In our "pluralistic" society, people seem to be very comfortable with the idea that no one religion has the corner on truth, and that there are many ways to get to heaven (if heaven does, in fact, exist). As a consequence, members of any one religion are made to feel as though they are being arrogant and narrow-minded if they suggest that their religion is "true." In the midst of all of this, Jesus's statement found in John 14:6 makes people feel very uncomfortable.
"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life," Jesus says, and you can almost hear the capital letters at the beginnings of each of those words. "The Way," he says, not "A Way." And to make matters worse, he then has the audacity to say that no one can get to heaven except through him. Not only is He the Way, He claims He is the only way.
So people tend to look at Jesus and say, "That's pretty arrogant and small-minded of him to suggest he's the only possible way."
Not arrogant and small-minded at all. Why can Jesus say things like "no one can come to heaven except through me"? Because he owns heaven. Paul tells us in Colossians 1:16 that Jesus is the creator of heaven. It belongs to HIM!
If you stop by to visit my home, who gets to decide whether you are invited in? I do! It's my place. And if you have chosen to disregard and disdain me, is it unreasonable to think that I wouldn't want you to live in my home? Of course not!
The real arrogance is for mankind to think "I will spend my life in pursuits other than the pursuit of Truth, and at the end of it all, I'll just assume that there's an eternal dwelling ready for me."
Last week I took my nephew to see the Movie Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. There was one section of the movie that made me think of a passage in 1 Peter.
If you've seen the movie, or a preview for the movie, you're familiar with the squirrel who, throughout the movie, is on a never-ending quest for the acorn. He tries and he tries to get that acorn, and meets with a variety of misadventures along the way. He never succeeds in getting the acorn.
But towards the end of the movie, the squirrel has a "near-death" experience, and finds himself at the gates of Squirrel Heaven. A place where the streets are paved (of course) with acorns. The entire scene is utterly silly and absurd (but also quite funny!).
The squirrel grins, and dances, and gathers up acorns, and feels more at home than he has ever felt back in the ice age. And then he sees it. The mother of all acorns -- a giant acorn to put all other acorns to shame. And just as he is about to grasp the giant acorn...
...someone back in the ice age gives him mouth-to-mouth, and brings him back to life.
That was one very unhappy squirrel, who would never again feel at home in the ice age.
In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter calls us "sojourners and exiles." The implication is that we are foreigners, that we do not belong in this world.
We are born into this world, and we feel right at home in this world, until we are given something different -- until we are given a taste of the grace, forgiveness, and love of Jesus Christ. And when we experience this love, we discover a citizenship in a world entirely separate from this place of trouble, this place of unrealized hopes, desires, and dreams. And once we have discovered that citizenship, we are forever spoiled for this material existence. We will never again feel at home in this world.
Sometimes Christians work very hard at "fitting in," and "belonging" in this world. But we are like that squirrel in the ice age: once we've tasted the goodness of God, there is no hope of ever truly fitting in again. We are foreigners and strangers to this world, whether we like it or not. And the healthiest Christians are the ones who come to terms with this notion that though we are now in the world, we will never fit into it.
Fear Factor is a television show I've only watched a couple times. The last time I watched it, they had the contestants doing a stunt that made me rather sick to my stomach. ::) So I shut it off, and haven't turned it on since.
The premise of the show is this: you get a bunch of people to do absurdly stupid/disgusting/dangerous stunts, to see who chickens out first, and who sticks it out to the end, and does the stunts better than anyone else.
The winner, of course, receives a monetary prize. I went on the Fear Factor website and read some of the interviews they did with past winners. One of the questions they often asked was "Why did you want to be on the show?" The answers varied (everything from "my friends dared me to" to "I wanted to impress a girl"), but one recurring answer was: "because of the money."
The fact is, no one would do stupid stunts like sticking their head in a box filled with angry hornets, or climb into a body bag filled with fire ants, or the other absurdities, unless there was the hope of some sort of reward.
But the contestants tell themselves: "I can suffer through five minutes of being bitten by fire ants, because when it is all over, I could come out of it with a reward that will last not for minutes, but for years. It's all a matter of getting the proper perspective on things.
The essential question of the show is this: How much fear/pain will you undergo without quitting, for the sake of a reward? Because one thing is certain: no quitter ever wins the cash prize.
I was thinking about this recently, in connection with the book of 1 Peter, where Peter writes:
Life is like Fear Factor. We are faced, throughout life, with various testings and fires. Our own personal fire ants, so to speak. And we need to take the same perspective on those trials as the contestants of Fear Factor take toward their trials. Taking this perspective requires us to understand the eternal nature of our existence. Our trials may not last for just a few minutes; some face difficulties that will last their entire lives, but in the perspective of eternity, even an entire life span is just a drop in the bucket. And the rewards that are received on the other end of this earthly existence are "imperishable" (as Peter writes, they don't fade away).
But the real question is: who is a quitter? And who will persevere? Because the rewards never go to the quitters.
The quitters are the ones who roll over and play dead whenever life gets tough. And it might make life easy now, but really, what is that worth?
The quitters are the ones who, having been betrayed by those they trust, say, "I will never trust again." The ones who, having been hurt by those they love, say, "I will never love again." The ones who, having been trampled because they stood for truth, say, "I will never stand for truth again."
The quitters are the ones who, when placed in a difficult, painful situation, spend all their time trying to figure out how to get out of the painful situation, instead of trying to figure out what God can do with their lives while they are in that situation.
As Beth wrote recently in her blog: When faced with failure and loss and disappointment, we find it less painful to to deny reality and live with the numbness. But if you close yourself off to Him by avoiding those uncomfortable feelings, you miss all the great stuff.
That's the quitter attitude...the "roll over and play dead" attitude. We are willing to "live with the numbness" because it makes life "easier." But life isn't about "easy."
I think it's interesting that, throughout the Bible, gold is presented as the greatest of all the precious things. But Peter emphasises that even gold is perishable, in comparison with the greatness of our rewards at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
If you go on the show Fear Factor, your reward for not quitting will last you a few years -- if you spend it wisely. But for those in Christ who do not quit, we are in for a treat that will last forever.
Life is like a roller coaster? I've heard that statement before, but I don't think it's accurate. When people say "Life is like a roller coaster," what they mean is, it's got "ups and downs." But really, that's not a great analogy, because when you're riding a roller coaster, it's all thrills and excitement...and the "ups" are actually less thrilling than the "downs."
No, life is not like a roller coaster. It's like waiting in line for a roller coaster.
One of the boys in our youth group went out to Cedar Point last year, and rode on The Top Thrill Dragster, which is currently the second tallest roller coaster in the world.
"How long did you stand in line for the roller coaster, Josh? An hour? An hour and a half?"
"More like three hours."
"Wow. Was it worth the wait?"
Life is like that. While we are here on earth, for the few years that we have, we are simply waiting in line for the real excitement, which is our eternal life with God. And, unlike a roller coaster, that's a thrill which will never end.
This is a perspective very few people have. Most people think of this mortal existence as all that we have. But when we lose sight of what is waiting for us at the end of our mortal existence, we lose sight of purpose, and life becomes pointless.
Who would stand in line for three hours for a non-existent roller coaster? And if you found yourself stuck in a line with no ride at the end, and no way to get out of the line, what would you do? You would try your very hardest to convince yourself that you were having fun, that there was some point to you being there.
This is how most people approach life. Without the eternal view, we have to convince ourselves that we are having fun right now, and life has to be about squeezing every bit of enjoyment out of the now.
An eternal perspective on life is especially important when we face difficult times. The person who has no eternal perspective is bowed down and even broken by their circumstances. But the person who understands the perishable nature of this life and the imperishable nature of the life to come, can find strength to suffer through difficult times, knowing that their trials and troubles will come to an end...nothing of this world is intended to last forever.