What do we value as a society?
One of my favorite movies over the past several years is Nightcrawler directed by Dan Gilroy and starring Jake Gyllenhaal. The film tells the story of Lou Bloom who is a persistent and focused hard-worker. Lou decides to start his own small business as a filmmaker of sorts, videotaping nighttime events such as car accidents, burglaries, and the likes for a local news station. He is quite good at his job and the business expands.
The story begins with Lou desperately looking for a job. It ends with him being the owner and manager of a very successful TV news business. Another great rags to riches story.
There’s just one problem: Lou Bloom is a sociopath.
He tampers with crime scenes to get a better shot. He manipulates the police and creates crimes of his own by withholding information. He blackmails a colleague to fulfill his own sexual cravings. Lou has no problem exploiting law enforcement, crime victims, as well as his co-workers in order to advance his own life and career.
Yet society rewards him because he is a hard-worker
Granted, this is a fictional story. It never happened. Yet, perhaps in some ways, it happens every day.
It comes back to that question: what do we value as a society?
Oftentimes, if we are honest with that answer, we value hard-work, diligence, and, ultimately, productivity. The American Dream is the idea that we can be anything we want to be if we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps (whatever those are) and get it done.
In theory, we say we value ideals such as honesty, integrity, and morality. But consider George and Matt:
George is physically strong, agile, and attractive. He has been in the work force since the day he turned 16. He has worked both blue-collar and white-collar jobs. His employers give him nothing but praise, calling him “self-motivated”, “focused”, and “persistent”.
Meanwhile, Matt is weak, underweight, and appears rather sickly and homely. In fact, he can barely walk without a cane. Matt struggled throughout his education and barely graduated high school. College was out of the question. His employers say that he is easily distracted, calls in sick too often, and has a difficult time understanding basic instructions.
Now, without saying anything regarding these two men’s integrity, which of these men will be primed for what society refers to as “success”?
So regardless of what we say we value as a society — the answer seems all too clear.
In fact, if we take a look at how we understand “success”, we continue to see that we put more emphasis on productivity than we do any notion of morality. We ask children “what they want to be when they grow up” and we expect them to give us the name of an occupation. A doctor. A teacher. An athlete.
We don’t expect to hear answers such as “a generous woman” or “a Godly man”. Those are not as easy to define and they are too abstract to be given the label of “success”.
So what we really mean is: “How are you going to be productive when you grow up?”
In such a culture where productivity and efficiency is praised above all else, those of us who desire to be faithful citizens of God’s Kingdom are in need of a reminder of Sabbath. In a world that is constantly praising business, we can take time to step away from that world and find rest in the arms of God. We need time to remember that God loves and values us regardless of our “success”, or lack-thereof, in the world.
Sabbath is not only about rest. It is also about refusing to worship the idols of production and the almighty dollar. It is declare to a world that says, “You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps” that no, we cannot. We cannot lift ourselves up on our own. We need the grace of God. We need the Lord’s help. We need Jesus.