We Love the Lie
Remember the scene in the original The Matrix, when Joe Pantoliano acknowledges that the steak he’s eating isn’t real, but then says that “ignorance is bliss?” He loves the taste of steak so much that he’s willing to ignore its foundational falseness.
We are the same.
In a recent piece on Hollywood.com about the MTV show Catfish, a viewer was interviewed after allegations that much of show is staged had surfaced. "It’s more or less obvious that it’s just baiting," said Rachel Turnpaugh of Memphis, Tenn. "It always ends up being the worst-case scenario anyway." But, the interviewer asks, would Turnpaugh still watch the series knowing there are editing changes? "Absolutely."
Turnpaugh is just like me. She’s just like Joe Pantoliano in The Matrix. She’s just like you. When a lie is something that we enjoy, or that makes us feel good about ourselves, we are happy, even eager, to believe it.
The same goes for the lie associated with the Law. It’s a lie that the world tells us, and a lie that we tell ourselves: to get in good with God, we have to be good. “Here’s the checklist,” the lie goes, “just do this stuff – and do it right – and you’ll be fine.” This lie makes us feel good; it makes us think that we have a chance; it makes us think we’re in control. Even though it leaves us empty in the end – emptier than an episode of Catfish – we always come back for more.
We adore the idea that we are masters of our own destinies, kings of our own castles. A list of seemingly-achievable tasks is like a rainbow that we’ve been told leads to a pot of gold. Who doesn’t look at such a list and think, “I am going to feel great about myself when I’ve completed this!”
For Christians, though, the truth is so much better than the lie: Jesus Christ has already finished all of the work for you. There’s nothing left to be done. Despite this, we find ourselves reverting daily to “to-do list Christianity,” like watching episode after episode of Catfish: telling ourselves that we’re enjoying it, but feeling curiously unsatisfied.
The Good News about Jesus Christ – the Gospel – is real. It’s the steak. It’s the filet mignon that’s been put in front of us with the note “no charge.” We don’t trust the chef, though…we’re terrified that some mistake has been made and the bill will be overwhelming. So we push the plate away and figure we’ll forage for our own dinner. We think we’ll like it more since we got it for ourselves…and while we’re eating it, there is that twinge of satisfaction. But soon, we’ll just be hungry again.
Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
Only the Gospel – a truth given free of charge – will fully satisfy.