Jesus knew that sensual pleasures could potentially lead to spiritual erosion; tragically the world has not embraced his wisdom.
During my backpacking days of 1991 I found myself in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. It was only 18 months after the dramatic overthrow of the brutal dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and the city was still in disarray. I was confronted with breadlines, black market currency, roads in a state of disrepair and decaying, bullet-ridden buildings.
However, in the centre of this grim and broken city stood a magnificent, gigantic structure intentionally created by Ceausescu to be the world’s largest palace – an ode to himself.
The 1100-room building was constructed from the finest and most expensive materials. The promenade leading to this spectacular sight was lined with Parisian style shops, deliberately replicating the French Champs-élysées.
To fund this self-styled kingdom Ceausescu had literally starved the population of food and essential utilities, resulting in the explosion of public fury in 1989.
As I stood within the deserted yet spectacular cobblestoned boulevard staring at the excessive extravagance, I remember being overwhelmed by the powerful imagery of delusion.
As I wandered behind the grandiose façade I was confronted by crumbling housing, littered streets, stray dogs and urchin-like children peeking from doorways. Here was the truth behind the false veneer – the poverty and darkness epitomising the reality of this suffering city.
It is imagery that resurfaced for me as I listened to pop artist
Kesha’s 2012 hit (Live Like We’re Gonna) Die Young on the radio recently. It is an upbeat tune with a distinct message – live as though today is your last day. On the surface it is a message portraying a sense of excitement, encouraging the listener to maximise his or her limited time on earth – not to waste a moment. It is a message not necessarily contradictory to the Christian message of making the most of all God has given to us, but sadly it is marketed towards a society that, like Ceausescu’s grandiose creation, has been built on a foundation of lies and deception. The façade is an attractive one – instant gratification, satisfying your desires while you can, with no thought of the consequences.
In the eyes of a society that does not believe in a life after this earthly one, it is an attractive philosophy, but it masks the spiritual poverty that dwells beneath. Our focus can so easily become entrapped by a desire for physical, sexual, chemical or financial gratification that the mindset of “living for the moment” blinds us from the truth of our spiritual eternity.
Despite the increasingly obvious ramifications of self-absorbed pleasures, such as addictions, violence, abortions, family breakdown and sexual disease, our society refuses to acknowledge the spiritual poverty on which these are founded. We choose not to associate the veneer of immediate gratification with the ruins lying behind its walls.
During his 40 days in the desert Jesus rejected the riches of this world, because he understood the fragility of human nature and knew that sensual pleasures could potentially lead to spiritual erosion, but tragically our world has not embraced his wisdom.
One of his most cutting observations during his earthly ministry was directed at those holy men who had been corrupted by such greed and power.
“You are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of corruption” (Matt 23: 27).
Similarly Ceausescu’s internal corrosion also manifested itself in an external show of self-grandeur and inevitably collapsed. Unlike Christ, he placed all his hopes in a kingdom of this world.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the philosophy of living like you’re going to die young. Jesus has already given us a similar message.
“Be on your guard. Stay alert, because you never know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33). It is a reality that our days on this earth are indeed numbered and we are called to utilise them the best way we can. The only difference is in how we choose to surrender – to God’s will or our own.
If we choose to live as though this life is all we have then inevitably we will build self-styled kingdoms that may look and feel externally glamorous but ultimately, without Christ as a foundation, serve only to veil the spiritual corrosion within.
Alternately we can first set our hearts on the kingdom of God and trust that all else, both in this world and the next, will be given to us.