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Monday, January 1, 2024

Some Thoughts on the Complexity and Brevity of a Human Life

Recently, I was watching the latest episode of "Beyond Paradise" (British mystery show). It was the Christmas special (Spoiler Alert!). A man who had committed a series of petty break-ins 50 years ago broke into the same homes and left a 2023 version of what he took in 1973. A new 55" HD TV for the old 20" he took before. 540 pounds for the jar of change worth about 55 pounds back in the day, etc.

The now old thief started reading from Isaiah and how the prophet told King Hezekiah to put his house in order as the King was soon to die. The man in our story, moved by the passage, now beset with stage 4 cancer, decided to put his own house in order as best he could.

The detectives found ashes at every "crime" scene along with the items. When they finally pieced together the odd, seemingly unrelated 2023 break-ins with the rash of "opportunity" thefts in 1973, and met with the "thief" (who had been charged in 73, but let go for lack of evidence), they asked about the ashes. The man said his father made his children write down their sins and burn them as an act of remorse. (Also a good picture of sins forgiven and forgotten.)

He included this line as detectives pointed out the many years gone by when he did not make it right:

"Life keeps you busy, doesn't it though? Your priorities change and time just goes. One day you go to sleep a boy of 19 and you wake up a 70 year old man looking back on all the stupid things you did."

Ain't it the truth?

I had just completed, the night before, my podcast in which I spoke of the complexity of others. We understandably melt our deceased loved ones down to a few characteristics at the Celebration of Life, but there is no way in an hour or two to properly celebrate a life.

My father lived over 82 years. Yes, he liked Sinatra and the Brooklyn Dodgers. But he lived over 30 thousand days. He was far more than that. Every single day with its 24 hours or 1440 minutes or 86400 seconds. That's a lot of seconds to live over 30,000 days. We do the best we can to try and capture someone, but we must never forget the complexity of life and the moment by moment experiences that make up the full story.

As much as my interest in baseball, or the Beatles, or the bass, or Snoopy fit and define in some ways my outward man, the inward man would happily chuck all of it for his family and loved ones and certainly for his Lord. As Isaiah called on Hezekiah to get his house in order before he went down to the gates of Sheol (Isaiah 38:10) in death, I pause on the brink of 2024 to review my house and to remind myself of my priorities.

I said,
“In the prime of my life
I shall go to the gates of Sheol;
I am deprived of the remainder of my years.”
-Isaiah 38:10
I also remind myself that other people are more complex and have much bigger stories than I could ever know. They've lived countless minutes I will never know, but the Lord knows. He holds his own in His hands. Scripture teaches us that life is but a vapor, it is people and it is the eternal things that matter.

I try to remember this when I read scripture. I can read David's entire life in a few sittings, yet he lived day by day, minute by minute, and second by second. I only see a glimpse of his relationship to the Lord and to those around him. The Lord knew David's every experience and the Lord knows our every experience.

“Lord, make me to know my end,
And what is the measure of my days,
That I may know how frail I am.
Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths,
And my age is as nothing before You;
Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Selah
Surely every man walks about like a shadow;
Surely they busy themselves in vain;
He heaps up riches,
And does not know who will gather them.
And now, Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in You..."
-Psalm 39:4-7


In 2024 may be renew our commitment to the eternal in light of the brevity of life. May we also remember that we have limited knowledge when it comes to our fellow man. When it comes to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must remember that they are God's ervants and God will be the judge of that service. For we are not the judge of another man's servant.

Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

-Romans 14:4


From "Beyond Paradise" December 2023