Without a Trace

Without a Trace, a CBS television series that ran from Sept. 2002 – May 2009, was built around the FBI Missing Persons Unit in NYC. The series focused on the drama surrounding the loved ones of the missing person. Episodes ended with information about missing persons in real life – sometimes this information helped lead to the recovery of a missing person.

Today, on the Front Porch Swing, let’s consider the dramatic events that happen when Someone is missing. Up front I want to give credit to two contributing editors in World Magazine, Marvin Olasky and Janie B. Cheaney. Both wrote columns that triggered thoughts for today’s Front Porch.

I subscribe to two magazines: Christianity Today and World. I read with a scissor to cut out (actually I just tear out) articles to file for future reflection or stimulation for a sermon. Marvin Olasky’s article, Running from extinction, published in the April 1, 2017 edition of World creatively deals with the word “nothing.” Cheaney’s article, “The terror of the void”, appeared in the Nov. 11, 2017 edition. Cheaney addresses the definition of evil. Both articles address a void in our culture that may help explain the spiraling rate of suicide and the irrational violence behind mass killings that have become norm.

Olasky quotes from Israeli author Hillel Halkin’s book, After One-Hundred-and-Twenty (Princeton, 2016). The 120 is a reference to the age of Moses in Deuteronomy 34:7. In contrast to the indomitable spirit of Moses as he faced death, Halkin admits his own personal struggle with FOMO- the fear of missing out. If we cease to exist after death then nothing, absolutely nothing exists after our short life. Consider Halkin’s own words, “I fear an end to the habits and joys I’ve grown used to… how can a life that has existed cease to exist without a trace (emphasis mine)…?” “Without a trace” that we ever existed. Contemplate those words with me.

Olasky also quotes British writer Julian Barnes, age 71: “People say of death, ‘There’s nothing to be frightened of.’ They say it quickly, casually. Now let’s say it again, slowly, with re-emphasis. ‘There’s NOTHING to be frightened of.’” Read those words again but pause to reflect after the word NOTHING.

Let me say it this way, if there is no God there is NOTHING waiting for us after this life. Nothing I ever did or said will matter. I will have disappeared without a trace. The very thought can be frightening. If there is no hope beyond the grave there is nothing to live for. Nothing to die for.

Could the void in contemporary thinking- this NOTHINGness- help explain the dramatic increase in suicides? Does the belief that we disappear without a trace feed the opioid epidemic? Personally, I believe in the God of the Bible so I find great motivation to live life fully- to seize every fleeting moment- because death comes so quickly. When it’s my turn to exit this world, that is all I have ever known, I do not fear facing NOTHING because I know SOMEONE.

I cling to Jesus’ words, “I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself…” I stake my future on the words of Paul while facing martyrdom, “to be absent from the body is to be present with Christ which is far better.” “Far better” than the NOTHING one faces without God in the equation.

Come to think of it, because God does exist, nobody will face nothingness after death, but everybody will face their Creator and give an account for the short part they played in the drama of life on earth.

Now, before leaving the Front Porch, I draw a few thoughts from Janie Cheaney’s article, “The terror of the void.” Cheaney asks how can we explain the evil of the mass murders taking place all too frequently in our nation? School shootings. The Las Vegas massacre – Stephen Paddock methodically shooting innocent victims from his hotel balcony- victims he didn’t know and had never experienced an offense from. There is no evidence Paddock acted out of a radicalized religious fervor. He just flat out wanted to kill people.

To help determine the possible motive behind these acts of violence let us first ask “what is evil?” So take a stab at defining evil without using the word evil or bad. Difficult, isn’t it?

Augustine, according to Cheaney, said “evil is not a ‘thing’ at all. In fact evil is the absence of good.”

Just like darkness is the absence of light. If God is the source of all that is good and lovely and noble, and if we remove the source of good, what is left? A vacuum. Nature always resists a vacuum. Men can create a vacuum by sucking all the air out of a container and sealing it. But, the smallest sub-microscopic leak in the seal will inevitably yield to atmospheric pressure and fill the vacuum.I wonder if there a void, a nothingness, in the lives of many of these mass murderers? Has that void been filled evil?

I wonder, can we be good without God? I didn’t ask if atheists are incapable of performing good actions. Many act in constructive ways. But, every void seeks to be filled with something. In this case, it is not something missing but Someone.

As America drifts deeper and deeper into the darkness of secular humanism and further and further from the moral values that once anchored us as a culture there is only one thing left to fill the vacuum. And, it isn’t good.

After Adam rejected God’s command every human baby has been born with a void that only God can fill.

I believe more gun laws will never stop the violence in our schools until the void in empty lives has been filled with something good- with Someone.

I appreciate Cheaney’s insight that we, who have discovered and experienced this Someone, have the great privilege of sharing good news with empty souls all around us.