A Great Cloud of Witnesses
Giusto de’ Menabuoi (Italian, ca. 1320–1391), Paradise, ca. 1378. Dome fresco, Padua Baptistery, Italy.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
Forgive my failure to post a devotional reflection during the past couple of weeks! Every summer, I score responses on the AP U.S. History exam along with other history professors and instructors across the country. We started on June 1st and finished yesterday, June 13th. Altogether nearly 3 million responses were scored; I accounted for 3598 of those responses during 103 hours of work—viewing scanned, handwritten answers sent to my computer over and over again. How I wish penmanship was still being taught in elementary schools! The bottom line was that my mind turned to mush and all I could think about was African American history and Native American history—the two subject areas from which the questions I scored were drawn.
Sometimes when my mind gets mushy, my heart gets sentimental. I was thinking the other day of all of the friends I have had over the years with whom I no longer enjoy any sort of consistent contact. I miss them! I think one of the chronological hazards of getting older is that the number of people who fall into this category accumulates dramatically. Not to mention all of those students I tried to serve and encourage during 23 years of ministry on Fort Wayne campuses! I used to wish I could maintain all of those friendships with the same degree of interaction and communication as in the past. I have accepted that this effort isn’t really possible practically and that, as our lives change, so do our relationships.
Still, for me, all of these people have been witnesses to the love of God and to the Truth of His Word and ways. When a lawyer calls a witness to the stand during a court trial, they swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, with God’s help. In reality, no one offers a perfect testimony—there are always biases and errors in perspective that cloud the attempt to testify to the truth objectively. Likewise, we all testify to God’s Truth in the way that we live—either reflecting that Truth imperfectly as if through a mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12) or by demonstrating the power and reality of that Truth by resisting it. The Truth of God’s Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ, exists outside of us and remains the Truth whether we accept it or not. Sadly, this truth about Truth contradicts what most people believe about it; they think that Truth is relative to what they affirm or declare. And when we live like that, the world around us runs amuck. Just take a look around right now.
I have met many beautiful people in my life in whom I have caught a glimpse of Jesus. Often, they have paid the price of brokenness and pain to be channels of His grace and presence. They don’t bend to cultural influences and they embrace a worldview that might seem hopelessly out of step to many of the folks they meet. They don’t play politics and they don’t identify with interest groups. They just don’t belong here. That’s what the writer of Hebrews, Paul maybe, said about them. These witnesses are looking for a different place beyond the one in which they now live, they are “longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” Because their affections transcend this world, God is so very proud of them; He is, right this minute, preparing a spot in His house for them. (Hebrews 11:14-16) Truly, this world, with all of its selfishness, arrogance and independence, is “not worthy of them.” (Hebrews 11:38)
So, I have decided not to try to hold onto my “great cloud of witnesses.” Instead, I want to thank God for each moment that I have and have had with all of you (them) and live in that moment—not worrying about the future or trying to recreate the past. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses as Hebrews 12:1-2 declares; we do not possess them. I want the memories of and the moments with the precious people I have known to point me in the direction of the wisdom of those verses: don’t let past failures and preoccupations knock me off stride. Keep running without distraction toward the Jesus who inspired their faith and loved me through them.
Heavenly Father, life and love are not a game of solitaire. You have given us others as an expression of Your love for us. We are incredibly grateful! We see the wisdom and power of Your Truth not just in our own life experiences but in the interactions we have with those You have led into our lives. Help us to grasp what You want us to learn through them and cause us to encourage and serve them in the process. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.