Yesterday one of our students asked me a question that I

thought ranked fairly high on the profundity scale, especially given that she

is only 18 years old.  “What are the

things we do on this earth that we will take with us into eternity?”  As she clarified her question, I discovered that

it had been prompted by the previous evening’s outside-the-classroom learning

experience: a half-hour stroll through a graveyard.  Her reflections on that experience revealed

that she was seeking desperately to understand what is truly permanent in our

very souls when we go to Heaven.  The answer, should she find it, would then inform her choice of a major

in college. 

 

The point of the graveyard exercise was to remind these

young leaders that, in one sense we’re all destined to become part of the earth

once again and that our days in this life are just a few handbreadths (Ps.

39:5).  Given that fact, how do we hope

our epitaphs will read?   What legacy

will we leave?  There was another point

to the activity, however, namely to crystallize in their souls a hope-informed

understanding of human existence that flows out of God’s plan to redeem the

created order itself and make all things new and to remind them that the degree

to which they live with an eternal perspective in this short life is the degree

to which they will be participating as God’s vice-regents in restoring all

aspects of his original design—of living in this world coram deo, before the face of God through a deep awareness of

creation, fall, redemption and finally, yes, consummation. 

 

This coed really knew more than what she realized.  As we discussed her question in greater

depth, she began to see how all the worldview studies and related ethical

issues we have covered this year inside the formal classroom as well as service

to others outside the classroom has eternal value.  The nature of learning itself for creatures

made in God’s image is such that studies and practice in the various

disciplines, whether the humanities, music, art, business, or the helping

professions, will change us, literally forever. Our formal college studies as

image-bearers ought to so shape us that we gain new depth of insight about how

we should treat each other at the beginning of life, how we do or don’t love

God and neighbor inside the covenant of marriage or in the workplace, how we

care for the elderly in their frailty.  How

we think and act in these spheres of life will necessarily change us in such a

way that will affect how we live out the rest of our days on earth as well as

affecting our souls’ capacities to glorify Him fully in the new heaven and earth. 

The redeemed human disposition to learn and serve others as a response to what we learn isn’t something

that passes away because our physical bodies experience mortality.  What we learn in this world and how we live

that out as a response to his grace to us in this brief life will have implications for both the scope and depth

with which we glorify God when we are resurrected in the next. 

 

The inquisitive coed student would agree with N.T. Wright

that the Christian “mission must urgently recover from its long-term

schizophrenia. The split between saving souls and doing good in the world is

not a product of the Bible or the gospel, but of the cultural captivity of

both.”  Seems to me that unlike

evangelical boomers and x’ers who have demonstrated more susceptibility to the

residual effects of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, millennials are

less willing than their predecessors to settle for Dwight Moody’s “sinking

ship” understanding of the culture and the rather thin view of hope that

corresponds to it (“God has given me a lifeboat and has said ‘Moody, save all

you can’”).  They are far more likely,

once made aware of it, to embrace C.S. Lewis’s paradigm:  “Hope…means…a continual looking forward to

the eternal world….It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as

it is.  If you read history you will find

that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who

thought most of the next.”  So may it be

for those of us who are called to teach and mentor this millennial generation

of Christ-followers.