YOUR PERSPECTIVE MATTERS
Where is God? Does He really love us? Where is the justice of God? Is it any use serving God and walking according to His commands?" These are the questions that the Israelites were asking in the time of Malachi and these are the questions that many Christians ask today. This happens especially when our expectations are not met in God. Even as we try to find God in the circumstances of our lives, the apparent results may show that God did not act in those circumstances. Many Christians get disillusioned with their faith and slowly but certainly, it grows cold. Are they justified in their attitude or does the problem lie with them in understanding why they have been called? I believe it is the latter. If we treat God as Aladdin's genie who is there only to solve our problems, then we are miles away from what God is doing in our lives. Christians, I believe, have lost the focus of eternity, the real reason of our calling.
Called For Eternity
Why did Jesus perform the miracles that He did? There were many reasons, but John gives one reason which is the most important and which is missed out many a times. After Jesus turned the water into wine at Cana, John concludes that He did it to show His glory and that His disciples put their faith on Him (Jn.2:11). After Jesus healed the official's son, John again concludes that this was the second miracle that Jesus performed, thus implying that Jesus thus showed His glory so that people would put their faith in Him (4:54). He then goes on to record five more miracles and then gives his conclusion in 20:30. Therein he says that Jesus performed many more miracles which he has not written about; whatever he has narrated is for the sole purpose to enable people to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and believing they may get life in His name. The life that John is talking about is 'eternal life.'
Eternity Begins Right Here
When we think of eternity or eternal life, do we not think of it in purely eschatological (futuristic) terms? The synoptic gospels do talk of eternity in an eschatological sense (Lk.18:30), but John speaks of it as a present reality. G. E. Laad, a New Testament theologian, shows this through several references. Jesus wanted men to experience that future life right here (Jn.10:10); He came down from heaven to give life to the world and to satisfy its spiritual hunger and thirst (6:33,35); His words were life for they came from the Father and God's commands (words) were eternal life. (6:63;12:49-50); this life was not only mediated through Jesus and His word, but was present in the very person of Jesus (5:26); He is shown as the living bread who gives life (6:51); the Father has granted the Son to have eternal life in Himself (5:26), and hence Jesus could say, "I am the life" (11:25;14:26); drinking the living water that Jesus gives means that one will have within himself a fountain of life that will issue into eschatological life (4:14); all these verses directly or indirectly talk of eternity beginning at the very moment we believe and obey Jesus and which would carry on into eternity.
If eternity is a present reality, and we claim to possess it, should it not show at the existential level? Should it not affect the way we view life and live it? Come to think of it, will this not show the difference between a believer and a non-believer?
Eternity Changes One's Perspective
Material Possessions. We live in a materialistic world defined by what we have, rather than what we are. The liberalisation of the economy in the nineties has changed not only the landscape of the city, but has also given rise to an upwardly mobile middle class. This rapidly growing class with its newly acquired status is redefining the market economy. Real estate has boomed, sophisticated malls, with imported escalators, have come up overnight and define not only the way people live, but also the way people consume. Consumption is the mark of the day and it has kept on growing without showing any sign of slowing down.
It is but natural that people have begun to think that money can take them through life and there are no circumstances that can get the better of them. The effect of this is twofold. The first is that the emphasis or importance of character building, value judgements etc. have been lost. Instead, there is an extra emphasis on personality building. Institutes have come up which teach how to put up a front, and hence people constantly put on a mask in all professional and even friendly relationships. The real face of many corporate people can be seen in adverse, and also in casual, circumstances. It is scary to see the dark realities of those ever smiling faces. This is also evident from the number and kind of scandals that the literati are involved in. The second effect is the total loss of hope in the face of difficult circumstances. People are not able to bear any kind of loss or failure. People going into depression or committing suicide are increasing daily.
We can get the reason for this from the story of the rich young ruler given in Mark 17:10. That man, in spite of all his goodness and good intentions, was still craving for eternity. It was his riches which had blocked his eyesight from eternity. This was the reason Jesus told him to sell all that he had and to come and follow Him. Our Lord wanted to give him an eternal perspective which would change his perspective towards his riches also. If he was able to see the riches of eternity, what would his earthly riches be compared to them? This would put his life on earth in the right perspective. He would not only know how to view his riches, but also where to use them effectively, which would give him satisfaction. Don't you think people even in this age would be able to face the uncertainties of life better if they are able to gain an eternal perspective on their material things?
Tough Situations. During Malachi's time, the Israelites were craving to see the glory of God manifested in miraculous ways in their lives and that of the nation. Coming back from exile, they had expected God to exalt the nation of Israel and give back its former glory. They concentrated on the building of the temple and when they lost focus, God sent His servants like Haggai to bring it back. Once they built the temple, they concentrated on the temple sacrifices and worship in earnest. But in spite of this, what they saw for more than a century was only trouble. They virtually lost their faith. In this situation, God reminded them of who they were. He reminded them that they were His by virtue of the covenantal relationship He had established with them and that He would be faithful to that. Let us not forget that faithfulness is the mantle of our Lord. The Psalmist rightly says that the faithfulness of the Lord reaches the skies (Psa.108:4). He also pointed them to Esau and Edom and once again reiterated that they were not on His eternal radar. Even if they seemed to be doing very well in earthly terms, their end eventually was eternal destruction. I hope you can read between the lines in what the Lord was telling them. He was telling them to develop an eternal perspective and to exult in His love rather than look at circumstances to decide on His love.
When we develop an eternal perspective, the problems of life become bearable for we know that they are for a time, even if that time is long. Moreover, how do we forget that even in the time of trouble, our Lord is with us and that He is our strength and shield? The Psalmist rightly said that there might be weeping at night, but there would be joy in the morning. Read Hebrews 12 every time you get discouraged. Did Abraham get the land that the Lord had promised him? Not at all, but he never lost hope for he was able to see an eternal city, far greater than anything in the world. How can we forget to look at our Lord? He went to death taking our sins upon Him for He knew that He would be justified and His Father would raise Him up eventually.
Relationships. What is the key to successful relationships? Whether it is the intimate relationship of marriage, or a more causal relationship of friendship or even a working relationship of our professional lives, what is it that acts as a barrier to our relationships? Some would say that it is our thought pattern; hence they suggest that we should hang around with people of our kind and that it is these kinds of relationships that really flourish. Of course, this kind of thinking is itself suspect and one would have to admit that we cannot always pick and choose our relationships. And hence one would have to agree that bearing with each other and forgiving each other is the only way that a relationship can be sustained and also be successful. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5:44) stresses forgiveness to be the mark of a true Christian. God forgives because He being eternal sees all relationships through the eyes of eternity and He expects us as His children also to do the same. He ends this topic by saying that we need to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. In the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:21), what is Jesus Christ stressing? The servant was punished not because he was unmerciful, but rather because he did not reciprocate the forgiveness that he had received from his master to his debtor. If we claim that we have a relationship with the Father, then we have no choice but to behave like Him.
Sin. John Wesley said that we as Christians should be progressing towards greater levels of holiness in our daily life. But in reality it seems to be just the reverse. We tend to grow more lax towards sin as we progress in our Christian lives. We need to remember that eternity and sin do not go hand in hand. This is the reason Jesus used such radical imagery in relating the two. In Matthew18:8-9, our Lord talked of cutting off those very parts of our body which cause us to sin and said further that it would be better to enter eternal life maimed rather than be thrown into the fire of hell. We need to remember that living Christian lives and growing in holiness is as important as getting involved in Christian work. We cannot afford to play one against the other.
Death. We all dread death, for ourselves and for our near and dear ones. We need to analyse what this fear is about? Is it the fear of loss of a dear one, or the fear of not knowing what would happen to them after death? People often put down their defences in the face of death within the family, especially if it is unexpected. I have often heard people complain against God in such circumstances. John Stott gives an example of a Pastor, who having served God for more than three decades, turned bitter towards God on losing his wife. Yet I have also seen the opposite kind of people who have stood like a rock on losing their young son, daughter, wife or husband. In spite of the tears in their eyes, they always maintain that their dear one has gone to be with his Father. What is the difference between the two kinds of people? Obviously, one is counting the loss and blaming and questioning God for the same; the other is counting his gain for he knows that his dear one has entered eternal glory. It is a matter of perspective. Where one is looking at the earthly loss, the other is able to see the heavenly gain.
Alfred Tennyson, having grasped that eternal perspective, had no qualms of death, but rather saw it as an opportunity to meet his Pilot face to face. He wrote that beautiful poem Crossing the bar wherein the bar is the sandy shore that any ship has to cross before it embarks at sea.
My prayer for each one of us is that we learn to enjoy this life in spite of all the difficulties, for the Lord has given us abundant life, which is eternity. What more can we ask for?