THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 45
I was much impressed by an essay I read in my youth. I think it was called ‘Acres of diamonds’, but I may have that wrong. It was about the untold possibilities in any human being and how we ought to take our future into our hands and shape it in the direction we want to go. It was about the enormous opportunities that are all around us, but that, in the ordinary way, most of us just ignore – or perhaps don’t even realise are there.
I was thinking of this today as I felt particularly the aches and pains of life. I must be getting old, I thought. Everything seemed a problem and there didn’t seem to be much ahead that beckoned me forward. In particular I had some foreboding about certain aches and pains – perhaps they were serious – the harbingers of a period of sickness ahead, maybe? But then I remembered those South African natives. They scratched a living from the soil in the part of South Africa where their tribe had lived for centuries. They managed to get by, but you could hardly call their way of life luxurious. In fact, some years, they were desperately near the starvation level. But they survived and went on from year to year, eking out a living and getting by. Then one day a visitor discovered that there were diamonds in the ground where they lived. A particularly rich seam had thrown up big and beautiful diamonds. Within a very short space of time all that land was exchanging hands for fabulous figures and anyone who had land to sell was rich, almost overnight.
The parallel story was of the poor farmers in America who did not have good land and who had to farm around areas of their property where there were poisonous deposits. At best they only managed a modest living from the land. Then, suddenly, it was discovered that the black stuff that was poisoning their good farmland was oil and that if you bored down on your land you were in effect writing a cheque to yourself for millions of dollars. The farmers stopped farming grain and cattle and farmed oil, and became wealthy.
Untold riches. Lying at their feet, yet unappreciated, nor even noticed until someone with insight came along and saw the reality. They thought they were poor, but actually they were sitting on one of the richest sites anywhere in the whole world. They were poor, yet they were rich and didn’t know it.
So it is with we who call ourselves Christians. We are rich beyond all imagining, but mostly we battle on, scratching a living, as it were. We live on the same level as everyone else, not realising that we have at our finger tips untold riches available to us, if only we will reach out and take them.
Every few weeks I get these circulars from a ‘Positive living’ publisher who assures me that he has just heard (or has himself produced) the most fabulous talks by someone whose answer to life’s problems will set me free for evermore. Listen to his CD and I will become rich and famous and be happy and contented. All I need to do is send seventy pounds and then I can have these CDs which will open my life to receiving this wealth.
Yet here on my bookshelf is a book that actually offers me even more than wealth – it offers me eternal life. But it is a dusty old bible. I don’t want to be bothered with that! Better far to send seventy pounds and get these CDs and hear about the wonders of Tai Chi or Yoga or positive thinking or some such!
So what is the Christian claim? It is that we – yes, even you and even me – we have the inexhaustible riches of Christ in us. We are able to draw on the power of Christ to live life at a level far above the usual selfishness. Or we can go on suffering, just as we are.
Are you sceptical of such claims? Have you heard them all before, tried this or that, and found there to be no difference in your life? It’s all very well, you may say, but I have this illness. Nothing can be done about that. But the Christian claims to worship a God who heals. Can you believe that you could be healed? What would it take for you to believe that you could be healed? Jesus is reputed to have healed all who came to him for healing. Do you think that now that Christ is dead and buried and resurrected he is less able to heal?
We are hand-to-mouth farmers sitting on an oilfield that we don’t even suspect is there for us. We are imbued with modern cynicism and modern materialism.
The incredible truth is that either way we cannot lose. Let me try to explain what I mean. If we had faith to believe in healing and it failed – we were not changed and or healed – then of course we should feel let down. If we received healing, then that would be wonderful. But what about our disappointment if we were not healed? What if it doesn’t work, we ask.
The incredible truth is that it doesn’t actually matter whether it works or not. If it doesn’t ‘ work’ in the sense that the result is that we are not cured of our ‘illness’, whatever it is, then we are still in the centre of God’s will by having faith in Him. We can still believe that He is omnipotent – all powerful. And omniscient – all knowing. And we can trust that, instead of healing, He is going to give us something even better.
What could that be? What can be better than robust good health? I guess that the best of all would be that when we depart this life that we shall go to be with Him. ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished’. If we go to be with God when we are freed from this ‘vale of tears’, we shall see Him as the loving Father he really is. Death is not something to be feared, but like a doorway, something to pass through into a life that is better than our life here. That is what a Christian believes.
Furthermore, once we place ourselves – really place ourselves, in full trust, with all our sickness and failure, into His hands, then we can forget about what is going to happen. It is all in his hands. He will take care of it.
Or do you think that God cannot take care of the detail of your life? Maybe you think that he doesn’t ‘interfere’ in that way? Maybe you see God as somewhat remote from our day to day life? Somebody once said to me that they thought that God was interested, ‘but not too interested’! If you think like this then you are completely out of tune with the New Testament. Your ideas may chime in with some of the Old Testament – the old Jewish way of seeing things – but that is the Old Covenant and now we are out of that and into the New Covenant. In the New Covenant God is an intimate reality. He is present to us all the time, with us and guiding us all the time. Affected by what happens to us all the time. ‘Intimately nigh’ as the old hymn puts it.
If God is that interested in each one of us, and if he is in control of all things, which we believe as Christians, then how can we be worried if some element of our healing doesn’t happen to turn up in our lives today. Or this week, or this year? It is in his good hands and we can safely leave it there.
So, either way, we win. If we are healed, then we give the glory to God. If we are not healed, then we simply trust in his over-arching goodness and care for us as his children.
Untold riches. Acres of diamonds, waiting to be discovered beneath their feet. Millions of barrels of oil just waiting to be released. And the owners of the land just kept on plodding around, unaware of the potential.
Are we going to be like those farmers? Are we going to regard problems and sickness and trouble as oily patches that disfigure our pleasant green fields? Things we must, at all costs, try to avoid in our daily life? Or are we going to sit down and reason it out: if God has permitted this to come into my life then it is for a purpose, and that purpose must be so that I can grow in character by confronting this trial and overcoming it.
Acres of diamonds – just waiting for us to open our New Testament and read the words of truth we find there. Just waiting for us to realise that this life is a training ground. A testing ground. We are given time and space to develop into the sort of people God wants us to be. A place where we are meant to grow in our character – or, equally, where we can refuse to grow. And life keeps on presenting the same situation to us over and over again in different guises until we learn our lessons and overcome the problems.
If this life is a training ground – what are we being trained for? Ah! I wish I could give you a definitive answer to that question. None of us knows what is to happen once we pass through the doorway of death to be with Christ. But here and now we can trust that there is a purpose – and that is another lesson learned! To trust, when we cannot know.
Of course some people take stabs at guessing what will lie ahead for us. The writer of the final book in the Bible – Revelation – did that. And pretty wild stuff some of it sounds! It is a vision of the future that one man saw and wrote down. Don’t bother spending too much time trying to decipher it all. You won’t get anywhere! Better far to say quite simply that all the future, here and elsewhere, is in the hands of a loving Father, and then to trust him, whatever comes.