Most of us have heard the phrase “you only live once,” now commonly shortened to that maddeningly moronic acronym YOLO. Rappers Drake and Rick Ross blessed us with this gift in pop culture, and it’s now common to hashtag #yolo in tweets and instagrams depicting recklessly stupid behavior. The main point is you only live once, so why not? It’s the mantra of mindless kids and the punch line to many jokes about youthful foolhardiness. As someone somewhere once put it, “YOLO is carpe diem for idiots.”
Well, just when you thought it was kind of dead, Andy Samberg, Adam Levine, and the SNL Digital Shorts crew resurrected the phrase and gave it a new twist. For your enjoyment:
There are at least a couple of takeaways here:
- SNL still does something funny on occasion.
- YOLO is a catchphrase open to equally un-biblical denials of God’s sovereignty.
On the one hand, the Drake interpretation is an un-biblical denial of human responsibility to God our Maker. See, the biblical authors also make the observation that you only live once, but they go on to add the happy news that at the end of that life, we face the judgment (Heb. 9:27; Ecc. 12:14). For them, the recognition that you only live once was a call to live your life faithfully in light of God’s purposes for it. Life is a gift from His kingly hands to be enjoyed and used with wisdom, in obedience to His commands. Hashtagging #yolo on your dimly remembered Friday night is, at core, a rejection of God’s ultimate authority over you. It is a denial that God is God.
On the other hand, the SNL interpretation humorously depicts the madness of trying to live in a world devoid of God’s fatherly care. It starts out Adam Levine sounding a note of wisdom, “You only live once, so don’t be dumb.” So far so good. Actions have long-term consequences that ought to be considered. Thinking things through is part of the message of Proverbs. Levine moves on from there though, “Don’t trust anyone.” Why? Well, they might lie, you could get hurt, so better not risk it. Hmm. You start to see where this is going. See, YOLO is a terrifying prospect unless I can say with the Psalmist that “my life and times are in your hands” (Ps. 31:15). If my one life is ultimately in my hands, there are thousands of ways pain, suffering, and death can enter into it that I must strive with single-minded devotion to avoid or manage. Trust no one. Wear a Titanium suit. Never leave your house. Bathe in Purel. Live in a prison of fear. If God isn’t sovereign over history, then you have to be and your hands are small and shaky. Once again, we have an interpretation of YOLO that gives us a God who isn’t God.
Thankfully, the Bible presents us with a different way of living—one that recognizes life as a task for which we are responsible. My life is not my own, but my Lord’s, and I am to live with reference to a meaning that extends beyond my own wants and desires. At the same time, part of God’s call is to live and risk and love and hope—it is a good gift over which the sovereign God watches with fatherly care.
Derek Rishmawy is the Director of College and Young Adult ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Orange County, CA, where he wrangles college kids for the gospel. (Think non-ordained college pastor). He is the blessed husband of a very pretty lady named McKenna. He got his B.A. in Philosophy at UCI and his M.A. in Theological Studies (Biblical Studies) at APU. He loves Jesus and more importantly Jesus loves Him. Throw in too many theological tomes, coffee, craft beer, loud music, a beard, and a picture (not necessarily a pretty one) starts to emerge.
You can go read his stuff at the Reformedish blog, derekzrishmawy.com.