By Brett Berger
Faculty, College of Theology
You hear a lot of talk about escaping these days. People talk about sports as an escape. Video games, movies, virtual reality, gambling, fantasy are all ways people escape from their everyday lives.
The idea is that everyday life is filled with a certain measure of stress, toil, conflict and futility. We look at the news or our social media feeds, and we find all kinds of distressing realities. Reality can be depressing. If not depressing, it certainly feels just ordinary. For the modern American, there is nothing worse than ordinary. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many of us are looking for escape. If only for brief moments, people want to withdraw from the everyday. They want something unreal, even hyper-real.
I can understand why virtual reality holds such a strong appeal over reality. The problem is that as individuals pursue their escapes, they tend to become less satisfied and engaged with reality. You may see this on a road trip as kids engrossed with their tablets barely give a nod to the majestic landscape outside their window. You can see it with families or groups of friends around a dinner table aglow from the light of their phones hardly engaged with those sitting across from them.
It would be a mistake to think of this kind of escapism as only for the worldly and our entertainment options. The spiritual are not immune from escapism. Many of meditative practices are grounded in a worldview that believes the visible world is not what is real. Christians can also tend to withdraw from engaging in the material world because of a belief that what is spiritual is what really matters. They seek the mountain top experiences or emotionally driven worship experiences. This world becomes not much more than a temporary test where one determines what real life will be in the life after.
The biblical worldview and the doctrine of creation force us to look at these matters differently. When God looks upon his creation and gives the affirmation, “It is very good” (Genesis 1:31), we see the world as he has intended it to be. This world is God’s project. It is his delight, and human beings occupy a special role within it.
For this reason, we have to reassess our understanding of spirituality and our everyday lives. Culturally speaking, we tend to compartmentalize. Spirituality is a private matter. It should not bleed into public. The spiritual life is viewed as retreat or withdrawal from the world.
Having grown up in a tradition that more or less had this outlook on the world, I can remember struggling with so much of the Bible. Why was so much of the Mosaic Law concerned with the animals, food preparation, land, boundaries, sojourners and not on prayer and other spiritual disciplines? Why did the Prophets focus on inequities between rich and poor, giving the land its rest and worship practices? When people asked John the Baptist what they should do in response to his Gospel proclamation, why did he call them to economic generosity and justice and not to pray a prayer?
I came to understand this disconnection came from my failure to understand what it means that the creation “is good.” I had what I later learned was a hard dualism that disconnected the spiritual from natural. The biblical worldview does not have that same kind outlook. The natural world is the space in which one lives out their spirituality. We are to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth as visible reflections of the invisible God. Everything we do from our jobs to our lawns is a stage for our spirituality. Far from compartmentalizing our spiritual and ordinary lives, the doctrine of creation makes the ordinary meaningful. If we retreat for spiritual disciplines, it is only temporary, so that we can live faithfully and joyfully in the real world.
So, do not seek escape the next time you are frustrated folding your laundry, fixing a meal, or mowing your lawn. Consider the goodness of this world and the spirituality of that ordinary work. See if it does not transform the way you look at the everyday. It is not something to escape. It is to be lived meaningfully and faithfully before God.
In His Grip,
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