Who Really Are the Escapists?
“ESCAPE from reality.” That is what a relative said when a young minister moved to the South Pacific so as to engage in missionary activity. And many would share this sentiment. A radio commentator in New Zealand, for example, recently suggested that when economic conditions deteriorate, great numbers of people turn to belief in God as a form of escapism.*
But are those who devote their lives to the pursuit of spiritual interests really escapists? Not according to Jesus Christ. He did not view belief in God as an illusion, invention, or mere figment of the imagination. At John 7:28 he said: “I have not come of my own initiative, but he that sent me is real.”
In Jesus’ case, however, belief in God did not affect him in some passive way. He was moved to present his life to God, saying: “Look! I am come . . . to do your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:7) True Christians today are affected no less compellingly. To illustrate, note the counsel Paul wrote to Timothy, a prominent elder in the first-century congregation. Paul knew that some in the congregation had considerable material assets. But because their faith was based on reality, they would be moved to put these assets to use. Said Paul: “Tell those who are rich in this present world not to be contemptuous of others, and not to rest the weight of their confidence on the transitory power of wealth but on the living God, who generously gives us everything for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in kindly actions, to be ready to give to others and to sympathise with those in distress. Their security should be invested in the life to come, so that they may be sure of holding a share in the life which is real and permanent.”—1 Timothy 6:17-19, Phillips.
Christianity is therefore no flight from reality. It involves a manly facing up to responsibility. The God we worship is no mirage; he is real. The life of service we lead is one of meaning and fulfillment. Our hope in a future reward, rather than being a baseless supposition, has as its sure foundation the promises of a God who cannot lie.—Hebrews 6:18.
What, though, of those who deny the need to serve God and who build their lives around material goods or some selfish career? Could it be that these are in fact the escapists?
The wise man Solomon used expressions such as “vanity” and “striving after wind” to describe a life in which material things and fleshly pleasures held a prime place. He described the outcome, saying: “And anything that my eyes asked for I did not keep away from them. I did not hold back my heart from any sort of rejoicing, for my heart was joyful because of all my hard work, and this came to be my portion from all my hard work. And I, even I, turned toward all the works of mine that my hands had done and toward the hard work that I had worked hard to accomplish, and, look! everything was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing of advantage under the sun.”—Ecclesiastes 2:10, 11.
Yes, even a materialistic way of life brought rejoicing of a kind. But real fulfillment and permanent happiness were lacking. Such a life is pure “vanity.” Indeed, the Hebrew word for “vanity” carries the literal meaning of “breath” and therefore refers to that which is lacking in stability and permanence. The New English Bible thus uses the word “emptiness.”
Therefore, is the person who leads the kind of life that Solomon labeled “vanity” in a position to accuse a Christian of escaping into a state of illusory contentment? Hardly. In fact, the apostle Paul further shows that “the scene of this world is changing.” (1 Corinthians 7:31) Here he likens the ungodly world to a stage with ever-changing scenes. That which today appears splendid, lovely, even spectacular, may be gone tomorrow. Present-day “performers” are in time replaced by others. Yet for all their exertion, their lives produce nothing of permanent value. They have no real hope for the future.
It is as Philip Chesterfield, 18th-century English courtier and orator, rightly said: “I have run the silly rounds of pleasure, and have done with them all. I have enjoyed all the pleasures of the world, and I appraise them at their real worth, which is in truth very low . . . When I reflect on what I have seen, . . . and what I have done, I can hardly persuade myself that all that frivolous hurry and bustle of pleasure in the world had any reality.”
Christians, however, are like Abraham who “was awaiting the city having real foundations, the builder and maker of which city is God.” (Hebrews 11:10) Because their faith is sure, they have no need of escape but fill their lives with satisfying activity. What of your life? Is it a mere escape, or is it solid, built on reality?
“Escapism” is defined as “continually diverting the mind to fantasy, as an escape from reality,” or “the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in . . . an imaginative situation, activity, etc.”