Today I’d like for us to talk about a man named Robert. Robert is not a real person, but he’s representative of a lot of people in the United States.
We pick up with Robert when he’s 30 years old. Robert has a college degree and a good job. He has a nice wife, and he has 2 healthy children. There have been some bad things that have happened in Robert’s life, but nothing really bad. By all appearances, Robert has a good life, and he’s sort of happy, but in the back of his mind, he’s beginning to have some questions, some discontent. Not much, but just a little.
One day, Robert’s aunt gets killed in a car wreck. It wasn’t a drunk driver or someone going 85 miles per house. It was an accident; someone just wasn’t paying attention, ran through a stop-light, t-boned her car, and she was killed. Robert really loved his aunt. He spent a lot of time at her house when he was growing up. She was always nice to him, and they got along very well. He’s devastated when she’s killed.
It starts Robert to thinking. He looks around, and he sees a lot of bad things happening to people. His neighbor, who is 40 and has 3 children, just got diagnosed with cancer, and it doesn’t look like she’s going to make it very long. Robert sees a lot of other people with horrible diseases. He goes to visit his grandmother in a nursing home. He’s appalled at the awful shape some of the people there are in. Is that how he’s going to end up when he’s old? The very thought scares him.
Then, he looks out at society and sees how fragmented American society is, how we just don’t get along with each other. He looks at the political scene, and he sees a circus-like side show with incompetence, lying, misrepresentation, people blindly following a political philosophy with no regard for how it affects other people’s lives, people who just plain don’t care about other people. He doesn’t like the direction the country is headed.
He looks at other things. It hasn’t been long since there were bad mudslides; houses were swept away, and people were killed. There was an earthquake in New Guinea that killed 160 people. There was a dust storm in India that killed 120 people. He sees on the news that people in Nigeria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, and other countries are starving to death.
Robert tries to make sense of all this. Why is life like this? What’s behind it all? Is there any rhyme or reason to it? Why are things the way they are?
Robert wants answers to these questions, and so He decides to start going to church. He had been to church some when he was growing up but had drifted away. It never really resonated with him back then, but maybe now it’ll be different. He goes, and he hears a lot about sin; in fact, that’s about all that’s ever talked about. But, at least this church does provide answers to Robert’s questions. He hears that all the bad things in the world are here because of sin, because human beings have disobeyed God. He hears that God created the world without any bad things whatsoever, but after Adam and Eve ate the fruit God told them not to eat, God put all these bad things in the world as punishment for sin. That’s the answer Robert hears, but he just can’t believe that answer. Did God really fly off the handle and ruin everything just because Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit He told them not to eat? It just doesn’t make sense.
So Robert decides to try another church. This one doesn’t talk much about sin, and that’s a relief to Robert. They say God just wants everyone to get along and love each other. That’s an upbeat and positive message, and at first, Robert really likes it. But, as time goes on, he realizes that’s basically all they have to say. They don’t have answers to his questions. They don’t even try to explain why things are the way they are. They just don’t talk about deep questions like that. But yet those are the questions Robert really wants answers for.
He’s tried two churches, two very different versions of Christianity, and he’s not found answers to his questions that make sense. He decides that Christianity really doesn’t speak to the big questions of life, the questions that really matter, so he gives up on Christianity.
He turns to science for answers to his questions. Science tells him the world came into being through the Big Bang, that life began in the water with one little cell, and then gradually, over eons, developed into larger forms of life in the water. At some point, for some reason, some of these creatures crawled out of the water and began living on land. They eventually developed into land animals, and eventually, out of those land animals, human beings evolved.
Robert finds science fascinating. It explains the mechanics of things, how things work. It explains how natural disasters like dust storms and earthquakes work. And so Robert really gets interested in science. It’s fascinating.
But one day, Robert realizes something. Remember, he’s looking for answers to questions like: Why things are the way they are? Robert realizes that although science can explain how things work the way they do, science cannot explain why things are the way they are. Science can’t explain the point of it all, the meaning of it. From science, Robert gets the impression that there is no meaning to anything, that everything is ultimately meaningless and pointless.
And so here he is. He started out with questions like: Why is life like it is? What’s behind it all? Is there any rhyme or reason to things? Why are things the way they are? What’s the point of it all? How do I fit in with things?
He tried to find those answers in science, and although science was fascinating, it couldn’t answer his questions. He tried Christianity, two different kinds, but it couldn’t answer his questions. His questions are still unanswered. Because of that, he has a sense of unsettledness in his life; there’s something inside him that can’t have peace until he finds answers to those questions. He’s unsatisfied in life, and he’s looking for something to make him feel satisfied.
And so he tries throwing himself into his career. Maybe if he can excel in his career and gain advancement, he’ll be satisfied. He works and works and gets some promotions. He’s now 39 years old and has an executive position. But he still doesn’t have that sense of satisfaction. Those same old questions bother him. What’s the point of it all?
So he tries a hobby. He tries sailing. He loves it, and his wife and children love it, too. Remember, he’s an executive now, so he can afford to buy a boat. The family has good times out on that boat. But he notices that when he gets off the boat, and even sometimes when he’s on it, the same dissatisfaction remains, the same unanswered questions gnaw at him in the back of his mind. So he tries another hobby. And another. And another. But he still doesn’t feel satisfied. Now he’s 49 years old.
One of his children has already graduated from college, and she’s out on her own now. His other child is almost through college. Robert realizes his life is half over, likely more than half over. And he still hasn’t found the meaning of it, the point of it, how he fits in with things. He still thinks there must be something more than the day-to-day grind, something deeper.
One day, a 24-year old woman, who just came to work at the company, catches his eye. She’s young, very attractive, has a perky personality, and she seems to really like him. She cuts her eyes at him in a certain way; her voice takes on a different kind of quality when she talks to him. It’s not long before they start having an affair. At first, he thinks it’s the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to him. She makes him feel 20 years younger! But then, he soon notices that not long after he leaves her apartment after a tryst with her, those feelings of dissatisfaction come back, those gnawing questions begin to reappear. After a few months, she’s not able to make him forget about that stuff at all.
He’s unhappy. And so he goes to his doctor. He tells the doctor he never feels any satisfaction, that he never gets any enjoyment out of life. The doctor recommends counseling. Robert goes to counseling, and although he likes the counselor and enjoys talking to someone, nothing really changes. And so he goes back to the doctor. The doctor prescribes anti-depressants. Robert knows they’re supposed to work, and when asked, he says he feels some better, but he really doesn’t. And then one night, he sees a TV commercial. It says that if you’re taking anti-depressants and are still depressed, you should ask your doctor about this new pill to add to your anti-depressant. On the commercial, the woman who did that and started taking the new pill felt a lot better. And so Robert goes back to the doctor, asks for the new pill, and the doctor gives it to him. He takes it awhile and feels no better.
Robert has tried everything, and nothing worked. Now he resigns himself that he’ll always be unhappy and just slogs on through life.
Robert is a fictional person, but there are millions and millions and millions of Robert’s and Roberta’s in the United States today.
People with no peace. People with deep questions about why things are the way they are. People with deep questions about the meaning and purpose of life and how they fit in with it all. They’ve looked and looked but haven’t found answers to those questions; they’ve tried all sorts of things to try to bring satisfaction, meaning, and purpose to their lives but haven’t found it; and so they’ve just resigned themselves to being unhappy.
Here’s how I would like to think Robert’s story will end. One day, Robert hears just a blurb from something that has a somewhat different interpretation of Christianity than what he ran into back years ago when he went to two different churches. Something about what Robert hears catches his attention because it speaks to the things he really wonders about, the deep questions of life.
He almost pays it no attention. After all, he’s tried Christianity before. And, although science couldn’t answer his questions, he still has, left over from science, a skepticism about the spiritual. Left over from science, he still has the idea that there is no spiritual, that the physical is all there is, that everything can be explained purely by the physical. He still has that idea, even though science couldn’t really answer his questions. Plus, he just has a bad taste in his mouth about Christianity. He’s seen its judgmentalism; he’s seen hypocrisy on the part of so many Christians; he remembers the various sex scandals and other scandals he’s seen in Christianity; he remembers those things he was told he had to believe that just don’t make sense; and plus, he had heard about all the soft rock love songs to Jesus in churches trying to be hip and with the times that he could stomach. He’s had it with Christianity, in other words.
And so, he’s tempted to just skip on by what he heard, and at first, he does.
But then, he comes across it again, and something again resonates with him, so he begins to pay it some attention.
Here’s what he hears:
He hears that we came from God, that we’re here because God made us, and God made us because God wants us. He hears that God intended, from the beginning, for people to have good lives filled with good things. That’s why the Garden of Eden is sometimes called paradise.
But he hears that something happened. No one is sure exactly what happened or how it happened, but it was something God did not want to happen. The result of it is that things are no longer good the way God made them to be. Robert hears that God wanted our lives to be full of nothing but good, but something happened to spoil what God wanted, so now life has a lot of bad things in it.
Robert hears that things are not like they are now because God wanted them to be like this, but things are the way they are today because something else made it this way. Robert hears that God does not want things to be as they are today and is not satisfied to let things be as they are today. He hears that God is working to make things once again be as He originally made them to be. Robert hears that God will one day succeed in that, and He will make sure that nothing again is ever able to change things from good.
And so Robert thinks about this. He looks out at the world and sees so much trouble—natural disasters, sickness and disease, murders and all kinds of criminal activity, governments treating human beings inhumanely, so much heartache and suffering in the world. He sees deception, lies, and trickery winning.
Robert hears that God didn’t cause any of that; God doesn’t want any of that; none of any of that is part of God’s plan. Robert hears that God is working against it this very moment, and in fact, God has been working against it ever since it started. It’s going to take God a long time, but one day He will defeat it. When that happens, there won’t be anything but good, and God will give us a life beyond anything we could ever imagine.
Robert begins to realize that Christianity is not a magic wand to take away the troubles of life, but he realizes that it does allow him to begin to make sense of them. He realizes those things won’t last. Yes, they’re here now; yes, they are a problem now; yes, they make life hard now. But they’re not going to last forever, because God is going to defeat them. And when that happens, God will give people a new life in a new world, a life beyond anything we could imagine.
Robert realizes that’s really what Christianity is all about.
Robert realizes he doesn’t have to allow himself to get bogged down in all the stuff that’s going on now, to get discouraged or despondent. He realizes he can stand up with his head high and we march on through it, because he knows that on the other side is a life he can’t even imagine. All the stuff going on around him won’t have the last word. He’s just marching through this mess on his way to somewhere else.
Robert reads in the Bible where Jesus said in John 16, “In the world you will have tribulation, but have courage, for I have overcome the world.”
Robert does some study, and he finds out that the word translated as tribulation literally means “great difficulties,” and the word translated as overcome literally means “conquered.”
And so he realizes that what Jesus was saying is this: In the world we will have great difficulties, but we are to have courage and be confident, for He has conquered the world. The world doesn’t have the last word, God does.
Now Robert realizes he finally has an answer to who he is, why he’s here, and it helps him begin to make sense of things going on around him. He realizes that life is not meaningless and without purpose but that things are moving toward a goal, toward a conclusion, that there is more than what he can see, that there really is a God behind everything, and that that God is good.