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What the Oscars Teach Us about Significance

  • 2019 Feb 25
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In a surprise, Green Book won last night’s Academy Award for Best Picture. Rami Malek and Olivia Colman won for Best Actor and Best Actress in a Leading Role; Mahershala Ali and Regina King won for Best Actor and Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

For everyone who won an Oscar, last night’s ceremony was a pinnacle moment that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.  

For the rest of us, however, the transience of awards like last night’s Oscars is noteworthy. Who won last year for Best Actor? Best Actress? Best Picture? Who won the year before that?

We’ve already had the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Critics’ Choice Awards, and the Grammys. Do you remember who won what? We could ask the same question about past winners of the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Stanley Cup, and so on.

There’s a reason our culture pays so much attention to short-lived successes.

“Wealthy, successful and miserable”

Richard Rorty was one of America’s most influential thinkers. The longtime Princeton and Stanford professor was a leading voice for the relativism that has captured our culture. He claimed: “There is nothing deep down inside us except what we have put there ourselves.” He added that “truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with.”

If we reject the supernatural, the only prism by which to see the world is the natural. And the natural cannot see beyond itself. Like rose-colored glasses that turn everything rose-colored, we assume that all we see is all that exists.

As a result, many live for the moment, for the accolades of the present, because, to them, that’s all there is. But this materialistic, secularistic way of living is not sufficient for our souls.

Nine previous Oscar winners later committed suicide. Robert Kraft, the owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, stands accused of soliciting prostitution in Florida. Jussie Smollett’s character has been cut from this season’s final two episodes of Empire.

Writing for the New York Times Magazine, Harvard MBA graduate Charles Duhigg notes that many of his fellow graduates are “wealthy, successful and miserable.” One told him, “If you spend 12 hours a day doing work you hate, at some point it doesn’t matter what your paycheck says.” Many have “an underlying sense that their work isn’t worth the grueling effort they’re putting into it.”

Speaking of the Fall, C. S. Lewis observed: “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

When secularization begins

Living for the present to the exclusion of the eternal is a temptation for God’s people as well.

Jesus’ disciples saved their lives by forsaking their Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane. Ananias and Sapphira lied about their charitable gifts to gain the acclaim of their community (Acts 5:1–11). Peter bowed to the Judaizers when he sided against Gentile Christians in Antioch (Galatians 2:11–14).

Francis Schaeffer: “I believe that pluralistic secularism, in the long run, is a more deadly poison than straightforward persecution.”

When we seek to serve the world more than our Lord, we fail to serve either. We lose what is distinctive about our faith and appealing to many in our lost culture.

Historian Christopher Henry Dawson: “The process of secularization arises not from the loss of faith but from the loss of social interest in the world of faith. It begins the moment men feel that religion is irrelevant to the common way of life and that society as such has nothing to do with the truths of faith.”

“Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything”

Temporal success does not guarantee significance. Job’s so-called friends judged his character by his circumstances (cf. Job 22) and faced the wrath of God as a result (Job 42:7–9).

Long life does not guarantee significance. Joseph lived a shorter life than any of his brothers (Genesis 50:26), but whose life was more significant?

Popularity does not guarantee significance. When Jesus cast a demon from a man, his critics claimed: “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Luke 11:15).

What, then, guarantees significance?

John Maisel is a former football star, Purple Heart-decorated Vietnam War veteran, and successful businessman. He founded East-West Ministries in 1993 to reach the most unreached people in the world. East-West has now planted more than 171,000 churches in nearly fifty countries. John has been one of the most significant mentors in my life over the last three decades.

Dr. Mac Pier’s terrific new book about John captures his surrendered heart: All In: Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything. I was invited to take part in a luncheon last Friday that was planned to premiere the book by honoring John’s long ministry.

However, the guest of honor intervened. He insisted to me and to everyone who had a role in the luncheon that the focus was not to be on him, but on Jesus. He told our gathering: “Yesterday is history; tomorrow is mystery; today is all there is.” Then he challenged us to go “all in” for Jesus today.

Are you “all in”?

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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Publication Date: February 25, 2019

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