Now Playing: The Uncomfortable Pastor
Throughout their lives my parents took snapshots especially of people who visited. Often these people were relatives. As technology moved ahead, my parents purchased a 35mm camera and had slides developed. When we assembled in later years, we often would get out the old pictures and reminisce. Mom died about sixteen years before Dad did, and in those years of his loneliness we would meet at his house and view slides. Occasionally we would come to a slide, and someone would say, “Who is that?” We didn’t know. Dad would say, “If Mom were here, she would know.” Much time has passed by now, and those pictures which featured people we did not know have been destroyed. It seems pointless to keep pictures of people you do not know. We have enough of our own that someday will serve the same fate.
The topic that is on my mind is one that has visited many times throughout the years. It actually fits fairly well the kind of thinking the Preacher does in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. (What a wonderful book that is! The writer wrung out of experience the truth that life without God is meaningless.) I don’t think this should be morbid; it is really a meditation on a reality of our existence and expresses the need for the future God promises those who love Him.
I worked for a number of years as a piano tuner/technician. Especially challenging to me were problems in the piano, nuisances to the piano player which she did not understand. It was a special joy to be able to diagnose and remedy the problem, and I was able to do just that on numerous occasions.
This career began with a correspondence course, but armed with only the course one does not have much more than theory. Problems which the course never anticipated can present themselves, and it then becomes the responsibility of the technician to solve them. So over a part-time career of over thirty-five years I learned and built up a store of knowledge that served me well. When I traveled to someone’s house to tune, I sometimes thought that even though I have this tool box of specialized tools and this pickup with supplies that some time or other may be needed, my most important resource is what is stored away in my head. I have thought that I wish I could pass that on to someone--the entire package. It would be advantageous to that person. But I cannot. It will die with me.
The same is true in the ministry. I have poured countless hours of time into understanding the text of the Bible in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. I have thousands of Scriptural sentences diagrammed with exegetical notes which I use over and over again. They hold much value not only in understanding the sacred text but also in living. Some have said I should publish those diagrams, and my wife has wondered what she might do with them after I leave this life (The assumption is that I will leave first, but the order doesn’t matter--if I am here last, then the problem passes on to someone else.). My answer is that all of it should be burned (I wish that were still legal.). Only I can make sense of much of my scribbling and shorthand; no one else could. And, so, again, this will all be lost with me.
So much is lost whenever someone dies.
C. S. Lewis in an essay called “The Crown and the Cross” which was included in the collection published as The Joyful Christian wrote the following in a discussion somewhat different than mine: “there is no real teaching of such truths possible and every generation starts from scratch.” It seems a shame that we all must start from scratch, but it is so. What we can pass on is really very limited. Even in the computer age, what we can individually process has a limit, and, if we do not know the basics, eventually we become stupid. That is evident in some of what occurs in society today. Are we finally now sophisticated? Have we finally conquered racism? Do we really now come together diplomatically instead of fighting wars?
So, why have we put forth all this effort? The next generation must try again, but they cannot just continue from the point at which we have left off, you see. It all seems rather futile.
Though it seems noble, my efforts cannot ultimately be for society’s improvement. Though it seems herculean, my efforts cannot ultimately be to self-propel to the point of total mastery. (There are some who think they know everything about pianos, but they don’t. The same is also true in the realm of Bible interpretation.) In the proverbial blink of an eye, life is over, and we are done.
God has made us curious creatures. God has made us creatures who fairly willingly try to fix here and there the effects of the curse (Genesis 3) throughout life. We get by that way, but eventually we wear out and go to our eternal destiny. At that point the accomplishments of this life disappear. Then the apostle’s words in Colossians 3:1-4 will become very clear:
“If therefore you rose with Christ, those things which are above continue seeking where Christ is seated on the right of God; on those things which are above continue setting your mind, not on those things which are upon the earth; for you died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life appears, then also you with Him--you shall appear in glory.”
If you read this far, you may have wondered why I entitled this essay “Total Loss.” As I thought about the impossibility of passing on knowledge and craft I was reminded of some of the earlier attempts at internal combustion engines. They were called total loss in that one had to periodically pump oil into the engine--it did not recycle. The invention of an engine that could recycle oil greatly improved the pleasure of driving or riding. And you didn’t have to buy oil almost every time you went shopping. I’ve never had the dubious pleasure of operating such a machine, and I don’t ever hope to do so. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for ruining the engine because I had forgotten to pump in a little oil at the proper time! But we are something like that.