The Things I Have
“My elder son, no shrinking violet himself, complained to me that his generation has a drinking problem. He and a few friends went in on a beach house this summer, and he noticed that at the shore the people his age stay drunk from Friday after work until Sunday night... This got me thinking: I tend to forget how different my life is from the lives of many people I rub shoulders with every day. Just because we drive down the same streets and shop at the same supermarkets, I have assumed that we see the same world. But since God has been in my life, I have things, invisible things, that lots of folks around me don’t enjoy”
(“The Things I Have”, World Magazine, August 12, 2010, Andree Seu).
Many Christians lose sight of these hidden blessings, though, and begin blurring the line between our hopes, goals, and moral considerations and those of the world. We forget just how different we are – light, salt (Matthew 5:13-14), princes and priests (1 Peter 2:9), strangers and aliens (1 Peter 2:11). Our goals are different: the world is in the business of gathering and collecting (Ecclesiastes 2:26), while we are pursuing eternity (Colossians 3:1-2). So what are some unique things I have, as a Christian?
I Have An Identity
“My brother used to say, in our Buddhist days (about two weeks long): ‘If I dream that I am a butterfly, how do I know when I wake up that I am not a butterfly dreaming I’m a man?’ After that we both became Christians, and not a moment too soon. Without the Scripture for a touchstone, we were ooze falling through ooze. The first half of my life I wondered who or what I was: Was I a bit of protoplasm coughed up from the bowels of the earth? Was I the sum total of a set of physiological drives? Was I the dream of a demigod and would disappear when he woke up?” (Andree Seu). It is not a surprise that so many struggle with an identity problem. As I have gotten older (and with the aid of Facebook) I have been a witness to the way my peers have changed over time. Some are like chameleons, always altering their persona. Perhaps you have also noticed the way kids will go from being black-clad and apathetic, to nerdy, to punk, to professional, all in a matter of years. In a desperate search for an identity, many people will try just about anything! The Bible also attests to the godless struggling with identity:
“For once you were not a people…” (1 Peter 2:10).
“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
“…You were formerly alienated and hostile in mind” (Colossians 1:21).
Similarly, the philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:16ff) had a tendency to shift from religion to religion, depending on what was novel at the time. They had an idol for every god known to them, yet had no real religious identity – they were a little of everything, yet were not fully transformed into anything. After all, if one is worshipping every god, he is really not worshipping any of them (at least in a way that gives a person a sense of eternal identity). When one becomes a Christian, he or she is now certain of the definition of his or her existence:
• I am a child of God (1 John 3:1-3).
• I am Christ’s ambassador, His representative (2 Corinthians 5:20).
• I am a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
• I belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 3:23).
I Have A Purpose
Notice again what Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 2:26: “To a person who is good in His sight, God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting…” Without God, life is nothing but the pursuit of things: an education, a career, a home, a family, retirement, a comfortable death. When our lives are defined by the items we have gathered and collected, it becomes rather meaningless. You cannot take it with you (Matthew 6:19). It will have no value in the afterlife (Luke 12:19-21). It can be stolen, broken, wasted, or deflated in its value. It is an empty pursuit. “You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become full; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes” (Haggai 1:6).
Of course, the pursuit of wealth is hardly the only purpose that people assign to this life. Others are more altruistic or culture-driven, practicing charity or curing disease. Yet this purpose also leaves one empty because even Jesus admitted that poverty would always be with us (John 12:8). So what is your purpose? The Christian knows what his or her purpose is:
• To honor our creator and obey Him (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14);
• The be a light to those estranged from God (Matthew 5:13-16);
• To bring God glory through good behavior (1 Peter 2:12);
• To be involved in good works as God defines them (Ephesians 2:10);
• To proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness (1 Peter 2:9);
• To be saved (Luke 7:29-30).
I Have Meaning
“It is strange to think that I inhabit this town with people who think the world began a gazillion years ago out of nothing and will end with a sputter in another gazillion years. The motions we go through every day, filling the gas tank, doing the laundry, dining at the restaurant, are permeated through and through with the sense of what we believe about the solar system. Why not eat, drink, and be merry, if you have come from nothing and are proceeding to nothing?” (Andree Seu). Many do maintain this sense of meaninglessness. As Paul puts it, “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). If there is nothing more to this world than what meets the eye, then why not revel? Why not indulge? Otherwise, the only other option is to wander aimlessly in despair. Solomon sarcastically refers to the meaning of most people’s lives: “Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything” (Ecclesiastes 10:19). Of course, what they fail to realize in this life is that the more you eat and drink, the more the “be merry” tends to elude you.
The meaning of life is a question for the ages. Why are we here? Some see no meaning at all – we are an accident, a product of evolution, the coincidence of this particle colliding with another. For the Eastern thinker, the meaning of life tends to be escapism. That is, this life is an endless cycle of Karma, meant to be overcome. But for all the complicated answers that the world has offered, for all the questions within questions that have been pondered, life’s meaning is really quite simple. “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind” (Ephesians 4:17). “Wake up!” seems to be Paul’s point.