Saturday, March 25, 2006


A popular Christian pastor and author tells the story of a gentleman who converted to Christianity late in life and was overcome with grief that he had "wasted his life." Now I have no clue what kind of life this man lived before he became a Christian. He could have been a child abuser, alcoholic, tax evader, or even a Democrat. But did his being a Johnny-Come-Lately to our faith invalidate everything about his life up to the point he walked the aisle after an invitational hymn and gave his life to Jesus? Had he really wasted his life?

There's a lady I know who is not a Christian. She understands beauty and seeks it out. She celebrates and practices laughter whenever and wherever it can be found. She takes her work seriously, speaks of things like justice and mercy, and believes there is a spiritual aspect within all reality. The other day she made my heart open up and dance a little when she told me that when I carry a stack of Kyle's books she can see that I am still carrying a piece of him with me everywhere I go. She does not follow Christ. But is hers a wasted life?

There's a missionary in an area designated by many evangelicals as "World A" or "The 10-40 Window," where the majority of the population has never heard or been exposed to the Good News of Jesus. She has committed her life to spreading the gospel in this area. Last year her father died. Although she wanted to, and had the means, her mission agency would not allow her to return to the states for the funeral. Her family would have to grieve without her. She took seriously the call Christ gave his would be followers to let the dead bury the dead. But is this really the mark of a life well lived?

As someone marked as a follower of the Christ from Galilee, I must acknowledge that a life devoted to beauty and spirituality and justice and mercy, without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is deficient and cannot save. The one I follow and worship is the Way, the Truth, the Life, and no one gets to God without him. He said that, so I have to buy it.

I also must recognize the great sacrifice it takes to make the difficult decision that, though both are important, the call to Christ supersedes all others-- even a devotion to family. And this call sometimes requires tough choices.

But, with that said, should we really be comfortable with insinuating that those who become a Christian late in life, or not at all, have "wasted" their lives? Is the spark of God that remains in all of us not capable of spreading life, even the God-life, into our little corners of the world? Does devoting ourselves to poverty and the spreading of the gospel, regardless of the cost, automatically validate our lives, no matter what else we do with them?


Myles said...

with regards to the missionary who didn't come home, i missed the funeral of my grandmother in college and have never forgotten it. i don't care who the f your agency is; if you miss the funeral in the name of Jesus, you missed the part where Jesus took care of Mary from the cross.

that angers me more than i can say.

Aaron said...

"Does devoting ourselves to poverty and the spreading of the gospel, regardless of the cost, automatically validate our lives, no matter what else we do with them?"

Yes. But this does not necessarily imply the converse: that those who do not give their lives to the gospel contribute nothing of value to the world.

Like many theological issues, this one can be viewed from different perspectives. On the one hand, don't Jim Elliot's words ring true to Scripture: "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep for that which he cannot lose"? It sounds a lot like the parable of the treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and sold everything he had to buy that field. Throughout eternity (in the face of which our lives are less than the blink of an eye), those who are separated from Christ will have no achievements to plead before God; there will be no redemptive value in anything they have done, and their fate will be irreversibly sealed. It is not hard to see how one might call that a wasted life.

On the other hand, you have tapped into the doctrine of common grace, which affirms the goodness of God's creation and the remnants of that goodness in all people. Unregenerate people, because they are God's image-bearers, can recognize beauty and truth and make valuable contributions to the world. One thinks of "virtuous pagans" like Socrates, Thomas Jefferson, etc. In this sense, their lives are not wasted because they reflect something of God's goodness and play a role in helping others.

And yet, the value of human beings only intensifies the horror of sin. The higher up a being is, the farther its potential to fall. The more potential that a being has for good, the more potential it has for evil if its qualities are turned to serve evil. This is the paradox of Adam's race. On the one hand, we do so much that is good, and beautiful, and worthy of praise. On the other hand, apart from redemption in Christ it is all done in the context of self-serving rebellion against God and will not give us any hope in eternity.