This morning I hit snooze four or five times. And so began a day of making non-optimal self-defeating choices. So often—and I mean All The Time—we do things that we know will cause ourselves pain, suffering, regret, guilt, and unhappiness. And then we do it again. Yet so often, the advice we get is to make better choices. We appeal to our rational minds, our wills. It never works. But that fact doesn’t seem to bother any one. The sermons, advice columns, pep talks, and self-help books just keep coming.
For those who still believe people are rational and able to follow good advice, I have two words: Angry. Birds.
Sam Anderson’s recent piece in The New York Times Magazine, “Just One More Game…”, examines the addictive non-rational freewill-shattering “opium kind of power” of the “stupid games” that live on the wireless gadgets in our pockets. Angry Birds, Bejeweled, Fruit Ninja.
Anderson, knowing his weakness, resisted the iPhone for years because of the too-strong-to-resist pull of its games. But he eventually gave in. For a while, he resisted downloading games but figured there was no harm in chess. This turned out to be the gateway game. Others followed. And then he discovered a game called Drop7. And what he feared would happen did:
…and before long I entered the danger zone. I was playing when I should have been doing dishes, bathing my children, conversing with relatives, reading the newspaper and especially (especially) writing. The game was an anesthetic, an escape pod, a snorkel, a Xanax, a dental hygienist with whom to exchange soothingly meaningless banter before going under the pneumatic drill of Life. Soon I found myself struggling in the net of real addiction. Even as I pressed “New Game,” my brain would be thinking, very consciously, I have to stop playing this game. But I didn’t. Instead, I spread the Drop7 virus to other people: my wife, my friends, my mother, my in-laws. I found myself playing in all kinds of extreme situations: at 3 a.m., during a severe gastrointestinal crisis; immediately after an intense discussion with my mother; shortly after learning that my dog — the warm, emoting mammal I lived with for 12 years — was probably dying of cancer.
This simply offers a snapshot of the human condition, the reality that we cannot control ourselves or make good choices. At least not when it counts. It’s a picture of humanity we wish were untrue. But it’s reality.
But this is why Good Friday is so good. Christ does not offer sound advice. He does not appeal to our better angels. He makes no stirring speeches to inspire us to make good choices. He knows we’re stuck. Even if we’re in denial, he’s not. And so, realizing our paralysis and inability to get better, he gives himself for us. He bears our sin, our law-breaking, our stunningly selfish bad choices. And we are made new.