Thursday, May 19, 2011
Living beyond the Edge
Alice and I recently went with friends to see the play, On The Verge, Or the Geography of Yearning, by Eric Overmeyer. It is a delightful portrayal of three Victorian Era women who set out to explore their world. They find themselves traveling not just in space but in time as well, eventually arriving at the year 1955. The women in the play have varying responses to the future and ultimately different limits to how far they wished to go into it.
The play served as a reminder to me that all of us are facing the future with eagerness, indifference, stoic resolve, fearful foreboding, or stubborn refusal.
The future is a concept that has no reality. It always seems to be ahead of us, beckoning us to come to it but vaporizing . . . no, morphing into the present even as we set foot into it. We are living in yesterday’s future but we crossed no border to get to the “now” we find ourselves in today. It will always be so. Futurists abound in this optimistic society, painting pictures of what will be. At most they are redisplaying the best of what has been, clothed in a perfection no future of the past has ever been able to deliver. The future is the demon mirage that lures and maddens part of our race, terrorizes another part, and leaves the majority alternately hopeful and despairing.
The Christian faith seems to hang on futuristic beliefs. It looks for a returning King, promises a coming age of perfection, points to life after death in heaven. There is truth in all of that. Jesus, however, taught a greater truth when he offered “everlasting life” to those who believed on him. He did not promise a future life of a different character than the present one. Rather he promised to put eternity into our present life. “Whoever believes in me has everlasting life,” he said. (Jn 6:47) Another time he said that those who believe have “crossed over from death to life.” (Jn 5:24) To the believing thief who was crucified with him, Jesus promised, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
To the unbeliever, death is the doorway to every future, decreeing that old things must give way to make room for the new. Thus, the anxiety of those who dread the passing of the old, and all the more when that which is “future” can only dimly be seen. Some resist going, others, convinced that the new will be so much better than the old, find it hard to wait.
Christian believers who know the promise we have been given, need neither to fear death nor be anxious about the future. We are already living in something better than the future, God’s eternal now. There is just enough of the curse of death still clinging to our bodies and spirits to give us a sense of living “on the verge” of greater freedom. There is a “geography of yearning” in all of us. But we have – not just in theology or doctrine or figure of speech – no, in reality, we have “crossed over from death to life.” We are living now, beyond the edge, in eternity.