David Cross earned new bragging rights at the White House a while back, according to a Fox News report yesterday. That’s what he was after, and that’s what he gained, when he did cocaine at a dinner there in 2009: “It was just about being able to say that I did it, that I did cocaine in the same room as the president,” he said in a recent interview.
He is an actor—a famous one. I have known aspiring actors who have thought a TV role would mean that they had really arrived. It does not seem to have been so for him. He was invited to a White House dinner. Many of us would consider that all we could ever need to boast about. But apparently for David Cross, that wasn’t quite enough, either. He needed to score one more point: to be able to add to his being a famous TV star, and his having been to dinner at the White House, “I did cocaine in the same room as the president.”
And what does it feel like to be able to make that boast? “I’m not proud of it, nor am I ashamed of it,” he said. If I’m reading him right, it didn’t mean all that much after all. It was nothing to get excited about, just one more thing he had done. That’s not so surprising, for why should it mean more than that? Still the emptiness makes my heart ache.
It hurts in part because of how very human it is, and how close it hits to home. I look back on my aspirations year by year throughout my career so far, and I see how getting what I’ve wanted has always left me wanting something more. I started out as a trombonist in a Christian band, part of a major missions organization. I thought it would be great to lead a band like that, and I had the opportunity, but then I thought it would be great to be involved more with higher-level leadership in the organization. For a few years I was on a mid-level national leadership team, where I discovered that there were other leaders I’d like to be associated with, and others doing work I thought I’d like to do, too. I got promoted, and then—you guessed it—I discovered there was another level yet to reach.
I don’t want to misrepresent the organization or the leaders I have worked with, whom I consider among the most humble and godly men and women in all the world. I’m not talking about them but about myself, and how I see in David Cross’s empty quest an image of myself.
C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength is, among other things, an insightful portrayal of one man’s deathly drive to enter the “Inner Ring.” It is an ambition made hideous by the fact that its fulfillment is forever out of reach; for there is always another ring further in. (Not “further up and further in,” for those who have read The Last Battle; just further in.) There is no arriving at the inner ring. Not for musicians or missionaries; not for TV stars or White House dinner guests. There is only the empty discovery that each level of achievement puts you in closer touch with others who can boast about a bit more than you can.
This constant hunger and thirst for more is a very human thing. Its successes lead inevitably to failure; for it is a nearly universal principle that there is always more to be had, and more to want, than what one has, whether that be position, prestige, money, popularity, or whatever one might seek.
How astonishing it is in light of that that there is an exception. There is something for which fulfillment is assured, precisely because of desire. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” The Psalms (16, for example), the Prophets (Jeremiah 29:12-13), and the Lord (Luke 11:9) promise satisfaction in God for those who seek it in him. Is there anything else of which we can say, “The more you want, the happier you’ll be?” Is there anything more surprising than a promise like that?
It is a human thing to want more. In humanness there is always the trace of the image of God; so in fact it can be good to want, when one wants what is good, what is right, and what is promised. Thankfully I have also seen this confirmed in my experience. It is possible to find satisfaction—whatever position I am in—if I seek it in what is sure to fulfill.
Also at First Things: Evangel