The final marker that helps define our lives
Sometimes you can look back and say to yourself, “That was another world.” Indeed, some things have changed so much, a person must shake his or her head. A memory seems to emanate from not just another time, but a whole different worldmaybe even a whole different universe.
In the summer between my first and second years in high school, my parents loaded me and a friend of mine on a bus and sent us from Sacramento, California to San Diego, California, where we spent a week camping out in a tent in the back yard at my Uncle Don’s place. He was my father’s older brother. Uncle Don’s children, my cousins, were all hyped up about a new music group called The Beach Boys, and we all went body surfing in the Pacific Ocean at Coronado.
One day, Don loaded me and my friend into his car, and he and my Aunt Marge drove across the border into Tijuana, Mexico, where Don and Marge opened the door of the car and let us out. He said he’d meet us back there in a few hours. And there we were, two young boys on their own and lost in Tijuana. Today, Tijuana is a thriving city and second only to New York for the most visited in North America, but back then? What were my aunt and uncle thinking?!
Pat and I visited a couple of bars, where I ordered a beer and we both stood around wild-eyed. We got out of there quickly, and we found a shop where we bought these little bottles of tequila for the bus ride back home. So much for our visit to Mexico.
I just saw a post on my Facebook wall from my boyhood friend; as I write, tomorrow he is headed to Kenya to speak at the graduation of Samburu pastors from their preparation for the ministry. Pat is the senior pastor of a large church in Kansas, and he’s got two sons. My how things change. Right out of high school Pat was an apprentice with the railroad, and I don’t think he cared about God, but something must have turned his life around.
When a person looks at such a changed life from the outside, it seems like a different world; one tries to make sense of it. Who can possibly understand what it means to believe in Jesus, put one’s whole weight on His tightrope and start moving one step after another across the expanse of existence we know as time? Martin Heidegger realised that time is the great boundary that helps define our existence, our being. We are all headed for death, the end of our respective times, and it’s that final marker that helps define our lives.
Some people peer into religious faith of the kind that turned Pat around, and they explain it away with the only thing they have availablea naturalistic model of some kind that attempts to account for the commitments and behaviours of religious people. Some of those religious people do wonderful things and others do crazy things, and the naturalistic mind tries to comprehend. Some religious people are thinking peoplepeople of the mindbut others are impulsive peoplepeople of the moment, and the naturalistic mind tries to understand. Some religious people are giving and compassionate; they attend to social needs. Others are cloistered in their closed church encampments where they seem oblivious to the needs of others, and they complain that the secular humanists are out to get them. Some see complexity in the natural and spiritual world; others see simplicity. The gospel message is simple, but the providence of God in the free will of human kind is not, and the naturalistic mind tries to understand using the only models it has at hand.
Recently, within a couple of weeks of one another, two people both claiming Christian commitments have been in the news. One is from Norway, and he killed a lot of people trying to start a religious war in which he hoped Europe would rise up and throw out the Muslims in a contemporary crusade. The other man was from England, and he spent the majority of his life thinking out loud with others regarding the implications of scripture for a complex world. The first man is Anders Behring Breivik, and the second man was John Stott. Breivik needs to be explained, while Stott deserves to be admired.
To me Breivik represents people who at best have made a profession of faith in Christ but have never understood His mission in this world. Those who profess to be followers of Christ should live as He lived and be about His business. Jesus did not come to judge the world, but to save it. Because He came, people would be divided over the question of who He is and what He did, but on His part, his commission from His Father was to seek and save the lost, and so if you watch Him in the pages of scripture, He is dining with people the religious zealots hated, not following religious rules that only burdened already struggling people, and telling His disciples to feed the hungry. Then He went to the cross.
That leads me to John Stott. To me John Stott was from another worldanother time in this world. To me he belonged to the world of C.S. Lewis. Perhaps that is because both men had well-trained and refined minds; both emerged from the ruins of World War II in England. Both were thinking Christians whose ministries, whose reasons for being in this world, included writing. Others from that other world include for me J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and J.R.R. Tolkien. All these people wrote clearly about Christianity.
They wrote about the facticity of encounter with a living God. They wrote in their time, a time that has come to an end for each one, of what was for them another world, and that other world is still, for those still living, “another world.” If you peer into that world from the outside with nothing but a natural perspective, it seems like a strange world indeed. If you peer into that world with a down payment on a piece of that world, if you know the Landlord, if you belong there and you’re just travelling through this world, then it’s not so strange after all.