The Unattainable Good Life
Last fall, my husband and I went on a small weekend getaway. The package deal we bought included a gift card redeemable at the nearby outlet mall, but in order to get the card we had to sit through a sales pitch on buying a timeshare. We decided in advance to just say no to whatever they said and wait it out for the prize at the end. We immediately regretted the decision.
No gift card was worth what we sat through. The sales people were aggressive and relentless, and by the end I was ready to scream and run away. Finally, they brought out one last person to try and get us to buy. The woman looked me in the eyes and said, “Don’t you deserve this? You work hard. Don’t you deserve a place to get away?”
Frustrated and way past the point being courteous, I said the first thing that came to mind. “No. I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve any of the good things I have.” The lady looked at me like I had two heads, but she left!
I’ve thought about that encounter often. Because honestly, while I know what I said was true, I don’t often live out that truth. Instead, I often have the mindset that I do deserve good things like nice vacations and cushy timeshares.
What I really deserve is God’s judgment, but through Christ I have his mercy (Eph. 2:3-5). And while God does want us to know joy and happiness, he reminds us over and over that those things will never be found in anything in this world, no matter how good they seem.
In fact, when we buy into the idea that we “deserve good things,” the consequences can be deadly. We’re seeing that first hand through Elliot Rodger’s killing spree this past weekend at UCSB.
In his post, The Unattainable Good Life of Elliot Rodger, Alan Noble calls Rodger’s act a “vile act of misogyny, self-pity, narcissism, mental illness and sin.” What compelled him to go on a killing rampage? According to the videos he left behind, it’s because he believed he deserved "good things." He believed he was entitled to attention, affection and sex from women. He was a virgin driven mad by his unmet desires and he believed it was well within his “rights” to make the opposite sex pay for what they wouldn’t give to him.
What made him think he was entitled to sex and affection from women? What made Elliot Rodger think he deserved those thing? What made him think those things were worth pursuing in the first place? Without question, our culture’s conception of the “Good Life” plays a part.
Noble writes, “Elliot wanted the Good Life that has been officially sanctioned, marketed, and promoted by our culture. Think for a moment of all the TV shows which are centered around finding that perfect someone who will make the character/person feel good. All the songs which present being a desirable sexual partner as the most satisfying thing in life. All the films romanticizing or glorifying the thrill of the pursuit and attainment of love. All the institutions built around achieving this ideal. What happens when an entire culture tells you from birth that your worth as a human is largely dependent on your ability to attract and have sex with highly desirable people?”
What false ideas about the Good Life are you buying into? Perhaps nothing as extreme as what Elliot Rodger believed, but I don’t think anyone is immune from the influence of the Good Life. Noble points out that our emphasis on finding the “Perfect Mate” or having the “Perfect Body” or the “Perfect Job” are just a few of the cultural narratives we’ve accepted into when it comes to measuring our success and happiness in life.
But here’s the thing. God never guarantees those things, never tells us those things will make us happy. While our culture stresses sex, beauty and wealth as key indicators of significance, God’s markers of meaning are really quite opposite. Noble writes, “Through the Gospel we have the freedom to pursue various manifestations of the Good Life as defined by joyful flourishing and obedient delight in the goodness of God’s world. Part of the Church’s role in our contemporary world is to present these alternative visions of the Good Life, ones which do not dehumanize our neighbors and legitimize hate, misogyny, and violence.”
What’s your vision of the Good Life? Is it rooted in God’s truth or the world’s ideals? In her article How to Find the Good Life, Crosswalk contributor Whitney Hopler writes, “Only a relationship with Jesus can give you the good life that God has designed you to crave. Placing your hope in anything less – even if it’s something good that God has created – turns into idolatry that interferes with your relationship with Jesus and actually leads you away from the good life that God wants you to enjoy.”
Take time today to consider your actions and goals: are they in pursuit of the world’s standards of success and meaning, or the Lord’s?
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.