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The Authentic Self: The illusion of beach mansions and broken life

mansion
Unsplash/Ralph (Ravi) Kayden

I once lived in a small condominium next to the beach, nestled among million-dollar mansions. One afternoon, I was on my way home from the office to pick up my teenage daughter from school. She was visibly upset and collapsed on the seat for the entire drive home. We cruised by the mansions on the windy road to our condo by the ocean. Looking at the houses, she cried, “Why can't we be like the rest of these people? All the kids at school are always going to parties, traveling, and doing something exciting.” I replied, “Do you see all these houses? So many of them are my patients. I’ve seen inside the mansions and shared the lives of these people. But, trust me, it’s not as it seems.”

My daughter saw things as they appeared. Lavish lifestyles and all indications of “the good life.” But I knew the stories. Divorce, addictions, depression, anxiety.  Broken people and families. Regardless, their lives looked good on the outside. It’s one of the odd things about life; if you have enough “stuff” it appears to glue together the broken pieces of life. Perhaps for a time, it does — vacations, good food, beautiful clothing, parties, gadgets, relationships, marriages, holidays — the good life.

It's not that prosperity and the good life are superficial or of no value. God provided wealth and prosperity for many people in the Bible. The issue is when we think it can hold together life’s disappointments and harsh realities. My daughter was upset because her day was cruel, people were mean, and life wasn't fair. What angered her was that she didn’t have the resources that appeared to override the wrath of life. 

That’s when the “good life” becomes a problem when wealth and prosperity are your only option for life's broken pieces. When you believe you must create the good life because the universe leaves no alternative. Its cruelties are random and impersonal. As renowned atheist Richard Dawkins wrote in River Out of Eden:

“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

That's the illusion of mansions on the beach. On the inside, you “still get hurt.” Depression, anxiety, addiction, anger, abuse; “nothing but pitiless indifference.” The universe won't dialogue. There is no redemption, no matter how many toys, relationships, accomplishments, or power. All you can do is hope you are one of “the lucky ones.”

But the Bible offers an alternative. Consider the words of the apostle Paul:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1: 18-20).

We live in God’s mansion. Creation is a way of knowing him, as my daughter knew that villas along the beach meant someone had created a better life. She didn't know them personally, but she was smart enough to know that a spectacular design meant a stunning designer. From her perspective, the more impressive the home design, the more incredible the people who created those lives.

Paul says that creation, the mansion of God’s handiwork, is evidence of his existence. God’s eternal power and divine nature are seen through His creation, as my daughter assumed that the beauty of beachfront mansions must have answers to a better life because of the beauty and luxury of their design.

But here is the crazy part: we won’t let God do his work. We don’t look to Him to solve the problem of evil and the social chaos humanity creates. Instead, we keep digging deeper into the reservoir of our inner self, believing we will ultimately build the metaphorical mansion we call the “Authentic Self.” Paradoxically, Paul states that to fulfill every desire suppresses God’s truth because not every human passion or thought fulfills God’s intended purpose in creating us. Instead, we must let God build and shape our desires and not make our mansions. 

Regardless, we keep building. Build better social programs! Hire Chief Equity officers to train employees how to be better humans. Defund the police because we are all good people if we are just left alone. Defeat Russia, and it will end all wars. Keep building those mansions, and one day they will solve the problem of evil. 

It brings me back to that long drive along the beach with my daughter. Her sorrow grieved me deeply, not because I couldn't give her all the stuff her friends had, but because I knew the stories inside the mansions. I knew the wrath of life. Even if I gave her everything, I knew she couldn't escape life’s sorrows.

So for all my children, I start with the sorrows of life, as Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I want them to look beyond the mansions and discover their brokenness, not suppress the truth by pursuing mansions. To overcome the suppression of truth and mourn for sin is a profound feat, requiring mourning beyond losing your iPhone, a trip to Europe, or losing everything the world offers. It is the mourning for your soul and the reality that life’s mansions will never heal the wrath of life. It’s a mourning that cries for joy when you see Jesus, and His words come alive: “Come to me, everyone who is weary, and I will give you rest.”

It's a blessing to have a good life and a beautiful home, but like that old gospel hymn, "I want a mansion just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we'll never grow old."

Dr. David Zuccolotto is a former pastor and clinical psychologist. For 35 years he has worked for hospitals, addiction treatment centers, outpatient clinics and private practice. He is the author of The Love of God: A 70 Day Journey of Forgiveness

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