Case in point: as a part of our tour of Israel, we visited the remains of the ancient city of Beit She’an. Though I knew very little about this city before my visit (the city is only very briefly mentioned in the Bible), I was fascinated by the ancient remains we witnessed. The city sat at the crossroads of two significant valleys, the Jezreel and Jordan River Valleys. In a day when virtually all travel was done on foot, this city’s physical location was the ancient equivalent of being located at the intersections of I-35 and I-40 . . . it was the crossroads of the land.
Beit She’an’s physical location made them very cosmopolitan and wealthy. People from all over the region would visit Beit She’an as a prime stopping point on any journey, and the city had a number of entertainment themed attractions to capture the imaginations of their visitors. The ruins we visited included a large bath house, a sports stadium, and a massive outdoor theater. The wealth of the city was easily shown in the mosaic covered main street that had been covered with marble (apparently mosaic roads went out of style at some point.) While we do not know exactly all of the activities that took place in this city, it seemed clear from the remaining architecture that what happened in Beit She’an was supposed to stay in Beit She’an.
Though we were able to see many beautiful ruins in this city, there was one thing we did not see. Though this city was located in northern Israel, near the birth place of both Judaism and Christianity, we did not see the remains of a single synagogue or church. Apparently, the inhabitants of this city spent their money and time on entertainment instead of worship.
Standing in that city it was easy to spot their societal blindspot. Upon further reflection, though, our modern American culture has many similarities with the pagan community of Beit She’an.
Neil Postman famously wrote 40 years ago that America was “Amusing ourselves to death” — and this was before the advent of the internet, much less a smartphone. Our lives, too, are filled with theaters and bath houses. Every year, every new invention, every “improvement” in youth sports, every modern convenience can (if we are not careful) take all of our money and time, so there is nothing left to focus on our relationships with God and others. The greatest enemy of our hearts are things — sometimes good things — that seek to become ultimate things and keep us from God.
I hope, like me, you allow the ruins of Beit She’an to challenge you to not let our modern world pave our hearts with marble and our minds with a mosaic of technology and entertainment. We were made for so much more. We were made for relationships with others: our God, our family, our friends, our neighbors. The things of this world tempt us to make the world all about us. But the truly rich understand that life is best lived in relationship with others. It is not bad to enjoy things . . . but don’t be owned by them. As we live out our lives in a land of prosperity, may the “city of our hearts” be organized around our Heavenly Father, and not around theaters and bath houses.