Wednesday, May 08, 2002

A Bit of an Answer?

I have come to realize some interesting things, as I struggle with the rambling question I posted yesterday.

CS Lewis, in Mere Christianity, compares humanity to a machine or car, designed to run on only one kind of fuel (God) that breaks down after a short distance every time we try to run it on any other fuel alone (spiritualism, humanism, positivism, self-respect, etc.). I would take the metaphor a little further.

Even when we fuel up with the right gas, the road we travel is one with flashy billboards and fancy attractions at lots of exits and rest areas. But every one of them delays the journey, using up fuel without making progress. Every rest area becomes a spot where in essence I say “I’ve gone far enough. I’ve done enough. I don’t need to do anymore.” The reason temptation is so, well, tempting, is it promises a rest. The road is long, and in fact, endless, and for finite creatures with who need to spend one third of our lives sleeping, endless seems pretty long.

The promise of rest is an empty one, of course, because we are built to run on the fuel that is God. The only real rest comes at the end of the journey. As soon as we—as soon as I—take the exit, the gas tank runs low. Unfortunately, everyone needs to fill the tank with something. When we are off the road, the options are many, but all are the wrong kind of fuel.

So many people wander around trying to “find themselves” or seek fulfillment in this hobby or that job. They use drugs or sex as a replacement. They think Ambition is the same thing as Fulfillment. In essence, they try to climb into the void left by God’s absence. But an Infinite Presence leaves an Infinite Void, and I don’t know any mere human capable of filling an infinite void. The tank demands filling, and the further off the road you get, the more desperately you look for gas—just a few gallons to get you back on track. They think that the tools of God can be used without having to acknowledge God. And, in fact, they can. But they cannot in this way lead to God, or do what God does.

That is, in a sense, what yesterday’s ramblings are all about. “How much is ‘enough’” is in one way a very good question: how do I balance all my obligations into an integrated whole? How do I fulfill obligations to family as a way to God while also fulfilling obligations to the poor and the strangers as a way to God. Stretching the metaphor (I’ll stop with it soon, I promise): the highway has jersey barriers on either side, and crashing into either is just as bad as driving off the road. The lanes are plenty wide enough to avoid them, but my car has bad steering, and an inattentive driver. When I ask about enough in this sense, it is really asking about steering a middle course while staying on the road.

But the question “How much is ‘enough?’” is a terrible one when viewed in the other dimension. “How far is enough?” How far down the road do I need to drive before I can pat myself on the back, say to myself “well done” and pull over for a little nap? The answer to that one is hardwired into each of us, and it doesn't take an especially astute observer of society to see it.

This still doesn't answer the question of balance for me, but at least it clarifies which question I need to answer.


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