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 the instant gratification of the “genie in the lamp.” Most people believe there is a God or some special 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.” [Ecclesiastes. 3:11 NIV]. 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.” [Ephesians 4:19 NIV]. They want that external ‘force’ to fulfill their wishes at their command.
Preferring anonymity 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 culture prospers materially and experiences safety within their borders, they will, over time, move to excess. The people will be numbed to corporate discipline, become spiritually, mentally and physically soft and believe themselves justified to satisfy every physical desire in any way possible. Christians become less focused on God’s Word, thereby allowing themselves to be compromised with divorce, secret sexual sins, or even greed driving them to sinful practices in the marketplace, to name a few. Of course, lest we forget, abortion, a sin God hates, touches nearly every person in the US in some way. If there is any recognition of a superior being, even the Christians’ God, still we want Him, or It, to operate like the “genie in the lamp.”
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools . . . .” [Romans 1:18 – 22] NIV
Next: Part II – Things & Stuff