I recently came across an article in The Atlantic, which examines why many Americans (particularly elite men) are so obsessed with wealth and work. The author speculates about the extent to which these obsessions are rooted in culture or biology. He notes how the wage gap between men and women is exacerbated by such obsession, and he laments the deep unhappiness of many elite men who work themselves to death for the mirage of achievement and wealth-accumulation.
This article points to a deep crisis of values in our culture. In a society that is so fixated on money and professional identity, how can we root our lives in something deeper? In a culture that worships wealth and exalts those who succeed in business, what does it mean for us to prioritize health, family, community, and our relationship with God?
Deep fear lies at the heart of this crisis. We’re terrified that we’re not doing enough, having enough, being enough. We have become a society that hides from the reality of our limitations, weaknesses, and even death. We long to be forever young, strong, and healthy. The fact that we know these dreams are an illusion provides all the more motivation to distance ourselves from reality. We flee into the endless chase for more money, higher status, greater achievement.
But, for those of us who have come to know Jesus, we are invited into a different reality altogether. We have begun down a path that acknowledges the reality of our own limitations, of struggle, and death. Accompanying him to the cross, Jesus shows us that we don’t need to be fixated on our own survival anymore. We can experience freedom to love others without holding anything back. Even if that means a loss of status or reduced income. For Jesus, this path led to arrest, torture, and a humiliating public execution. Compared to that, why should we concern ourselves with how big our paycheck or how important our job?
All this talk of the cross sounds really stark. It’s fair to ask, Why would anyone want to walk in the way of Jesus? Yet, as we embrace this way of surrender, we discover that the heart of the gospel is love. It is a release from the fear that has gripped us for so long, and in so many ways that we had almost stopped noticing. The way of the cross is freedom; its fruit is joy. Despite all of the darkness, uncertainty, and even suffering, the path of Jesus is marked by radiant joy and passionate love.
This kind of love drives out fear. Opening ourselves to a life beyond the grasping self-interest of the meritocracy, we can be filled with wholeness and peace, even in the midst of challenges. We don’t have to be afraid anymore.