The story of Aladdin and the magic lamp is fascinating to adults and children alike. Aladdin, an impoverished young man, obtains a lamp and inadvertently (with his mother’s help) discovers that, living inside, is a genie. This genie appears when Aladdin calls (by rubbing the lamp) and has the power to grant wishes. This idea is appealing, not just to children, because it fulfills a basic human desire for something or someone outside ourselves with the capacity to meet needs or supply wants, without requiring anything of the one making the request. In the fable the genie remains in the lamp until summoned by Aladdin, at which time he is so pleased to be out of the lamp, he grants wishes.
I believe many people in the affluent cultures, primarily in the West, have misplaced their search for God with a desire for the “genie in the lamp.” Most people believe there is a God or some force out there somewhere, and they suspect it has supernatural powers. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccl. 3:11). They will pursue that source of power to seek relief when in trouble, to help them by meeting their needs and/or their wants “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Eph 4:19). They want that external ‘force’ to fulfill their wishes at their command.
In this type situation the seeker really would rather not have to develop a relationship with whomever or whatever the power is. They certainly believe it unfair to impose conditions. Therein lays the dilemma. For example, in the case of God, we can understand that He might want us to live a good life – but we want to define what that means. If I want to indulge certain of my physical desires, I don’t want there to be negative consequences. And I certainly do not want anyone (especially God) judging me for that indulgence. Voila! The “genie” satisfies that dilemma.
This idea has burst forth at various times in human history. Invariably, when a nation or a people prosper materially and experience safety within their borders, they will, over time, move to excess. The people will be numbed to corporate discipline, become mentally and physically soft and believe themselves justified to satisfy every physical desire in any way possible. If there is any recognition of a superior being, we want it to operate like the “genie in the lamp.”
At the heart of our desire for stuff we’re all just trying to fill a void in our lives. Humans are social at the core of our being. All too many are seeking to fulfill the desire for relationship through sexual satisfaction. Unfortunately, it is an insatiable hole when filled with anything other than our Creator. We have forgotten that in our distant past, in the beginning, God created us in His image. Relationship with Him is the only way to satisfy that void. At our core, if we were honest with ourselves, we would give up the tiring pursuit for this elusive genie to find a genuine Companion, who we know will never turn His back on us no matter our physical, emotional, mental or financial condition. The promise of the “genie in the lamp,” to give us whatever we desire with no strings attached, proves painfully inadequate at that point.
When Jesus walked the dusty roads of Israel, and He was moved by compassion to restore broken humanity, the people thronged to Him to witness miracles, or to have their physical or mental lives repaired. However, when Jesus’ teaching moved to that of the ‘cost’ of a relationship with Him, the idea that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, the throngs departed. “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him,” the Apostle John noted (John 6:66). Only a hearty few remained with Him beyond that.
Fortunately for us, the true, living God of Scripture actually desires a relationship with us. “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” (Jer. 24:7). He will not force it, though. His love and His sovereign justice demand that we be given full freedom of choice. We get to choose. Isn’t that great! I can choose to reject Him. No strings attached. I get to keep my personal freedom, to be self-absorbed, selfish and self-directed, and pursue my “genie in the lamp.” I am free to do anything I want to do within the confines of societal rules, at least, that is, until I die. That part is consistent with our search for the “genie in the lamp.”
However, just as a loving father or mother will deny certain things their child desires because, in their maturity and wisdom, the parent knows it is not what is best for them at the time; so, a loving God tells us to deny our selfish desires. Whereas the “genie in the lamp” compels us to believe we can have it all, our wise God shows us, by the example of His Son that self-discipline leads to a fulfilled life. Everyone who has entered into a genuine relationship with Almighty God by way of His Son Jesus has found the requirements placed on that relationship to be well worth it. The “genie in the lamp” pales in comparison to the glory and splendor of Jesus, the One who chose to die for us, has risen, and offers us a personal relationship with God the Father. He promises “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
Isn’t that really what we all want?