Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The journey home

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 plod 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.


  1. Cyprian, shortly before his own martyrdom (unknown to him at the time), wrote the following to some Christians imprisoned in the mines of the Roman empire:

    "But what wonder if, as golden and silver vessels, you have been committed to the mine that is the home of gold and silver, except that now the nature of the mines is changed, and the places which previously had been accustomed to yield gold and silver have begun to receive them? Moreover, they have put fetters on your feet, and have bound your blessed limbs, and the temples of God with disgraceful chains, as if the spirit also could be bound with the body, or your gold could be stained by the contact of iron. To men who are dedicated to God, and attesting their faith with religious courage, such things are ornaments, not chains; nor do they bind the feet of the Christians for infamy, but glorify them for a crown. Oh feet blessedly bound, which are loosed, not by the smith but by the Lord! Oh feet blessedly bound, which are guided to paradise in the way of salvation! Oh feet bound for the present time in the world, that they may be always free with the Lord! Oh feet, lingering for a while among the fetters and cross-bars, but to run quickly to Christ on a glorious road!...What now must be the vigour, beloved brethren, of your victorious consciousness, what the loftiness of your mind, what exultation in feeling, what triumph in your breast, that every one of you stands near to the promised reward of God, are secure from the judgment of God, walk in the mines with a body captive indeed, but with a heart reigning, that you know Christ is present with you, rejoicing in the endurance of His servants, who are ascending by His footsteps and in His paths to the eternal kingdoms! You daily expect with joy the saving day of your departure; and already about to withdraw from the world, you are hastening to the rewards of martyrdom, and to the divine homes, to behold after this darkness of the world the purest light, and to receive a glory greater than all sufferings and conflicts, as the apostle witnesses, and says, 'The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.' And because now your word is more effectual in prayers, and supplication is more quick to obtain what is sought for in afflictions, seek more eagerly, and ask that the divine condescension would consummate the confession of all of us; that from this darkness and these snares of the world God would set us also free with you, sound and glorious; that we who here are united in the bond of charity and peace, and have stood together against the wrongs of heretics and the oppressions of the heathens, may rejoice together in the heavenly kingdom. I bid you, most blessed and most beloved brethren, ever farewell in the Lord, and always and everywhere remember me." (Letter 76:2, 76:7)

  2. I think it was RC Sproul who said: "Today many believe we are justified by death." (paraphrased)

    A very good post as usual.

    Have a blessed and joyous Thanksgiving day with your family, and with our Savior.

  3. What an encouragement.

    Thank you.