Thursday, October 14, 2010

A matter of perspective

With the rest of the world, I anxiously watched the situation of the Chilean miners over the past couple months. I was amazed that they not only survived the collapse but were in circumstances where they could stay alive until help arrived. I monitored the progress of the rescue effort, half expecting to hear at any time that some obstacle had hindered or stopped progress. I could hardly believe it when the drillers finally punched through, and was overjoyed that all the miners were rescued safely.

I found myself wondering what it must have been like for the miners trapped miles beneath the surface, their lives in the hands of the rescue workers as they worked against terrible odds to get through. I can only imagine how ecstatic they must have been to see that shaft, and the promise of life that the rescue capsule represented.

One thing I'm certain didn't happen when the drill broke through: none of the miners said, "That shaft is all very well, but it's not quite to my taste. Let's wait a bit, and maybe look around - I'm sure we can find another way out of here." I'm also confident that nobody looked at the rescue capsule and said, "Fitting into that thing is going to be uncomfortable. I imagine they'll want me to hold my arms close to my side, or stand very still, or something. And look how small it is! Imagine squeezing into that for the long time it'll take to be hauled to the surface! No, thanks." Given the entombment they'd suffered for two months, they were hardly going to complain about the path back to life provided for them. They harbored no illusions about how desperate their situation was. I imagine a golden chariot wouldn't have looked as good as that cramped, rusty rescue capsule, and the minor inconveniences of using it wouldn't have been worth considering in comparison to the hope that it offered.

In our parish Bible study, we've been working through the Gospel of St. Luke. One thing that's struck me this time through has been how firmly Jesus tries to get His listeners to look at their lives and circumstances differently. "You think you want an honored position, so you elbow your way closer to the head table? That's a path to humiliation; think about taking the lower place and waiting for your Host to honor you." "You think you have to scrabble and scramble for the basics of life? You're forgetting your Father in heaven, who clothes the grass and feeds the birds. Be about His business, and trust Him to care for you." Much of what Jesus is trying to get across seems to involve not so much learning a lesson as changing our perspective, and looking at things as God looks at them.

Which got me thinking about the miners and the rescue effort, and how that in some ways represents our condition. It's easy for us in the peaceful, affluent West to be deluded about our true circumstances. Because our bodies are safe and our minds engaged, or at least amused, we think we're in pretty good shape. We harbor a lot of illusions about our condition.

But if Christ is to be believed, our situation is much more desperate. In our sinful condition, we're just like those miners trapped thousands of feet beneath the surface. We're cut off from the Light of God and the life with Him that we were made for. Being entombed alive is a good image, because that's exactly what we are: walking dead men. We're still animate and active for a while, but it's only a matter of time before our brief, miserable lives come to an end, and we're as dead as the rocks around us.

But just as the miners had people on the surface working to save them, we sinful ones had a loving God working for us. His rescue shaft is Jesus Christ, promised through the ages and finally breaking through at the Incarnation. His escape capsule is His Church, and the means of grace which He has provided for us. There is One Way out of our desperate predicament, a Way that has been provided by heroic effort and at terrible cost. Against all odds, a path has been opened from our tomb back to Life and Light, and a way to travel that path has been given us.

Yet how often do we scorn this Way, and the means that have been provided for our rescue? "Jesus? But are there not surely several ways to God?" "The Church, with all those burdensome rules and formalities? I don't think those necessary to draw close to God."

It's all about perspective. As beautiful as this life can be, and as wondrous as the Creation is, we need to take our predicament seriously. We live in the shadow of death. Sin is serious, and the possibility of damnation all too real. If we're not careful, we might be trapped in this mine forever. Yes, our God is a loving God - which is why we need to take His plan of salvation seriously. The shaft is drilled and the capsule is ready. It's no good continuing to poke about in the dark to find another exit that better suits our fancies. It's futile to hang back because we don't like the look of the capsule, or the procedures for using it. We need to believe what Jesus tells us about our condition, and do what He says for getting out of it. We need to help our fellow "trapped miners" to understand that we really are in a dark, dingy hole, and that we need to escape or we'll die down here.

The Chilean mine collapse gave us just a glimpse of heaven's perspective on our human condition. We were watching from "upstairs", hoping that the efforts would be successful, anxious until every trapped miner was safely rescued. Right now, the saints and angels await our decision. Will we climb in the capsule and be lifted to safety? Or will we hang back, thinking the dark hole is normal and hoping for a better deal?

It's all in how we choose look at things, and Who we choose to believe.

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