“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
We are part of a culture – religious and otherwise – that seeks pleasure and avoids pain, at all costs. Because of this tendency to embrace anything that is pleasant and to reject anything that might be painful, many of us prefer to embrace illusions instead of reality. We choose to live our lives in a lie.
As the old saying goes, “The truth hurts,” and we don’t like to hurt.
In an attempt to remain in our comfortable illusion (especially our “religious” illusions), we sometimes develop defense mechanisms that protect us from any “intruders.” When we hear certain words, phrases, or detect an “attack” on our illusion, our defenses go up (perhaps even subconsciously) and we defend what is important to us. In some cases, we will even get angry, aggressive, or violent, if necessary.
In Jesus’s day, the religion of the Jews had become an elaborate illusion. It was no longer genuine or accepted by God (Mk. 7:7). On the whole, God’s people had “sold out” the substance of their faith and replaced it with manmade traditions that had no real power to transform their lives and hearts, much less to please the God that they claimed to serve and worship.
This illusion, however, was VERY important to them; so when Jesus invaded this illusion and reminded His people that God expected more from them, it was painful. He preached difficult truths and used damning language towards those who preferred their religious illusions to an authentic and obedient relationship with God.
Here are a few examples of His “attacks” on their well-developed lie:
“They are blind guides.” – Mt. 15:14
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” – Mt. 23:15
“For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness…you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Mt. 23:27-28
“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” – Mt. 23:33
As you can imagine, the defense mechanisms of these religious “illusionists” eventually kicked in, and they realized that they would need to protect their lie.
After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered their council together and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (Jn. 11:47-48).
When these men talk about protecting their “place,” they are talking about “the condition or station held by one in any company or assembly.” They are talking about their “power, occasion for acting” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).
Do you see what they are doing? They are protecting the illusion that they actually HAVE power. They are protecting the lie that they HAVE a “place” with God. And how far were they willing to go to protect the most important thing in the world to them? We are given the answer in Jn. 11:53: “So from that day on they made plans to put Him to death.”
And they did.
And in their minds, they succeeded in protecting their illusion.
The problem with an illusion – as you know – is that it isn’t actually real. At some point, it will be revealed to be fake, false, useless, and almost certainly harmful in some way.
So, Christians, are we living in an illusion? Have we convinced ourselves that we have some kind of “place” outside of God’s clearly defined plan? Like the Jews in Jesus’s day, have we fashioned for ourselves an “acceptable substitute” for faith and abandoned an authentic relationship with God?
As Christians, we must all give some serious thought to what our “place” is. In what/whom does our “power,” “condition,” and “station” lie? Have we built a religion around good works or being right? Have we constructed an illusion that if we keep certain “rules,” (at the expense of other – equally or more important – rules) we somehow have a “place” of power that puts God in our debt? Are we counting on our own righteousness to save us when we should know better?
Or, like the apostle Paul, is our “place” in Christ?
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
May God help us to see our illusions, and to replace them with the spiritual realities that are available to all of us! May we never defend a lie, and may God give us the wisdom to allow His Word and His Spirit to define us!