A few years ago I was preparing to teach through Paul’s letter to the Roman church and stumbled onto the story of Martin Luther’s “Black Cloister” moment of salvation. (when he read Romans 1:16-17) I was fascinated that a monk could teach for years and then upon reading a relatively unknown and general verse could have his life changed forever. I read his biography and then became hooked on the conversion stories of some of history’s heroes. I read a biography on Charles Spurgeon and was blown away by how he was used by God in a critical moment in history. Then it happened. By it, I mean the publishing of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. If I had not caught the disease yet, I had a full blown case of biographical intrigue.
I broke away from the illness so as to try and somehow contain it, but this year the symptoms returned and there was no stopping my curiosity. I have now read biographies on John Wyclif, Adoniram Judson, William Wilberforce, George W. Bush (autobiography), and now C.S. Lewis (recently written by Alister McGrath). I now have the autobiography of George Whitefield on my bookshelf staring at me. It has sensed my weakness. Can anyone else sympathize with my condition?
This binge has been very eye opening. Here are some of the things that I have learned/observed in this time:
1. Every person that is regarded with heroic status has human baggage packed away in the closet. It is easy for me to place men and women in such high places of esteem that they seem saintly. In every case though, I feel like I have met real people who have simply been blessed with moments of grace by God to accomplish great things. They all had real struggles, sins, and issues that somehow make me feel like I still stand a chance to make a monumental mark in history because my failings are in good company.
2. The moments in history that define those who I read about were not regarded as great in the time that they occurred. There were some who applauded the accomplishments, but intense struggle was encountered in almost every circumstance. What we now see as heroic was once regarded as foolish. This gives me great perspective to view the “here and now” with humility and perseverance.
3. Hindsight is usually 20/20. It is easy to look back into history and see the glaring problems with things that are believed or done. Evaluating the sum of a person’s life will reveal blind spots and stains. I find myself thinking “they were great until they did that or until they said that.” The fact is that we stand today on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. One of my favorite professors has once said that we should approach history with humility because of this very fact. Instead of judging the problems we find we should be grateful for the mistakes that they have made along with the victories that they have won. We inherit both for either warning or encouragement.
4. I see my story through the lens of theirs. By seeing the providential events in the life story of others I am able to identify moments in my own life that carry much meaning and value. What I mean by this is that I become aware of how some pivotal moments in my life will affect my future. The results of my decisions are yet to be seen. The importance of my obedience to God today will affect moments throughout the rest of my life.
I don’t think that I will recover from this condition so I will make due by finding more good life stories to dive into. I feel somewhat connected to those that I read about. One day we will be connected in eternal worship and I look forward to that day. For now, I will continue to connect with them through the stories of their lives while moving forward in humility and obedience in mine.
Obedience is mine. The Results are His.