The mystery of life

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, June 29, 2016

No matter how well intentioned, we cannot know what is good for someone else. Life is a mystery. The Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard reminds us that life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. He also said that life is lived forward but could only be understood backwards. Kierkegaard was a very wise man.

I will use two stories to illustrate my point.

A poor Chinese farmer had only one broken down workhorse to help him do his work. One day his horse got loose and ran away. His neighbors came around to offer their condolences on his bad luck, yet the farmer would only say, “Good luck, bad luck. It’s hard to say.”

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A week later, the horse returned, bringing with it five young stallions. Again, the neighbors convened to empathize with the farmer, this time to share their delight at his good fortune. Still, the famer simply said, “Good Luck, bad luck. It’s hard to say.”

The farmer’s young nephew was working to tame the wild horses and about a month later, the nephew fell and broke his leg. The neighbors came to commiserate, but still the old farmer would only reply, “Good Luck, bad luck. It’s hard to say.”

Two weeks after the accident, war was declared and every able-bodied young man was conscripted. The old farmer’s nephew was exempted because of the broken leg, so he was not involved in the battle in which every other young man from the village was killed. Good news, bad news. It’s hard to say.

The second illustration is a bishop on an ocean voyage who passed by a small island inhabited by three hermits. The bishop asked for the opportunity to go meet these men, and it was arranged.

As he spoke with the hermits he asked about their prayer practice and they replied, “We pray as we always prayed — you are three, we are three, have mercy on us.”

The bishop was horrified and proceeded to teach them a proper prayer, the Lord’s Prayer as taught in the Gospel of Matthew. It took nearly all day, but as the sun was setting the hermits seemed to have the prayer fairly well memorized and the bishop returned to his ship feeling quite good about himself and his endeavor.

That evening, he awoke to the sound of shouts on the deck. He immediately went topside only to see a golden glow moving toward him across the water. As it got closer, the bishop was amazed to see the three hermits, surrounded by a nearly blinding aura running on top of the water.

“Reverend Father,” they called out, “we are terribly sorry to trouble you, but soon after left we realized that we could not remember precisely the prayer you taught us today. Please return to teach us again.”

The bishop did return, but this time to learn rather than to teach.

This article is an excerpt from Rev. Carter’s book, God Consciousness: A 30 Day Journey to God Centered Thinking.