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Wednesday Word: Answers to Life Questions

January 13, 2021 | Jay T. Smith

I Just Don’t Know

If you are reading this post, I want you to know that I am probably in a hospital bed in Bozeman, Montana. Yesterday I would have had surgery, and my hospital physical therapist is trying to get me to walk. I am not worried; indeed, I am grateful. After living in pain for about 10 years, I will be glad to be able to take hikes, ride my bike, swim, and just not experience as much pain.

However, it is in events such as these—being under deep anesthesia for a long, complex surgery—that we ask the existential questions: “Have I lived a ‘good’ life?,” “If I ‘pass’, will my passing bring grief to my family?,” “If I pass, will people remember me?,” “What really matters in life, and did I live accordingly?,” and, assuming I survive, “How will I live the rest of my life?”.

I just don’t know. I just don’t know how to measure, or even how to articulate answers to these questions. I don’t know if it even matters that I don’t know. I think most people hope that they have lived a “good” life and that they will be remembered. I think, however, that these are the wrong set of questions; a matter of “too little, too late.” Why waste energy and time worrying about these questions? These are questions asked out of fear.

What I Do Know

I believe that in times like these, we focus our gaze of fiercest love and gentle words of kindness towards our Creator, and those around us—family, friends, nurses, nursing aids, and doctors. Being thankful for the life we have and sharing love in the most difficult of circumstances is a sign of our truest nature—the nature that most emulates our Creator. As Christians, we need to be reminded sometimes that our true nature is love, not anger, impatience, spite, hate, or fear. Our true attitude toward others is “L.I.A.”—love in action: mercy, forgiveness, care, healing, peace, and joy. This attitude is not limited to Christians, but it sure helps sometimes to know that God has your back.

I think everyone knows “the fierce gaze of love” that I reference. This is not a gaze of lust or desire, but a gaze of compassion and joy, a gaze of selflessness. Years ago, the songwriter Burt Bacharach penned a song titled, “The Look of Love.” In the context of a James Bond movie, the look he was going for was one of desire, but that’s not the fierce gaze of love. In the Greco-Roman world, Jesus used the word “agape” for love. It was a word the Greeks reserved for the gods. Agape is the highest form of love, out of the reach for humans. But in Christ, we can love as God loves.

What a turn of events. In the hospital. In pain. Knowing that there is always a small chance of not surviving. And I’m telling you to love, to be kind. Don’t feel sorry for yourself or experience fear. But let God love through you in kindness and the fierce gaze of love. Every one of us needs to experience the fierce gaze of love. It means you are forgiven. It means you are appreciated. It means you can count on me. It means you are loved unconditionally. So, lying on my hospital bed, I want you to remember me as someone who loved you unconditionally—without reservation or requirement—exactly for who you are. If you can sense that fierce gaze of love, then you not only saw my heart, you saw my Father’s as well. That, I know.

“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (Gal 5:14 NASB95).

Jay T. Smith

President and Bridger Professor of Theology & Ethics

Dr. Jay Smith leads the Yellowstone Theological Institute as its president. Dr. Smith has served as minister of youth, music and as senior […]

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