One of the centrepieces of the spiritual life of the Texas A&M Newman Association was its “New Cor” retreats, held once every semester. These were usually held at the Fort Parker State Park near Mexia, Texas. Although the park wasn’t that far from the campus, to make transportation easier the Association would secure a school bus to take most of the people there and back again. The usual procedure to get a driver was to pick one of the students, who would obtain his chauffeur’s license the Friday afternoon we were supposed to leave. Armed with this license, the bus would be loaded up and the participants and staff taken for a weekend of spiritual transformation. (And they wonder why there are Aggie jokes…)
My response to this? I took my own car. So did some others.
Sunday afternoon came, the retreat ended and everyone returned to College Station in like manner as they came. I was driving my car back, following a friend of mine who had a girl with him from the University of Texas who had bravely joined us for the weekend. He was weaving all over the road, wandering from the shoulders to the centreline. Fortunately the traffic was light and the road was wide in usual Texas style. We got back to the student centre, but my curiosity was aroused.
“Why were you wandering all over the road?” I demanded.
He looked at me and replied, “It’s very hard to drive and read the Bible at the same time.” Turns out he was sharing the Word with this girl, so he had to thumb through its pages and try to drive all the while. Evidently the combination of God’s authoritative revelation and his driving did the trick; she did get saved. (She also ended up marrying an Aggie, but that’s another story…)
There are a lot of things about this story that are sure to astonish. One of them is that it took place in the context of Roman Catholicism. The truth is, though, that the Catholic church has always had a concern for the eternal destiny of its adherents. The problem is how to do it; the church, in common with many other Christian institutions, has placed excessive confidence that the “system” (both sacramental and educational) would lead people to a knowledge of God that would in turn lead to eternal life. There is nothing inherently “non-Catholic” in the concept that, somewhere along the way, an individual needs to make a conscious decision whether he or she has a real relationship with God and whether his or her life is either oriented towards God or is pointed in another direction.
Beyond this, my friend’s driving is a reminder to everyone that our life is measured out in a finite way, and that it can be cut short long before we expect it to. “Listen to me, you who say ‘To-day or to-morrow we will go to such and such a town, spend a year there, and trade, and make money,’ And yet you do not know what your life will be like to-morrow! For you are but a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing.” (James 4:13-14) The general increase of life expectancy on the earth only masks its transience. But events such as 11 September 2001 and the 2004 Sumatran tsunami only underscore the fact that it can be taken away from us very rapidly.
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Hebrews 9:27-28) Everyone needs to answer the question: where am I going after this life is over? Like the journey to and from Fort Parker, the road to eternity has a definite course. So how are you getting there?
New Testament references from the Positive Infinity New Testament. (Note: subsequent to this tale, I came to work for a ministry that specialises in personal evangelism. This ministry requires that people memorise the important Scripture references before sharing the Gospel.)