The New American Dream
- Do you ever daydream about a life in which you don’t have to answer to anyone (your boss, your parents, your spouse, the IRS)? What is the allure of this type of lifestyle?
One of the craziest periods in the history of Israel occurred during the time of the Judges. The 7th book in the Old Testament chronicles the events between the death of Joshua (1380 BC) and the beginning of Saul’s monarchy (1050 BC). For 330 years Israel existed much like a commonwealth- 12 distinct tribes with common ancestry, common language, and common religion. God was their King, and they were to obey his Law.
Before his death, Joshua warned the tribes that the desire to wander away from the one true God and follow other gods would be great. Within one generation this warning became a reality, throwing Israel into a cycle of disobedience- disaster- deliverance. Israel would abandon God, God would allow a foreign power to subdue them, they would cry out to God, and he would send a deliverer in the form of a judge. The judges were charged with delivering Israel from their enemies and bringing the people back to the Law.
The last verse of Judges perfectly summarizes this time period:
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25
In other words, in those days there was no moral consensus (no final authority), so people followed their own moral compass.
Isn't it interesting that human nature is the same no matter when and where you live. There is a part of us that thinks, “wait a minute… this is my life- nobody tells me what to do.” In fact, this mindset could be described as the new “American Dream”:
I want the freedom to do:
what I want
when I want
with whom I want
- What are the consequences you’ve observed when people do what they want, when they want, with whom they want?
This is the underlying drive in all of us: autonomy. The freedom to live with no restraints. But there are real consequences with this approach to life. When we do what is right in our own eyes, somebody eventually gets hurt:
We hurt ourselves. Living this lifestyle always leads to something or someone else mastering us- a habit, debt, a dysfunctional relationship. What started as an expression of our freedom now owns us.
We hurt others. We leave a “wake of heartache” behind us in the lives of those who are with us, who care about us, and who follow after us.
None of us want to be told what to do until doing what we want lands us in a place where we can’t do what we want. When we begin to reap what we sow, we all look for someone to bail us out. We throw ourselves on the mercy of our parents, our bosses, the government, or God.
How might our life be different if our standard of behavior changed from doing what we want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone to doing what we want as long as it helps someone? How would our relationships be different?
- Talk about a time in your life when you chose to do “what was right in your own eyes.” In what ways did it hurt you? In what ways did it hurt the people who care about you? How might your relationships be different if you had acted differently?