Saturday, August 9, 2008

Common Ground, Across the Centuries

It's human nature to seek familiar company.

Some people can relate to each other because of a specific experience they share. War veterans are a prime example.

But, not everyone can be a war veteran. So, how does a civilian who loves his country find common ground with a veteran who fought to defend it? First, by showing gratitude, and by openly acknowledging his inability to understand firsthand the experience known only to the veteran. False familiarity with a veteran's experience would be just as insulting as any failure to respect the veteran's sacrifice. A grateful civilian will appreciate and thank a veteran, and a gracious veteran will accept these warm thoughts, and consider his civilian friend just as much his countryman as any fellow veteran.

Deeper than all this, however, lies the most important way a civilian honors a veteran's sacrifice. A truly appreciative civilian will live in such a way as never to bring dishonor upon the sacrifice of the veteran. A grateful citizen will live up to all the ideals for which the veteran fought, and never treat the veteran's experience as commonplace. Then the veteran can enjoy the peace of knowing his sacrifice was appreciated.

Common ground is found in shared allegiance, even when experience differs from person to person, and even between people separated by decades or centuries of time.

Hebrews 11 is a source of inspiration for any Christian. The tales of God's faithful from centuries past serve to motivate today's Christian to strengthen his own faith and demonstrate that faith in action. Every Christian reading Hebrews 11 should feel a sense of familiarity with the people cited in the text. These people are not just historical figures; they are family. They lived and died before our time, but we will meet them in a time yet to come.

Imagine the stories they will tell us!

Along with several major figures listed in Hebrews 11, such as Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, are other believers, unnamed personally, but immortalized for their faith, in particular for the way in which they died.

Easy to overlook, disturbing to contemplate:

"...others were tortured, not accepting deliverance...they were stoned, they were sawn in two...they were slain with the sword...they wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth." -- Hebrews 11:35, 37, 38

How does a Christian today, in a developed nation, enjoying the protection of the law rather than the persecution of the government, relate to a brother or sister whose last sensation in this life was the terror of flesh and organs being ripped apart by the teeth of a saw? How does a Christian concerned with keeping his house cool in the summer relate to one of God's children driven to take refuge in a cave?

Of course, every person's experience is different, and no one is expected, in any area of life, to have lived firsthand the experience of every other person he knows. And, no one should expect to comprehend fully the life and experiences of people from another time.

But still, we have to wonder: Would our lives and concerns make any sense at all to our nameless family in Hebrews 11? More importantly, would our faith be recognizable to them? Would they understand, as people who were murdered for their faith, how hard we try to avoid even being made socially uncomfortable for ours?

Not everyone can be a martyr, any more than everyone could be a war veteran. It's not possible, nor is it necessary, or even helpful to the cause. But, today's Christian must take something from the stories of these unknown martyrs. The thought to be taken is the utmost necessity of today's Christian living a life that would bring honor upon these people's sacrifice, and that would never treat their sacrifice as commonplace.

While it is Jesus' sacrifice that saves us, these sacrifices of our spiritual ancestors also serve to inspire us to be less attached to this world and more attached to Him.

Common ground between an ancient martyr, and a 21st century Christian? It can be found only in allegiance to Christ, even if it should cost everything else.

1 comment:

Paul Ford said...

David, once again you have managed to put in words, something that for me is very cruel and terrifying. I cannot imagine my reaction to being tortured because of the admission that I serve and follow Christ. Yet, you have reminded me that heaven is filled with such strong and courageous people, who not only experienced it themselves, but must have also watched others go through the same ordeal before them. I can ashamedly say that without going through such torturous events, that my faith is somehow pale in comparison. This would definitely be an area where I need to work on. I need to study more Heb 11, and other passages, as well as other historical writings in an attempt to help build my faith upon a foundation of blood, sweat, tears, joys, happiness, and hope.

Whew! "How long, O Lord..."
Thanks again - keep it up.