Get Out While You Can: A Defense of Escapism

Escapism has a bad name nowadays. It’s usually equated with those who play video games for […]

Todd Brewer / 7.31.19

Escapism has a bad name nowadays. It’s usually equated with those who play video games for far too long, get lost in fiction books, or never come back from their Hawaii vacation. Escapists are the ignorant who bury their head in the sand in the hopes that they won’t be devoured. In Christian circles, they are the hermetic monks of yore who isolate themselves from the world to commune with God or the Amish who shun technology in favor of oil lamps and the horse and plow. Escapists are weird. They don’t play by the rules. They are lazy, out of touch, irresponsible, selfish, psychotic…the list goes on.

And yet, when I read the New Testament and all of its various characterizations of the world, the one refrain I find repeated over and over again is the urgent plea to “get out while you still can.”

The world is not a neutral place but a hostile environment that threatens the health of those living among the dead. It is an encroaching weed (Mk. 4:18-19) that suffocates the living. The world corrupts and defiles (2 Pet. 1:4, 2:20). It pressures humanity into evil and disorder (Rom. 12:2). The world is ruled by hostile powers that enslave and kill (Rom 6:16-18). It is the enemy of God (Jam. 4:4). The world blinds us (2 Cor. 4:3) and its apparent wisdom is foolishness (1 Cor. 3:19). The assembled picture here is truly alarming.

It’s no wonder that Paul likens the Christian life to defensive warfare against an encroaching, hostile enemy (Eph. 6:10-17). The world is not conquered, but resisted. It is the world who has the arrows, not us. By the power of God, we stand firm against its assaults and refuse to buckle under the weight of its pressures (6:11).

Outside of Christ, all roads lead to death. “Rescue” is a prevalent motif to describe salvation — both now and in the future. We are to be rescued from the coming wrath (1 Thes. 1:10) and repent and be saved from death (Lk. 13:3-5). Those who belong to Christ are no longer the possession of the world (Jn. 17:14-16), living as aliens in the world (1 Pet. 1:1, Jam. 1:1). Our Lord taught us to pray for rescue from evil (Mt. 6:13). We have been and will be rescued from death (2 Cor. 1:10). On this journey of life, Christ is an exit ramp from the highway to hell.

Escapism, it seems, is at the core of the New Testament’s call to conversion. What is striking to me about the New Testament’s thoroughly dismal view of the world is just how well it accords with modern life. I’m not talking about the perverse evils of modern culture (original sin is equally distributed throughout history), so much as the sheer pervasiveness of our culture. The world is so suffocating, that we are all beholden to its seculosities. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our world has already informed many of our assumed core principals/norms. Often what we think is true, right, and noble is at odds with the gospel. Does a fish know it is wet?

The world is in-escapable, or so it seems. It ceaselessly demands that we participate within it — to play by the rules and not step out of line. The world relentlessly bombards us with its spam and does not offer an “opt out” button. Every tweet, every news story, every dieting trend, every natural disaster, every controversy demands a response of rebuke or endorsement, lest one be held culpable for one’s silence or ignorance. Heaven help you if you wear socks with sandals, vote for the wrong candidate, or actually take all of your vacation days. Judgment is the currency of the world; it demands conformity (or else). We so desperately want to be “enough” that we willfully or reluctantly play along in the world’s game. We always lose, of course, but perhaps next time will be different…

In the face of all this, I offer the simple plea that we get out while we still can. Realize that the game is rigged and the situation is impossible. Lose your life to save it (Mk. 8:35). Exorcise the demons, so to speak, and find an escape from the world’s judgments. The world cannot be transformed, but mourned. Christians are not supposed to conquer the world but to resist its invasion through the counter-programming of grace, holding onto “the things eternal” as we “pass through things temporal”. The world is full of fugitives, and running in the opposite direction will appear to be treason (1 Cor. 4:11-13).

To escape the world is to be rescued by Another who has overcome the world by dying to it. In Christ, we are enough, we are beloved, we are forgiven; no one else can tell us any different. We are not victors in the world, but exiles. Captivated by the grace of God, we march to a different tune and answer to a different Lord.