Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Pilgrim's Progress

I just finished reading an article in Newsweek about the man known as "America's Pastor" - Billy Graham. (The article can be found here.) I think most people know who Billy Graham is. Next to the Pope and the Dali Lama he's a likely pick for the third most well known religious figure in the world. I don't usually buy Newsweek, but I was eager to find out what the secular media had to say about this icon of evangelical Christianity.

The article focuses on the struggle many preachers face between absolutism and moderation, and on how as Christians grow older we tend towards moderation, looking for a middle ground in the great debates without compromising on the fundamentals of faith. At one point Graham makes a statement that many might find a little surprising, "I am not a literalist [about the Bible] in that every jot and tittle is from the Lord. This is a little difference in my thinking through the years."

Many Christians believe that if even one word of the Bible cannot be taken literally then everything else the Bible has to say must be cast into doubt. For them Graham's change in attitude is a sign he has compromised his faith. The article however, contends that he has simply moved from seeing every line of scripture as literally accurate to believing that parts of the Bible are figurative and may never fully be understood. To quote the article...

Like Saint Paul, he believes human beings on this side of paradise can only grasp so much. "Now we see but a poor reflection in a mirror," Paul wrote,"then we shall see face to face." Then believers shall see; not now, but then."

The article also makes mention of the fact that Billy Graham is no longer the political person he once was, even going so far as to say he regrets being as involved with politics and politicians as he was. He cites his involvement with Richard Nixon as one example he deeply regrets. He also wishes he'd spent more time committing the Bible to memory and studying theology.

So why am I sharing all this with you? Well, it's because as I read the article it felt to some degree like I was reading about myself. No, I'm not a great evangelist who has led an estimated 30 million people to the Lord, but I do find that as I grow older I am reconsidering some of the ideas I once defended with great fervor.

I too was once a literalist and challenged the faithfulness of anyone who suggested otherwise. Today however, the idea that portions of the Bible may in fact be figurative is not the threat to my faith it once was. I also find myself wondering if this isn't the way it's supposed to be. Consider these words from Isaiah ...

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:28-31 NASB

For me, the last phrase is a progression. I can see it in the lives of myself and others. When I first became a Christian I was an eagle. The excitement of the truth I had discovered was more than I could contain. I got involved in every ministry I could, stretching myself to the limits and beyond. Sometimes my enthusiasm took me places I probably would have been better off not going to; but hey, we live and learn right?

As I grew in the faith I slowed down a little. I was still active and zealous for my God but I wasn't flying around quite so much, but I was running hard. I got to take in a bit more of the scenery around me and people didn't look so much like ants. But I kept running.

Today I'm still running a fair bit, but I can see myself starting to slow down to a walk. I'm not so much concerned with getting there as I am with making sure I don't miss anything along the way. I find myself looking for the steady, maintainable pace that will make sure I get all the way to my destination instead of trying to get there as quickly as possible.

We fly, we run, we walk. In the exuberance of youth we soar over the land looking for the goal that has captured our hearts, flying from one place to another until we find the spot where God would have us set down.

Once we land we run - hard; certain that the goal we seek is just over the next hill. We take in some of the scenery along the way and might even slow down from time to time for something that particularly catches our eye, but is not long before once again we are running hard. The pace is gruelling, but the destination consumes us and we know that in the end it will be worth it.

Eventually however, we do start to pace ourselves. The journey takes on a life of its own and there are people and places we encounter along the way that are so worthwhile. It's not that we have abandoned the goal; that we will never do. But now we are confident that the destination will be reached no matter how long it takes. We are so certain that the destination is assured that we have the time to enjoy every moment of the walk along the way.

We also take a bit more time to read the map. We may notice that there are straighter paths to our destination than the ones we have been taking. We find out there are rest stops and way-stations along the way, put there specifically to make our journey easier. They were there all along, but they were lost in the blur of the landscape as it raced by. Or rather as we raced by, so now we take care to look for them as the journey continues.

I think this is the way it's supposed to be. The exuberant flight of youth, the hard running of middle age, the reflective walking of our later years; all these contribute to our changing perspective on the journey. We learn, we change, we grow, we learn some more. Our faith is not compromised because we see things differently that we once did, we've just moved a little further down the path, and having moved a little closer to our final destination, maybe now we can see it a little more clearly.



SRMcEvoy said...

Well done Dennis!

Anonymous said...

Your writing is like a fine meal, Dennis.... caring, thoughtfully crafted, skillfully prepared and very nutritious... very much worth savouring!