It was in 1976, if my memory serves me right. I was traveling overseas in response to an invitation to give a series of lectures about the Bible. As I watched the flight attendants carrying out their work on the plane, my preconceived ideas about their profession began to change a little. They were so busy that it seemed as though theirs was the busiest job in the world. I had been extremely busy myself the previous day so I took a nap for a couple of hours to catch up on some of my missed sleep and when I woke up I found the flight attendants were still busily hurrying back and forth without any rest. Now and then, one of them would bend over, clutching her stomach with a look of agony on her face, but even so she made a great effort to continue her task of serving the meals to the passengers. As I watched her, I felt very sorry for her.
In the past when I had seen bus conductresses or female laborers, I had wanted to help them and indeed at times I did. I had not thought, however, that my sympathy might extend to people like flight attendants these days whose profession would appear to be one to be envied. The occupation of flight attendant is still considered quite a good one for women in my country. When these attractive young women put in a brief appearance at the airport, dressed up in their uniforms, they even look quite noble. But I wondered if anyone watching them as they went about their work would be able to say that their professional life was of a high standard. Even occupations like this, which we might consider as being on the better side, do not turn out to be quite so appealing when you look into them. It seems that there is no perfect profession in this world. We are always living in the midst of insufficiency and imperfection. This is because man himself is imperfect.
The Chinese character for man is formed with just two strokes of the pen, each supporting the other. If you removed either one of these strokes, the other would fall. I do not know who invented this character, but whoever it was certainly made a good job of it. It expresses the need for people to live in close relation to one another, helping and depending on one another.
There are probably many people who would affirm that they enjoy harmonious and close relationships with their families, relatives and friends. Even so, these people will also feel as though something is missing from their lives. Probably everyone would acknowledge this after giving the matter even just a little consideration. This is because their relationship with God is not as it should be.
I once had occasion to take a look around a large hall in a huge building. Even though it was such a large hall, there wasnt a single pillar to be seen in the middle of it, and I marveled at the wide-open space that was thus available. I examined every nook and cranny of the building to see how it had been designed. At first glance, the lofty roof of the building appeared to be very simply constructed, almost like a piece of paper folded in half. When I examined it more carefully, however, it became evident that it had been planned in minute detail and not an inch of it had been left untouched. Without pillars, a building will have a concise style, but its construction will have involved far more complicated thoughts in the mind of the architect than would be necessary when constructing such a building with a lot of pillars. Complex calculations would be required in order to design and construct such a building without any pillars if it is to be sound according to the laws of construction and dynamics and not be in danger of collapsing. So I could see that in order to construct a building in a simple style, the plans need to be more detailed than would be the case for a more complex building.
Mans outward appearance might seem to be simpler than that of animals with their tails and covering of hair, but the functions of mans brain are far more complicated. And the mindthat invisible part of manis even more complex than the physical structure of his body. Man in his complexity continues to maintain his existence because of the life within him that holds together all the cells of his body. Once this life departs, all the cells that make up the body decompose, turning into dust.
When Im traveling along a main road through the woods, I often see dead animals that have been hit by a car. Sometimes there will be a dead rabbit or nothing left but the feathers of a bird that has collided in flight with the windshield or body of a car. Even as I feel sorry for these animals, Im reminded of a verse from the Bible:
as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed 2 Peter 2:12.
As car after car runs over the carcasses of these birds and animals sprawled out on the road, they gradually disintegrate until not a trace of them is left. If one of these birds or animals, while still alive, were placed on the car as it drove along, it would probably enjoy the refreshing feeling of the breeze blowing through its feathers or its fur. If, however, you drove around with a dead animal tied to your car, it would decay until only the bones were left, and eventually the bones would disintegrate as well.
It is the same for human beings, but most people are so caught up in other aspects of their busy lives that they are seldom concerned with the fact that once they die, their physical bodies will soon decay.
Let me go back to the days when I first started thinking about death and what happens after we die. I also had many thoughts about eternity in those days. I used to go to church regularly and I made an effort to keep the law recorded in the Bible.
In my own way, I thought that I made a good job of keeping the law, but when I looked back on what Id done, I found that I had failed in many ways. Even though there was hatred and jealousy in my heart, I didnt let it show on the outside. These feelings would build up inside me, until suddenly I would let it all out, and this troubled my conscience very deeply. Every time this happened, I would stand in front of a mirror and think to myself, I wonder if there is anyone with a heart as evil as mine. I even used to write down frankly in my diary all the evil thoughts I had. There were many times, however, when I read through my diary at the end of the year and realized I couldnt just leave it as it was, so I tore out pages of it here and there. I was afraid that if anyone came across my writings and read them after my death, that person would not have many good words to say about me. Some time ago, I told a playwright friend about this, and he asked me if I still wrote my journal. I told him that I had given it up because I wouldnt be able to write frankly if I was concerned about what people would think about my writings in years to come.
Also, I was able to write frankly when I didnt know God, but now I felt this would be rather difficult. This was because there were many things I would need to write in my diary that would prove unacceptable in the light of the Bible.
Once I became aware of the wickedness in my heart and in my thoughts, there was no comforting me and I felt extremely lonely. This loneliness did not stem from an absence of parents, siblings, or friends; it was the result of having no one to whom I could open my heart and speak frankly.
Some time ago, I had the opportunity to talk with a certain businessman. In the course of our conversation, he asked,
What do you do for fun?
When I asked him the reason for his question, he said that he found me rather strange since I didnt smoke or drink and I didnt seem to need any kind of entertainment. Its true that most men smoke or drink at least once in their lives, even if only for show. Its also true that I was once impressed by a picture of General MacArthur looking rather stylish with his pipe in his mouth. As a youngster, I too pretended to smoke with my mischievous neighborhood friends. So I explained to the businessman that it wasnt that I didnt know how to smoke, but rather that I didnt want to smoke. It is not for any religious reasons that I refrain from smoking or drinking; its simply that its bad for my health. There is always joy in my heart even without cigarettes and alcohol. There was a time in the past when I was always deeply troubled and distressed, but then one day I experienced a complete change of heart. I explained all of this in detail in answer to the businessmans question. Some time later, this same businessman asked me if I believed in God, and I told him that I did. Then he was quick to admit, I have always disliked any encounters with pastors, evangelists, church elders, deacons, and the like. It sounded to me as though he was including me in his list, and his words sent a sudden chill down my spine. So I asked him if he had ever read the Bible, and he admitted that he had not.
Do you believe that God exists? I asked.
He said that he didnt know whether God existed or not.
But you dont seem to be an evil person, I told him, and he seemed bewildered by my words of praise.
Some people are not evil in any moral sense and yet they conclude firmly that God doesnt exist. The Bible has a verse for such people.
The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. Psalm 10:4
The blind cant see the light in the way that a sighted person can, yet they do have some kind of vague perception of light. Similarly, most people live their lives with the vague notion that there may be a God, but then again there may not. I talked about this for a long time with my businessman friend, and after that he started to listen to what the Bible says. Also, he began to read the Bible page by page for himself, whenever he had time.
One month later, I met my businessman friend again.
When I first began to learn about the Bible, it made me feel very happy, he said. So why is it that, as the days go by, my mind is becoming heavier and heavier and my heart more and more uneasy? And, what is more, despite all of this I find I cant possibly keep away from the Bible.
So I asked him, Is it possible to clean a house without raising any dust? When you are cleaning, isnt it usually dustier and more disorderly at first as you polish and dust?
So are my heart and mind being cleaned up right now?
Then I read to him the following verse from Second Corinthians:
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 2 Corinthians 7:10
There are two kinds of sorrow: godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. There was clearly a difference between the anxiety that arose within his heart as he studied the Bible and the anxiety that he experienced as a result of his business.
Some time after that, we fell to talking about the Bible again. As we talked, I noticed that he hung his head and was weeping. After a while, he went to the bathroom to wash up, and when he returned his eyes were still bloodshot from his many tears. It was then that he opened his heart to all those present, saying, I feel as though Ive been away from home for decades and now I have finally returned. Then I quietly sang a hymn for him:
Ive wandered far away from God,
Now Im coming home;
The paths of sin too long Ive trod,
Lord, Im coming home.
Coming home, coming home,
Nevermore to roam,
Open wide Thine arms of love,
Lord, Im coming home.
After listening to this hymn, he told me that he had always hated hymns in the past, but now for some unknown reason, he found that he had suddenly developed a liking for them.
As I witnessed this scene, I thought about what kind of power it must be that is able to change a person in this way. This is not something that comes as a result of study; it is as the apostle Paul wrote,
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ Galatians 1:12.
Knowledge can be passed on by means of education, but life can only be passed on by means of life.
I once told someone, a long time ago, If I teach you all about the Bible so that you understand and agree with everything it says, Ill be very disappointed if, after all that, you dont experience inner liberty and peace. When I explain the Bible to people, it takes a lot of time and I put my whole heart into what Im doing, but if my listeners only listen and do not get anything out of it, it has all been useless. They will have neither gratitude to God in their hearts nor songs of praise on their lips, and all they may possibly have to say is, Thank you, that was very interesting.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon