You only live once, right? You’ve no doubt heard this said many times, and there’s a good chance you’ve even said it yourself. (I know that I have.) This phrase is often written as “YOLO” on social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But is YOLO true?
Of course not! We know that everyone lives twice, not once. The second life is in either heaven or hell. It’s no surprise that unbelievers take to YOLO so readily. As long as they reject the gospel of Christ, the only good and beautiful things they can ever hope to experience are here on earth. So most of them conclude that the only reason to go on living is to experience as much as they can of what makes them feel good. They realize their time is short and don’t want to waste it being unhappy. The meaning of YOLO is “forget and throw off whatever makes you sad and frustrated, and do what makes you happy while you have the chance. Soon the good stuff will all be gone.”
Christians, too, can get sucked into this even though we know it’s wrong and not even true. YOLO is the idea snuck into the words “a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Do we really believe that things this rare, and things even far more exciting, won’t be found in heaven?? YOLO has bad consequences, too. Say we have a “once in a lifetime” chance to do something and then the opportunity is suddenly taken away from us. Then we feel all kinds of unchristian emotions which probably grow into ungodly words and behavior. Or perhaps we just don’t have money to go on that vacation we always wanted, and every time we get close to saving up the funds the bills come piling in and we don’t get what we think we “ought” to have. Sometimes we worry that our lives will be “ruined,” as if earth was our only chance to experience pleasure, excitement, and fun, and that heaven can’t possibly be as enjoyable as earth. And when someone dies younger than they “should,” we might find ourselves taking comfort in thoughts like “at least he lived a good life while he was around,” as if this is the key element to mitigate the facts of “untimely” death. In these and more ways, we betray a hypocritical allegiance to the YOLO philosophy even while we know it isn’t true. Why do we do that?
Lot’s wife can give us a clue. She was living in a thriving city in a rich and fertile plain (Gen 13:10-12, Luke 17:28), and all of a sudden God was taking her away from that life towards a future in a tiny town near the mountains. (Gen 19) God’s angels said that her life would be spared the coming destruction only if she left everything behind, yet everything she saw about her new life outside of Sodom looked bleak and depressing to her. So she looked back in her heart towards Sodom, turned her gaze there, and suffered the fate of the Sodomites.
We Christians can be a lot like Lot’s wife. Satan works double time to make sure our concept of heaven looks as bleak and barren as life outside of Sodom looked to Lot’s wife, and that our picture of earth glitters and dances with fun times, good food, and beautiful things (YOLO). And when we picture heaven we might think of the huge crowds of saints and angles pictured in Revelation singing praises to God in endless worship and then think to ourselves, “I really don’t want to be in church all day.” And if we think about living properly as Christians on earth, Satan tries to get us to focus on all the trouble that Jesus promised would come to us (John 16:33), coupled with the uncomfortable moments that come with being a confessing Christian in a depraved world. We are tempted to see God’s way and time with God in heaven and on earth as barely anything to look forward to, and the things our hearts long for tend to revolve around the same things the world chases after. In short, we are drawn to the YOLO philosophy whenever the world and its ways seem more pleasurable to us than God and his ways.
Yes, Lot’s wife lives inside every one of us, and that’s why Jesus warned us to “remember her.” (Luke 17:32) His next words apply the possibility of her fate to us: “whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33) Lot’s wife tried to keep her life, but she lost it. Lot was willing to lose his life and he kept it. We simply have to be willing to give up everything we love and would live for here on earth (Luke 14:26-33!) in order to claim the title of “Christian.” It is the second life that is at stake here, not the earthly one: “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mt 16:25-26) We can seek the things of the world as our source of life and help or we can seek life in Jesus. And if we try to have the best of both we end up with nothing: “no man can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Mt 6:24)
Avoiding a life based on the pursuit of pleasure is difficult for us. We slog through our shifts at work in hopes of getting home at the end of the day to enjoy fun times, good food and beautiful things. We begin to live for the weekend, or our upcoming vacation. As this attitude sticks around, we tend to get depressed and irritable when the weekends and good times go “missing” from our lives. Satan is always working to get us to think, “my time on earth is about having fun and doing things for myself.” We make a mistake when we use the pleasures of the world to take relief from all the burdens and crosses in our lives instead of finding our comfort in the fact that we already possess the riches of heaven, and only have to wait a little longer to experience it.
It’s not wrong to enjoy the earthly comforts and pleasures God gave us. But it is both wrong and deadly to live for them. “You ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3) The one “who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.” (1 Tim 5:6) Living for things is also stupid because we are powerless to obtain anything we need for life. We acquire things large or small only through the generosity of our Father. Instead of trusting in the gifts God gives us (e.g., money, health, availability of good employment and national security), we need to trust in God himself. This attitude looks past things to the One who creates and distributes things according to his will. This makes the truly Christian outlook a thankful one, and it comes with the side effects of happiness and peace. Praying “your will be done” implies the intention of surrendering control over your life and placing yourself into the security of God’s will, not the things God gives us. We “ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:15) If this is our attitude we will be able to say with Job, “shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised!” (Job 2:10; 1:21) If we anchor our joy to the relentless unfolding of God’s will on earth as in heaven, then nothing will be able to take away our joy because nothing can move the will of God.
YOLO philosophy is always about the first life (earth). We stumble over it anytime heaven becomes less important to us than earth. So the obvious way to combat the dangers of YOLO is to make a habit of reminding ourselves about heaven and encouraging ourselves to look forward to it. If, at times, you find it difficult to look forward to heaven, it helps to compare life there with life here. Pay attention every time you complain about something, or feel sad or frustrated. Trace backwards and find the root causes of your sorrow, anxiety, pain, exhaustion, and struggle. Then imagine what life would be like without these sources of trouble and let that help shape your vision of what living in heaven will be like. The more you do this the more you’ll realize just how cursed is your life here on earth, and the more you’ll realize how good life in heaven will be. The greater the curse, the greater the blessing of its removal. Just as Jesus tied the magnitude of a Christian’s love to his awareness of how much sin he has been forgiven (Luke 7:47), so too is it the case that the more aware we are of God’s curse and evil things frustrating our lives now on earth (Gen 3:14-19; Rom 8:20, 22), the more we will desire to be in the place where “there will no longer be any curse.” (Rev 22:3) “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4) “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43)
“No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” (Joy to the World, verse 3) “From now those who use the things of this world [should continue,] but as if not engrossed in them.” (1 Cor 7:31) “Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a savior from there.” (Phil 3:19-20)