A World out of Control
Man’s impatient pursuit of instant gratification has resulted in his loss of control. Consider just a few examples:
Ecological: Man is ravaging the environment. On the long term, the consequences promise disaster; on the short term, though, plundering the earth for its resources and doing little to limit pollution means money for both industry and government. So the pillage continues, despite protesting environmentalists.
Economic: Nations around the world borrow more and more money, piling up mountains of debt for the sake of the economic needs of the moment. They blithely disregard the grim warnings of economists—that the interest on all those loans may grow into an unbearable burden later on or that a world economy based on a foundation of global debt is ominously shaky and may collapse if poor countries default on their loans.
Moral: Drug and alcohol abusers, gamblers, criminals of all sorts, adulterers, fornicators—who would deny that all over the world their ranks are swelling today? They are a disparate group with a common denominator: They want it NOW! Whether “it” is sex, money, power, or just a high, many are willing to throw away marriage, family, conscience, financial security, health, reputation, even life, for such fleeting pleasures.
It is hardly exaggerating to say that today’s world is out of control, governed by an almost infantile greed. Some fight sincerely against the shortsightedness so prevalent in the world. But far more powerful, and far more pervasive, are the forces that undermine farsightedness and self-restraint in all of us.
Modern man, particularly in the more industrialized nations, is perpetually bathed in a flood of propaganda through the media. Whether by television, radio, movies, magazines, or newspapers, instant gratification is adeptly promoted.
Media advertisements clamor for you to buy, buy, buy—and to apply for credit cards so you can buy now, now, now. Countless products are only a phone call away. ‘Worry later about paying!’ the ads seem to suggest soothingly. They are designed with almost uncanny skill to seduce the senses. Turn a page in a magazine, and a wave of perfume engulfs you. Turn on the radio, and a jingle rings insistently in your mind for days. Turn on the TV, and its flashy images hold you transfixed. In music-video style, the images flit by fast enough to hold even the shortest attention span.
Television does more than advertise instant gratification. It dispenses it. At the mere touch of a button, it gratifies the urge to be entertained. Often it entertains by showing people gratifying their own urges. The man of action resorts to violence when his antagonists ‘deserve it.’ The precocious child humiliates parents with impudent wisecracks. The sensuous romantic gives in readily to adultery or premarital sex. TV rarely vilifies these characters for their lack of self-control; it glamorizes them, bathing them in a halo of dramatic glory or an approving chorus of simulated laughter.
Similarly, a recent article in The Atlantic Monthly said that today’s Hollywood movie is “a spectacle that has been meticulously engineered to gratify at every single moment,” with “film after film repeatedly screaming, ‘You can have it all!’” Nothing, it seems, gratifies today’s audiences more than violence. The article charges that movies in the past “suppressed the viewer’s urge to join in kicking,” while “in contrast, screen violence now is used primarily to invite the viewer to enjoy the feel of killing, beating, mutilating.” In fact, action and violence have so crowded out story and dialogue from movies that the screenplays of today are 25 percent shorter in the writing than in the 1940’s, even though the movies themselves are just as long.
The world’s religions are in an ideal position to help lift humanity out of this misguided ‘mania for the moment.’ Yet, all too many religious leaders seem mired in their own quest for instant gratification. How often do we read of their seeking power and influence in the political arena, or ingratiating themselves with their wayward flocks by watering down moral standards, or even using the Bible as a righteous veneer behind which they hypocritically do as they please? Instead of unmasking instant gratification for what it often is—part of the allure of sin—they have joined with other ‘moral leaders’ in soft-pedaling the concept of sin, redefining it with such bland euphemisms as ‘hereditary problems’ and ‘alternative lifestyles.’—See box on page 8.
A Tool to Counteract the Trend
With that kind of world climate, how can we fight back? How can we make decisions without being unduly swayed by the lure of instant gratification? The answer might surprise you: The Bible can help. Contrary to what many people may assume, the Bible is not against pleasure. It does not promote asceticism or rigid self-denial. Rather, the Bible teaches us how to live happy lives, with pleasure in its proper place.
The Bible describes the Creator as “the happy God,” who ‘rejoices in his works.’ (1 Timothy 1:11; Psalm 104:31) As for humans, Ecclesiastes 3:1 says: “For everything there is an appointed time, even a time for every affair under the heavens.” That includes, according to the subsequent verses Ec 3:4, 8, a time to laugh, a time to skip about, a time to embrace, and a time to love. Proverbs 5:18, 19 even extols the beauty of sexual pleasure between man and wife when it tells husbands: “Rejoice with the wife of your youth.” Clearly, then, not all gratification is wrong, nor must all forms of gratification be put off arbitrarily. Self-control, however, is often the missing ingredient.—Galatians 5:22, 23.
We must put our own pleasures in the proper perspective. We need the right priorities. Pleasing God must come well before our own pleasures; it must come first in our lives. Next comes principled love for our fellowman. (Matthew 6:33; 22:36-40) If we truly love God and neighbor, then we will gladly put our own gratification in line behind these two priorities.
Bible-based priorities will also help us to say an outright no to gratification when we need to. We will rule out drunkenness, adultery, fornication, gambling, greed, drug abuse, and violence. These sins each offer instant gratification in their way, but they offend God and harm our fellowman. God’s laws against these sins are a sure sign of his love for us, for in the long run, sin costs the sinner most of all. The cost may be disease, a broken home, or poverty. It may be as final as death or as tragic as a shallow and unfulfilled life.
Following Good Examples
God wants us to lead happy, productive lives; his Word is full of examples of men and women who did. In many cases their faith and love of God moved them to delay their own gratification. (See Hebrews, chapter 11.) Moses is a famous case in point. Raised up as the son of the daughter of Pharaoh in ancient Egypt, he had a life of gratification open to him. Power, influence, wealth, and no doubt plenty of sexual opportunities could all be his if he stayed in Pharaoh’s household. Instead, he threw in his lot with the scorned, enslaved nation of Israel. Why?
Hebrews 11:25 answers that he chose “to be ill-treated with the people of God rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin.” Moses saw instant gratification for what it was. Instant. Temporary. Soon over. So instead of focusing on what would bring him pleasure at the moment, he concentrated on heading toward a happy future. As Hebrews 11:26 says: “He looked intently toward the payment of the reward.” That reward was real to him, so was the Rewarder. Heb 11 Verse 27 reads: “He continued steadfast as seeing the One who is invisible.”
Some may scoff at the choice Moses made. Some may say that they would have chosen the wealth, the power, the fame. But consider: If Moses had chosen the course of instant gratification, would we even know of him today? Would his Egyptian name survive as a hieroglyph on some cracked, pitted stone in a museum, an obscure bit of trivia known only to a handful of archaeologists? Or, more likely, would it lie buried and forgotten under the dust and sand of 34 centuries? And what of his reward? Could Moses have been sure of a place in Jehovah’s memory if he had chosen the easy course to please himself?
Moses’ name stands as an inspiration to millions of people today. His future is sure. Your future can be just as sure. You too can be a source of encouragement to others. When you make your decisions in life, from the great to the small, don’t be duped by the world’s propaganda that you must have what you want NOW! Ask yourself, ‘Is what I want in harmony with what my Creator wants for me? Would pursuing what I want now mean putting my spiritual pursuits on the back burner? Am I in any way jeopardizing my reward? What kind of example am I setting for friends and family?’
Don’t choose the shortsightedness of this world over the farsighted wisdom of God. Don’t trade long-range happiness for short-term pleasure, the eternal for the temporal. Our Creator, after all, offers us gratification in the most expansive terms imaginable. As Psalm 145:16 says of him: “You are opening your hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.” Some of this gratification is immediate; some requires time and patience. A life in Jehovah’s service is full of pleasures—the beauties of creation, the warmth of friendship, the joy of challenging and rewarding work, the delight of learning answers to life’s most puzzling questions. Beyond that, the Creator offers us a life that will be gratifying forever.—John 17:3.