This could quite possibly be the most misunderstood thing I’ve ever written and then posted online. It’s not meant to be derogatory but sometimes it will take some effort not to take it that way. It’s also not intend to sound like I consider myself as being better than others – far from it – but what I write certainly can be construed to say as much. In essence, I’m trying to explain how I can make sense of the differences I see between myself and others. As you will read, I don’t take any responsibility one way or another for that difference. It just is what it is. Like one man being short while most others or tall. I don’t know why God chooses some to be shepherds – I know I didn’t volunteer – but it’s probably because we’re like sheep. And there are differences between the shepherd and the sheep.
At some point in my past — I can’t actually remember a time but there probably was at least one — I thought I would have my life all figured out by the time I was 30. When that mile marker came and went, I figured maybe 40 was the magic age. Then it was 50. And 60.
Now I’m 64 and I’m still figuring things and myself out. I have a feeling this is not unusual — why else would Socrates’ quote1 be so popular? — but, since few people admit to as much, who knows?
Yesterday, as I was bemoaning my misfortune of being a Bible-study misfit, the swirl of words in my head seemed to revolve around one or two facts that provided clarification for me. The first was that I’m a shepherd/pastor and am always looking for sheep to tend and feed. I do curative or reparative work with people all week long but after-hours groups give me a chance to do some preventative work. It’s a nice balance to the weekday work.
If the people in the Bible study don’t seem to be hungry or don’t want to be shepherded, however, I’m at a loss (at best) or angry (at worst). That people wouldn’t want to feed on the life of Christ or discover how to live more in keeping with God’s intent for us is baffling to me.
That was one thing that came to light. Another — bigger and more awkward to explain — has to do with levels of commitment. Before going further, it must be said that I don’t take any credit or look down on others: I didn’t orchestrate all the details and events of my life. There are many things that happen to all of us of which we are largely unaware that become determinative and adjust the course we’re on. I believe it is God’s superintendence of our lives and so no credit can be assigned.
I’ve long known that, having been to seminary, I was a bit different from most of the other men with whom I fellowship and associate. These men are Christians, to be sure, but there’s something different about them. Or about me. Which it is doesn’t matter.
The only way I can describe it is as a difference of levels of commitment. By way of analogy, it’s as though I’ve pushed all my chips into the pot and held nothing back: my pockets, bank accounts, assets, and everything else are on the line. The men in the game with me have pushed their chips to the middle, too, but they’re not actually all in. They have considerable reserves awaiting them when the game is over. They risk a considerable amount — maybe quantitatively more than I — but they’re not “all in.” They might feel the loss but it won’t devastate them. They can feel the pain, absorb it, and get on with life.
As I thought about this, a question came to mind: if it were to somehow to be determined that Jesus Christ never did resurrect from the grave — if His bones were uncovered or a book He wrote at the age of 64 surfaced, or somebody traveled back in time and saw Him sneak out of a backdoor to the tomb — if it were proved beyond doubt, would your choices in life make sense? Would your life make sense? Would you not only look like a fool but in truth be a world-class idiot?
Personally, my life would be absurd.2 I made choices — and my wife has always supported me — that were based on my belief that this life was not all there was, that what we do here is important only because there is a judgment and a heaven that awaits. If that is not the case, if there is no resurrection that awaits all of us, then I have wasted whatever years I’ve had and have yet to come. As Paul says, I should have been eating, drinking, and being merry. I should have continued on the two-lane highway of hedonism and nihilism.3
When I consider the lives and careers of other men, I don’t see the same level of risk or commitment.4 Again, that doesn’t make me holier than them because I didn’t actually choose this path: it was made for me and I for it by God. But the difference is huge and explains a lot to me regarding why I so often feel like a misfit when I’m around Christians. Not all Christians, of course: others that are even more committed than I are out there and, from time to time, we stumble across one another.
I’ve often wondered why other men get so caught up in football, hunting, politics and a thousand other things that Paul says — based on his own belief in the resurrection — are destined to perish.5 Their choices have confused me.
I don’t know why there are the differences there are between believers (I’m not talking about doctrinal or any other kind of difference other than that of commitment). I pretty sure that we don’t have a lot to do with it, though. Or, at least for me, I don’t feel like I did: I simply couldn’t do anything else.6 If there is no resurrection, life is a short joke. But because there is resurrection — and I’m sure there is — then life makes sense. It has a purpose and meaning. Knowing that, how could I make any other decisions than those which I have?
All the chips are in the pot; investing in other things makes no sense. I’m just playing the hand dealt to me until the Great Croupier tells me there are no more hands left for me to play.
1 “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
2 This does not rule out the possibility that, the resurrection being true, I’m still an idiot.
3 I was in the passing lane with the hammer down.
4 I am aware that this is simply my perspective and not absolute truth. But I am looking only at behaviors or actions or lifestyles and basing my assessment on them. If I’m wrong – and certainly history has shown that to be possible – then I’d really like someone to explain to me where and how I’m off.
5 Col 2.22: “. . . things destined to perish”
6 It was a logical compulsion: the resurrection being true, to live otherwise simply made no sense to me.