The Bearable Heaviness of Being

Setting the mind on the things of God

Today is Good Friday.

I’ve been reminded lately of the novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera. I remember reading the book and watching the film, many years ago. Trying to remember the story, I realise how unremarkable it is. A doctor in Czechoslovakia, in the then Eastern Bloc, receives a lot of favours from people so that they can get treatment earlier. He loses his job because he criticises the regime and has to work as a window-cleaner, but people still come to him for health advice. The women offer their special favours, and he takes a lot of advantage of that.

The story ends with the doctor and his wife dying in a car accident, and someone remarking: Well, they were happy together so it’s good they died together, on a trip they had both looked forward to. Or something like that.

A shallow story. A nothing story. No lesson can be drawn from it, except: Life is short, so try to have fun.

Recently I’ve been watching Jordan Peterson discussing in-depth the biblical Exodus story with a number of eminent scholars (on the pay-for-use video platform Daily Wire). It’s a mind-blowing experience. Someone there mentioned the “unbearable lightness of being”.

We live in an unbearably “light”, i.e. shallow time. People just don’t want to look at the really deep, “heavy” issues pertaining to current affairs. Even when these issues stare them in the face, such as during the Covid crisis and the war in Ukraine, they just pretend that nothing is happening. They shuffle off their thinking and responsibility to people who pretend to have authority and knowledge, even though it’s glaringly obvious that they don’t. They accept measures that are obviously harmful to them. They pretend they have never heard of something like a cost-benefit analysis. They just go along to get along, and then rationalise that they are “doing the right thing”. People thus conditioned are likely to believe other scare stories, such as those around “man-made, catastrophic and imminent climate change”.

The reason for all this is that for some generations now people in the West have been guided away from God. God showed them that, in order to live, they have to “take up their cross and follow me“. Jesus, the Son of God, said this, according to Matthew, straight after Peter exclaimed that something as terrible as Him being killed “will never happen”. Jesus severely reprimanded him, saying: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Psychologists know that if we avoid looking at that what frightens us, this thing will just get bigger and worse, at least in our minds. To “get rid of it”, or overcome it, or master it, or at least not allow it to govern our lives, we need to face it. It’s terrifying and difficult. In other words: it’s “heavy”. (In German, there’s a word that in English means both heavy and difficult: “schwer”.)

If we don’t face the terror that is inescapably part of a limited life in a “fallen” world (a world full of scarcity, e.g. a scarcity of doctors; a world that breeds maliciousness), our coping mechanisms are likely to be unhealthy: Drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, other distractions. Meanwhile, in the background, the terror just grows.

Facing the terror full on is the mark of true power and and expression of true life. That is what Jesus did on Good Friday. If we follow Him thus, we need not be afraid. For, as Matthew wrote at the end of his account of Jesus’ time on earth, He promised: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.