December 27, 2006

Without A Trace

2006 1536 page24 capFIND IT RATHER TROUBLING that my life is no more than a blip on the radar screen of the universe, a mere snap of the fingers between two eternities. My favorite book describes life repeatedly (30 times) as meaningless; as a wisp of vapor; as a puff of wind; as empty, useless, insignificant, brief, insubstantial, frail, unreliable, futile, and purposeless. If that is not bad enough, when it’s all over someone will sum up my whole life—probably a minister who hardly knows me—in the “10-minute life sketch.”
Have you ever wondered what your 10-minute life sketch will be like? What will be the summary of your life? They nearly always say something good (even if they have to stretch the truth a little), because no minister is going to stand up at a funeral and say, “Today a great burden is lifted from the world, this family, and the church.”
I was preparing a life sketch once for a member of one of my churches, and when the wife was pressed for details she could only say, “I can think of nothing good to say about him.” Through the family we managed to find something, but the truth is we are all destined to be forgotten. Within a generation even some of the most famous are unheard of. People a generation from now will not hear or care anything about most of us and our little worlds. One of the things that troubled me when my father died (when I was 16) was that by the time I die, no one would even know that he had been here!
What Happened to Them?
2006 1536 page24I read a book a little while ago, one of those Reader’s Digest things on “Great Mysteries,” and was intrigued at the number of people who have mysteriously disappeared down through the centuries. Sailors like those on the Mary Celeste and explorers like Shackleton have vanished without a trace, leaving friends and families to just wonder how and why. Even whole colonies disappeared without a clue as to why. In 1587 Sir Walter Raleigh left 117 men, women, and children on an island off North Carolina. Three years later when he came back, there was no trace of them left, and no indication as to what had happened.
I read in the same book of a young lover who disappeared in the sixteenth century, the night before he was to elope with the crown princess of Hanover. Foul play was suspected but never proved. We know the stories of Glen Miller and Raoul Wallenburg. Even Australia has its unsolved mysteries, like Leichardt, who has rivers, waterfalls, mountain ranges, and even a Sydney suburb named after him. He disappeared trying to cross North Australia from east to west in 1846, with an entire group of six people and 185 animals! Much of the information about Australia’s interior was gathered by the nine search parties sent out to find him. But he had vanished without a trace!
A Spiritual Tragedy
Leichardt and others manage to achieve temporary immortality, much like the Egyptian pharaohs whose works and names remain, but little else. Though these stories are tragic, they all have spiritual overtones. Though these are stories of the flesh, there is an exact counterpart in the things of the Spirit. All of us are destined, if found in the end without Christ, to vanish from the face of the universe without a trace that we were ever here.
It is tragic indeed when someone vanishes without explanation. Yet how much more dreadful when it is someone of apparently good qualities who is doomed to destruction, to be wiped from the face of the universe! If we forget God or leave God out of our reckoning, our names will be forgotten in time and eternity. No one will remember our works or our lives. We will be scattered just like a mist when the beams of the sun chase it.
Do you realize this? Our allotted time is as the passing of a shadow!1  Whatever we achieve in this life is worthless, and the bubble of our reality will soon burst.
When our 10-minute life sketch is given, the only thing of significance that can be said is, “This is a person who loved God and lived their life accordingly”; for the only things that last are those that are done for God. And what of the rest? The unsaved vanish without a trace into the archives of eternity—just blips on the radar screen of the universe, forgotten by the saved,2 who receive eternal life at the hand of Jesus as the ceaseless ages of eternity roll by. And that will be it. Forever!
As I sit before my computer writing this, I am reminded of this truth in a very practical way. When I did the first draft of this article I came back to recreate it,3 but could not find it and thought for a moment I had lost it forever. Then I remembered the process of deleting files to the trashcan, using the cleanup function. The computer always asks you, “Are you sure?” before it allows you to trash an article or file. It is not until you want a file that you have erased, either accidentally or on purpose, that you realize the finality of the process. Who hasn’t experienced a hard drive crash and faced the frustration of losing files that were not backed up! There is no opportunity for argument and no opportunity to go back in time, for the file is gone. It is as if it never existed. The energy and time spent on its creation is now counted as nothing.
“File Not Found”
As I struggled with this a parallel formed in my mind. This situation can be likened to someone asking, “Are you sure you want to make that decision?” The time will come when the answer will be forever sealed and the final pronouncement will be made: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still . . . he that is holy, let him be holy still. . . .”4 Then the paltry attempts of lifetimes—the work, the sweat, the trials, the emotions of years spent building lives—will be lost in the furthermost reaches of the universe with one line attached: “File not found.”
The day is coming when the final pronouncement will be made and questions will no longer be asked; and that day may be closer than your next birthday.5 After life comes judgment (for most).6 The judgment is the end of a process, which includes the vindication of the name and character of God, which was challenged by Satan and questioned by the angels. When the final pronouncement is made and the invitation is no longer extended, the curtain of this world will be drawn and the reign of sin and rebellion will be over.
Then the question will no longer be asked, “Are you sure you want to make that decision?”7 The thousand years will pass, and the saints, having looked over “the books,” will never again remember those who will have vanished without a trace. Their files will not be found because they had squandered eternal life on foolish existences.
God offers us more than just the chance to be a blip on the universe’s radar screen. He offers us the opportunity to confront, if you please, the writhing, bleeding, suffering Man on a cross, because there is no other way. Jesus offers us what we cannot attain for ourselves—eternal life, and He acquired it the only way possible, by paying the penalty for our sin and rebellion.
Jesus was the Eternal walking within the bounds of time. It was like a visit of the Father to our first parents in the garden in the cool of evening. Calvary was another visit God made to humanity. It was a mountain that felt the footsteps of its Creator, and there saw Him lifted on a rough-hewn cross between heaven and earth as though He were not fit for either.
Calvary was God’s answer to sin, it was God’s answer to rebellion, it was His answer to fate and human destiny, and it was His answer to you and me.
   “He built a bridge from a
         cross of wood,
   And there where time
         stopped, eternity stood.”8
Life is a choice between the riches of eternity or the fleeting pleasure of sin. This life is the place and time where we make decisions for eternity. Eternity has no clock, decisions belong to time, and Scripture says, “The time is now!”9
1Ps. 90:12; 102:11.
2Rev. 21:4.
3Compare the resurrection, which is an act of re-creation.
4Rev. 22:11, KJV.
5Check this out: Ps. 34:4, 5.
6Heb. 9:27.
7Deut. 30:19.
8From a poem by the author.
92 Cor. 6:2.
Ross Chadwick has been a pastor for 25 years and is presently attending Avondale College in New South Wales, Australia.