Seeing the followers, she grabbed her phone, and when she sat down, she opened her camera to herself.
And she wrote this caption:
“Blessed are the noticed, for theirs is the kingdom of isolation.
Blessed are the aesthetic, for they shall be unseen.
Blessed are the unique, for they shall inherit assimilation.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for notoriety for they shall be unsatisfied.
Blessed are the self-promoting, for they shall inherit themselves.
Blessed are the trendsetters for they will be forgotten.
Blessed are those who are seen for their own sake, for theirs is the kingdom of comparison.
Blessed are you when others notice you and regard you and utter all kinds of compliments against you falsely on their behalf. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great, for so they acknowledged themselves before you.”
She stared at it for a few seconds, deleted it, and captioned a fire emoji instead. A day later she was 6,000 likes wealthier with no more opportunity to spend it.
In contrast to the worldly realm of empty idols that promise us satisfaction, Jesus declares true blessedness in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12). In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Scripture equips us with an answer to the dissatisfaction our students inevitably feel in this world.
The reality we face in discipling teenagers is that often they feel more like the Preacher in Ecclesiastes—whose echoes we hear in their search for meaning through their screens—than like the blessed ones of the kingdom in the Gospel of Matthew. In the midst of this dissonance, we have an opportunity to disciple students, directing their gaze upward. Whereas our students feel dissatisfied with the fleeting promises of life “under the sun,” Jesus has revealed to us in the Beatitudes the wisdom of God that is far “above the sun,“ in which we can know true blessedness.
Pointing Teenagers Away From False Blessedness “Under the Sun”
Faced with the dissonance of a world in which things are not alright (Ecc. 1:2-3), the Preacher in Ecclesiastes looks out over all that is “under the sun” in search of that which will bring meaning and purpose. What he sees leaves him unsatisfied and what he hears leaves him unfilled (Ecc. 1:8). There must be something more! “Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new?’” And to his dismay the answer is, No! “It has already been in the ages before us” (Ecc. 1:10).
As a millennial, I tend to roll my eyes at our students bringing back 90’s fashion trends and say that there truly is nothing new under the sun. Still, with the advent of the internet and social media, it is hard to imagine a generation who has felt the dissonance of the world’s promise of blessing more acutely than our current teenagers. Constant, almost infinite, access to information has marked their lives. Global tragedy is now local concern and every event demands a personal response. The weight of the world bears down on the palm of their hands. Is there really another school shooting? Is there really another war? Is there really a housing crisis? Vanity of vanities.
Meanwhile, social media comes with the constant pressure for teenagers to present themselves as immune to the paradox of life under the sun. They can project their own vision of the good life onto their social media accounts, even if it’s not the life they actually have. Social media is the “real” me insofar as it is a projection of my real desires. The problem is that we all know it is a farce. It is no wonder Gen Z’s humor relies so heavily on absurdity and irony. The world doesn’t make sense. Might as well make a joke of it!
Bo Burnham’s Inside represents one of the best expressions of this felt dissonance in modern life—to the point that it has been called the “Ecclesiastes for our modern age.”1 In this Netflix comedy special, Burnham wrestles with the effects of the internet on our collective social psyche.
I find myself coming back to Inside time and time again. I am compelled by the way in which Burnham precisely puts his thumb on the problem; still, he has no answer except parody. His is the logical conclusion of our iteration of “life under the sun.” And yet, there is no relief in it.
What Ecclesiastes and Inside share in common is that their view is too narrow. If we are truly going to find blessedness in this life, it is not going to be by looking at anything “under the sun.” The world promises us blessedness and yet leaves us with dissatisfaction.
Our world is bound to the fall. Sin reigns. Eternity has been written in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11), but every day we face the potency of fallen existence. Made in the image of God, we have a desire for something “above the sun” but our sinfulness keeps us chained to the ground.
Pointing Teenagers To True Blessedness “Above the Sun”
In contrast to the Preacher’s frustrated efforts to find meaning, we cannot find true blessedness—but thanks be to God that true blessedness has found us. The wisdom that was far from us (Ecc. 7:23) has now been made known (1 Cor. 1:24). The Word who was God and was with God even before the sun was created has taken on flesh and dwelt with us under the sun that he made (John 1).
When our students are struggling to see the hope in the chaos—when they are left asking “is there anything more?” or “is there any hope of getting better?” we have the joy to be able to say “Yes!”
The incarnation is the resolution to our dissonance. Heaven has opened to show us there is more than life under the sun. Our fallen world is being redeemed. A new creation has begun. The new Adam has come. A heavenly kingdom is being established.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus flips the quest of the Preacher on its head. The poor inherit the kingdom. The hungry are fed. The persecuted emerge victorious. Those on the margins receive a crown. The downcast receive a heavenly reward. It is those who are the most honest about their inability to solve this life-under-the-sun-dissonance who receive the strongest resolution.
Those who forego the allure of meaningless gain in our lives under the sun are elevated to infinite gain in the eternal life that is offered to us in the gospel from above the sun.
The lasting satisfaction that was just out of the reach of the Preacher in the vapor of creation has now been made manifest in the eternal Son of God revealed to us in the Person of Christ. He will not fade, for he has life in himself that has been given to him by the Father. (John 5:26)
Jesus was acquainted with this life under the sun, and yet he dwells far above it. How acutely aware of the paradox he must have been. The Son of God is the son of Mary. The Maker of all things is also its Redeemer.
Between what is and what ought to be stands Christ and him crucified. Where the preacher in Ecclesiastes asks why the innocent suffer, Jesus says, “So that you don’t have to.”
Jesus has inaugurated the new creation, and with it comes the hope of true blessedness. He came to give life, and that abundantly (John 10:10). The gospel offers us but a foretaste of what we shall know the day when we stand before Christ, fully glorified, seeing him as he is (1 John 3:2).
This “already and not yet” perspective shapes the way we disciple our students now. When pain and suffering come, we do not grieve as those without hope (1 Thess. 4:13) for we know of a life that far exceeds the sun so that renders this life “a light and momentary affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17).
True Blessedness in Jesus
Discipling our students in true blessedness means reorienting their gaze. It means meeting them in the dissonance they are feeling and directing their attention above the sun. It means being honest with them about the sin and evil in the world and yet helping them look beyond this earth to the One who created it and is re-creating it. It means walking with them in their sufferings and reminding them that in Christ, those who mourn will be comforted.
Discipling teenagers in the blessedness Jesus taught in the Beatitudes means showing them a promise that actually can deliver. Christ, the eternal word of God, has taken up residence in the hearts of his people and while “the grass withers and the flower fades, the word of the Lord endures forever.” (Isa. 40:8, 1 Pet. 1:24)
Although the reed is bruised, we will be kept from breaking. All is not lost, for the battle has already been won. In this we can take heart, for those who are truly noticed are those under the loving gaze of the Father hidden in Christ. Those who are truly beautiful are those who have been clothed in the white garments as the bride of Christ.
- Derek Buikema, “Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’: Ecclesiastes for the Internet Age,” July 16, 2021, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/burnham-ecclesiastes-internet-age/.
Join us November 2-4 for Rooted 2023 in Nashville, where we’ll explore the Sermon on the Mount together. How can we find true human flourishing? The world we disciple our teenagers in today does not merely offer them an alternative way to live, but an alternative account of where true human flourishing is found. This competing vision encompasses all that we believe about ourselves, our bodies, justice, security, suffering, and meaning. In the most famous sermon in human history and the longest recorded teaching from Jesus’ ministry, our Lord gives us a wholistic vision of how we can live in a way that leads to our flourishing in every aspect of our lives. At the core, his teaching shows us that such flourishing is only found through faith in the God who created us and in Jesus Christ who is redeeming us. As we walk through the Sermon on the Mount together, our prayer is that the teachings of Jesus will invert and subvert the teachings of this world and compel our hearts to live in light of the Kingdom of God in faith.