“My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?”
American Beauty is a 1999 film that won five Academy Awards. Kevin Spacey stars as Lester Burnham, a middle-aged magazine writer who has an overwhelmingly negative attitude toward most everything in his life. He hates his job. His wife thinks of nothing but her image. His daughter pays him not a shred of attention. Lester is the husk of a man, tired of his miserable suburban life, struggling with a hollow marriage and frustrated by an increasing inability to communicate with his teenage daughter.
Most of the characters in the movie never have any thought of anything but themselves. Lester Burnham is a lecherous, self-absorbed idiot who hates his live but cannot figure out what is wrong. The only sympathetic character in the movie is Lester's daughter's boy friend, who is a drug dealer. That is how bleak the movie is.
After the movie won all the Academy Awards, I went to see it. My initial reaction was that I wasted my money that this is one of the most depressing, bleak movies ever made, but then I began to think that the movie might have something worth hearing.
Lester Burnham is a man who is totally alone, totally alienated and, within the context of his world, his society, there is no solution for him, there is no help for him. The film American Beauty is entirely secular, entirely materialistic. There is no mention of God except as a curse word. No one has any spiritual understanding. There is no higher thought of any kind; no one wants to help other people. There is no love. Again, the only exception is the drug dealer who sees beauty in ordinary things. In the film, Lester Burnham adopts the old hippie solution, “turned on, tuned in dropped out.” Lester becomes a druggie, and the film ends when he is murdered. The ending is appropriate. Poor Lester was dead anyway.
Now you might ask why I am bringing up this old ugly film called inappropriately, American Beauty--because, unfortunately, it is more closely attuned to where our society is than most sermons. A couple of weeks ago, I went to a National Day of Prayer Service, which I have to say was poorly attended. I talked with some folks there, and they lamented the disappearance of God from our society. They were not just talking about the controversies over the separation of church and state, though that is part of it. They were talking about the way most people seem to be thinking less and less of God and more and more of themselves. This is the image that our mass media promotes these days: selfish materialism. “I want it. I deserve to have it, right now.” The world is all there is and the world is about me, and I do not much care about you. The phrase that is used to describe this way of thinking is “the growing secularization of American society.” The spiritual dimension is disappearing from American society. This is not to say that we are becoming a nation of atheists. It is to say that people just do not care about God any more. They do not see God as having any importance for their lives.
A Gallup poll came out at the end of last year, which said that 7 out of 10 Americans think religion is losing influence in America. The Gallup folks noted that “Americans' views of the influence of religion in the U.S. have fluctuated substantially in the years since 1957, when Gallup first asked this question. At that point, perhaps reflecting the general focus on family values that characterized the Eisenhower era, 69% of Americans said religion was increasing its influence, the most in Gallup's history.” http://www.gallup.com/poll/145409/near-record-high-religion-losing-influence-america.aspx
In 1957, almost 70% of Americans said that religion was increasing in influence. Today that view is reversed. 70% of Americans say religion is losing influence, and the folks I was talking with at the National Day of Prayer service certainly agreed with them.
Now that is just a poll; it is just what people say; that does not make it true, but if it is true, if we are producing a society without God, without soul, without spirit--without anything but you and me and I am not too sure about you—if that is true, then the movie, American Beauty, is pretty much right on target. There is no purpose to life. There is nothing to live for. Eat drink and be merry, because tomorrow you die and no one cares.
This reminds me of an old Garfield cartoon. Poor hapless Jon is lamenting the futility of life. Jon says, “A hundred years from now no one will care whether I lived or died.” Garfield replies, “No one cares now, Jon.”
That is how it will be in a secular society. We are all Lester Burnhams, alienated and alone.
This is not just the future I am describing, many people feel this way now. They are sort of going through the motions of life with a deep sense of despair.
Loneliness is sometimes described as living in isolation, living in solitude, but in fact that is not so. It is a common saying that a crowd is the loneliest place in the world. Have you had this experience? You go to some big event. Huge crowds surround you. People are everywhere, and you feel utterly alone, because you know that not a single person in that mob cares one whit about you.
Remember the old Beatles song, “Eleanor Rigby”?
The lyrics are:
Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice in the church where the wedding has been. Lives in a dream.
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for?
All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
Father Mackenzie, writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear. No one comes near.
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when nobody's there. What does he care?
All the lonely people where do they all come from?
Eleanor Rigby, died in the church and was buried along with her name. Nobody came
Father Mackenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from her grave. No one was saved.
All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
All the lonely people, where do they all belong
Eleanor Rigby, Father Mackenzie, Lester Burnham, they are just samples of people living sad depressed lonely lives.
Young people in particular have real problems handling loneliness. Sometimes it gets so bad that they explode in violence. On April 20, 1999, two seniors at Columbine High School in Columbine Colorado, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, embarked on a massacre, killing 12 students and one teacher. They also injured 21 other students. The pair then committed suicide. It is the fourth-deadliest school massacre in United States history,
This is from an entry in Dylan Klebold's personal Journal, dated 9/5/97 (two years before the massacre at Columbine). Parts of the entry are not very grammatical, but I want you to hear what alienation sounds like. The entry is headed “Life Sux.” Klebold writes,
“oooh god i want to die sooo bad... such a sad, desolate, lonely, unsalvageable i feel i am..... not fair, NOT FAIR!!!! I wanted happiness!! I never got it... let's sum up my life... the most miserable existence in the history of time.... My best friend has ditched me forever, lost in bettering himself, & having/enjoying/ taking for granted his love.... Ive NEVER knew this... not 100 times near this... they look at me [edited] like i'm a stranger;... I helped them both out thru life, & they left me in the abyss of suffering when i gave them the boost out. The one who I thought was my true love, [edited], is not. Just a shell of what I want the most... The meanest trick was played on me - a fake love... She in reality doesn't [care]... doesn't even know me..... I have no happiness, no ambitions, no friends, & no LOVE!!! [Edited] can get me that gun I hope, I wanna use it on a poor S.O.B. I know... his name is vodka, dylan is his name too. What else can I do/give... i stopped the pornography. I try not to pick on people. Obviously at least one power is against me. [edited]... funny how Ive been thinking about her over the last few days... giving myself fake realities that she, others MIGHT have liked me just a bit.... my bad... I have always been hated, by everyone & everything, just never aware.... Goodbye all the crushes ive ever had, just shells.... images, no truths... “
Obviously, as I read through that journal entry, you realize that Klebold was a troubled youth. He felt so alienated and alone that he tried to kill everyone Most people never go that far. I remember feeling lonely when I was in High School, but I never wanted to kill anybody because of it. I suspect most people are like me. We all feel some loneliness.
The truth is a secular world, a world without God is an ugly, boring, depressing downer of a world. If those folks on the Gallup Poll and those folks at the National Day of Prayer Service are right and that is what we are moving toward, then that is not a happy thought. A secular world is a bleak, harsh place. We crave for something more, something divine, something spiritual. There has got to be something else or life is just not much fun, more than that life is just not worth living.
I would argue that human beings are created for something more. It is our nature to live in the presence of God. We are hard-wired for God, and when we deny that, when our society denies that, we are denying an essential part of ourselves. We see this need in Psalm 42:1-2
(1) As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God.
(2) I thirst for you, the living God. When can I go and worship in your presence? (Psalms 42:1-2 GNB)
So let us make our point: at times we are the lonely people. It happens to everyone. We have our moments when we feel worthless, we feel that no one cares. We feel isolated.
Some people try to deal with their loneliness by having things to do, by maintaining a hectic schedule. That may help for awhile but eventually it just gets boring. Other people try to escape loneliness by some new travel experience -- seeing some new places, having new experiences, but you cannot travel forever. Still others try to escape their loneliness by getting high with drugs and alcohol. That was Lester Burnham's solution. But it never solves the problem, it becomes a problem. They live a life of denial. Other, people use food to dull the pain of loneliness. There are others who just give up. The loneliness, the alienation, wins. They believe that they are stuck with a miserable unhappy life, and all they can do is get through it somehow.
The Psalmist was apparently feeling something like that in verse 3 of Psalm 42. we should note that Psalms 42 and 43 are actually one Psalm. I do not know how it got divided, but I suppose it does not matter. This is a psalm about loneliness and alienation.
In v3 the Psalmist says, “Day and night I cry, and tears are my only food; all the time my enemies ask me, "Where is your God?” (Psalms 42:3 GNB). Apparently the Pslamist was living in something of a secular society. People were mocking him, “Where is your God?” How can you be so dumb as to believe in God. Then there is a refrain that is repeated 3 times in this double Psalm. In 42:5, 11, and in 43:5, the Psalmist asks, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?” The Psalmist is talking to himself repeatedly. Why are you so miserable? Why are you so down and depressed. Why do things look so black and dreary to you?
Now we can imagine his soul's reply, “No one cares about me. I am just worthless. Life has no meaning.” But those are not answers that the Pslamist is going to accept.
Let us read the remainder of the refrain that the psalmist repeats 3 times. “Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled? I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him, my savior and my God.”
This is the answer. God is the answer. The psalmist says no matter how you feel, no matter how down you are, put your hope in God. More than that, he says, praise God. Are you feeling depressed and lonely? Try worship. And remember that you are worshipping a personal God: “my savior and my God”
The emphasis is that God is with you. God is a part of your life. I do not know if religion is declining in American society. I suspect it is. I suspect that we are becoming more secularized. But I assure you that I am not, because like the Psalmist I do not believe that I can live without God.
And the point the psalmist is trying to make is that you do not need to live without God. There are many other verses in the Bible that make the same point. The point is you are not alone.
Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
Again in Joshua 1:5, God speaks to Joshua as he assumes command of the armies of Israel, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”
One more, Isaiah 41:10, the Lord speaks to his people, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Sometimes we feel like the world has forgotten us, and perhaps the world has, that does not matter. God has not forgotten us. God still loves us. Sometimes the world is a harsh place, but remember this:
There is no problem too big for God to solve. There is no mountain too high for God to cross. There is no valley too deep for God to be there. You may feel like you are lost in the valley of loneliness, but remember, what the Psalmist said, “Hope in God, My savior and my God”
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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