I heard about a student who turned in his exam paper without answering any of the questions. The professor said, “Son, don’t you know anything?” The student replied, “Professor, I don’t even suspect anything!”
At least the student was honest. How often do we pretend to know what we don’t even suspect?
You may have heard the saying, “If you want to give God a good laugh, tell God about your plans.” If that’s true, I’ve given the Almighty many a chuckle over the years. You probably have, too.
There was a time in my life when my faith in God was all about forever—that is, I thought that the main point of being saved was to be able to live forever. These days, while I still look forward to going to heaven, which I strongly suspect is real, I understand better that the life I have now is the only life I ever will have. Jesus said that eternal life is to know God and the Son whom God has sent. To be saved is to have a personal relationship with God. So, if I am saved in this life, which means I know God in this life, then I am already living the eternal life. It doesn’t just start when I die. It’s going on now. My life in heaven will, in some very significant ways, be a continuation of the life I’m living now.
Here’s the thing, though: I have no way of knowing what’s going to happen in this life. Oh, I may suspect some things. There are developments that I expect and for which I try to prepare. Still, beyond this second in which I am taking my current breath, I have no idea what will happen. I believe, though, that it matters very much how I deal what happens.
The Christian life is about whatever. It’s about accepting whatever comes with grace (in God, everything is all right), peace (with God, I am all right), and hope (by God, everything is going to be all right). It’s about understanding that no one is immune from anything. Good and bad come into the lives of all human beings. To quote the theologian Clint Eastwood, “Deserving’s got nothing to do with it.” The difference that faith makes is that somehow, it all means something. We may not know what it means, but we live in trust that it means something. So we don’t shy away from any of it. We accept it, we take it on, we grapple with it, and we live through it and beyond it. As the writer Frederick Buechner said, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
The Christian life is about whoever. Some 7.3 billion people live on this planet. No matter how many people you and I know, we know just a very small fraction of the world’s population. A lot of us try not to get out and about among them too much. I for one will do my Black Friday shopping in my chair via my iPad. And I suppose that once Amazon and Walmart get those drone deliveries going, we may not have to leave home at all. Nonetheless, people of faith have a responsibility to other people. We are responsible to the people that we meet as we live our lives. We should treat them with understanding, compassion, and kindness. We also have a responsibility toward the people that we will never meet. We are responsible for not thinking and speaking of them as stereotypes and caricatures. Whoever is out there, we need to pray for them, to be concerned for them, and to love them—even if they are our enemies (Jesus said that, you know).
The Christian life is about wherever. There is a sense in which we’re on our way to God. That’s why we talk about heaven. At the end of sojourn on Earth, we’ll know as we are known, as the Apostle Paul once put it. We’ll be in God’s presence with none of the stuff between us that gets in the way down here. But we are already in God’s presence. Sure, one day we’ll make our home with God, but God has already made God’s home with us. They’re already playing Christmas music in the stores and the Christmas decorations have been for sale since Labor Day, so I guess it’s not too early (yes it is, but I’ll do it anyway) to mention what Christmas is about. It is about Immanuel—“God with us.” Jesus was God with us and the Holy Spirit is God with us. So wherever we are on Earth, wherever we are in our life, wherever we are in our journey with God, God is with us.
The Christian life is about whenever. When I was a teenager, someone handed me a round wooden object about the size of a silver dollar. On one side it said “Tuit.” On the other side it said, “Remember all those times you said you’d put God first in your life when you got around to it? Well, here’s a round tuit.” It was silly, but it made its point. The old saying “There’s no time like the present” is applicable here, although I’d change it to “There’s no time but the present.” For now, now is the only time that we have. So whenever we have the opportunity to share God’s love, grace, and mercy, we need to take advantage of the opportunity. Whenever we can, we should.
So yes, the Christian life is about forever. But it’s also about four “evers”: whatever, whoever, wherever, and whenever. And it will be until forever gets here …
[First appeared in Ruffin's Renderings in the Thomaston Times on Friday, November 6, 2015]