If you were to give a gift that would be suitable for the whole world, what would it be? Books? But some people are illiterate. Food perhaps? Internationally diet is so very diverse. What about clothing? Climates will create some dilemmas here. I know, MONEY? A first world answer if ever there was one. And what would you give to the man or the woman who has everything when you know that everything a man or a woman has is proving not to be enough.
The only answer I can come up with is “Life”. But not just life as we know it and contribute to it.
The real gift would be to give life that death cannot snuff out or reduced to a sentence between two full stops. The gift of an eternal life that promises a future with the loved ones we have shared this life with. An eternal life that with age does not look like a journey of diminishment but offers something more expansive for our future. If someone could give that gift then we would not be in want.
There is a line in the 23rd Psalm that sounds old fashioned but is eternally relevant. The person who has God as his shepherd can say “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” It’s a great line because it speak of a shepherd who takes his people “through” death such that you are not left there. It speaks of a shepherd who reduces death to a “shadow”. You may encounter death but only be touched by its shadow. And the Psalmist says this is the gift the shepherd offers the whole world. It was Jesus who said “I am the good shepherd and I lay down my life for the sheep.” He said, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.” The certainty of death robs us of so much and corrupt us in so many ways but what a gift life is, suitable for all the world. And what a giver is the one who can reduce death to a shadow and not abandon us to it.
We know this is not just “pie in the sky when I die” stuff because it offers us comfort, hope, perspective now. But having said that, it is pie in the sky when I die and that’s a comfort for our future. It’s a magnificent gift but in truth the gift is more than life, it’s the gift of being in the care of God who gives life. But to receive such a gift requires faith. Faith is simply another word for trust.
Like all things not seen or yet to be experienced, any gift of life beyond death must be received by faith. Of course if we rubbish faith then the future holds no hope. The things we hope for are always unseen and require us to live by faith toward them.
Imagine life without faith. If you can’t put faith in the chair you sit on, you will stand forever.
If you can’t put faith in another person, you will forever be alone. If you can’t find faith in yourself then life will forever lack accomplishment. And if you can’t put faith in God then death has no answer. But faith is not blind when we consider an eternal future because faith is built on the durability and dependability of the past actions of the shepherd. When promises made in the past prove reliable faith finds confidence in future promise. History records again and again that Jesus Christ who died for us and rose from the dead has led, guided and refreshed the souls of so many during this great and sometimes grievous journey we called life.
With such a Shepherd I am not surprised the 23rd Psalm ends like this, Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.