In the 1998 movie The Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, an actor in a staged reality television show that chronicles his life. Controlled by the show’s producer and mastermind, Christof, Truman has lived in a world of hidden cameras and lights since birth, his every move recorded for a live viewing audience that is anxiously awaiting his next steps. In the 30th year of programming, Truman starts noticing inconsistencies and abnormalities in his life. His wife advertises the products she buys. Truman’s dad accidentally appears as an extra in the show and is whisked away from the set when Truman notices him. Everything that happens to him is controlled. When Truman attempts to leave the town, his efforts are thwarted by obstacles created by Christof, including his inability to get plane tickets, storms, and traffic. Eventually, Truman sneaks out through a tunnel, causing Christof to temporarily suspend the broadcast. In the end, Truman is faced with an opportunity to leave his constructed world for the real world.
Ever have a friend that knows a little bit too much about you? You’ve told them more than you wanted to or should have and now you have regrets. Maybe you feel judged by that person. Maybe you feel embarrassed. At any rate, you’d just as soon disappear, at least for a while.
In my last blog, I mentioned the first six lines of Psalm 139, which reveal God’s limitless knowledge of us. You may have felt like hiding from those who know you, but have you ever felt like hiding from God? Maybe you’ve tried. Maybe you’ve felt that He’s not listening to you, that He’s pushing you in directions you don’t want to go, that He’s got this thing called “your life” all wrong. Maybe you’ve said these words: I can do this on my own.
In the next six verses of Psalm 139, we learn that we can’t hide from God:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
It’s very interesting to me, that the first lines of Psalm 139 speak of God knowing us intimately, and the next, of fleeing from Him. Where can I flee from your presence? The word “flee” here is striking. It means to run, swiftly away. Why would someone want to flee from God?
Obviously, we might want to flee if we’ve done something wrong (in the depths). But we might also want to flee if we are doing good (up to the heavens). If things are good in our life, we must be doing something right. We may get caught up in our pride, our sense of accomplishment…we may even want to take credit for that ourselves, instead of giving credit to God. And yet, God is there, even when we attempt to run away. His right hand is there to guide and hold us, and we cannot hide, even in the dark, because God can see in the dark.
We live in a culture obsessed with reality television that actually has little to do with reality. From stories about teen moms to households with copious amounts of children, from the lives of pageant kids to polygamists, from talent shows to the lives of rock stars—we’ve seen it all, and we can’t seem to get enough. When did we become so fascinated with the intimate lives of strangers? Perhaps it’s because we don’t really understand the meaning of our own lives—why we are here, what we are supposed to be doing, and who we are. Filled with the outrageous extremities, these shows feed our morbid curiosity, but they don’t teach us anything about human experience.
Real human experience is what happens away from the camera, I think.
At the end of The Truman Show, Truman decides to open the “Exit” door. He leaves the only world he has ever known… for true reality—which is, to him, completely unknown. He bids a warm goodbye to his audience and disappears. He goes off to live life on his own terms, but yet, he is still the person Christof created, with all the mannerisms, fears and unique personality traits he fashioned by manipulating a television set. Regardless of where Truman goes or what he does, he cannot hide from the creator’s intimate knowledge of who he is. And most importantly, Truman was created with the ability to choose, as represented by his decision to leave the set at the end of the movie.
Do we live in a world constructed by God? Yes, but we still have free will. This is what makes us so unique. Free will ensures that we will learn and grow, not just be at the mercy of circumstance. Circumstance is merely the gateway to something greater that we need to learn. This is how we can be blessed as much by a horrible experience as we can by a wonderful one. We are a little bit like Truman Burbank, stuck in the reality show that is our life. It may seem unfair and perplexing at times. We may find ourselves saying, “There’s got to be more to it than this.” We may long for change—to flee from our current set of circumstances to another, to take a step toward our next stage in life. And yet, even if when we do these things, even if we go to the far side of the sea, He will still be there. He still created us. We can run, but we cannot hide. God allows us to experience failure and success in our choices, beyond the scrutiny of those who are watching us, judging us. He is, after all, the only audience that matters. Our lives, played out not for the salacious eyes of the world, but for the one person who knows, loves, and supports us better than anyone else—what could be better?