The good life is something a man doesn’t count on. Rather, he bets on it. Because if a man counts on it, he—in the most essential place—risks nothing. Obviously. Because he has it all figured out. The answers are all known. It has all been arranged and explained. Everyone agrees on the plan, encouraging the simple math. “2+2=4!” A high school diploma plus a college degree plus a 401k equals the good life. Therefore, the counting-on-it man is, quite simply, an accountant. Living by theory, but no great theoretician. Speaking about hypotheses and art and worth, but no originator of hypotheses, art, or anything worthy. Claiming things he never paid for. He parrots and copies. In the game of life this man places no great bet upon the table. He is merely a technician applying the most rigorous science to his faith while keeping the most rigorous faith in his science. His is an existence lacking in wonder or amazement. Where the only surprises are bad ones. When what he counts on doesn’t happen, he will stand in awe of his calculations, but because they are miscalculations, it will be an awful awe. He will become a tale of all the good that never happened.
To put it another way: Anyone counting on the good life as a reward for his sacrifice, nullifies the sacrifice. In essence, there is no real sacrifice to his sacrifice. In its essence, its aroma is foul. Because from his point of view whatever he sacrificed FOR was already his. “See, it’s already written down in my book,” he says tapping the page. “I risked 2, then I risked 2 more. And 2+2=4!”
But this is the opposite of risk. His sacrifices are always bloodless. His life is not a bet, where everything is on the line and he MAY YET win, but rather a safe and secure transaction on an alter loaded with expectations and assumptions and limp second fruits; where the only thing sure to be in short supply is Abel’s pleasure.
If there is no real risk, there is no real life. In reality, if there is no real risk, there is no reality. Because to really live is to risk it all.
On the day a man is born, he is born neither a blank page nor a completed instruction manual, he is born an adventure. It begins on page one with “Once upon a time…” and is followed by page after living page typed today, written a thousand years ago, chiseled ten thousand years ago, spoken ten thousand years from now, and sung forever. “And will he win? Will he love? Will he fall? We he rise? Is it a good one? Is it a good life?” You may ask.
“Don’t count on it." The man smiles. “Bet on it.”
Is anyone born as a slave?
Or, as Jeremiah puts it: “Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth?”
I mean spiritually, psychologically, individually. No. We are free. Born as free as a bird in the sky. Free of the burden of the ego. Free of enculturation. So, the answer is no, we are born free.
So who puts us into bondage?
Jeremiah answers: “Have you not brought this on yourselves?” v17
Which is similar to the profound idea:
What goes out of you comes back to you as what’s happening to you.
Psychologically, we flat out reject our responsibility in the negative aspect of that statement, but on its positive aspects we quickly seize all credit and inflate ourselves with air. Our psyche is wrong on both counts. We are double-blind: blind, both to the evil within us and to the goodness without us. Like Samson; blind in two worlds. The world above and the world below. Frankenstein’s monster is created this way.
In all our running around and moralizing, “I am not defiled. I am not defiled. I serve no Baals!” (v23ff). We loudly announce the approach our self-righteous morality to our own wicked spirits within us, so that they never have to fear being caught. These bandits can happily sit in our blindspot waiting for our inner moral police, our endlessly arguing attorneys, and our hypocritical judges (our entire mock self-judicial system) to leave so they can do whatever they want with our lives, our desires, our actions, and our thoughts. Just look around you, moron. Look at the inner and outer Gotham of your lives.
We have an invisible mole sitting right within our inner police force—spying out our morality. That is a HUGE problem to get around. (Impossible?) If my own moral bloviating to myself IS the thing giving Evil the upper hand in my life, what can I do? How can I hide from myself? How can I keep my exhausting thoughts on the rules of good and bad behavior secret from my evil self?
I must turn against my own moral system which I have corrupted—turn against the lawless laws of the pharisees; reject the unshielding armor of King Saul—and trust the hero. I must, deep within the walls, in the silence of night, give the justice of my broken city over to someone else. Someone that comes mysteriously both from outside and inside. I must trust in that which is both deeper and higher than I—that which completely transcends me. I must become less. I must remove myself and give up control as ruler of the city. I must trust in the one who knows what to do.
To the degree that our lives are mundane, useless, slavish and spiteful; we are neither the hero of any story, nor the villain. We are mostly inconsequential. The NPC of a video game who says the same dumb sentence over and over, no matter how many times or under what circumstances he speaks. We are a flying monkey—entranced; following. A background zombie waiting for someone to wake us up.
It parallels the narrative function the Israelite nation serves in the Bible. Always getting trapped, lost, enslaved, becoming useless, turning into a parody of themselves, plugging back in to the matrix, sinking back into unconsciousness watching someone else’s life play out on a movie screen.
Dorothy wakes up and says, “you were there, and you were there! And you! You were scared. You were stuck. And you were broken! And I was lost. But we found each other and went in search for answers—looking for a way back home. And we found that what we were looking for was right within us the whole time!”
And the joyful faces all around the bed of the just-waking child say, “Yes, Dorothy, we were so worried about you. We saw you running away from home. We saw the terrible storm coming. We knew you were at great risk of dying, but there was nothing we could do! And then you were badly hurt and fell asleep—It was as if you were dead.
But you woke up! You came back! And now, even though we were here all along, it’s as if we are seeing each for the first time!”
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
No matter how far I travel, no matter all my striving, looking and searching; I find myself no further along and without answers. A sudden burst of speed only means my circle is smaller. I am stuck in a hamster wheel eating my own flesh. Drinking my own decay. Stuck only with myself, I drag entire solar systems along wherever I go. How far must I travel to discover new life—to find what I truly seek? To Mars I go. On a rocket ship--on my quest for...what? Knowledge? Gain? Peace? Yet, even there, I am alone in a flimsy tent; distastefully ingesting the products of my own feces and urine—trapped in a death cycle. Where am I going?
In the most desolate place in the universe, I discover what all who travel to that distant planet and scour its surface discover: Life is not on Mars. But it is precisely within that emptiness, that I stumble upon what I need most. A most precious treasure. I discover I must be willing to die--to live. I discover I must lose myself to find myself—to make it back home—to find the new life I so desperately want.
To escape gravity I must necessarily forego my attachment to this world—sever myself from the heaviest burden: the idea that reality is rational, objective, external; that it consists of me and “not” me. I must overcome the idea that I as a subject am separate from object—the two separated by action. And that when a subject acts upon an object—when I cross that great gulf—I do so by my will alone. I must wake up and realize that to have my entire worldview constrained by an insubstantial sentence makes me Marley's ghost tangled in my own causal chain—when I could be a living, breathing story. To think of my life as a sentence, or even a sequence of sentences, is to think of a cathedral as a series of bricks, or the Mona Lisa as strokes of oil paint. Those strokes, those bricks, those sentences have purpose. I must understand their place. They sit within--they serve--a story. That at any moment my action upon the world exists is one thing—that it leaves behind a story is another. Story is paramount. It is what remains. A sentence disappears. Life is a story served by sentences, not chained by them. Inverted, I will see existence as an endless sequence of drab somethings to strive against, through, and over—something “other”—always beyond.
Come with me. All you who have travelled far, searching the cosmos. Come here to the water's edge. Look. Lean over and gaze into the red Martian water far from home:
That Martian—that alien—that new life you seek… is staring you right in the face.
Breaking through the fourth wall, that invisible barrier, is similar in concept to what is required in my own life to the degree that I think I “know” and observe all that I experience. It is not enough to sit back and simply identify with (in this sense: “to know”or “to see”) what I see—as if through a one-way mirror. It is not enough! I am integral to the story, I am a part, I am as necessary for its existence and its future as the story itself. Because of the very nature of who I am, I too readily walk away from the story, claiming it was “out there;” in varying degrees relieved, saddened, and oblivious—believing it was neither “created for me, through me, nor by me.” I, the audience, unable to move—unable to utter a sound, reject life. Unwilling and unable to break though the invisible wall to the story right in front of me.