Friday night my wife and I went to see the movie that’s generated as much Oscar-buzz this year as any (up for both best picture and best lead male actor) – 127 Hours. Even if the name of the film isn’t ringing any bells, the account that it’s based on from 2003 probably will. The movie chronicles the survival of Aron Ralston, a Utah hiker who, after slipping and having his arm pinned by a boulder in the Canyonlands National Park in Utah for over 5 days, proceeded to cut off a portion of his arm in order to break free.
Richard Roeper of The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film “Four Stars” and called the film “one of the best of the decade.” Roger Ebert likewise credited lead actor James Franco’s work as a four-star performance and said “127 Hours is like an exercise in conquering the unfilmable.” Going into the movie, I’ll admit, I was a little curious if/how I was going to enjoy watching a guy sit there with his arm stuck for 2 hours. I have to say, it didn’t lack for excitement though. With every decision that Aron makes, you find yourself questioning if you would have done the same thing. And finally (and I’m not giving anything away here if you were alive and awake during 2003), you’re compelled to look inside and wonder if you’d have the same fortitude after 5 days of no food, 2 days of (ahem) drinking your own urine because you ran out of water by day 3, and very minimal stretches of minutes of sleep over those days, to hack off your own arm at the elbow with a dull knife, knowing that even if you somehow manage to break free, you will have to find your way through this canyon, repel 7 stories with one arm, and walk a good 20 miles to find other humans. This is a story of resolve, will to live, and survival in a very compelling, basic form – the ultimate “What Would You Do?” game.
Naturally, my wife and I were discussing it on the way home. She said she thought she would have just laid down to die. I said that at the point he knew his water bottle was empty and that he’d have to consider alternate fluids (and the road he went down for those fluids), that thought alone probably would have killed me. I also couldn’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s words from Philippians chapter 1: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you (Philippians) that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:21-24)
Paul is saying some really important and practical things here that express the mentality of a worn out, faithful Christian. First of all, you have to understand Paul’s harsh history. This is a man who experienced enough physical trauma to warrant Aron Ralston’s sympathy. He had gone through beatings, floggings, stonings, near-death experiences at sea, and several series of imprisonment (that someone can get up from a stoning alone is beyond my comprehension). Point is, the Apostle Paul had no shortage of resolve to live. It was very clear to him that God had called him to a purpose in life and that he was going to carry out that purpose as long as he was alive.
The other side of what Paul says here is that if he had his druthers, he’d die and be in heaven with Jesus this very minute. Paul understood clearly that eternity in the home of God was a paradise that he was desperately awaiting. All Christians want to be regularly thinking about this, hoping for this, looking forward to this.
The problem sometimes arises for Christians, however, when they cannot seem to strike a balance between these concepts – desiring to depart and be with God in perfection & maintaining a sense of purpose in this lifetime. These Christians know that Christ has taken their sins away. They know that their risen and ascended Lord has prepared a place in heaven for them. They know that heaven awaits. But they’re tired of waiting and life seems so pointless and so fruitless and so tedious that it becomes joyless because it has become purposeless (i.e. without a truly worthwhile sense of purpose).
So how does a Christian who vehemently seeks the joy of the “life to come” maintain a true sense of drive and purpose in this life? The same way that the Apostle Paul did – recognize God’s purpose for you: fruitful labor for others.
Now it’d be pretty easy to sit back and think, “Well that’s easy for the “Apostle Paul” to say! He was God’s chosen missionary to the Gentiles. Jesus came and spoke directly to him. He’s the one who went on all these incredible church planting trips in the New Testament. He’s the one who drove out demons and healed the sick. He’s the one responsible for writing an enormous percentage of the New Testament. Of course HE would have purpose from God in life!” Let me ask you this though: do you seriously think that the Apostle Paul had any clue that he was going to play the role in the history of the Christian Church that he has? Not a chance. In fact, when he wrote 1 Corinthians he said, “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4) Notice the humility of a man who could not have imagined how God was about to use him for advancing his kingdom. And the basic point is this: what drove Paul was not the enormous impact that he never could have anticipated his work was going to make. What drove Paul was his purpose in life as a child of God – to touch other lives with the love of Christ.
In all likelihood, you and I will not be sailing off to strange lands and proclaiming the gospel in foreign marketplaces as the Apostle Paul did. That doesn’t mean our purpose in life is any different than Paul’s or any less than Paul’s. If God has you on this planet right now and has made you his child, that means that 1) you can look forward to the joys of heaven, and 2) he has a purpose for you as long as you remain here on earth. That purpose itself is also clear: be Christ to this world, that God’s family may grow. Let your world see your Savior in you. You may not be in a position to preach sermons all the time, but you are in a position to love others, which creates the best possible environment for evangelism, i.e. by invitation, not by intrusion. Not every occasion in life will be a calling to evangelism, but every occasion in life IS an opportunity to express love, respect, and service to others. This is our purpose.
When we attack life with the mindset that technology, organization, money, titles, information access, science, government, prosperity, etc., tweaked slightly perhaps, is all going to solve all of our problems and give us purpose in life, we end up feeling like life is meaningless. And THAT life is. It’s building sandcastle walls so that the ocean won’t drown us – foolish and massive undertakings that temporarily fill voids. We Christians should know better. Those created things can be great blessings, but they simply cannot provide true “meaning” to this world. God has no intentions for us to latch on to temporary blessings. Rather, he wants us to use temporary blessings to help form eternal relationships, relationships bonded by his everlasting love. The sooner a Christian realizes that he/she continues to be on this planet (thus, not yet in heaven) because God still desires to express himself, through him/her, to someone else, the sooner that Christian will recognize his/her purpose in this life. Would it be great to die and be in heaven with God? Not just great….perfect. But as long as I’m here, I’m going to seek to accomplish the purpose for which God still has me here.
To the original thought…..whether a Christian should or should not feel compelled to chop their arm off like Aron Ralston, if needs be, to fulfill their “purpose” in life – this is a question so ripe with variables that I’m not sure it’s wise to even attempt to answer. What we can say, however, is this: by virtue of the fact that you’re here right now, God has a plan and a purpose that he’s trying to accomplish through you. Equip yourself for this purpose by regularly being in the study of God’s Word. And when opportunities in life present themselves (and they’re too numerous to count), fulfill your purpose by unleashing the love of Christ on the world.