On July 8, 1822, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, perhaps best known for his work Prometheus Unbound, drowned when his schooner sank off the coast of Italy. He and his friend Edward Williams were attempting to sail on a day so stormy that most boats had gone to the harbor. Contemporary reports indicated that Shelley took unnecessary risks that day that cost him and his friend their lives. Shelley’s body washed up on shore ten days later. In his back pocket was a copy of the poems of John Keats (The Writer’s Almanac, Minnesota Public Radio, July 8, 2004; read the article here).
Life is risky business. Most of us, if we look back over our lives, will find that we live them in various ways. Sometimes we play it safe. Sometimes we just muddle along. Sometimes we take tremendous risks. Sometimes we act in faith, sometimes we act in fear, and sometimes we act in foolishness. I suppose that in some ways all of life is a risk but therein lies much of the adventure of it all. One day we will reach the end of it, of course. When that happens, those whom we leave behind will make their own evaluations of our lives. The only evaluation that will really matter is that of our Lord. Then we hope to hear these words from him: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
When that time comes, though, a lot will depend on what you’ve been carrying around in your back pocket.
God’s grace is finally the only thing you need. In Jesus Christ God has loved us, accepted us, and died for us so that we can be in a personal relationship with him. That grace is really all that matters and it is the reality from which all else emerges.
His grace does bring about changes. As the bumper sticker says, “God loves me just as I am but he loves me too much to leave me as I am.” Through the Holy Spirit God’s grace causes us to develop ever deeper faith, ever deeper love, ever deeper hope, ever deeper mercy, ever deeper compassion, ever deeper kindness, ever deeper forgiveness, and ever deeper understanding. The witness of the Bible from cover to cover, and especially the witness of the life of our Savior, is that the love, acceptance and forgiveness we receive from God lead us to display love, acceptance, and forgiveness to others. Moreover, the fact that we have been picked up and set on a higher place by our Lord causes us to do all we can to pick others up and set them on a higher place.
What will they find in your back pocket when your life on earth is over? I hope that they find the grace of God. If they find that, then surely they’ll find everything else that really matters.