illusions much like Adam and Eve hid themselves behind bushes and fig leaves.
They didn’t eat of the tree in the middle of the garden because they were in need. Eve pointed out to the serpent that God had abundantly provided all the other plants in the garden for them. They ate of the tree purely as an expression of their autonomy. They wanted to do what they wanted to do and did not want to be limited by God’s idea of what was good for them; they wanted to have their own idea of good and bad.
After they disobeyed God, they were ashamed and attempted to hide from Him. They hid behind bushes; today, we usually hide behind illusions made up of our ideas of good and bad. Those illusions need to be shattered before God can bring us back to the real world. I had some shattering done when I stopped watching television. Right now, I am more strongly in agreement when the Bible says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. When I look at real people rather than illusions of people, I understand what the Bible says about our sinfulness and disobedience. Some of us sinners are obviously not very nice people but some of us look quite nice, and we often identify niceness with Christianity. I was reminded of that this past week when a young person told me that an action of mine was not Christian. He thought being Christian and being nice were the same thing, and that isn’t true. Some Christians are nice and some are not so nice. I am both; there times when I am nice and times when I am not so nice. Niceness is not the sign of being Christian; being Christian has to do with whether or not we walk with God.
Many people appear to be nice but very few give the appearance that they are walking with God; in fact, most appear to be living an autonomous life. They are doing what they want to do and some want to live as not very nice people and others want to be very nice. However, very few are seeking to live with God at the center of their lives. In Matthew, chapter twenty-four, Jesus taught about what the world would be like when He returns and compared it to the way things were at the time of Noah. At that time, the world had gotten so bad that God had to destroy it. You might wonder what those people were doing that was so horrible. Fortunately, Jesus tells us the terrible things they were doing. You may want to cover the ears of the children out there while I read this list of terrible things.
Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, or the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them away. That is how it will be with the coming of the Son of Man.” Look at the terrible things the people were doing: they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. You might say, “We are doing the same things right now; what’s so bad about that?” The implication Jesus gave was that the people were doing all those normal activities without God. They lived as though God didn’t exist, or if He did exist, they had no desire to do what He wanted them to do. They had the illusion that what they wanted to do was more important than God. That illusion was shattered for the people in Noah’s time when the rain began to fall.
There is a similar time coming for us; a time when our illusions will be shattered. Instead of hiding from God behind our illusions, we will suddenly see Him face to face. That will happen at the time of our death or when Jesus returns. It will happen to all of us. One person in four will contract cancer at some time in his life. You might escape that happening to you. However, the odds of your death are one out of one. Everyone will die. In one way or the other, all of us will come face to face with God. At that time, all of our illusions will be shattered and we will all have the same feeling. We will all be utterly terrified. When you are face to face with the creator of the heavens and the earth, you don’t try to bargain with Him. Your first emotion will be one of utter terror. There is no other way to face God. That is where we all must begin our relationship to God.
The Bible tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We begin to understand how things really are when we first become afraid of God. If you have no fear of God, you are probably hiding behind an illusion. Adam and Eve were afraid to face God as you will be. When you face God, He will wonder why you spent most of your life ignoring Him. He called out to Adam, “Adam, where are you?” He knows your name and calls out to you with it. We will all begin with fear, then those who have known God during their lifetime will begin to realize that this is the God they know and love. This is the God who forgives them and loves them. The knowledge of being forgiven will become the most important thing in their universe. There will be others who never knew Him. For those, the terror will remain for all of eternity, going only from terror to greater terror, all because they never knew the God they are now facing. This is what will happen when all illusions are shattered and we can no longer use them to hide from God.
Right now, God is calling us, just as He called to Adam. God knew where Adam was just as He knows where we are but He wanted Adam to face where he was and how he had hidden from God. He does the same to us as he calls to us, “Bill, where are you?” He wants us to come to know Him right now, so that we might know Him and His love and forgiveness forever. He wants us to quit hiding behind our illusions. He wants us to be disillusioned and to begin to live with the reality of God. We will all have to do that some day.