I think a small number of people ask big questions.
Lately I’ve been attempting to figure out what would constitute a life of purpose, doing anything in order to leave a lasting mark on the world. There is almost nothing you can do which will be remembered in 100 years.
Do you remember your great-great grandparents? Have you given them much thought lately? I’m pretty sure mine came to the USA from France, but I’m not sure. The Renaults are long gone and there’s a good chance they will never be thought of again.
I recently heard it put this way: Everyone dies twice. The day your heart stops beating, and the last day anyone ever says your name.
Ultra-famous YouTuber Logan Paul has millions of followers—over 30 million worldwide—and an interesting slogan.
“Dent the universe.”
He wants his legacy to be one of debauchery, wild fun, and “doing it differently.” When I watched his videos, I couldn’t help but think how myopic his perspective is. Sure, he’s a big deal right now. Everyone is talking about him…right now. And he has all the money, fame, cars, and girls he could ever want…
but what about in 100 years? Will Paul still be making headlines from the grave? Will his grandchildren even know who he was? Will his colloquial ‘denting of the universe’ have been anything more than a hyped-up line to peddle printed hoodies to middle schoolers?
It seems like this sentiment has been chanted before from the pages of Ecclesiastes: “No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them” (1:11) and again in chapter 9, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.”
How terrifying it is to realize that we will be forgotten, no matter how grand a stage we currently have or how many followers digitally chase us around the globe. You can be president of the United States and still be forgotten. I mean, we’ve had 45. How many can you name? Give it a few hundred more years. Look at Commodus.
He’s the emperor of Rome most historians point to as signaling the collapse of the empire (which was much more powerful and older than the United States), yet most of us wouldn’t bat an eye at his name, save the few who remember it from the film Gladiator.
You will be forgotten.
So today, I dangled my arm out the window of a bus hurtling through the Guatemalan mountains, soaking in all the fog-capped hills and antique buildings as they whipped by. I was asking myself what the point of it all is; why do I go on existing if the only thing I’m guaranteed is that I’ll be forgotten?
The answer where I tentatively arrived as the tropical palm trees gradually changed into deciduous foliage is this: Affect your generation.
If you’re watching for it, the Bible frequently uses the term ‘generation,’ and I think I’m beginning to understand why. You can’t affect the generation which will live in 2300 AD, but you can affect your own in 2019. In many ways, how we affect this present generation will affect future generations.
Both as a teacher and a pastor, I’ve felt that my impact on the world has been incredibly small. I’ve even falling into envying Logan Paul and his ilk with their massive followings and abundant resources, because I’m only affecting about 40 kids, and most of them aren’t even paying attention.
But which is better: To entertain 30 million kids with obscene antics and terrible morals, or to [try to] lead 40 kids closer to Jesus?
But what about guys like Francis Chan and Tim Keller who write best-selling books and speak to millions of people and lead them closer to Jesus? That’s where it really hurts, but I have to trust something Chan said recently. He prayed that there will be an end to the culture of celebrity pastors and speakers and that the emphasis of church will return to local congregations and small-time pastors.
This is a guy who speaks all over the world to crowds of thousands and he’s wishing for that culture to end, we need to take a cue from him. We need to acknowledge that a lust for millions of followers is really sinful at its core, even if you just want it to lead people to the Lord.
If this desire sounds familiar to you, ask yourself this: If you want a platform so you can ‘lead people to Christ’ with it, how many people in your own life have you led closer to Christ? If you have influence over, say, 10 people and you’re half-heartedly discipling them because there aren’t that many of them, why the hell would God trust you with 10,000?
“He who can be trusted with little can be trusted with much.” -Jesus
This line of thinking has helped me refine my purpose in two main ways: In time and in scale.
In time, because no matter how hard I try, I’ll be forgotten soon. And in scale, because as long as I’m trying to do the best with what God has given me now—a following of 40 kids or 40 million kids—I’ll be alright.
I can’t help but feel a certain sort of rage at the temporal nature of this world, but there’s also nothing I can do about it.
This morning I woke up in paradise, but I left to return to polluted Quetzaltenango. All good things will end, but so will the bad. So will all your work and effort. So will all your pride and the things you’re most proud of.
There’s a dog next to me in this cafe and I’m looking at him while writing this piece and trying to swallow the fact that he doesn’t know he’s going to die. He also doesn’t fret about his purpose until then. Maybe that’s why we can justify killing animals: because they are largely unaware of their own existence and are driven by their stomachs. It’s only us humans who are plagued by awareness.
I’m reaching into my shallow well of hope in order to end this post. I’m trusting that even though my name will soon be absent from the lips of future generations, it won’t slip the mind of the Almighty. I’m trusting that what I will inherit in the High Country will surpass this fleeting notion of remembrance.
In essence, I guess there has been only one human who has done anything worthy of remembrance. Perhaps that’s why, on the night He was betrayed, Jesus said to take the bread and wine in remembrance of Him.
Even if we neglected our sacraments worldwide, He wouldn’t be erased from the history books.
He is He who cannot be forgotten.
Jesus, the ugly carpenter from Nazareth who crapped Himself in the manger also holds together the atomic fabric of the universe and actively restores all things. Jesus, the pulp of a body who hung on a cross is the dark energy supergluing the mist of molecules together, allowing us to go on existing.
I think it doesn’t matter if my name is forgotten in a few years, as long as His isn’t.
And it won’t be.
The bigger risk is that we forget Him.