What is success? We all seem obsessed with success. But do we really know what success means? And why do we want it? Why such strong craving for success?
We speak about a successful academic result. Or a successful career. Or even a successful marriage. Some would define success narrowly in terms of this or that criterion only. Others may reframe success as more diverse, having multiple measuring yardsticks. Either way, we remain fixated on success, addicted to attaining it, and phobic about losing it. Defined broadly or narrowly, we are under the thrall and terror of success. We blame the problem on individual interpretations or social expectations, but fail miserably in unpacking the roots of the problem—paradigm and metaphor.
We fail to see we are living under the totalistic paradigm of neoliberal capitalism, where human beings, work, study, recreation, rest, life, and society are framed and understood in very specific ways that ultimately dehumanize, decontextualize, and devalue the meaning of being human. The underlying metaphor of neoliberal capitalism is human as resource; world as resource; life as resource—a profit and commodity mechanism that serves only itself: the gargantuan money machine.
Under the dominant world system of neoliberal capitalism, whichever field of endeavour or whatever industry or whichever area of passion or expertise that is salient to one, there is ultimately only a single bottom line—the proxy measure of money. It is all about the money: how much of it one makes and how much of it one has. With money thus comes possessions and properties. Money is the measure of success. This meme is deeply ingrained and has poisoned our very souls.
What is money all about ultimately? I suggest there are two things: power and approval. We feel we have power when we have money. We feel the rush of being able to control things or people with money. We can get things we want; influence or control people we like or dislike; get to experience what we want to experience on the outside at least. Money is power.
Yet, the richest and fullest experiences are inward in nature and can never be bought with money—bliss of meditative absorption; luminosity of wisdom; joy of creative consciousness; unity of heart with your spouse; enlightenment of mind; redemption in Christ; forgiveness of sins; reconciliation with God; fellowship and anointing of the Holy Spirit; and more. Money can never buy God.
Money is also about approval. We grow up with big holes in our hearts. We desperately want our inner vacuum to be filled by praise and approval of others, especially significant others who are authority figures in our lives. We have an insatiable hunger for social approval, a neurosis accentuated by social media with its roulette of likes and dislikes. With money, we feel we can finally get the approval we desire from authority figures, significant others, and the wider audience of friends and even strangers. We assume money makes people approve of us. We get addicted to praise and adoration.
In short, we want success. Success in our world is measured by money, regardless of industry or area or passion or rhetoric. Money gives us power and approval. But no matter how much money we have, we will never have the power and approval that can truly and eternally satisfy. Why? Desire emanating from inner void always churns up more desire even when one desire is satisfied. Desire feed upon desire in a never-ending chain of addictive dissatisfaction. The cycle is reiterative and repetitive. Nothing can and will satisfy. Our inner void will remain unfilled and our souls left wanting.
But God. God is the greatest Power in and beyond the universe. God is for you and with you, if you let Him. God is the audience of One, the only Audience that matters. God’s approval is the only one you need. Both your cravings for power and approval are finally satisfied in and by God alone. In Christ who is the radiance of the triune God and exact imprint of God’s nature, upholding all things by His power, we find the one and only fulfilment of our desire for power and approval. With Christ on our side, our weakness draws forth His perfect strength. With Christ as our Redeemer, we enjoy full acceptance and approval from God. All that we seek and desire is subversively fulfilled in the person and work of Christ. In Christ lies our true and eternal success.
Whoever has Christ is truly successful. Whoever is bereft of Christ, no matter how rich or powerful or socially liked, is an utter failure. See with eyes of the flesh, and all you get is misery now and forever. See with eyes of Spirit, and you taste heaven’s joy now and forever more.