A few weeks back, Mickey and I found ourselves being productive adults sitting on the couch and sifting through Netflix trying to find something worth watching. Ultimately, we landed on "Tiny House Nation." Neither of us had watched it before, but like most people, we thought tiny homes looked cool on Pinterest. Occasionally, we've even convinced ourselves that we could totally live in one, even though the size of our respective closets suggests otherwise.
A whole show dedicated to "tiny homes" had to be passable entertainment for a Tuesday night. By the second episode, though, I had noticed a pattern to the show that started to bother me. Each time the hosts explained the upcoming project, they included some story about the homeowners, some emotional wound that needed healing, or a relationship that needed mending. Then they would explain how the building project wasn't just about a tiny house; this house was an agent of restoration. Each episode was sprinkled with phrases like...
"This isn't just a tiny home; it's a chance to heal the relationship between this father and daughter."
"This house we're building is about bringing this family together after a really tough time."
At first, I rolled my eyes and made some sarcastic comments. I laughed at how unqualified the hosts were to be serving as family counselors. But the more I've thought about it, the more I'm convinced that shows like this are a symptom of where we are culturally. Sociologists say that people in the "West" have undergone a process known as disenchantment. As religion is further pushed to the sidelines, people are left alone with the brute facts of the world. In the modern western mind, there is no providence, no spiritual powers, no overarching story of which human beings play a part. There are only our insignificant lives and what we choose to do with them, but we are certainly not a part of any greater narrative.
But, here's the problem: human beings can't live like that, and everyone knows it, whether they admit it or not. We can't live in a disenchanted world because we weren't meant to. This reality is acknowledged in scripture when the author of Ecclesiastes says, "God has written eternity in the hearts of men." Many of the most thoughtful people outside of Christianity believe this. Thomas Edison, who was a deist, called human beings "Incurably Religious."
I don't know if you've ever tried to hold a beach ball underwater before, but it's no easy task. Eventually, it slips from your hands, or your arms grow tired, and the ball pops right back up to the surface: it cannot be suppressed, not for long. Secularism, and the disenchantment where we find ourselves can't keep the ball underwater forever, it keeps rising to the surface in unexpected ways. As much as people are told they aren't a part of a much greater story, we intrinsically know that's not true. As much as we become convinced by "modern," "western," and "progressive thought" that our actions are insignificant, we can't escape the feeling that they are in some way part of a bigger story. So much so, that even simple things like building a tiny house might carry more meaning than meets the eye.
There is a sense in which all of this is marketing, the producers of, "Tiny House Nation" know that they'll garner more viewers if they include stories of restoration and healing alongside the construction work involved in these projects. But the reason why viewers are drawn to this sort of programming is that it is precisely what secular culture has starved them of; hope that there's something more.
This feeling, believe it or not, is good news. For those who are hungry for transcendence and meaning, Christianity is a feast. Despite the secular claim that the world is unmanned, Christianity declares that the providence of God guides it. In the face of a world without a story, the gospel tells the true story of the whole world. To those with the nagging feeling that their actions carry significance beyond the present, Christianity points towards eternity.
If Tiny House Nation is a symptom of the problem, then we are in a place where people will feel their need for the gospel, even if they can't quite put their finger on it. Because even in our entertainment, the beach ball keeps coming up to the surface.