I never knew what "exhausted" truly meant until we had our second child. Parenting is a tiring, monotonous endeavor. Your goal each day is the survival of little, helpless lives. If you can manage, you also need to fit in teaching, loving, exemplifying patience, and all sorts of other actions that aren't so much focused on your child's survival, but on their thriving.
But despite the monotony and exhaustion of the parenting endeavor, parenting is also a fun, energizing adventure. In many ways it is a return to one's own childhood. Do you remember how exciting it was to chew gum for the first time? I didn't, until I got to see Elin's excitement at her first experience chewing gum the other day. I never knew I had the capacity to become excited about such a common act as the chewing of gum - but I did. Do you remember how exciting it was to jump off the side of the pool and into the water - a whole two inches? I didn't, until Elin experienced this for the first time the other week. I was experiencing the excitement of a mundane action that had become new. Enriching your child's life makes the monotonous endeavor of parenting wonderful. Seeing their reactions to what we now feel are mundane experiences is pure joy - both for them and for you.
Beyond the physical and intellectual experiences, humans also seem to have a desire for new relational experiences. For some, this means dating for life, pursuing excitement anew with the conquest of each consecutive lover. In a monogamous relationship, that means continually pursuing the excitement of learning about your lover and cultivating the depth of the relationship. Unfortunately, the former course seems to be the most sought course now. Much of what we hear today are notions that center around being "in love," "whatever makes you happy," "do what's best for you," etc. If one gets tired of a relationship, one moves on to the experiencing of a new relationship. We also see this in the way of sexual experimentation. While plain old intercourse may be fine for the teenage virgin, someone who has had many experiences with many partners wants more than just simple sex. Regardless of which course one takes, we humans love the pursuit of new knowledge and experience.
The goal of modern man today, steeped in materialistic notions, centers around this idea of newness. Advertisers hit on this concept very well. Products now center around the experience. Everyone has worn shoes, but you haven't ever had THESE shoes - the ones that will change your life. But new experience isn't everything, for there are many experiences I will never have due to my life span. This is where science comes to the aid of humanity, as it is able to prescribe how best to achieve both goals of knowledge and life. We currently see these main two goals of science - aiding humans in living forever and in coming into a cause/effect knowledge of everything. There is so much I will never know and experience because I will not live long enough. I want to live forever so I can experience everything. These two statements go hand in hand. Were I to be damned to eternal life on a barren, lifeless planet with nobody around and nothing to do, my life would not be worth living. I want to live to experience and know all things, and to experience and know all things I must keep on living. This sounds like a fantastic pursuit in theory, but such a pursuit ultimately leads to the complete removal of joy - undercutting the very goal of the materialist.
One of the biggest complaints levied against the modern notion of heaven is that nobody wants to go there. Who wants to join a choir that sings forever, a cloud lounge where you play the harp all day, or a garden playground? Some of those things might be fun for a short time, but to have the same experience for eternity seems to go against our nature that desires the new. Everyone seems to recognize that the heaven depicted in popular culture is actually more like hell. Overt materialists, more than anyone else, can recognize such a thing. Yet such a monotonous "heaven" on Earth is exactly what materialists are pursuing, and what will be the ultimate end for our progeny should the materialists be able to make good on their pursuit of immortality and knowledge.
Were materialists to make good on their pursuit and find out all knowledge about the universe, and were they able to figure out how to extend life eternally, there would come a point where nothing new would exist. On materialism, an individual who is just a complex arrangement of matter could one day be downloaded and reconfigured in artificial conditions, in an indestructible frame much better than his biological one - and such a thing could be repeated as often as needed. Certainly in several billion years, before the destruction of our sun, we would figure out where we could safely go in the universe and live there as we determine how to survive and thrive when the universe's heat death eventually comes. But at that point, in bodies of our creation, we could certainly survive, and would eventually live to a point where we knew all things or could know no more. There would be no new knowledge or experience. This - a materialist's Heaven.
But while materialists are creating the very heaven they condemn, the real redemption Christianity brings is far different from the popular (mis)conception of heaven. Christianity has historically had at its center relationships - particularly the trinity. On top of relationship, Christianity also has at its center an infinite God who can never be fully known. Christianity throws off the pagan's and materialist's notion of true life as the mere continuation of existence - doing the same things we've been doing. Instead, it focuses on living in righted relationships - knowing and being known. On Christianity, relationship and knowing another is the one thing that is dynamic and can provide us with eternal newness. In fact, the Christian end is not heaven – a temporary place for disembodied souls - but rather the New Earth, where all relationships are made right (nature, others, God, self).
At this juncture, the materialist may claim that their world would have relationships, and is therefore immune from the critique that the achievement of its goal would end in monotony. They are indeed correct. Their world does provide relationships. The number three's relationship to two would be that it stands one greater. The square's relationship to a triangle would be that it has one more point and 180 more degrees. And my friend's relationship to me would only be in amounts and degrees as well. In a materialistic universe, even relationships would become mechanistic, predictable, fact based systems. Where everything is physics and chemistry- action and reaction - our choices would amount to the same. Rather than dynamic relationships, these would become static facts like everything else. Relationships would certainly exist in such a "utopia," but they will by no means be personal, but rather equational. This is the goal of modern neuroscience and psychology - the quantification of man.
Relationships are what make life exciting, as I have already shown with my example of relationship between me and my children. But examples go much farther than immediate family. We all know that it is relationship that breathes excitement into the monotony of life. Everyone has eaten out or had drinks before. It is a monotonous necessity of life. Sure, we can enjoy food and drink, but there is something very different about doing this with others. Whether it is eating out with friends or eating out based on the recommendation of another, our connection to others is what makes a monotonous chore like eating and drinking imbued with excitement. The same thing is true of watching movies and reading books. While we can like movies and books on their own merit, the first thing we want to do with something great we consume is to immediately share how awesome this experience was with others. "You have to see this movie!" Or, to look at it another way, imagine watching a movie or reading a book in which no relationship existed. Imagine anything that you enjoy doing or anything you have to do. Now imagine doing that for the ten thousandth time. Now imagine that you are the only human who exists. How enjoyable would this hobby or task be then? I think it is intuitive to us all that it would be an overbearing ordeal - or at least a very bland one.
Consider this point another way. What would you call someone who finds enjoyment and extreme delight in repetitious acts which are largely devoid of relational depth? You would call them an addict. A man who enjoys the overindulgence of alcohol is an alcoholic and tends to push others away. A woman who consumes meth to the detriment of her body, her kids, and the family from whom she steals pushes relationships away. The parent of one of my middle school students who played World of Warcraft to the neglect of his children’s health. This is the world materialists are pursuing – a world in which all facts are known, but where nobody “knows” each other. In this world, there is nobody to know, just objects to know about. In this world, only infatuation and addiction exist.
We can already see one unfortunate consequence of glorifying the experiencing of things over relating to people. Many today who get divorced cite the monotony of the life they lived with another as a reason for their divorce. Their duties and obligations, their sex life, and their time spent together were just boring. They couldn’t go on living life so monotonously. But I have to disagree. Nobody leaves a marriage because it is devoid of meaning. They leave it because it is devoid of relationship. Just as eating or drinking find meaning when done with others, so marriage only finds meaning when done with another. But when done by oneself, pursuing one’s own desires and experiences, relationship is destroyed and monotony ensues. And when the individual decides to pursue the monotony of self-centeredness, addiction enters.
This, I discovered, is exactly why Elin’s chewing of gum made me so happy. Would I have focused on my miserable, monotonous experience – working in a hot school, using my summer time off to prepare for the next school year, and watching my rambunctious kid perform a trivial action like chewing gum – I would have had no joy. But because I love my child and love growing in relationship with her, my heart leaped. Joy only comes in relationships, and sorrow only from the damaging of them. The materialist may pursue pleasure and happiness, but will never arrive at true joy in restored relationships. But neither will they arrive at true sorrow. In the end, if they are right about the world and are able to achieve omniscience and immortality, they will experience absolutely no joy or sorrow. This is far different from the Christian whose restored world brings true, unspeakable joy as all relationships are made right, with the promise of no sorrow, as relationships will never again be damaged.
Christianity truly seeks to make heaven on Earth. The Christian's job of pushing back against the curse in nature, in self, in relationship with fellow man, and in relationship with God is intended to bring glimpses of a fixed, dynamic creation. Our goal is to one day live in right relationship. The materialist who follows their logic to the end, however, also seeks to create a heaven on earth. But while their current pursuits of knowledge and immortality may seem good now, the end pursued should shed light on the viability of such a worldview. To know about all things and to be known about by all others is very different than knowing and being known in personal relationship. Christianity's restored heavens and Earth is much different than a materialist's Heaven. The only consolation the current materialist may have for their ideas is knowing that they were a generation who didn't have to worry about the depressing ramifications of their worldview, for they are not eternal. At least they got to enjoy life, if only because their death guaranteed they never had to face the consequences of their worldview. And the only consolation they could have for their progeny - the evolutionary goal and purpose of their existence and survival - is hoping that humanity stands no chance of surviving the universe's heat death, and we will all be wiped out before we ever reach such a miserable, eternal existence. Ironically for the materialist, embracing the end of all things is their only hope for current joy, and the only way humanity’s eventual mundanity is prevented. For the Christian, however, everlasting life is the promise of restored, never-ending, dynamic relationships that will always be new and never frustrated.