Human Kind Cannot Bear Very Much Reality

by David McLemore May 12, 2022

In Four Quartets T.S. Eliot said, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” We shield our eyes. We busy ourselves. Like dealing with a fussy child, we direct our anxious hearts to something else hoping for a moment’s peace. Neil Postman wrote about “amusing ourselves to death.” We cram our lives with TV shows and movies and songs and social media and YouTube videos and everything else. We can face the reality of others, as long as we don’t have to tune into ours. Inside each of us is darkness we cannot face, and uncertainty we cannot bear. It’s all points to, as Eliot says, “one end, which is always present.”

We cannot bear very much reality. So we go into virtual reality. Strapping on our headsets, we depart from this world to another. We fight fake battles and climb mountains of pixels. We bowl alone, our eyes wrapped in technology taking us far, far away without leaving our chair. The day behind us falls like a blanket to the floor and the day ahead floats out front but we can’t see it. We don’t want to see it. We want an escape. The darkness is too much, so we blind it with light from a thousand sources.

Our day is not unique, only novel. We have more options for distraction. We have easier worlds to enter and more roads to take. But we cannot, no matter what we do or where we go, escape the one end, which is always present. That future we fear is only a day away. The one end makes us anxious so we prefer not to think too much about it. We cannot bear very much reality.

But, of course, reality is where we live. It is the warp and woof of our minutes and hours and days and months and years. Our fantasy worlds are only that. Isn’t it interesting that even there our worlds are filled with danger and risk and cliffs and swords and guns? In our escape, we run to what unnerves us. The one end may be avoidable in fantasy land, and perhaps that’s why we enjoy it so much. We know we’re doomed here, but we have a chance of survival there. We love that alternative story. We need another hope because our reality is too heavy.

Here is where Christmas holds so much power. This real world is the one to which Jesus came. Jesus entered our humanity. He became one of us, taking on flesh and blood, partaking of the same things as you and me (Heb. 2:14). The God of Heaven, who is above all and over all, who in himself has the fullness of love and joy and peace came to bear our reality.

Jesus can bear more reality than we can. He chose to bear more reality than we can. He came all the way down, all the way in, all the way through. The reality we run from, he came to live inside. He looked poverty in the face. He felt the leprous skin on his hand. He smelled the offensive incense of false offerings. He heard the blasphemies of man. He tasted the sting of betrayal and death. The reality we cannot bear, he chose.

Christmas is the proclamation that the human kind that cannot bear very much reality has been visited by Reality himself. The one end to which all this points has appeared already. The end of the story has been written and revealed. The birth of Jesus was the power of God breaking into our reality to take us into his. The darkness we fear has been broken by a light from above. The one end always present is no longer an unsettling void but a warm embrace, no longer a cause for distraction but an invitation to focus, no longer a reason for despair but a welcome to hope. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Human kind cannot bear very much reality, but Jesus can, and he did. He will carry us through. Christmas is the promise. His life is the proof. His death is the end. His resurrection is the hope. Because Jesus bore the reality we can’t bear, he offers us one we can.

Editors Note: This article was originally published at Things of the Sort.