Outwardly, believers and unbelievers have the same lifecycle. We’re born. Pass through childhood and adolescence. Young adulthood. Middle age. Old age. And death. We also watch the older generation precede us as we follow at a distance.
We inhabit the same reality. However, believers and unbelievers don’t view the lifecycle the same way. From the viewpoint of the average unbeliever, there is no afterlife.
That gives rise to all the gallows humor in birthday cards for those over 40. That also gives rise to telling metaphors like “over the hill.”
Yet even “over the hill” is fairly euphemistic. For many unbelievers regard their teens or twenties at the high point of their lives. So the high point comes well before the midpoint. From a secular perspective, most of the journey is downhill. And it always ends badly.
Ironically, the actual ending is far worse than the unbeliever projects. For his death is not, in fact, the end. To the contrary, it’s a transition to a worse state.
In a sense, the unbeliever speaks better than he knows. For him, it really is a downward journey. And it continues downward–forever.
By contrast, Christians take a very different view of the lifecycle. We are born in exile. And the lifecycle charts our journey home. The return trip.
Believers and unbelievers alike are born in exile. Believers and unbelievers alike may also start out the very same way. We may both be blessed with a happy childhood or exciting adolescence. Revel in our teens and twenties.
That’s not always the case, of course. But the good and the bad may be true for believer and unbeliever alike.
It’s an age of exploration. And age of discovery.
Likewise, the middle years may be more demanding for both believer and unbeliever. Outwardly, their lives are much alike.
Yet inwardly and ultimately, there is already a subtle parting of the ways.
We both begin the journey when we are young and strong. When the world is fresh and full of wonder. The early stages of the journey are often a joy.
But as we hit the middle years, the trail is steeper, and we are weaker. It takes more effort, and we have less to give. Gone is the youthful spring in our step. Now we plot and trod.
The time when every bend in the road had its awaiting epiphany gives way to a certain sameness. Fewer surprises. More sadness.
We lose traveling companions to illness, accident, and death. We have to bury them where they fell. Leave them behind.
At this point the believer is like a soldier returning home after years away. Years of war. He is sore and battle-weary. He has seen things, unspeakable things, which he can’t forget. Sleep is no escape, for he dreams about the battlefield.
Yet the very isolation, and separation, and absence, and loneliness, is what makes the prospect of his belated reunion so compelling. It beckons from afar.
As he crosses the outskirts of his homeland, heading for his hometown, his surroundings begin to look familiar again. Remembered sights. The sense of dawning recognition as he retraces his steps.
Despite his pain and fatigue, he quickens his pace. The anticipation builds. The exhilaration swells.
He can count down the miles. Only a few more hills and valleys to go. As he nears the final bend in the journey, he breaks into a run–bounding towards the end. He can almost see his loved ones waiting for him to rejoin them and mend the broken circle.
And, of course, there is far more, and far better, to greet the Christian than may await a soldier returning from war.