Life is a journey.
This statement is a cliche, of course. Nonetheless, I would hazard to say this cliche is one with which few of us would argue. Don’t believe me? Let’s try an experiment. Find an old photograph of yourself that you have in a frame, or in a drawer, or even on a device, and look at it. I have one that I have kept since I was a young teenager. I am standing on a rock overlooking a lovely valley in the fall. I’m wearing hiking boots and in my hand is a map of the hiking trails at Sugarloaf Mountain in Frederick County, Maryland. I remember that day fondly. My dad took me hiking, and he also took the photo. My love of the outdoors and the enjoyment I find in hiking have not changed since that moment decades ago – but much else has. I have married and have become a father. I have studied various subjects and have lived in various places. I am well along in a career and calling about which I had no inkling on the day in question. In some ways, my very personality has changed. For example, I am much less introverted than I was when that picture was taken. Looking at the old photo, I can say that I am the same, yet different. I am further along on the journey.
What about yourself? Take a good hard look at your old photo. Are you the same today as you were at 16 years old, or 30, or 5? 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago? Of course not. Your growth and experiences have changed you. If you are looking at that old picture of yourself, this cannot be denied. So let’s put the old photo away and agree that life is indeed a kind of journey. But settle that question only raises others? Ok, life is a journey, but what kind of journey is it? Where are we going and who has the map?
We could say that life is a journey from youth to old age. More of us make it to old age now than ever before, although nothing is promised. We certainly have a few more lines on the face than we do in the old photo. A psychologist might say that it is a journey through the stages of development, that is, for everybody except for the thirty-year-old still living in your basement. But for all his faults even that basement dweller has a mom who loves him. She can see his spiritual side. Perhaps life truly is a journey and that journey is spiritual in nature.
We find this idea -life is a spiritual journey – expressed in Scripture. Life is a journey away from God and then, with his intervention, a long, desperate struggle towards him. We see this in the 23rd Psalm where the Shepherd leads us through the valley to the other side. We see this in the Exodus where God breaks the children of Israel out of bondage to Pharoah and into service to Yahweh. The Psalms of Ascent call the faithful to journey to the holy hill in Jerusalem and worship the Lord Most High. Paul’s indebtedness to his savior led to his almost maniacal quest to travel to Rome and testify before Caesar. Noah journeyed through the flood and Jonah through the fish. Jesus journeyed from heaven to earth, through death on the cross and into resurrected glory, as is so magnificently depicted in the second chapter of Philippians. With this in mind, we may state with confidence that life is a spiritual journey. Therefore it should come as no surprise that when God first called a man he sent him on a journey, a journey both physical and spiritual – a journey of faith.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV)
In the first century, the anonymous author of Hebrews reminds the early church of the unique strength of this new religion – faith. In their time, the pagan religions of the Romans and the Greeks were not in fact based on faith, but rather on civic duty performed by cultic rites. In an uncomfortably similar manner, the religion of the Hebrews had also become based, in part, on upholding the rites at the temple in Jerusalem; a precarious notion considering that the temple had been recently rebuilt by a puppet ruler propped up by a foreign garrison. The nascent religion of Christianity was not based on temple rites or civic duties but on belief in a person – Jesus Christ, his teachings and his proclaimed sacrificial death and resurrection. The Christian faith is just that, faith.
More to follow