I was watching two dead people. What I was actually doing was watching a movie. Though fairly recent, it was made long enough ago that things had changed drastically in the meantime in the real world. Two of the stars in that movie no longer were as they were. One was the child star of the movie, still famous today. I won’t give her name, but if I did, I am sure most of you would recognize it instantly. The other was the woman who played her mother–in real life, a sweet person who enjoyed life but whose life was unexpectedly ended in a freak accident.
In real life, that cute, sweet child star had long since grown up and now is always in the news for her horrible behavior and lawlessness. That innocent child of a make-believe world is dead, replaced by a woman of this real world where things are not always as gentle as in such movies. The sweet woman who had played her mother, however, was literally dead, killed in that freak accident. In a sense, both of them no longer exist. I was watching two dead people. I knew that I was watching a beautiful make-believe world, while the real world that one of them and I lived in was much sadder and more sorrowful.
That strange feeling only increased in intensity as I then watched the “behind-the-scenes” segment of that DVD. There I saw the off-camera, on-location activities of that sweet girl and her obvious thrill at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity she was experiencing in starring in a movie at such a young age. She was exuberant, unabashed in her happiness and outgoing manner. Life was good. she was a child, and she was enjoying the goodness of childhood to the hilt. Nothing wrong with that. But now, years having passed since the filming of that movie in which she starred, all that innocence is gone and she has been in and out of jail and is notorious for her anti-social antics and illegal activities.
So it was a bittersweet experience seeing her back in those innocent days of childhood, enjoying life the way it should be enjoyed instead of the false, harmful way so-called adults sometimes think it must be done. What had happened to ruin it all? Why had she thrown away all that wonderful fun and goodness for her present cheap and disgraceful lifestyle? I could easily see the disheartening difference between who she had been and who she had become. Could she not see the same thing?
Perhaps you have noticed it too. Actually, who can help but notice how unaware so many people are of how utterly serious and short life is? It breaks my heart to see so many wasting their lives on tawdry and meaningless trinkets, while missing out on the depths of love and meaningfulness that could be theirs in Christ–the very thing they are searching for in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways. Such a statement is not meant to imply a superior attitude by myself, only a simple acknowledgment of an increasingly recognizable trait in so many as I get older. Any such insight within me is not because of anything I possess but because I freely accept this gift from the hand of God: the ability to see others (at least sometimes) as he sees them.
“For who makes you different? And what do you have that you didn’t receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7 WEB).
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer” (2 Cor. 5:16 NIV).
I no longer see people or Christ as I once did. As God has continued to mature me in my relationship with him, I continue to grow in my ability to see others as he does. Like Paul, I have to say that I am not perfect in this, only better than I was in the past. And what I see is a heart-rending picture of how little awareness most people have of the precious nature of the gift of life they have been given. Oh, they may be aware that life is precious, but by that they mean existence, that they exist, not that they live that fullness that God intends for us to have.
God describes this lack of awareness in some poignant words that have struck my heart with their power each time I read them in his Word. He was speaking with Jonah, who had become selfishly upset with God because God wasn’t making things happen to others the way Jonah wanted them to happen. Jonah wanted the people of Ninevah to experience the very wrath of God which he, Jonah, had warned them about. But he knew that God was gracious, and because they had repented of their evil, he suspected that God was going to completely withdraw his threat of punishment for their sins.
As he heatedly argued with God, Jonah had a hard heart, unaware that he himself had been just like the people God was sparing, in that he too had tried to run away from God and from doing as he had commanded him. He was just as guilty as they. Nevertheless, he wanted God to pour out his wrath on them, or else, he thought, he would look like a fool for having preached coming wrath and judgment upon the people.
But God took an entirely different stance because he had a different heart than Jonah. Jonah looked out over the city of masses of people and saw only people deserving of God’s punishment. God looked out and saw people so unaware of what life was all about that he described them this way:
“But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11 NIV).
“People who cannot tell their right hand from their left . . .” That is the phrase that has so touched my heart. For it perfectly describes so many in this world. They do not know what life is all about (though they think they do). They are so lost and know so little about why they are here that it can truly be said that they do not know their right hand from their left. They do not know Him who is Life itself, Jesus Christ. And so they waste this one, precious, so-short life pursuing things that are worthless and die without knowledge.
“If they do not listen, they will perish by the sword and die without knowledge” (Job 36:12 NIV).
How sad, how tragic, how utterly heart wrenching, to not listen when God speaks to their heart about how to live life.
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it'” (Is. 30:21 NIV).
God speaks in myriad ways to all in this life, but so few listen. They are too caught up in having fun, seeking and enjoying the pleasure of the moment instead of looking to eternal pleasures at God’s right hand.
“You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Ps. 16:11 NIV).
As I watched that child dance around with other children in those off-scene moments of filming that movie, moments of childhood joy and happiness, and heard the giggles and laughter, the happiness I felt was tinged with sadness because I knew that I was looking at what had been with eyes that had seen what would be. Gone, the real laughter of childhood, replaced by the empty laughter of callused age. Gone, the innocence of youth, replaced by cynicism and sin. Then I knew at least something of how Jesus felt when he saw the crowds:
“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (Mk. 6:34 NIV).
Sheep without a shepherd, people who do not know their right hand from their left. But it is one thing simply to bemoan this sad and tragic state of affairs; it is another to do something about it. But what can we do? What is to be done? Jesus has told us what to do about it: We are to proclaim the good news of the gospel to these lost sheep, to those who do not know their right hand from their left. We are to pray for them, make friends with them so that they can see the fulness of His life in us and want it for themselves. Then, when they have embraced Him who is true life indeed, they will know their right hand from their left and join us in fellowship with him who is our life, Jesus Christ.