Over the years I’ve morphed into what I believe is a more God-honoring way of looking at the world. Many of us in the church have been hammered into believing that living the Christian faith requires a clean and shiny set of rose-colored glasses and an unrealistically positive (if we’re honest) outlook on life. Don’t think negative thoughts. See the good. Etc. Etc. But I’ve learned that in order to see and appreciate the beauty of God’s goodness and grace, you have to reckon with the truth that surrounds us that is actually quite ugly. If I don’t understand sin and depravity in both myself and the world around me, I might be fooled into thinking that I have no need for the Redeemer. In the end, that’s dangerous, deadly, and a fast-track to the deceptive pull of idolatry.
So, it’s a good thing when God exposes me to the darkness of my nature and the expressions of that sinful nature in my life. It’s good when I look around and see pain, suffering, and hopelessness wherever it exists. We need to see the world as it is. Then – and only then – will we learn that we cannot save ourselves.
One side effect of this growing realization is a growing appreciation for the good stories we encounter in the world of books, film and TV. A “good” story doesn’t have to be one that ends with the story of the Cross and a call to faith. No, a “good story” can be one that simply tells the truth, even if that truth is incredibly ugly. I believe that God uses those “good stories” that so many Christians might argue are “incomplete” as one small piece in the grand and great story He is working out in our lives and our world.
One of those small pieces that I got back to this week is season 4 of the AMC drama, Mad Men. At times, I’ve found myself watching this show and feeling like I might be no different than my grandmother who took time out each weekday afternoon to catch up on her “stories” . . . or as they are more widely known, soap operas. But then I quickly snap back into a reality check and realize – as series creator Matthew Weiner has said – that the show’s tragic main character, Don Draper, is a man who has everything, yet is a man who has nothing. And that’s what I love about Mad Men. All the promises of redemption that come with our North American culture of marketing, materialism, fast-living, and promiscuous behavior end in darkness. Mad Men effectively trumpets that truth. Perhaps the power of watching a fictitious guy like Don Draper unravel before our eyes is that God can use that to keep us from going down that same road in our very real lives. Right now, if I was only allowed to watch, ponder, and discuss one TV show, this would be it.
The Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation present the ugly truth about our condition along with the wonderful and beautiful truth of God’s plan and provision for the restoration of shalom in our lives and world. The writer of Ecclesiastes – like Don Draper – reminds us that “everything is meaningless. . . completely meaningless.” And, he tells us straightforwardly and simply that his final conclusion is this: “Fear God and obey his commands. For this is everyone’s duty.”