Humanity's Groundhog Day
On February 2, 2016 my family awoke to the news that Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most notorious groundhog, had not seen his shadow, a vernal portent that winter would meet an early demise. To celebrate, we made the 2 hour trek to Punxsutawney to see if we could get in on any of the festivities. When we arrived at around 11:00, the celebrants had apparently gone back into hibernation. Waiting all night for a rodent to emerge from a stump can be exhausting.
We basically had the sleepy town to ourselves. When we got to Gobbler’s Knob, the outdoor venue where the yearly spectacle occurs, our kids even got to crawl into Phil’s, then empty, stump and play with the leftover veggies from his morning breakfast. While we never got to see Phil, we did get to visit his wife Phyllis at the library. Most interesting to me was getting to see the little town depicted in Bill Murray’s iconic film, “Groundhog Day,” in which Murray’s character awakens day after day, only to find out he’s living February 2nd on repeat
There is a sense in which we are like Bill Murray’s character, living in a kind of spiritual Groundhog Day, in which the follies of men are on stuck on repeat. This shouldn’t surprise us. In the book of Ecclesiastes, the author says that there is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). Human hearts have not changed. If we read Scripture, we’ll see that the same tendencies people had throughout the Bible look eerily similar to our own today. Going back to the very beginning of creation, we read of humanity’s very first temptation and see a mirror being held up to our own hearts.
Like Adam and Eve the Garden of Eden, we question God’s Word. In so doing, we take the same bait offered in Satan’s first words to Eve: “Did God actually say…?” (Gen. 3:1). Like that first couple, we also doubt God’s care for us. God promised the couple regarding the forbidden fruit that “…in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Yet, Eve, once she questioned God’s Word began to doubt that he had her welfare in mind. It says that, “when [she] saw…that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6). And, finally, like that couple, when we’ve questioned God’s Word and doubted his care for us, we pursue what we think is best. This is what Eve experienced when she looked at the fruit “and saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes…” (Gen. 3:6).
This has been the rubric for the brokenness of humanity ever since. We saw it in the Exodus when the people doubted God could or would provide for them, and they made idols that seemed good to them. We saw it in the book of Judges when God’s people “did what was right in [their] own eyes” (Jud. 21:26). We saw it in the violence of Assyria (Jonah 3:8) and the barbarism and self-righteousness of Babylon (Hab. 1:5-11). We saw it with the ungodly torture and dehumanizing tactics of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Pol Pot. We’ve seen it in our own society, most recently it in the smug, murderous glee of the NY legislature in their passing of a bill allowing abortion up to the moment of birth. If we’re being honest and observant, we also see it in our own hearts each time we place our pleasure above God’s design and will. It’s an ugly cycle stuck on repeat, from which we cannot free ourselves.
In the movie, “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray’s character begins to go insane as he’s subjected to the same cyclical monotony day after day. However, as these cycles are re-lived, his cynical impatience slowly changes into an understanding, empathetic appreciation for life and others. In humanity’s spiritual Groundhog Day, we aren’t so blessed. Time hasn’t made us better. It can’t. The only thing that can break the cycle of questioning God’s Word, doubting his care and pursuing our own faulty desires, is to look to the cross of Jesus. It’s there that we see one who did not question or doubt his Father’s good plan. He didn’t pursue his own selfish ends. He trusted. He obeyed. He bore the entirety of broken humanity’s sin and guilt. There he repaid every debt we owed to God. And because of that, he invites us to come to him with our sin which he freely replaces with righteousness. Here, and only here, can we find release from humanity’s Groundhog Day.