"We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own."
— Ben Sweetland
"There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward."
— Kahlil Gibran
The sun warmed my face yesterday as I laced up my tennis shoes. A breeze continually caressed my face as the jog began. Immersed in the music, I listened intently to the lyrics, captivated by the guitars, the drums, the piano, the voices. The somber words trickled through the headphones as emotion flooded my consciousness. My thoughts turned to the students, families and faculty of Virginia Tech. And tears started rolling down my cheeks.
Time has passed since the shootings, but they will be a grim reminder of a day we wish to forget. And incidentally, a day we wish to remember too. Tragedies compel us to examine the fragility of life, a reminder to be aware of our surroundings at all times. But beyond this, we remember people, lives who have intersected ours. We recount the value, the joy, the story they have added to our existence, a priceless treasure grasped both now and always. Consider the actions of Liviu Librescu, an aeronautical-engineering professor. The shootings happened to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time of solemn reflection by Jews across the globe. Librescu was a Holocaust survivor and will be remembered for blocking the door to his classroom and telling his students to evacuate through the windows. He did not live. A recent article outlined his actions and also left space for feedback; one respondent writes, "I finally have a hero." And while I do not know whether he acknowledged Christ as the incarnate Son of God, I do know his actions reflect the words Christ commissioned his disciples to live by: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
His actions, like so many others, continually facilitate the kingdom of God in this reality. What’s more, as I alluded to in the previous reflection, the majority of these actions go unnoticed. These men and women are the unsung heroes, the servants of humanity; they see a need and do what it takes to meet it. I listened to a podcast for the second time moments ago and discovered a jarring insight about many Christ-followers, a revelation I needed to hear as well. He recounted Gnosticism, a toxic and lethal teaching that began to surface in the first century Church. Followers of this teaching held that the body and mind were distinctly separate, that the spiritual and the physical are distinctly separate. In other words, the spirit is good and the flesh is bad. Accordingly, many who followed this teaching indulged the flesh, consumed the body with food, sex and drink—a hedonistic paradise. And since the body is bad, no harm, no foul—it is corrupt already. They believed the spirit can exist on its own, attuned and near to God, fully independent of the carnal body.
Is it possible Gnosticism still lingers in numerous teachings today, the belief that the soul is all that matters to God? What about messages that begin with these words: "All I care about is saving souls." It’s not my intention to discount evangelism’s importance, but individuals concerned exclusively with eternity should also be concerned with restoring the here and now. Matthew recounts the story of a rich young man. Approaching Jesus, he simply asks, "What good thing must I do to get eternal life?" Remember, "eternal life" is a phrase interchangeable with "kingdom of God." Jesus instructs him to keep the commandments. The young man responds with affirmation, but wonders what he still lacks. Jesus tells him to sell everything and give the resulting income to the poor. The young man walks away distressed. He owns much.
Salvation, or renewal, or restoration, or redemption, is the final completion of the whole body (in action, living out God’s commands and repentance), not merely a detached spirit (that is discerned with any actual behavior). As this vision is continually realized, the kingdom becomes clearer and clearer. And bringing this kingdom into the here and now is not the responsibility of Democrats or liberals, environmentalists or social justice activists. Everyone has a role to play, a gift to offer, an ability to exercise. A deep fear of mine is failing to accelerate the kingdom through my abilities, knowing I can do more and missing opportunities. Selfishness and apathy can quietly hinder us from this invitation. The hurried pace of life cannot be taken lightly either. Time invested in other lives costs time, money, sweat and the possibility of charitable actions going unnoticed. I remember a story about a young man walking up to God and saying, "God, there is much pain in the world. Are you going to end poverty, malnutrition, oppression, violence and indifference?" God whispers in return, "Of course. I created you."
I will never know the accomplishments of the Virginia Tech students. And I never had the opportunity to meet any of these twentysomething’s who had a purpose, a vision, a passion, a career goal. A diverse spiritual background guided many of them while others may have had no thoughts on deeper truths, deeper realities of life. For families and friends, life will not be the same again without them. Society will not be able to receive the abilities they possessed to better this planet. But I am thankful for the moments they revealed the kingdom through action, intentionally or unintentionally, not stopping short with words. I am thankful for the story they did tell. May these lives, these stories live on, as we await the day the kingdom is fully realized, the day body is restored with spirit, the day families will reunite. Until then, may the light of this kingdom continually flow through the cracks of ugliness and consume the darkness. And remind of us what can be.