This is an existential crisis
Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Matthew 19:16
For several weeks now, we’ve learned from the words of unbelievers. You’re no doubt familiar with the story of the young man who approached Jesus looking for an answer to a theological question, and at its core, for the solution to an existential crisis. He had acquired wealth, position and success that typically required a lifetime to attain yet he remained restless and unfulfilled. If he were around today, we might say he was having a “quarter-life” crisis.
His question is not uncommon. We are faced with generations entering adulthood grappling with profound disillusionment. Their college degrees are worth less than promised. Their careers are unfulfilling. The relationships are shallow. Even entertainment is something less than advertised. Where can I find lasting meaning? What do I do?
He was sincere. He wanted to do good. But he also wanted to be recognized as good. He wanted the respected rabbi to tell him that he was good, that he was on the right track. He wanted affirmation and validation. He’s not much different from the people around us.
Jesus responded with, “You know the answer. Keep the commandments.”
But that’s hard, rigid and inflexible. Is that really the answer?
No, because keeping the commandments is impossible. That’s the conclusion Jesus was prompting him to reach.
You see the young man wanted to ADD something to what he was already doing, to what he already had. Acquiring, gaining, those were easy and familiar. But they were completely unprofitable. And that’s the message we need to share with our friends brave enough to ask this question.
Augustine of Hippo, almost two thousand years ago, recognized this angst. “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee,” he wrote in Confessions.
See, the real answer is to give up. Not in the sense that reaching for the eternal is futile, but in the sense that we recognize we can’t attain it through the things we do.
We will never find the fulfillment we long for in activity or acquisition or even affirmation. It comes only from resting in the completed work of Jesus on our behalf. That’s the thing the young man lacked. That’s the thing our young friends, our friends in midlife, our friends in maturity also lack. Our job is to do everything we can to help them fill in that gap. Once they get it, no more existential crisis