Man’s limited potential.

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The Greeks were some of the best storytellers the world has ever known. Some of you may already be thinking, “Really? Why? What about our movies? I like a lot of the books and movies from today.” Many of our books and movies are based on stuff the Greeks pointed out a really long time ago. Anyways, the Greeks had this insightful story about the beginning of man. It was how they dealt with this idea of human limitations.

The Greeks said that the god Zeus created mankind, except he created man a certain way. Zeus originally created man to know the exact time of his death. So it wasn’t just some sort of ethereal, ambiguous, “I’m going to eventually die some day.” But it was an acute awareness that it was coming. It was more like, “I am going to die on this date, at this time, in this place, and that sucks…” and so they knew it. It was locked in and they could see it. And the weight of it crushed them so that they weren’t motivated to do anything. They knew they were going to die, they knew it wasn’t going to matter, and they knew that whatever they accomplished ultimately wasn’t going to change anything. So the Greeks thought that the gods who had foreknowledge and could do something about this were just cruel and would never do anything about it.

So in the beginning, man is completely aware of his limits, completely aware of his mortality and is crushed by that knowledge. He is helpless and hopeless, living in darkness and despair. But then enters Prometheus. (Get that silly alien movie out of your head, because that has absolutely nothing to do with this story.) For whatever reason, Prometheus, also a god, has compassion on mankind and takes issue with Zeus. So to get back at Zeus, he gives mankind three gifts. He takes away the knowledge of the day of death. He takes away man’s understanding of his own mortality; by this it means that he gave to man a blind, intrinsic desire to overcome and be more than he could ever possibly be. And then he gives the man fire. This is the Greek’s way of unpacking technology. Because with fire, man can make pottery. With fire, man can make weapons. With fire, man can more easily make food, grow, and become stronger. It’s this idea that with fire, man can overcome and correct the world around him.

So while Prometheus is doing all of this, Zeus is somehow busy and unaware, and he comes back up to Mount Olympus, looks down and goes, “Where did men get fire?!” So he brings in Prometheus and in a rage explains to him that mankind, because he lacks foreknowledge and because he can’t see all that is, he is going to create far more problems in this state for himself than he would if he would have stayed ignorant. So he binds Prometheus to a rock and causes buzzards to come everyday and eat out his liver. And then his liver will grow back, and the birds will come back the next day to eat it out again. This is the major problem with most Greek mythology… it’s really awesome at identifying and explaining the problem, but then it never really offers any solutions.

So the Greeks are trying to unpack this reality. Mankind as a whole is unaware of his mortality. Now we all know we’re going to die, right? That’s not news to you. Is it? Nobody just read that and went, “What?!” Everyone reading this knows they’re going to die. But nobody feels the weight of that, and nobody thinks that it is happening today. We don’t even think it’s happening this week. If we’re really honest, we don’t think it’s happening this month or this year. A few months ago both of my parents had their 56th birthdays. Nothing in me at that time was going, “This is the last one. I had better enjoy this one with them.”

So many of us walk in this arrogant position towards death. We are well aware that people get sick, we are well aware that people die, but we are convinced that it will not be us. At least not today. So it’s real, but it’s not real. And the human mind is brilliant at justification. Why isn’t it going to happen to you? Because you eat right. Because you manage your stress well. Because you’re a careful driver. You could go on and on with your reasons. You have enabled yourself to protect yourself from the fear of being an early departure, if there ever was such a thing.

The great Jewish king Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 9:12, “For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.”

Nobody feels death coming for them. Nobody really feels the weight of it. So we behave as though we’re gods. We behave as though we’re immortal. The other thing is few of us have any real ability to grasp and comprehend how our behavior today creates a mess of things tomorrow. Many of us don’t realize that there is a terrible double-edged sword to the human ingenuity of mankind.

How many of you have been on the Internet this week? All of us? I mean, you are probably on it now if you’re reading this… Has anything changed the world quite like the Internet? When is the last time you called a movie theater to see what time something was showing? Do you remember when we had to do that? You had to listen to all the showings, and your movie was always the last one listed. So you had to sit there for 20 minutes until it got there. And then a sibling or one of your friends would say something right when the showtimes were announced and you had to hang up, try all over, and listen to all the movies and times again. Oh, and if you were using a phone with the dial where you had to actually spin it around… that always took at least two tries just to dial out and not have it be busy. Then technology jumped and you could just press a button to hear your movie. You just clicked #3 and skip the rest. Nobody does that anymore though, now we can just check the website or one of the fifty movie theater apps on our phones; and for those of you who live in the Dallas area, there is a showing at five different theaters, within five miles, every hour on the hour anyway so you can pretty much just go whenever…

When is the last time you unfolded a map? We don’t do that anymore. (I don’t do that anymore, well, apart from a trip a few years back… Greg Galloway knows what I’m talking about. My phone stopped working, we didn’t have a GPS, so we got an atlas and still managed to drive from Texas to Utah with no problems.) I still have that atlas in my car, but I don’t use it, these days, you just tell your phone, “I need to get to Shaun’s place,” and then just set it on the dash and follow the arrow. It has completely changed how we operate in this world. And now things are just getting faster and there is just more and more data available.

Even now, as I’m studying, I can access online thousands and thousands of books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, peer-reviewed journal articles, blog posts, podcasts, and even pull that stuff up in multiple languages… and I can take a break, open a second tab, skim some recent news in sports, watch some crazy basketball highlights and funny clips on YouTube, read some stuff on politics, and check out the latest local, national, and global news. Heck, now we even have apps for all that and can access it from our cell phones. So all of that I used to do just from my computer, I can do it from my phone, or tablet, or laptop, any mobile device, just about anywhere in the world. All I need is Wi-Fi. The internet really is a glorious invention, it is an absolutely amazing and tremendous contribution of technology, but it also has a very dark side to it.

You can research it yourself if you don’t believe me, but if you will track the growth of pornography with the growth of sexual assault and abuse, you will see that they hang very closely together. We have now brought into our homes what was at one time extremely difficult to get our hands on, and we have even made it culturally okay, to the detriment of our women, the detriment of our children, and to the deterioration of healthy relationships with one another.

The Internet, for all its truly great accessibility and connectivity, has shallowed out relationships to the point where now we have “Facebook friends” and “Twitter followers.” Think about that though… The majority of them are probably not your friends. You live vicariously through what they did on Friday and feel bad because you weren’t invited or didn’t get to participate, or because what you did wasn’t as cool. The Internet has opened up doors for identity theft, computer hacking, online banking fraud, cyber-stalking, and malicious predators to more easily track people. And on and on we could go here. We have hollowed out relationships, and we have brought things into our home that you would have not been able to get into your home twenty years ago without having to be very, very shady.

There isn’t really anything we could mention or think of, from the car to e-mail, from our cell-phones to chemically altered and genetically modified food, that doesn’t help us while at the very same time create some problems for us. Let us consider just a few more things. Has anybody been on antibiotics in the past year? In case you haven’t already heard, here’s what they have been figuring out about antibiotics. Because of the rate at which we’re taking them, it is helping to create these strains of bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotics. So here’s the solution – make stronger antibiotics. Just start producing “super drugs” or “wonder drugs” to fix the problem. Now we know how this eventually ends – we’re all zombies and we’re eating each other. Right? We’ve seen enough movies to know that’s how this ends. So watch what mankind does. “Here’s the problem. Let’s fix it.” And in fixing it, he made the problem worse, or just created different problems. And in fixing the worse problem, he’s going to just make it worse. And on and on we continue to go.

If we were to get into the splitting of the atom and nuclear reactions that could power cities without any tax on the world’s resources and then discuss the fact that instead we’ve weaponized it and don’t watch over it well, so we have accidents like Chernobyl, but I’m going to leave that one alone even though I kind of just didn’t….

Anyways, here is one of my favorite examples. We can make more food now at less expense than anytime in the history of humanity, and yet that food lacks the nutrients we need to live healthy. So for very cheap, you can fill a basket full of food, and yet it is a proven reality that that food is causing diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and is linked to increasing the risk of cancer. We needed a lot of food, and we needed it cheap. We needed to do something with this World War II machine that was built to fight the Axis of Evil. And then we ended up producing this terrible kind of food. Almost all of it is corn based, almost all of it is absent of any type of vitamins and minerals that we need to survive. So we are stuffing our faces with stuff that’s going to shorten the amount of time we’re alive and cause the amount of time we are here to be lessened in its vitality simply because we lack what we need to function properly. The Greeks were nailing this. We certainly fixed something, but we just create a bigger problem. This is the Greeks’ way of saying we are not the answer.

Here is the Bible’s way of saying the same thing:

• “Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. . . . Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.” – Job 7:7; 14:1-2

• “Behold, You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before You. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” – Psalm 39:5

• “Remember how short my time is! For what vanity You have created all the children of man! What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah.” – Psalm 89:47-48

• “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” – Psalm 103:15

• “A king’s wrath is like the growling of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass.” – Proverbs 19:12

God says, “You’re like a flower that sprouts in the morning, the wind blows you away, and by the afternoon, the very ground you are on doesn’t remember you.” Even the place you were doesn’t remember you. Now we know this is true. Most people reading this blog could not give me the name of their great-great grandfather, and none of you thought about him today. We’d probably even be able to put a picture of him right in front of you and you’d be like, “I don’t know who that is. Some old dude?” But no, that’s family. That’s your bloodline. So just to make it sting a little bit… that’s you in the blink of an eye.

Any type of illusion of grandeur you have where 200 plus years from now people are going to be looking back at your life going, “That is where it all changed for the better,” is what the Greeks were pointing to. You’ve been deceived. It’s not reality. The Bible says, “You’re here for a second, for a blink of an eye. That’s it.” So if we take all of known history and compress it into an hour, your time here is really like half a millisecond, a fraction of a blink. So when we’ve got issues with the Almighty, we’re frustrated with God; when we’ve got issues with how things are playing out, we must know that our limited time here affects how we’re able to see.

Humans really do have a limited perspective of the world in this life, don’t we? If we’re only here for a very short amount of time in the grand scope of things? So, would it make sense for a Creator God, or any higher power to come ask us for advise on how to run the universe? I mean, you don’t seek out a three-year-old for retirement advice, do you? “Do you think we should do a Roth here? Or should we just go with the annuity? How much per paycheck should we contribute? What do you think we should do here?”

Now, as the kid grows older and learns a little more about life, they can tell others a little more about life. But I’m not seeking marriage advice from any four-year-olds right now. “What do you think I should do about a nice date for Kat?” The kid might answer, “Chuck-E-Cheese or Lego Land” And I know that’s not going to work. “What do you think I should do for our two-year anniversary, since that’s coming up soon?” “Chuck-E-Cheese, or Lego Land, or maybe the zoo, oh or a water park!” Okay, that would go really, really bad for me. So, I don’t do that. I don’t seek or take the advice of a toddler on how I should steward my marriage. Why? Because they haven’t lived long enough to know anything about it.

So if God is eternal and we’re here for a fraction of half a millisecond, we really can’t argue from any position of authority with God. Not only are we limited in time, we’re extremely limited in scope. Just turn over to the book of Job or Habakkuk in the Scriptures and watch how that turned out for them. Both Habakkuk and Job have some issues with how God is playing things out. For whatever reason, God is far more aggressive with Job. But with Habakkuk, He was a little more patient with him, He was a little more gracious and easy on him when explaining things. So with Job, God’s just like, “Okay, let’s do this, man up and answer these questions.” Look at Job 38, starting in verse 1.

“Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment. From the wicked their light is withheld, and their uplifted arm is broken. Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this. Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take
it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!” – Job: 38:1-21

This goes on for the rest of the chapter, and then four more after that. In the middle of it, Job pretty much goes, “Okay, I’m sorry. I’m an idiot. I won’t open my mouth anymore.” But God continues, “No, dress for action like a man. You wanted to have this conversation. Let’s talk about it.” So God systematically breaks down Job’s limitations. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Surely you know how all this works.” If we were to keep reading, you’d see God ask, “Hey, how did I get Orion’s belt up there like that? What about Pleiades, how is that suspended like it is? How did that get strung along? Tell Me how I did that, Job, oh brilliant one, oh scholar of the great.”

And then God’s conversation shifts and He starts going, “Hey, are there any goats being born right now? Are any bears hunting anywhere? Are they eating? Right now, do you see them? What about the deepest parts of the sea? What are the monsters like that are down there? What about the tops of the mountains? What are the rams doing up there? Surely you must know. What about the birds flying in the air? What are they looking for? Who gave the hawk such sharp eyesight? Was that your idea? Was that your idea to make the hawk fly so high and so fast, and be able to see clearly down to the ground?” He literally just dresses Job down and reveals to him how little he really knows. He tells him to dress for action like a man and then strips him. And this is God’s way of communicating to Job and to us that we are limited in time and limited in scope. We simply can’t see all that is at play.

So right now, while you’re reading this, what exactly is going on in the room next to you? What about in the building next to you? You have no idea what’s going on in those other rooms or buildings right now. If you’re not at home, what’s going on at your house right now? You don’t know what’s going on at your house right now. What’s going on in San Antonio, Memphis, Indianapolis, and Miami? It’s the NBA Conference Finals right now. There’s a lot going on in those cities this week. But we don’t know. And even if we know some of what is going on, we don’t know what’s actually happening there at this very second. Even if you were actually there, what is everyone there talking about? What are they all thinking? Where did they all come from? Where are they all going? How are all their interactions connected?

We are limited in our scope of understanding. We don’t know how things fit together to actually move history along. And here’s the crazy part. Most of the time, we’re unaware of that reality. We’re unaware of those limitations. Because everything in our culture talks about our endless possibilities, our unlimited potential and how to grasp the power that’s within. Just drive on over to the nearest Barnes & Noble; the largest section of books in the bookstore is the “self-help,” fix yourself books.

I would contend that no one has lied to you more than you have. No one has betrayed you more than you have betrayed yourself. You can blame or point fingers at whoever you want to blame and point fingers at, but the biggest liar you know is you. And you are not going to be able to fix you. If you disagree with that, well, we just have all of human history to back it up. If God would be merciful enough to give you just a clear picture today, you’d feel the weight of it. Watch how people in the suburbs and people in our culture right now are trying to solve the issues of our culture. “Marriage is just not really working between us, so we’ll try watching something to help, we’ll introduce new partners into this mix, we’ll seek fulfillment elsewhere from another broken human being, we’ll be in an open relationship, we’ll swap around a little bit, and maybe some or all of that will fire up the spices in our relationship.” I’ll tell you how that ends – divorce and heartbreak. Every time. So many think, “Well not me.” Not you yet, but it all ends in the same place. We’re bored, and we’re lonely, so we’ll buy trinkets and toys that numb it for a second. Most of us are carrying a ridiculous amount of debt because we’re trying to solve a problem that we cannot solve by ourselves. But we can numb it for a second though, can’t we? New stuff really is cool. The next big part is gonna be a blast! The NBA draft is coming up, the Finals are right around the corner, and Baseball season is in full swing, baby showers, graduations, and weddings are taking place every weekend right now, and then of course there’s a bunch of big summer blockbusters coming out over the next few months (IronMan 3, Star Trek, Oblivion, After Earth, Man of Steel, etc.) to entertain us for at least a little while. There’s a sweet happy-hour somewhere to enjoy after we get off this brutal shift at work. It numbs it for a second, doesn’t it? And sometimes that’s all we’re wanting, just to numb it for a second so we can make it through the day, through the week, until the next payday, until next month, etc.

Now I would never want to minimize your pain or take away from your hurts, doubts, and fears. They are legitimate and real. Here’s the point though, and here’s what you have to understand. You cannot fix this. You cannot fix yourself. You cannot save yourself. You are not awesome. You are not God. And that is actually the foundation of your greatest joy. Because it will set you to seeking something outside of you to solve it. But that can be a trap too. So, we need to find something that is not limited like we are limited in regards to time and scope to solve this issue.

Romans 8 puts it this way. “The mind set on the flesh is death.” So when we proclaim, “Let me fix this, let me make this happen, let me correct this,” this is certain death. The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. “I want to know God, I want to follow God, and I want to chase God.” Now can you see how screwy things have gotten in the church? What’s the church known for these days? The church is known for going, “Don’t do this. . . modify that. . . change this. . . don’t act like that. . . don’t watch this. . . don’t drink that. . . don’t listen to this. . . don’t go here. . . don’t hang out there.”

So church, for the majority of people, becomes some sort of moral grid of behaviors, but Romans 8 says that leads to death. What leads to life, joy, and peace is life in the Spirit. Christ’s life is the fulfillment of the law, not yours. Your life is not even close to the fulfillment of the law. Christ’s life, and His life alone, is the fulfillment of the law. His crucifixion is the wrath-absorbing act that pulls the wrath off of us. The resurrection and expiation is God washing us clean from our shame and guilt. So not only do we have imputed righteousness and not only do we have wrath removed, but we also have been washed clean before the Lord so that there’s this celebration in Christ over us for the purity of life we possess despite the fact that we don’t possess it. And that’s why we worship like we worship.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:8-10

So whatever is going on in your marriage, whatever is going on in your addictions, whatever is going on at your job, whatever is going on in your relationships, whatever is happening with your finances, however your grades are going at school, whatever is causing churning and longing deep in your soul, you are not the answer to that. You cannot fix that. You need something that transcends your weaknesses.

All the sin, weaknesses, and failures in the life of a believer have already been fully covered by the blood-soaked cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s grace is exponentially and infinitely more powerful than any sin; past, present, or future. We must depend on the Father’s love, the Son’s sacrifice, and the Spirit’s help. We must always run back to and rest in the Gospel.

A man who doesn’t understand the gospel lets his past destroy him. The man or woman who understands the gospel lives today in the grace and mercy of Christ that covers all of yesterday’s mistakes, today’s shortcomings, and tomorrow’s troubles. The gospel that defines our Christian worldview allows our minds to rest and our hearts to rejoice in the gracious rescue from just being accidental atoms beating air, carrying on and on, unwittingly as orphans of an unyielding despair.

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