by Shea Oakley
"The sweet poison of a false infinite" (C. S. Lewis).
The "false infinites" Lewis speaks of are all the things, other than God, which human beings look to for ultimate fulfillment. They might be money, sex, power, or any number of additional modern-day idols fallen men and women lust after. Throughout our history there have been such square pegs that we have tried to fit into a round hole, more specifically the "God-shaped hole" Blaise Pascal spoke of. But perhaps never have there been so many pegs as now, at least in the Western world. Why do we keep falling for false infinites? Why do even Christians fall into this fruitless searching after the wind?
Perhaps part of the answer to this question lies in the glossy enticements of contemporary society. We are the world's first mass consumer culture. In our broadcast and print media and on the Internet Westerners are bombarded with commercials designed to incite insatiable lusts of one kind or another. By age 18 every child in America has seen tens of thousands of TV images of everything from expensive cars to perfectly flawless models that beckon us to some kind of earthly transcendence (an oxymoron, by the way.) Whether it is the new Mustang or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, we are encouraged to believe that if we just owned this car or possessed that woman our lives would somehow be made complete. This is, of course, a deception, but it is a very attractive one.
For most of the centuries we have been on the planet, just a small minority of individuals has had access to the earthly trappings of riches and power. In the Bible, for instance, only kings and a handful of wealthy landowners had instant access to riches and other worldly pleasures. Historically, the vast majority of people had to make do with the basic necessities of life, and some with less than that. Today, in the so-called "First World," it is different. Millions of us can afford to pay others to do our bidding, giving us a sense of personal power beyond the means of the generations that have gone before us. We can acquire a cornucopia of consumer goods that would seem absolutely fantastic to the ancient world. Since the unfortunate "Sexual Revolution" we can also freely indulge our physical appetites, whether in the form of pornography or real flesh, without fear of the censure of our society. Our vast middle class lives in a style achievable by only a few potentates in biblical times. False infinites abound and many of us can obtain them.
Sadly, believers are not immune to the enticements of our age. The presence of myriad addictions in our churches is mute testimony to that fact. Far too many of us live a sort of "double-life," with one foot in Zion and the other in Las Vegas. We claim to seek the sacred but our lives are full of the profane. We, too, have bought into "the sweet poison."
It is not that material things are bad in and of themselves. Power and sexuality are not intrinsically evil either. It is when these become ends in themselves that we are in danger. All turn out to be toxic when they are sought above or apart from relationship with God. Scripture tells us that in seeking the Kingdom of Heaven such things will be, to different degrees, added on to us. As Lewis also wrote, if we shoot for heaven we will get the earth thrown in, but if we shoot for earth alone we will get neither.
The only One with infinite value is our Lord. No one and nothing else is infinite. Therefore anyone or anything other than God can be truly poisonous to our souls when given value which only He deserves. Like so many things in life it is a problem of perspective. May God help us to see all in the light of Who He is.
Copyright 2005 by Shea Oakley, All rights reserved.
Shea Oakley has written for a number of Christian Web magazines and is currently working on a book about church discipline and the restoration of Christian leaders who have fallen. He makes his home in West Milford, NJ.