I Can’t Get No Satisfaction…In The Twilight Zone

I may sound old fashioned or weird here, but I love the old Twilight Zone TV series. I started watching them on Netflix about a year ago and immediately got hooked. They are sometimes creepy, sometimes funny, always thought provoking and brilliantly made. There have been episodes where I’ve just sat back and thought to myself “They don’t make TV like this any more”. For a show that ran originally from 1959 to 1965, it was massively ahead of it’s time, and it still has influence today. The stories, the acting, and even the writing (mostly from series creator Rod Sterling but sometimes included the likes of Fahrenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury) are some of the best ever seen on television. The best part of the show is how the stories all have some sort of meaning or commentary behind them. One of the best is called A Nice Place to Visit.

In the episode lifetime criminal Rocky is shot while trying to escape and is taken to a place where he get’s everything he wants, whenever he wants. His guide Pip caters to his every need, giving him whatever he desires. Cars, clothes, women, gambling, money, fame, all of it at the snap of a finger. He never loses, nothing ever goes badly for him, and he is untouchable. He realizes that he is dead and believes this is heaven, but wonders how it’s possible because he never really did anything good, yet he quickly pushes the thought aside and goes back to pursuing his every pleasure. Slowly the veneer of the place starts to wear off. He becomes bored, dissatisfied, and restless. He begs and pleads with Pip to give him a challenge, a failure, rejection, for him to lose his money, get caught stealing, anything to change the facade. Pip says it can be arranged, but Rocky just becomes even more discouraged, saying an arranged failure is no failure at all. He says that he never thought heaven would be like this, that he doesn’t fit in, and that he wants to go to the “other place”. Pip laughs at him and tells him that he IS in the other place, and that he may never leave. Rocky is left to have everything he ever wanted for all eternity, slowly going mad with boredom and dissatisfaction.

This is one of my favorite episodes because it comments on such a fundamental element of human existence: the desire of having everything. Human beings want things, this is plainly obvious because we are all selfish people. As Frank Zappa once said, “Communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff”, and I believe that is true. The very act of being selfless is unnatural to human beings. Think of it this way. If you were to ask 10 year old kid if he could have anything in the world, I’d put money against him saying “I want everyone else to be happy”. We like things easy, fast, and to our benefit. Why do you think Staples has the whole “Easy Button” ad campaign? We think life should be without hardship because we don’t deserve it, and that within itself is a dangerous idea.
Hell is a very real place. The Bible talks of flames, weeping and gnashing of teeth, along with complete separation from God for all eternity. That is horrifying. But the thing about this version of hell presented in this episode that I find fascinating is the subtlety of it all. It’s a slow reveal, one that deceives before revealing it’s ultimate despair. It’s understated and yet terrifying. Conflict is the essence of life, and without conflict do we really have life? What if we did get everything our selfish desires wanted. Would it really make us happy? It makes you realize how much we rely on stuff that doesn’t matter to make us happy, and that selfishness leads to destruction. One of the things that I love about the Christian faith is it’s emphasis on putting others first. Sometimes I wish that whenever someone first starts following Christ that a message would show up at their door that says “It’s not about you. You can’t live for yourself and also live for me. It’s all or nothing. Follow me”. For me, one of the hardest things about following God is the constant temptation to be selfish. Satan would much rather keep us focused on ourselves than on God, and in the times that I have thought more about me than on God, I find myself being unsatisfied with things. I feel that I’m just taking and taking, and never giving anything back. A selfish existence is a lonely existence. The beauty of the fundamental heart change that Christ does for us when we become his child is that you can no longer be satisfied with selfishness. Oh sure, you may be able to do it for a while, but eventually you just can’t. You can’t stand the meaninglessness of it all. Following Christ means dying to self. And dying to self means getting over ourselves and looking out for others.
I want to live for Christ and for others before myself, because quite frankly, I hate being selfish. I feel terrible when I am. Focus on things other than yourself. Pray less for yourself and more for other people. Give more, donate some things you don’t need, give someone more of your time, heck, give God more of your time. Focus on the things that really matter. Quit focusing on stuff and focus on other people. Rebuild that friendship or relationship that’s grown stagnant, call that friend you don’t see enough, do some volunteer work, donate something, offer to take care of your friends kids while they have a night out, hand out food, do something, anything. Real love is selfless love, and we are called to love others. So how can we love with selfish hearts? We can’t. The problems of the world can probably be boiled down to a simple cause: selfishness. So how do we try to change the world? By caring about others more than ourselves.

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