Okay, I have to admit it. I like watching trainwrecks. No, I’m not talking about trainwrecks where vehicles made of thousands of tons of steel crash into each creating death and destruction. I’m talking about trainwrecks like one can see regularly on TV or in sports. I’m talking about trainwrecks like those seen during the audition stage of American Idol when those poor deluded souls go on national TV and prove they can’t sing a lick. Those are the kind of trainwrecks that I’m talking about.
There’s something deep down inside us that gives us some sense of sadistic pleasure when we see others fail miserably. In the case of William Hung and other erstwhile American idols, I fing great solace in the fact that even I can sing better than that. Therein is the problem. I find pleasure in their failure because in some may it makes me feel like a success.
Think about the American fascination with the life of Brittany Spears or any one of another dozen celebrities whose private failures are constantly made public. Do any of us have any personal investment in the trainwreck they call a life? With the exception of family and close friend, the answer is a definitive “no.” So then, why do we care? You can’t say that no one cares. Look how much “press” those like Ms. Spears get everytime they does anything. But why the fascination with the disaster she’s made of her life? For many of us it is simply because we can say with great satisfaction, “At least my life is not as messed up as that.”
The same could be said at the strange feeling of satisfaction that many of us feel when the much adored and overpaid fail at their respective callings. In fact, some of us root for the likes of Barry Bonds to strike out. If the great Barry can blow it, I can feel a little better when I do. And, on and on it goes. We find solace in the failings and foibles of those around us because it proves their humanity and our superiority.
The problem extends beyond our ability to sympathize (and really empathize) with those who falter publicly. The problem is that we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to them in the first place. To compare our lives to those who live and work among the elite in whatever stratosphere they call home is unrealistic. So what if Barry Bonds can hit hundreds of home runs and you can’t? Most people can’t.
More importantly, as Christians we are not called to compare ourselves against other mere mortals anyway. Christ is our example and his holiness our standard. Against such lofty ideals, we all fail. Every one of our lives is a trainwreck. Rather than finding comfort in the fact that we are not alone, however, we should find our comfort in the Prince of Peace who offers not momentary solace but eternal justification. His life was perfect and it was the perfect substitute. When we fail we should not look for company in our failure but look for Christ and keep company with him.The next time you see a trainwreck, be it Brittany, Barry or a myriad of other fallible human beings, don’t gloat in their humanity. Rejoice in Christ’s. He came. He lived. He did not fail. He saves those who do.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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