“For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners as were all our fathers; our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.” I Chronicles 29:15
The theme chosen for this convention is a strange theme for young people. To be a stranger is hardly a young person’s inclination. If there is one thing that young people normally desire it is to be at home and accepted by the crowd. They want to belong almost more than anything else.
And yet the teachings of Scripture are clear. We find it in our theme text and in other places too, as Psalm 39:12, “I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were”, or Hebrews 11:13, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” And we could go on. There can be little doubt but that your theme is a good one and even a courageous one to consider if you take it seriously.
But what does it mean? What is it to be a stranger in this world?
To try to discover, let us go back to a day when there was no such calling, the days of perfection in Paradise.
In Paradise Adam and Eve were completely and properly at home. They belonged to the world and the world belonged to them. They spend their lives filled with the wonder of the newly created world rejoicing in its greatness, and so it was intended to be.
Scripture indicates some of the peacefulness of their relationships when it says in Genesis 2:25, “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”
Now we in our sex-oriented world may be inclined to give all kinds of erotic connotations to this; but in actuality it simply reflects upon the fact that clothing speaks, the clothing we wear tells something about what we are inside.
It is so of us, and so was it of Adam and Eve. They had nothing of which to be ashamed. They were not ashamed of their bodies, and neither were they of any of their thoughts. As they went about together in the Garden of Eden day after day, there was not one thought that crossed their minds which they felt compelled to hide from each other. They were free to share their lives together completely without fear or reservation. And then in the cool of the evening they would go together to eat of the Tree of Life; and as they did God would come, and they would share their thoughts with Him too, in wonder, filled with awe and worship.
But when the fall came, it became different. Immediately we read, Genesis 3:7, “And the eyes of them bot were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” You know what it meant. All we have to do is read on into verses 8-13, “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden…And he said, who told thee that thou wast naked; Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman who thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” Openness and honesty, just so fast, were gone. Each had to try to escape from what they thought and what they had done. Shame had entered to plague their souls.
It is this that has characterized the world ever since. Beginning with Satan’s suggestion to Eve and passed on through dam all men have been moved by that great dream, “I shall be as God.” Each one, in his own terms and according to his own values but nevertheless very really, wants to be the greatest, to tower head and shoulders above everyone else, to be able to do whatever he desires just as God does. It has become one of the deepest, most overwhelming preoccupations of the human soul.
But these are not the kind of thoughts that you can share with others. You can’t come up to another person and tell him that you want to beat him out, that you want to be greater than he, that you want to use him in life for your own advancement and glory. And you can’t tell this to God either. It means that a man is left lonely and isolated in life. His deepest and most cherished thoughts he cannot share with others. He is alone; and loneliness hurts.
And yet there is something heady about it, something that will not let go. It’s a matter of being human, a matter of belonging, which we all want so badly. There is something about trying, about trying to become like God, which captivates our imagination and holds us even if in the end we must fail. And even if we do fail, at least we can pretend, we can act as though we succeed so that, if we do it well, no one will really know. It’s a lonely way to go. One has to hide his real feelings and thoughts, bury them deep so that no one will suspect. But that is what the world is like, and we want to belong to it, we want to be at home in it, we want so badly to belong.
Until, that is, one basic truth strikes home into the heart, this truth, “Christ died for me!”
Yes, that is it, that simple statement of the basic fact of the Gospel. I know you have all heard it almost as long as you can remember. But don’t let the familiarity cover up the power of those words. It’s like this.
If there is one thing that keeps us tied up in life, it is that terrible, inescapable feeling of shame, of guilt for what we really are.
To be sure, we try to get rid of it, we try all kinds of things. We try what Adam and Eve did, pointing our fingers at someone else and saying, “There is the one who is really at fault.” Or we try covering up, compensating for the fact that we are really guilty sinners by doing other things that are good. And, if nothing else, we can always pretend, shouting long enough and loud enough about what others might consider our good points in the hope that our plaguing conscience will be stilled. If others think us good, surely we can’t really be all that bad.
But it doesn’t work. In fact, the more we succeed in impressing this world, the closer we come to it; the more we try to feel at home with it, the more we feel that emptiness inside. We are only a pretense, we are living a lie, its hypocrisy, that’s all. Our true self is hidden. We become lonely in our dishonesty, and loneliness hurts.
And then it happens. There comes the time in the life of each one of God’s children when Christ speaks to them and says, “My little child, you don’t have to hide the fact that you have sinned. I know that it is so. But your importance to me does not depend upon what you are or what you have done. You are an object of my love for but one reason, God the Father gave you to me in eternity. And I have proved it by dying for your sin before you were ever born. Its guilt is now gone.”
You see, we of all people don’t have to hide, we don’t have to pretend to be what we are not, we can admit that we are nothing but sinners without being ashamed.
How Jesus sought to drive this point home. Matthew 5:3-6, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are they that mourn…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Or in Matthew 9:10-13, “And it came to pass as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples. Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” We who are Christians do not need to pretend to be righteous and perfect people. We must not. Our place is to be confessing sinners, those who can openly speak of our own sinfulness with the problems and needs which go with it. We can be honest to each other because the guilt of our sin is all gone.
It opens up before us a whole new manner of life, a kind of life that is strange to this world and alien. The world cannot stand honesty, it cannot stand the truth about itself, it has to pretend; and all who belong to the world are accordingly swept into the cold isolated loneliness of this pretense. But we are strangers to that, or should be. We don’t have to blame others, we don’t have to pretend, we don’t have to hide. While yet sinners, we have become the friends of God and can speak honestly to Him concerning our sins.
This is the life of the covenant. It means we can be open and honest to each other also. Becoming strangers to this world, we enter into the possibility of honest fellow ship with each other. May God grant us that fellowship at this convention together.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 30 No. 6 October 1970