“As long as what you are afraid of is something evil, you may still hope that the good may come to your rescue. But suppose you struggle through to the good and find that it also is dreadful? How if food itself turns out to be the very thing you can’t eat, and home the very place you can’t live, and your very comforter the person who makes you uncomfortable? Then, indeed, there is no rescue possible: the last card has been played.” -C. S. LEWIS, Perelandra
Who am I? I know who I see in the mirror, but who am I really?
What is my purpose in this life? Is it simply to live, work, procreate, and die?
When I die, where do I go?
Is there anything after this life?
How can I be sure in what I believe to come next is right?
Why do I exist?
These thoughts relentlessly run through my head; constantly demanding answers to questions I cannot answer. My subconscious wants answers to questions I cannot even formulate into coherent thoughts. These are urgings and utterings that come from deep within myself that yearn and long for something more than this. But what? What is it that my soul yearns for…if even a ‘soul’ exists?
So many competing religions today. So many competing ideologies. Each place exclusive claims on the truth, but who can know? What is truth? Is it subjective or objective? Is the truth different for different people, or does it stand alone regardless of the viewer?
My only solace is to try and ignore the topic altogether. To avoid it at all costs and busy myself in the cares and affairs of this life. But these are only half-measures. When I am alone or when I witness death or hear of it, I am reminded of my own mortality. Then these thoughts and questions rush back into my mind.
Here again, I tremble at the thought of the great, unknown future. Not a passing worry mind you, but a deep-seated fear that troubles my subconscious even in the midst of a crowd. I put on a brave face, but even worse is when I am alone and I think on these things.
The unknown brings on me an overwhelming sense of dread and consternation. Words do no justice to my sense of foreboding in these matters. I fear two things in these regards: First that I ask questions to which I have no answer to, and secondly that my avoidance may lead to callousness in these matters.
Perhaps the real issue is that I want answers to questions I may not be ready for.
Why does education fail to quench this thirst for answers? Science states that I am an accident. I am simply cells and tissue that have evolved from lower life-form from eons past. If I am mere flesh and bone, why do I yearn for something greater? Why are my passionate inquiries silenced when put to the test of truth? If I have a soul, who put it there? Was there some purpose for my being, or am I some kind of cosmic glitch accidentally brought into self-awareness?
If I am not an accident, but simply part of a predetermined, evolutionary process…then why do I question my purpose? Shouldn’t my purpose have been ingrained in my DNA to simply know and do like that of an animal's instinct?
Why is there suffering and misery on the one hand, but joy and obliviousness on the other? Who decides who gets which? And death…the fairness or unfairness of it, marks some young, some old, and who or what decides which?
But death becomes the great equalizer for all mankind. Death comes for us all in the end. The rich, the poor, the famous, the unknown, the proud, the pitied, the wise, and the fool; all suffer under death’s cruel heel. A brother to Death is Time. Whereas Death remains impatient, time remains long-suffering.
Yet, they work in tandem these two-always denying the other until the person at hand expires amidst their cosmic and ancient game of tug-of-war. Time always says tomorrow when death says today. But the one thing man wants most and is cruelly denied is more time.
But it is not just time we want, but time in our healthy years. We fear death in the season of our youth but embrace it in our aging. More often than not, time has its way. It wracks our mind and weakens our bodies till we one day desire to embrace that icy, cold grip of death’s sweet embrace for but a moment of respite. At that point, we all want what we claim the dead to possess…which is to rest in peace and be rid of this wearisome world with all its heartache and troubles.
Or so I thought.
Do the dead really rest in peace? Or do they blink out of existence never to be seen or heard from again? Or do they go somewhere worse?
I could not know…or could I? William Earnest Henley once wrote in his epic poem Invictus;
It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.
I cannot share in his bravado. I fear that perhaps there is some kind of cosmic reckoning or judgment I will have to undergo. Will my good deeds outweigh my bad? Is good and bad relative to the context in which I find my life? I fear that without some kind of redemption, my dark premonition will only ripen and sour as my days on earth grow shorter. My very shadow haunts the ground I walk on and reminds me that my days are numbered when it grows long in the fading light of dusk.
And then I heard it.
It startled me. Not a loud audible voice, but one that came from within me yet apart from my own stream of consciousness. It was a whisper in the storm. It was soft but powerful and filled both with care and confidence. A still, small voice that pierced through the noise and the distractions of the world around me. He said…
…before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.
He formed me. He knew me. I marveled at those thoughts. How could someone know me before I existed? This would mean He knew my faults, my failings, my successes, my victories, my inadequacies, and yet here I am. I am not famous. I am not ‘noteworthy’. And as soon as my initial astonishment set in, a panic also emerged.
Who knew me?
This presupposes that “He” is something or someone greater than “I”. But who was this mysterious interloper into my own thoughts? My mind reeled from the possibilities but then it happened again as if to answer the question I had just thought. That voice…His voice interrupted my own internal tempest saying…
…before Abraham was, I am.
That phrase…I had heard that phrase before, but where? A movie or book perhaps?
A simple search online offered me the answer almost immediately. It was from Jesus of the Christian Bible. Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus the Christ. He said it to some Pharisees who were accusing Him of something or other. When He said it, according to this passage, they were enraged at Him, but why? Why would they care about being before this man Abraham?
Another search yielded my answer almost as quickly. Essentially, Jesus was equating Himself with God. That phrase…I AM, is the name God gave to a man named Moses, whom the Pharisees revered above all others. So this Jesus was saying that He was God…which is why they were enraged. This drove my curiosity deeper into the Christian bible to see more of this Man named Jesus.
Days and weeks have transpired and I have been pouring through the bible learning about this man Jesus of Nazareth. This is one who defied the religious authorities of His day to bring in a kingdom for which they were not ready. In the end, they tried Him, tortured Him, and killed Him on a cross. But not just them, but the Romans as well.
A Roman Procurator named Pontius Pilate even asked the very same question I had…what is truth? According to my readings of the Gospels, Jesus died but did not stay dead. He robbed death of its victory and overcame time by resurrecting Himself back from the dead.
This Man defeated the very things I feared most….time, death, and the unknown.
According to the beginning of the Bible, the father of the human race, Adam, had sinned thus tying all men to this same fate. But Jesus never sinned and thus was not be bound to death’s cruel grip. Although He never sinned, He willingly became sin by taking all of mankind’s sin and died in their place. This is one who was before time, before death, before sin but subjugated Himself at the bequest of His Father to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
I had not known what sin was before reading Scripture, but I knew in my soul (I know I have one now) that my sin was the bad and ugly things I did on a daily basis. The Bible says that above all else, God is holy and will not tolerate the presence of sin. This is what separated me from God. This feeds into my understanding of the yearning and longing I had for something greater, but not knowing what. It also explains my need for redemption. Redemption from something at the time I knew I needed, but did not know from what.
I understand now why Jesus had to come because man (me) is incapable of saving ourselves. I also understand now that this is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion and ideology on the planet. At its root, Christianity declares that man is incapable of saving himself through deeds (either good or bad) and thus, could never be declared righteous and suitable to live with God in eternity. A person has to be covered by the righteous blood of Christ in order to be declared righteous. Jesus is the only way. Jesus is the only truth. Jesus is the only life and there is no other way.
In closing, I have found the way, and it is through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible says that if a man believes this in his heart, and confesses this with his mouth, that he can be saved, forever.
I am His now because He purchased me with His own sacrifice and I am part of Him. As a guarantee of this divine transaction, God (the Father), has imparted to me and in me, God the Holy Spirit, who now indwells me until the day I myself am redeemed. When I die or when the Lord returns, either way, I will be with Him.
I no longer fear the unknown. I know that when I close my eyes in this life, I will awaken them in the next. I know that once this mortal life wears out, that I will be clothed in immortality. The future once seemed to me dark and fearful, now appears bright and indescribable. Why should I fear death any longer?
If I die I simply go to a place far greater than where I am now. I know why I am here. I exist to serve Him and do this in whatever station of life I find myself. As a father, a husband, a worker, a leader, and in everything I do, I do for His glory.
The Lord is the captain of my fate. Jesus Christ is the captain of my soul.
And that voice again came to me. He said
Surely I am coming quickly! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!