And the Godless Say… Eat, Drink and be Merry
The following is a reading from the Book of Wisdom, chapter 2 and the ring of familiarity is so profound that you’d think it was written recently in our own times though, in fact, it was written years before the birth of Christ.
“But the godless call for Death with deed and word,
counting him friend, they wear themselves out for him;
with him they make a pact,
worthy as they are to belong to him.
And this is the false argument they use,
‘Our life is short and dreary,
There is no remedy when our end comes,
No one is known to have come back from Hades.
We came in to being by chance…
Come then, let us enjoy the good things of today,
Let us use created things with the zest of youth:
Take our fill of the dearest wines and perfumes,
On no account forgo the flowers of spring
But crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither,
No meadow excluded from our orgy;
Let us leave the signs of our revelry everywhere,
Since this is our portion, this is our lot.”
This passes for a very accurate description of the so-called post-modern approach to life. Without a sense of the transcendent the world does look like a bleak and pessimistic place. Without a sense of wonder, without a sense that we are a part of something larger than ourselves we can see how those who hold that view would see the world as a jungle to survive. We can understand how they get caught up in the radical attachment to immediate pleasures and the equally radical avoidance of pain. “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die.” If this becomes the driving force of one’s existence, then nothing but the selfish ego matters and the world becomes a social Darwinistic hell of competition and comparison, completely empty of love, justice, goodness and mercy.
If happiness is only had in the material, fleeting sensual pleasures, then happiness can only be fleeting, temporary and unfulfilling. In the competition game you only have winners and losers. While the winners might obtain temporary happiness in using, or in crushing others for their own sake, the losers find life to be a realm of, bitterness, jealousy, anger and dread worthy of violent responses, or of despair and escape. You see, those are the only two options to the faithless. Life is either a hedonistic rush from one powerful immediate gratification to another, or a dark, joyless, suicidal realm. Meaning is not sought because it requires a commitment to two things; life and suffering.
For the winners, might makes right. The poor and the oppressed are not seen as worthy of attention. All others are seen as means to the desired ends of the ego. All others, even “friends,” are related to simply as tools to be used for the immediate gratification of the self. There is no commitment beyond the self. For the latter, nothing offers itself as life giving. Everything is seen as an impossible hurt or burden. Hope is crushed under the weight of despair and life is seen as a problem rather than a gift. This is a picture of the modern world in many ways, a world that has turned away from faith.
Faith, on the other hand, fills the believer with hope and optimism. There is something to live for, that gives meaning to life. For someone who has faith in a loving God, even suffering can be found to have meaning. Life, for the believer, is always seen as gift, as the realm of hope and possibility, where one can continue to grow, to come to know, to love, and to serve God here in this life so that he or she can be with Him forever in the next. The believer comes to recognize that life’s meaning comes from being in the presence of others, suffering with others, serving others, making a difference in the world for the common good. The believer understands that suffering is the universal human reality. The believer does not succumb weakly to suffering, or flee from it, but confronts it and searches for its meaning. The believer names suffering for what it is and in doing so conquers it.
The un-believer sees pleasure, beauty, power, fame and wealth as ends in and of themselves. The believer sees those things for what they really are, simply means to higher ends like self-discipline, justice, and radical compassion for those who are oppressed, or forgotten. The un-believer judges the world according to competition and envy. The believer sees the world as a place where justice can be found, where mercy liberates, and where forgiveness heals the pains of life, no matter how great they are.
Where the un-believer competes, the believer contributes. When the world serves lemons the un-believer complains, or gets revenge; the believer makes lemonade. To un-believers, the believer is:
”… a reproof to their way of thinking,
The very sight of him or her weighs our spirits down;
For his kind of life is not like other people’s,
And his ways are quite different.
The man or woman of faith, who willingly submits to the will of our loving, just, merciful God and acts lovingly, justly and mercifully in this world may suffer the ridicule and rejection of those who do not have faith, but the world will ever so slowly be better because of them and they will, in the end, find eternal joy with the God who made and saved us all.
Dan Doyle is a retired professor of English and Humanities. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology. To read more of Dan’s work, click here.