I saw a really bad movie this week. “The Omen 2” came on TV and my wife had never seen it (nor had I), and so we watched it out of curiosity. If you don’t recall the movie, it was the middle movie in a trio of movies based on the Antichrist. The movies cited some New Testament verses – well out of context – and gave their little monster a number of accessories and abilities besides the original biblical description. Like being able to stare people to death, and familiars like a silent Rottweiler who kills enemies for him, and a raven (or a really big crow) who also disposes of inconvenient people. By the way, the ‘Omen’ movies came several years before ‘Star Wars’, so I had this mental image of a certain modern director watching Damien Thorn stare someone to death in a scene, and think to himself, ‘Niiiiiiiiice, I gotta have MY villain use that trick’. Anyway, the movie had absolutely no suspense – you could tell by the music when someone was going to die – and a plot that was absurdly thin. What struck me the most, though, is that the Antichrist legend is pretty rich and detailed (almost every belief system has a story of a final evil leader), and the Bible contains enough information to build a fascinating character. But somehow no one has ever been able to present a truly believable Antichrist.
When you think about it, though, it makes a kind of sense. People who are aligned with God don’t worry too much about some human trying to play God (most of us are guilty of that to some degree, so the Antichrist is just the most egregious offender), and most people out of alignment with God do not understand the concept or the message. Some scholars believe the biblical Antichrist was the Emperor Nero of Rome, some others have suggested people like Adolf Hitler was the Antichrist, or at least AN Antichrist. And of course, the word has been worn out to the point that almost every controversial political figure can expect to be called ‘The Antichrist’ by his or her opponents. The word has lost a lot of its significance over time. There was a time when the fear of damnation caused men and women to tremble, to weigh their lives against a higher standard and to think seriously about the major choices. While I am not one who believes that God wants us to repent of our sins just to get out of a terrible punishment, I do believe we should be aware that our choices have consequences, and to live in faith by choice rather than compulsion. Also, faith builds a foundation for a better life which seems irrational to some people, and foolish to even more, but which makes possible greater joy and happiness than anyone can have without it.
Consider Charlie Sheen. Most of us, at first thought, would gladly trade lives to be someone known for talent, good looks, grace, and more than a little good fortune. Speaking of which, that life we trade for would include a personal fortune in eight figures, and a regular lifestyle which many people literally fantasize about. What’s not to like? Yet Mr. Sheen has three failed marriages, accidentally shot a girlfriend in 1990, has been arrested numerous times, including charges of domestic violence and drug-related offenses. He’s been in both hospitals and rehab, but apparently still has not changed his behavior. Sheen’s temper and legal troubles finally cost him his starring role and contract on his TV show, and for all intents and purposes his career is circling the drain. Charlie Sheen is hardly the only guy to go down that road, though. Last year at this time, we were just finding out about Tiger Woods, whose philandering astounded even the blasé media, and more to the point cost him his endorsements, derailed his ability to win tournaments, and destroyed his marriage and his relationship to his children. Let’s put it this way – if you’re married to Denise Richards or Elin Nordegren, and you still feel you need to cheat, you’re seriously messed up. But let’s not forget Lindsay Lohan, though, or Paris Hilton, proof that the ladies also are quite capable of taking a good thing and messing it up completely.
This is not to say that if you are able to have and keep your success that this means you have it all. My point is that real happiness and joy comes from something a lot deeper and substantial. Sheen, Lohan, Woods and Hilton all made the same mistake, in that they chased what they wanted for themselves, and never built their lives on something more enduring and permanent. I’m not perfect by any means, but I’m pretty sure that I have more happiness and joy in my life than any of those celebrities I mentioned. Sure, they have more fun and can have any toy or pleasure they desire, pretty much at their whim and as much as they want, but what they fail to understand is why it won’t satisfy. One analogy which comes to mind is a broken rib – you can feel a bit better by having a drink or taking a drug, but until you get the rib healed you will continue to suffer from the situation – any relief will be superficial and temporary. Life conditions are the same way – you have to recognize, accept and address the real problems in your life, or you can never be free of them.
What’s good about our common situation, is that we have choices. We make choices all the time, and every one leads to a different place from the others. One choice may well seem to be inconsequential soon after you make it, but over time and in combination with a whole sequence of choices, you begin to see what your choice leads to. This is true of education, character, and cultural choices, but even more in your moral decisions. You are what you do, and in essence, become the sum of your choices.
I am a Christian, and my Master commends me to spread the Good News, but I want to be careful about the thin line between honest testimony and unreasonable fanaticism. Just last Saturday, I was taking a nap when there was a ring at the door. A group of evangelists were inviting folks to come to their church. Fair enough, but the problem is that they started out their tour with the assumption that everyone they were going to meet needs saving from hellfire. Telling them I was already a believer did no good, as they then expected me to either A)join them on their tour, or B)invite them in for a few hours of scripture study, prayer and in-home revival. Now, I believe in the Bible, and I love to pray, but it’s just plain wrong to show up at someone’s house and tell them what they have to do with their own time and residence. As I said, I was sleeping when they showed up, and while I pray often, I have a firm rule that I do not pray on command just because some other person expects me to, much less considers it a requirement of faith. Sorry, folks, I worship God, but even though I believe you are my brothers and sisters in Christ, that does not mean your opinion counts as His. I mention this little incident, because if I was put off by the Jesus Sales Team, I suspect my neighbors were no better pleased with their heavy-handed assumptions and, well, arrogance. As if to reinforce the problem, I was cut off in traffic yesterday morning by a reckless driver speeding through traffic and weaving through lanes – with a WWJD sticker on his back bumper. What would Jesus do? Drive slower and act more friendly, I think. That’s not to tear down Christians in general, though as I am a believer I have the responsibility to call out my own, first. I bring that criticism up for two reasons. First off, when I speak about laying a moral foundation for our lives to build upon, I believe that comes from God, and from what I know it seems that He speaks to all of us. No, not necessarily as a real voice you hear, though I know that He does that some times (He does that to me when I am especially poor at listening, but that’s for another time). But we all know, at some deep level, when we are over the line, when we are not saying, doing, or being the person we should. The idea that God only cares about people in one part of the world, or offers communion with one culture, or shares the truth about His will with one group, is absurd. I think C.S. Lewis was right when he suggested that all myth has some value, and we do well to consider a belief system on its own merit. That’s not to say that all beliefs are valid, or that all roads reach God. But I do believe that God knows the heart of every one of us, and you cannot make God angry by loving your neighbor or helping someone in need. That is, regardless of doctrine, a man who acts in the ways that Christ commands is His best follower. The man (generic form, not meaning male per se) who performs the commands of the Buddha is his best student, regardless of whether he knows a single teaching by rote. The reverse is also true – a man who hates his brother hates Christ, no matter how much Scripture he can recite, and a man who does not care when someone suffers, spits on the God who made us all. We make the choice over and over again, sometimes choosing well and sometimes poorly. What separates us, I think, starts with whether we care about our mistakes and the people we hurt, or if we just want to take care of ourselves. If we are sorry for our wrongs and mean to improve, even though we will screw up we are the family of God, and walking the right way because of the foundation of choosing to care and help. If not, we neglect that foundation, and even a thousand good deeds, if done only to please ourselves, will come to nothing and end is failure.
Hope is always true, but we have to choose it and build upon it. Faith is stronger than rebar, but harder to work with for most of us. But we have to start with Charity, because that is the direction of our heart and the theme for all our decisions. Care, then act on it.