God intended our lives to be journeys into the unknown. Like Abraham, we are called out of the life we have known to a life we could never have dreamed existed. And I’m not talking about heaven or the afterlife. I’m talking about here and now. And even folks who don’t believe in an afterlife, at least believe in an “after now.”
All of us need something to look forward to, even if it’s just tomorrow. When we have nothing to look forward to, we end up in despair (a word that means “without hope”). We need hope like we need the air we breathe. Hope pulls us into the future, and when we realize how incredibly uncertain the future is, we can see why hope is so valuable. Yet, as essential as hope is for life, we live in a world that is constantly trying to rob us of it. Because of this, hope has become a rare commodity in our culture.
Hope may not be in abundance in the world today, but the good news is that we don’t need a lot of hope to experience its power. And when we have hope, it’s not because everything in our near-term future is safe and certain to us–it’s because our long-term future is secure.
We tend to take for granted the things that are most obvious to us. For example, how many of us this past week worried about how to pay an upcoming bill? But how many of us this past week worried about having enough air to breathe? My guess is that for those of us who were not doing a lot of scuba diving this week, we worried more about finances than having air to breathe. But which is more critical to life?
Human beings are amazing–we are always trying to take our life to the next level. We’re never satisfied with simple survival; we demand progress. We cannot function effectively without believing in something that does not exist, and I’m not talking about God; I’m talking about tomorrow. It does not exist, yet we believe in tomorrow and plan for it. We build our entire life on the assumption that we have a future.
This creates an awkward truth for believers and nonbelievers alike: all of us step into the future as an act of faith. But it’s more than that. We not only assume the future; we are all searching for a future. Why are we most alive when we are pursuing a great dream? Why is it that we need a reason to live? Why do we need to feel that we are in some way unique? Why is it that when we conclude that our lives don’t matter, we lose the will to live? The reality is that God created us with a desire to become more than who we are today.
At same time, we are faced with the reality of our mortality. One thing that dawns on us over time is how fleeting life is. When we’re little, time doesn’t mean much; we have our whole life in front of us. But as we get older, time seems to speed up. Blink and you’re thirty. Blink and you’re sixty. Blink and you’re gone. At some point we realize that not only does our milk have an expiration date, so do we!
Have you ever walked through a graveyard and read the inscriptions on the stones? I live in an old California mission town that has graves of all shapes and sizes going back 200 years. The stones are different, as are the names and epitaphs on them, but despite all the differences, the grave markers all have one thing in common: between the date of birth, and the date of death is a small mark known as a “dash.”
To strangers who look at the grave, it will be nothing more than a punctuation mark to fill the space between the two dates, but for those who knew the person, the dash represents their entire life.
One thing we know, based on years of careful observation, is that none of us gets out of here alive. All of us are born with a terminal condition. We all die. We all get a dash between the two dates. I only know the first date, the date of my birth, but I know the second one is coming because cars aren’t the only things designed for planned obsolescence. My body wasn’t constructed to function forever, just long enough for me to decide who I want to be with for eternity.
The real me (like the real you!) is spirit and does not have an expiration date. You and I are eternal, and one day your spirit will receive a new body and live somewhere forever. Where? God says that depends on what you do with the dash.