Growing up in Huntington Beach (aka, Surf City), I remember hearing stories about some of the rescues lifeguards would have to do. One of the things that’s always stood out to me is the fact that sometimes the victims the lifeguards would try to rescue would put BOTH the lifeguard and the victim in grave danger by grabbing, tussling with, and punching or kicking the lifeguard. Unintentionally, but oddly, the victim would essentially fight off their rescuer; without knowing, the victim would resist rescue. In a strange way, they’d care so much about saving their life that they would effectively lose it.
My “New Testament in a Year” reading plan took me this week through the latter parts of Luke’s gospel (chapters 17 – 20). The super slow pace continues to provide me opportunities to reflect in ways that working through the entire Bible each year (as I’ve done for the past seven or eight years) seems to let me fly past.
One such reflection occurred this week … not that I hadn’t encountered the passage before, but this week it poked me in a way it hadn’t previously. It’s Luke 17:26-33.
“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days, the people enjoyed banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat and the flood came and destroyed them all. “And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot. People went about their daily business—eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building—until the morning Lot left Sodom. Then fire and burning sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Yes, it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day a person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return home. Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it.
In this passage, Jesus points out some really important eschatological truths in terms of the suddenness with which His eventual return will occur. As a separate matter, that’s a really key truth to dive into and I encourage you to try sometime. But the passage that moved me is where He says in verse 33 … “If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it.” While His point is much more in light of the end times lesson He was teaching, I internalized it slightly differently … personally.
Jesus’s admonition here is reminding us about our life, and our LIFE. There’s a difference. Remember that we were created as eternal beings. Our life on earth is a mere momentary portion of our existence. What we do with regard to Jesus while we’re here determines how the rest of our eternal existence will be spent. It’s a simple and binary matter. Jesus offers us a free gift of eternal life. If we accept that, we live eternally with Him in heaven. If we reject His free offer, we live eternally without Him in a place called hell, a place completely devoid of any aspect of God’s presence. The Bible describes this place as a place of utter darkness, of unquenchable fire and thirst, of torment and anguish, and where the emptiness is so stark that one would forever weep and gnash their teeth.
Most of us spend most of our focus on our “life”, the temporary portion of our existence. It’s the slice of our total existence that does have an expiry to it. Whatever possessions we amass we leave behind, and if we’re really lucky we leave them behind on the day of our death, though many do so beforehand. If we enjoy great relationships, they will end when we meet our final demise. Our careers, professional accomplishments, accolades, and our fulfillments will come to a screeching halt upon our last breath.
I think the “LIFE” Jesus is referring to is the eternity that extends beyond our final exhale, forever. It’s the LIFE He offers us and that He purchased with His blood, spilled in volume during His scourging before ultimately going to the cross to make the final payment for that LIFE. It’s the LIFE that doesn’t allow for our earthy possessions to join us, but that recompenses us in unimaginable ways far more valuable. It’s the LIFE where relationships are pure, unfettered, unselfish, unblemished and truly symbiotic. It’s the LIFE where our fulfillment still comes from our work, but work done to honor the most important Boss we’ve ever had, the most benevolent of all, and where fatigue, frustration and ulterior or financial motives don’t invade. It’s real LIFE.
Jesus’s point is something that hits home for me, and perhaps for you. We spend so much time on things of life that we neglect things of LIFE. We get balled up on the life that ends, and pay too little focus to the LIFE that never does. It’s normal and natural … our cognition can only experience the life that we’re in right now. We can imagine our eventual eternity, but we can only experience and relate to this temporary existence. But that doesn’t mean we need to be constrained by it or confined to it. What does it take to broaden our view?
First, it takes faith in knowing that we have a LIFE. As noted above, that can only come through belief in Jesus. He purchased that LIFE with His sacrificial love and He offers it to us for free. Second, it comes from knowing that the LIFE is real, that the Bible assures us that we can have it, and that if we call Jesus our Lord it’s our destiny. Third, it’s realizing the relative duration of the life and of the LIFE, the relative insignificance of the life and the significance of the LIFE, and the relative emptiness of the life and the overwhelming fulfillment of the LIFE.
I’m not trying to be cheeky, but it’s sort of simple, I think. The LIFE that God offers us has so much more to it, and yet we all too frequently limit our point of view to this life. When we truly appreciate the difference, our entire perspective changes. We focus not on the temporary relationships, but how we help those with whom we relate to have an eternal relationship with Christ, and hence one that can continue with us forever. We work not just for the fleeting riches we can gain in this life, but we work for the rewards of the LIFE … those that come from hard work, diligence, character, dedication, reliability, etc. We emphasize not the build up of possessions and wealth, but on giving it back to God’s purposes (through tithing or philanthropy) or to the lowliest of His sheep.
Jesus warned us about concentrating on keeping our life, and that if we do we’d lose our LIFE. What I need to do a much better job of, is not centering my day-to-day breathing on the 60, 70, 80, or whatever number of years I get, but to orient my existence on the infinity years I’ll be living someday. Otherwise, it’s like kicking and fighting and struggling with the very LIFEguard who is trying to save me and preserve me, only to lose my perspective, my life, and my LIFE.
Living the LIFE,