Twice in the last couple of weeks I’ve come across stories of people who are stuck in a virtual reality not of their own making.
The first was while re-reading the Harry Potter books.1 In Chamber of Secrets, Harry comes across the Mirror of Erised,2 and sees his parents, who were killed when he was a baby. He doesn’t know what the mirror does or how it works, but he knows he wants to see his parent again. He goes back the next night, and he thinks to himself that there’s nothing to keep him from staying there all night with them.
But Professor Dumbledore is there that second night, and Dumbledore knows exactly how the mirror works and what the dangers of it are. He tells Harry:
Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible… It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.
The second was towards the end of this season’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series.3 A character named Mack was caught in a virtual reality world, only he thought it was the real world (just go with it, the details aren’t important). When told it wasn’t real, and that they needed to escape back to the real world, he naturally wanted to take his daughter. Except that in the real world, his daughter had died several years before. “I’m not leaving if she’s not going to be with me.” “Mack, she isn’t real!” “She’s real to me!”
Both characters were faced with a decision of staying where life was as they wanted it, even though it wasn’t real, or of going back to where life was real but sometimes hard and difficult. All of us face that decision on a regular basis — do we stay comfortable and safe or do we do something risky? It might be in a job, in a relationship, or lunch (hamburger or tripe?). Sometimes, we’re making the decision not for us, but for our kids — are we going to let them do something risky or something they might fail at, or are we going to keep them “safe”?
As you can see from the warning labels on everything you own (“do not hold the wrong end of the chainsaw”), we here in America have become obsessed with being safe. We have made being safe, and making our kids safe, our #1 priority. If there’s a .001% chance of risk, then we can’t have any of that nonsense. The end result is a nation that is, in the words of those great philosophers of yesteryear Pink Floyd, “comfortably numb.”
Unfortunately, the mindset has invaded the church as well. We’ve become content to go and sit on Sunday and not do anything else (and often not even that), because we can’t risk failing, or we can’t risk not knowing enough, or we don’t want to give our “free” time, or we can’t risk others thinking we’re “weird”.4 We have made our comfort more important than the life God has called us to live.
The interesting thing about God’s calling in scripture is that God never calls someone to more comfort. “Hey, you’re taking entirely too many risks over there, I want you come over here and just rest.” “You know what, you’ve been working way too hard, just sit down and take it easy for a few years.”
No, He called Abram to leave home and family and go … well, He didn’t tell him where he was going, just to go. He called Paul to leave what he knew and go to something he didn’t, and told him from the beginning that he would suffer for His sake (an understatement if ever there was one). He called Moses from forty years of tending sheep to go take on the most powerful nation in the world. He called Peter from fishing for fish to fishing for men.
He called them from comfort to hardship. He called them from hard work to harder work. He called them from being respected to being reviled. He called them out of being comfortably numb to being astonishingly alive.
As believers, we should be better equipped at this than anyone — we have no reason to be afraid of anything, since we’ve already died (to ourselves), and we’re going to live forever (spiritually). Oh, believe me, I know — that’s hard. But it’s hard because, like Mack, we get mixed up about what’s real and what isn’t. We think this is real, the physical life we endure here, but what’s really real is our spiritual life. The former is subject to degradation and degeneration and the heartbreak of psoriasis, but the latter is secure in Jesus for all eternity.
We thus have no excuse for not taking risks, for not going where God calls when He calls, for not running hard after Him no matter what that looks like (and it’s never going to look as comfortable as that couch). Our pastor just started a series on the Beautitudes (Matt 5:1-11), and it’s interesting to see what’s scattered around the list of those who are blessed: those who mourn, those who are persecuted, those are reviled and have lies told about them for His sake, those who are peacemakers. (You know what peacemakers do? They get in the middle of a fight!)
Harry had to give up something he desperately wanted, time with his parents (even if it was just in a mirror), to go live the life he was meant to live. He didn’t know it yet, but the next few years were going to be exceedingly difficult. He had the courage to do so in part because of the courage his parents had shown him by dying so that he could live. And it was that courage that ultimately gave him the courage to do the same.
Rich5 says it this way — love is found in the things we have given up more than in the things that we have kept.
What do you need to give up? What is holding you back from living the life God has for you, the abundant life He wants you to have?
Comfortably Numb is a great song, but it’s a lousy lifestyle. Let’s live by this one instead.
I wrote about them last time, I decided to re-read them. LOTR is probably next; I haven’t read it in five years or so. ↩
“Desire” spelled backwards, for the muggles in the audience. ↩
Marvel can’t seem to make good movies very consistently, but they make a pretty good TV show. (I realize I am in the minority on that opinion, but I also happen to be in the right on that opinion.) ↩
Just be weird in the first place and you won’t have to worry about that one. ↩
Well, technically it was Susan who said it. ↩