Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Something That Doesn't Change

Beginning a new year causes thoughtful people to reflect on the past and scan the horizon of the future in search of something stable -- even permanent. Believing we will find something more dependable in the future than we have known in the past represents the triumph of hope over experience. But, as the poet, Alexander Pope, hath said, "Hope springs eternal". Thank God! What is it we really want? If given the opportunity to choose, would we know what to ask for?

Here I am reminded of a story a colleague, Eric Ritz, told, which he said was carried in "Newsweek" magazine. It was a joke the Russians were telling on themselves after the "Cold War."

Ivan Ivanovich goes to the OVIR, the Soviet Visa Office, and asks for permission to emigrate. "Certainly, comrade," says the OVIR officer, "you now have that right. Where would you like to go? Israel?" " No," says Ivan, "they could soon have another Middle East war." "How about the United States of America, Ivan?" "No", says Ivan, "there is too much unemployment and drug abuse there." "How about Italy?" "No, they have the Mafia." "Tell you what, comrade," says the officer, "here is the globe. Study it and pick a country to which you would like to go and let me know." Ivan looks at the globe, turns it around several times, and studies it for a long time. Finally, he turns and asks the officer, "HAVE YOU GOT ANOTHER GLOBE?"

Legend has it that author Lloyd C. Douglas used to visit an old man who gave violin lessons. He liked the man because he had a kind of homey wisdom which was refreshing. One dreary morning Douglas walked in and said: "Well, what's the good news today?" Without a word the old man put his violin down and walked over to a tuning fork suspended from a cord and struck it a smart blow. As the sound resonated in the room, he said to Douglas: "That, my friend, is the good news for today. It is the musical note 'A'. It was 'A' all day yesterday. It will be 'A' next week and it will still be 'A' a thousand years from now."

In a world of continuous change, it is encouraging to find something that is permanent. You do not have to be very old to be able to look back down the road from which you came and find once meaningful relationships which are now broken or gone. There are people who once touched our lives with grace who are no longer in sight. We know from experience that many of the people who grace our lives today will not be there tomorrow or next year, or perhaps, ever again. They will go away or we will go away, or life will change in such ways as to make it impossible for that relationship to be graced with permanence.

We all know friends from the past who have been lost to all sorts of distance; and we remember some who just disappeared slowly and we don't know why. We wonder if it was something we carelessly said or did without realizing what we were doing at the time. Garrison Keillor, in his book, "Lake Wobegon Days," struggled with this issue as he asked some unnamed friend who had dropped out of sight, "Why don't I see you anymore? Did I disappoint you? Did you call one night to say you were in trouble and hear a tone in my voice which made you say you were just fine?"

There is so much in and about life that forces us to come to terms with temporariness, and yet deep in our souls we have a penchant for something permanent. What can we count on for stability in a world where nothing seems to stay the same? Everything and everybody keeps changing, and we change too.

The truth is there is nothing permanent in this world except the intangible. Everything you can see or touch is subject to the maddening law of change. But, there is an encouraging word. The 13th chapter of First Corinthians Paul gives a lengthy list of things that will ultimately disappear. Some of them are rather important. This lofty recitation of things that will disappear ends with this sentence: "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." In truth, even two of these important graces are temporal: faith and hope. They are needed only in this present life. In the world to come faith will become knowledge and hope will be realized. Only love will remain forever. Love is the atmosphere of heaven and the nature of God.

If love is the mood and motive of your life; then, when the things of this world are swept away, you will find yourself in the kingdom of the permanent. You can bet your life on that.