I’ve heard this from blue collar iron workers to white color businessmen. “Life is too short to partake of cheap beer, cigars,” or any other condiment of our existence. But is it? C. S. Lewis warns that covetousness – which Paul says is idolatry – is attached not only to quantity but quality (Screwtape Letters, 81). We’re going to need a pastor to sort this out.
Not this one. The pastor in Goethe’s Hermann and Dorethea, a delightful 18th century poem about love. The pastor, believe it or not, is the hero of this story. He’s neither narrow-minded, stupid, nor supercilious. The first several times Goethe refers to him as “the good pastor” I was waiting for the other shoe to drop right on the man’s head. But it doesn’t.
A group of people are anxiously waiting for the return of Hermann do know whether the woo he’s been pitching has been caught by Dorothea. A father in the group says that his father long ago taught him patience by means of death. Death was coming soon enough for all, the patient and impatient alike. When you’re impatient about anything you’re only bidding the undertaker come for you sooner rather than later.
I thought the realization that impatience about anything is really impatience about death very wise until the good pastor stepped in. He said patience should be taught by means of life not fear of death (418-419).
This got me to cogitating. Saying “Life is too short to do or not to do something” seems the same error. It is unbelief that parties hearty to the rallying cry, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Faith parties to the question “What is the World to Me?” that comes from being rescued from the mire of this present darkness to become a wayfarer passing through it. Faith dances not to “I’m going to party like it’s 1999” but to “I Would not Live Always.”
Life is not too short to go without the best or to only go with the best. Life in Christ is way, way too long to pay attention to what shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we put on. Unbelief, says Jesus, seeks after these things, fixates on these things, judges how it is doing according to how much or how little of the finer things of life it has.
With Jacob, in contradistinction from Esau in Genesis 32, we have all in Christ. The Esaus of the world have enough, plenty, numerous, but not all and so they are ever seeking more.
There is, however, another side to this. Jesus furnishes the best wine at Cana; the Prodigal’s Father kills the fattened calf. Simon the Pharisee didn’t even give water for Jesus’ feet the forgiven woman gave tears; he didn’t greet Jesus with a kiss; the forgiven woman kissed Jesus’ feet; Simon didn’t anoint Jesus’ head with oil; the forgiven woman anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. You see? Jesus valued the best, and the best was used to express His acceptance of us and our worship of Him. As a pastor, I experience this too. People have shared with me the very best in beer, bourbon, cigars, pipes, guns, etc., etc., etc. So, here’s the rub.
The 1982 Texas District Convention was held at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas. Preceding an evening session there was a resplendent happy hour replete with the best hors d’oeuvres and magnificently carved ice sculptures. In the session that followed, Rev. Bryan Sullivan said: “I’m afraid we have made the O so subtle shift from ‘There’s nothing too good for the Lord’ to ‘There’s nothing too good for the Lord’s workers.’” He was hissed and booed.
I’m not wondering here if you’ve made such a shift; I know that I have in many ways. Not being content with such things that you have, even if they’re cheap things, is worse than being content with the best things that you have received from the Lord’s hand. But such contentment can’t be taught by the fear of dying too soon, but only by the joy of living forever having all things in Christ.