August 15, 2012

Beyond the Ifs

“I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 2).

Life expectancy experts assert that a human life span now averages 80 years, which means we’ll all live longer and prayerfully prosper.

Some longevity specialists liken those years to the 12 daytime hours on the clock, from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. For example, every second is equivalent to 16 hours, every minute to 40 days, and every hour to six years and eight months of life. The moment you were born was the beginning of a beautiful day. It was 6:00 a.m., and the golden hues of sunrise marked the morning air with promises full of unlimited potential.

At age 7 you were a bright-eyed child attending school, and the time of your life was 7:03 a.m. At age 21 you are enjoying the midmorning balminess that fills life with a spirit of idealism as you clock in at 9:09 a.m. You have a full day ahead to find your dreams.

2012 1523 page25At age 35 it’s 11:15 a.m., and you are approaching the climax of the day. You are full of energy with all the light you need to run the amazing race and take advantage of every minute.

At 40 it’s noontime, and you’ve reached the peak of your journey when the sun is high in the sky. But just as the sun reaches its zenith at this central moment and starts its gradual descent, so you will also reach your peak and begin the slow but dreaded descent  toward old age.

At age 56 it will be 2:24 p.m. The day still has a lot of sunshine, but the sun is moving toward the western horizon, casting long shadows as it moves across your path. At age 65 more than an hour has passed since you were 56. It’s now 3:45 p.m., and you are keenly aware that there are but a few more hours left in the day. You might begin thinking about leaving the stage of a busy life to retire, to enjoy what you’ve achieved, and perhaps give your place to someone who is at the midmorning of life.

You’re 74, and the clock is ticking at 5:06 p.m. Time has slipped away. As the sun sinks rapidly toward setting, and although you started very early in the morning, nothing seems new. Major achievements, motivations, and dreams are all far behind you now. The only thing you anticipate is the end of the day that isn’t far ahead. Then, before you know it, it’s 6:00 p.m. You are celebrating your eightieth birthday. The twilight gives way to darkness, and just before the flurry of sunset’s incandescent colors fade away, you ask yourself, “What if I had done things differently?”

This, and such questions, belong to a genre of fictional literature called “alternate history” that consist of stories asking such “what if” questions as: What if the past had happened otherwise? What would life be like if the Nazis had won World War II? What if Christopher Columbus hadn’t made it to America? What if the Confederacy had won the American Civil War? What if September 11 had never happened?

Contemporary novels using alternative history are called uchronie, based on the prefix “u” as in utopia, a place that doesn’t exist, and “chronos,” Greek for time. Thus “uchronie” describes a place and time that don’t exist.

And that’s exactly where too many believers are spending time, perhaps because (as a TV ad reminds us) “If is the center of LIFE.” Everyone has something for which we feel remorse, regret, recrimination, and we ask ourselves, “What if this or that had been different?”

Here’s how to get beyond these ifs: First, face your fears, confident that God’s perfect love casts out fear; and the one who fears is not perfected in love (1 John 4:18). Second, forget your failures and reach forward to what lies ahead (Phil. 3:13). Third, focus your faith by having the attitude of selflessness that was in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:1-7).

May you truly live long and prosper.

Hyveth Williams is a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. This article was published August 16, 2012.