Pastor and freelance writer Mark Buchanan tells about a conversation he had with a young philosophy student in his early twenties. Mark had officiated a wedding on a gorgeous day on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, and at the reception the student asked Mark if he really believed all that religious stuff he had spouted at the church.
I said I did. He smirked. I asked him what he believed. “I tried your religion for a while,” he said. “I found it’s just a burden to carry. You know what I’ve figured out? Life justifies living. Life is its own reward and explanation. I don’t need some pie-in-the-sky mirage to keep me going. This life has enough pleasure and mystery and adventure in it not to need anything else to account for it. Life justifies living.”
“Good,” I said. “And I believe you. Today, here and now, feel the warmth of that breeze, listen to the laughter of those people, smell the spiciness of that shrimp cooking, look at the blueness of the sky. Yes, today I believe you. What a superb philosophy. Life justifies living. Bravo!” “
Only, I’m thinking about someone I met last February. Richard. Richard was 44, looked 60, and had been living on the streets since he was 12. He was a junkie. Now he has AIDS.”
Mark wrote, “The last time I saw Richard was on a gray, rainy day in winter. I bought him a bus ticket and put him on the bus. He was going to his mother’s home in Calgary. He hadn’t spoken with her in almost fifteen years, but he was hoping he could go home to die. Almost incoherent, he sputtered, ‘I wish I’d never been born. My whole life has been a mistake. My whole life has been misery.’”
“I’m thinking about Richard.”
“And I’m thinking about Ernie. Ernie was a man on the rise. While he was in his twenties, he was already vice president of a thriving national business. He was tough-minded, hard-driving, prodigiously skilled, hugely ambitious. He was a superb athlete, a natural at any sport. He had a beautiful wife. They were unable to have children of their own, so they adopted four, three from Africa and one from Mexico. On the day the fourth adoption became final, Ernie got the results back from some medical tests he had undergone to account for some dizziness, blurring of eyesight, and tingling in his hands. The tests came back with stunning news: Ernie had multiple sclerosis.”
“Yes, I’m thinking about Richard and Ernie. And I have a question about your philosophy: How exactly do I explain to them that life justifies living?”
The young philosophy student had no response. He said he’d have to think about it and get back to me. I gave him my address and asked him to write me when he came up with something. I never heard from him, [and never will . . .] because life does not justify living. Eternity does (From a sermon by Stephen Davey on Revelation 4:1-3 at Wisdom for the Heart).