One of the saddest aspects of city life is that we rarely think to look up at the sky. For one thing the city is always well lit up at night and we have no need of stars or moon. Indeed the cities of earth are all more visible from space than space is from them! We miss an awful lot, both by day and especially by night. Moreover the city is very busy; it’s the place of pavements, roads, buildings, noise, movement, speed and the place where a thousand and one things clamour for our attention. Our focus is below, not above; the sky is obliterated.
The Way of the World
This is a parable of the age in which we live. We are caught up in the things of the moment, life here and now, life down below. The wonder and eternal nature of the sky at night with the brilliance and multitude of its stars are of little concern. It’s the same with the beauty of the clouds and the colours of the day or sunset. We do not have time or inclination to think on the eternal. Deeper meanings in life have seemingly little attraction for us. Life now and its immediate pleasures are the main concern. We are looking down, not up.
This is the way of the world, but the world is always trying to invade the church of God with its ways and attitudes, and I wonder how much of this “earth bound” spirit pushes its way into the church, and even its preaching? The gospel has a great deal to say and to teach, of course, about how we should live in this world and make the best of our lives. That is fundamental material for the preacher and is incredibly relevant to everyday living. But the crowning glory of the gospel always has been and remains the offer of eternal life and with it the great promise of a new creation, resurrected bodies and an eternity lived in the fuller presence of the unspeakable glory of God. The gospel is a call to look up to the great horizons of everlasting life. What I want to say is that we seem to be an age in which the grandeur and majesty of this theme has been somehow overlooked or neglected.
Not of this World
Perhaps this failure also has something to do with the fact that life expectancy is much greater now, health provision more certain, risks more easily off loaded and death with its profound challenge carefully side-lined. But the Christian is a person for whom God takes the risks and for whom death is a going home and is “far better”. The Christian should be deeply conscious of this, however, and not just dimly aware of this eternal dimension. The hope of eternal life should be bright and real, shining a strong, healing light into the darkest moments of pain and trial in this present world. It will not shine with that sort of brightness, however, if it is not preached, taught and expounded confidently and regularly; and that is my concern. In our Western culture everything conspires to make us think almost exclusively of the present. We are not hearing enough about eternity. Only with persecuted brothers and sisters in other parts, where the pressure is on to think of what lies beyond this world does something of the reality of that glory register.
Life does have dark and painful moments, both for ourselves and for those we love or are concerned for. Such moments can be very prolonged, very painful and severely testing. Jesus himself warned of this when he said, “In the world you will have tribulation”. It is so important to be able to put such moments into the perspective of the glory of the coming eternal life. It is so important to be able to see them as moments when we can actually discover the comfort of God and to know they will give way to the unspeakable glory of a new creation.
But it is not just for dark moments that we need to be thinking of eternal issues. It’s also for those glorious moments when we look up into the sky and see the wonder and majesty of our Creator and revel in what he is and what he has promised. It ‘s for those moments when we meditate on the cross and realise afresh that what he did there for us stretches on and on into eternity. We need to be able to stand with Paul and say,
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor.15:19).
It is the future eternal prospect that is the truly awesome vista!
Let’s be prepared to talk about eternity. Don’t let the cynicism and scoffing of the “clever” muzzle this astonishing truth.