To whom shall we go?
I’m living a very different life these days than I’ve ever yet lived. A year ago I was a mildly disillusioned college student whose girlfriend had recently started wearing his academic scholarship on her ring finger. I lived with five other guys in a house that could only be called “The Mansion” on account of its extreme un-mansionliness. I remember struggling a fair bit with the things I was learning in my philosophy classes; my faith took a bit of a beating in there and although it came out alive, I can’t say I was always happy about it.
Things are still difficult at times, but for wildly different reasons. These days I’m a freshly married, usually clean-shaven college graduate doing temporary jobs that have nothing to do with his degree just for the simple fact that, without such work, my family will go into financial struggles. I suppose most people wouldn’t be shocked about that kind of circumstance, but that scholarship my wife is wearing spoiled me more than I realized.
Following Jesus in all this is a complicated deal; all my old spiritual habits have short-circuited for the worse, and there have been times over the past few months that I’ve found myself not particularly wanting His company. It doesn’t make much sense that things would get that way, but the human condition is such that it happens pretty much all the time. We’ve got to be pretty messed up to want anything other than the God who, a couple thousand years ago tonight, was betrayed with a kiss unto the sacrifice that saved all of us ingrates.
You know what’s funny, though? This kind of thing is all over the Bible, and I’m not sure I ever caught it before these last few months. In John 6, Jesus says a bunch of really difficult things about His intended sacrifice, and lots of His devoted followers just flat jumped ship. So He turns to His disciples and asks them if they want to go too. You know what Peter says? “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Lord, to whom shall we go… It’s almost like he wanted to leave too but he knew full well that there isn’t anything better.
Or David, in the 139th Psalm…
“Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, You are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
If I settle on the far side of the sea,
Even there Your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me,
and the light become night around me,”
Even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.”
It doesn’t make much sense that we should want to flee Him; He is our only strength, our only support, the reason we exist. He loves us immeasurably more than we can possibly imagine, and yet we flee Him! Both David and Peter knew full well the emptiness of life outside the Lord, and yet there it is, bold and hideous, that same desire to flee that I too often feel in the midst of everything that’s difficult about life. Why do we so often desire emptiness over fulness, strife over healing, bitter resentment over the infinite love of the Almighty?
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Eternal life as described in the Bible isn’t a future state; it’s not what starts when we die, it’s what starts when we believe. Cf. John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” Jesus has the words of knowing God, the words that bring us to the life we were created for, the words that heal our brokenness and revive our dying, empty souls. Peter and David, though both possibly frustrated by the inescapability of God (given the latter’s often-difficult ways of bringing us to the abundant life He has for us), both also knew how ludicrous it was to even want to flee Him.
This, to me, is fast becoming the most intriguing paradox of the Christian life.