Wednesday, September 08, 2010

When "All the World's A Stage"

A reader in Kathmandu, Nepal wrote me from his cell phone with this question: "how do I meet my goal or get success in life?" First, allow me to express my constant amazement at how “flat” the world has become due to technology. I am more amazed at how similar people are, asking the same kinds of questions “over there” that we may ask “right here.”

The question is difficult to answer because I don’t know what goals he has set for himself, and I don’t know what he means by “success.” I have asked him to define what he means, and until he answers, I am left with greater questions that his might lead to, such as “how do I meet the highest goal or achieve a fulfilled life?” Doesn’t this sounds much like “what is the chief end of man?”

Children ask questions more than adults. The first years are filled with “What is that?” and “Who is that?” Later, the questions change to “Why is that?” or are suddenly complex (such as, "in what language do deaf people think?") then suddenly we stop asking questions, not even aware that we stopped or knowing why we stopped altogether. All we know is that we are in some kind of trouble or difficulty and don’t know why. We turn to our books that are filled with questions that provide “band-aid” answers over our troubles, but we are left unchanged and the difficulties are still present. The reason is that we focus on particulars and felt needs of the moment instead of absolutes that have eternal value.

I recently read a book that might be fitting for a young Christian getting started on his journey with Christ, but one chapter unsettled me as it was filled with questions that could all be answered “yes”: “Yes,” I’ve been hurt; “yes,” I have expectations; “yes” I have unsolved problems; “yes,” I’ve felt confused; “yes,” I’ve felt like giving up; “yes,” life is complicated; “yes,” I deal with obstacles and wish I had no problems . . . so what’s the point?

The answers our friend seeks cannot be found without further questions, such as “what do you mean when you say ‘success?’” and “what are your goals?” He might want to be the most famous Sherpa of all time, or a shepherd with a productive flock, for all I know; but, does it matter if he never meets the highest goal? Is the highest goal subjective (to be found within), or objective (outside the self)?

Shakespeare included what was already a well-used cliché in the first lines of Act II, Scene VII (lines 139-166) in “As You Like It” (do high school students still commit this to memory?):

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

If the world’s a stage, what lies outside the stage? There must be something greater than the stage.

What is the purpose of “the play” and who wrote it? The play glorifies the writer, who casts the players for the parts He has written. The player does not write himself into the story.

If men and women are players, who is the audience? There must be someone else.

What is man that you are mindful of Him, and the son of man that you care for him?” is the philosophical question asked of God by David in Psalm 8. The question reveals that one is trying to understand an answer he already knows: God is intensely interested in man. The word “mindful” is much deeper in the original, carrying the connotation of naming, mentioning, making monumental by recalling to mind, remembering. He says it again in another way: God cares for man. David is questioning an answer he already knows not because he is in doubt, but so that he can become saturated the truth, the reality of God’s care for man. All this simply means is that the highest goal for man stands outside him. Man’s chief end has everything to do with God.
The success of our hour upon the stage is measured by the apprehension of the highest goal: knowing God as we are known by Him.

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