August 6, 2007
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6.19-21
Through last week, horrible images and terrifying stories came to us from Minneapolis following the collapse of a major bridge during rush hour. There is something disturbing about our ability to feed incessant streaming images of every disaster around the nation into every living room in the nation. Each tragedy becomes personal, except not one of us can withstand the onslaught of human misery, so tragedy becomes commonplace – faceless names and macabre facts. This can’t be good for the soul. We’re not God. It’s too much for us to take on all the suffering of the world, and since we cannot, distance allows a measure of safe indifference, even as it leaves a gnawing uncertainty: it might have been you or me. Is it possible that seeing too much suffering generates a selfish fear and an unhealthy obsession with safety and self-preservation?
The tragedy in Minneapolis was indeed that: a tragedy. The pictures and footage were frightening; scared, tearful, waiting loved ones arriving on the scene dredge up our worst nightmares. Yet, there were amazing stories of courage and selflessness and heroism as well. I am in awe of people like that – running amid the dust and falling concrete or wading into the river to help. How would one know if one has the courage to be a hero until the moment presents itself? Inevitably, heroes turn up in the midst of tragedy, where they are born in the moment of need. They are inspiring to watch and worthy of admiration.
But the most worrisome thing I watched on the coverage and read on the reports is the defiant indignation and righteous anger that such a tragedy could happen. Why is that? Why do we think we can somehow prevent all tragedies and even most bad things from happening? One politician called a press conference and proceeded to announce that, “bridges don’t just fall in America!” Really? That one just did. What she really meant was, ‘We’re going to find out who’s to blame for this,’ as if some engineer forty years ago should have had 21st century technology or some Department of Transportation engineer should have been able to predict a collapse fifteen years ahead of schedule.
Perhaps the most audacious risk ever undertaken has been the American ideal of overcoming risk and danger through education, medicine and technology. Dazzling accomplishments and achievements beyond our wildest imaginings are now part of the fabric of daily life. However, to believe we truly can eradicate risk and danger is foolish in the extreme. Such an effort will have the contrary effect of meaningless mediocrity that still is not without risk and danger nor is fail-proof.
No matter how badly we wish it were otherwise, the truth is, we cannot create a perfect and perfectly safe world, and we are naïve in the extreme when we imagine we can. To try to cling to this world and to strive for its perfection are a mistake. Our world is full of new life, laughter, love, joy, goodness and more, but sin, evil and death plague every generation, every peoples, every nation and culture. It is disconcerting that we in America seem to believe we can rise above the human condition – just enough technology and skill, a little more regulation and prevention, additional funding and expertise, and we will get it right. The reason that idea can never be fulfilled is because, behind every research and advancement, every new technology and each added piece of legislation, are fallible, faulty, and finite human beings, with all our potential for glory and for shame. We will not get beyond that in this lifetime.
Someone wisely observed that great love and great achievement require great risk. Only by being fully invested in the eternal do we have the courage and temerity to risk everything in the temporal. It is only certain confidence in the life to come that allows us to live today with passion and abandon. We mistakenly conclude that laying up our treasure in heaven requires living stoic lives removed from all things worldly as we wait for death. Exactly the opposite is true, if we rightly understand God’s gift of life and creation, which are not the measure of Christ’s Kingdom. When we lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, we can afford to risk achievement and failure, love and loss, and even life and death. And those who risk achievement, love and life are the only ones who experience the fullness of any. Christians, of all peoples, ought to be the most fully alive, precisely because of the reality of tragedy – of sin, evil and death. The obvious existence of all of these merely proves the world is in need of a Savior, and we – the Christians – have a Savior, indeed the Savior of the whole world and for the whole world. This is the good news that we should be shouting from the rooftops. The world can be alive today, fully alive in spite of every grief and sorrow, because Jesus Christ is alive eternally. And if we cannot shout this truth with our voices, then surely we should be shouting it with our lives, by the risks we take to achieve and accomplish, to love and to live.
Pray for those who mourn in Minneapolis. Find someone you know who is hurting or mourning to encourage and reassure. And take a risk today: dare to be truly alive in Christ.
In Christ –
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