Half the Distance

Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.
~ Psalm 119:136

A modern fable and the interpretation thereof

Theoretical physicist, Grayson Eccles, BS, MS, PhD, solely occupied a table for two at his favorite restaurant. At the late hour he preferred, the dining room was quiet and sparsely populated. He cut a portion from his filet mignon and winced at the clatter of plates and knives and forks, which interrupted his reverie. The diner opposite Eccles had a white-knuckle grip on the circular table in front of him with both hands. Eccles was mentally noting the diner’s pallor when commotion set to.

“We need a doctor!” Lots of people were rushing about and talking at once, but that cry at least was clear. If Eccles had not understood it, it was repeated sufficiently so he could make it out. “Hey!” Eccles turned his head as his waiter nearly perched on his left shoulder. “Aren’t you a doctor?” Eccles sighed. “I am not that kind of doctor.” The waiter moved closer, though Eccles didn’t think that was possible and concluded the waiter must be attempting to resolve the dichotomy paradox.

“I think this guy’s choking! Don’t you know the Heimlich?” Eccles thought about reaching for the glass of wine on his table, but rather drummed his fingers. “Sir, I am in the unbroken line of intellectual investigators traced back to the Copernican Revolution. If you wish to know about Descartes, Newton, Lagrange, or Einstein, I will happily oblige. If you’re trying to work out an understanding of thermodynamics, general or special relativity, or quantum mechanics, you could not apply to a better man for assistance. While Dr. Henry Heimlich was a commendable researcher and accomplished thoracic surgeon, I am not studied in his maneuver.”

A deathly still descended on the room. The waiter looked up at the victim, no longer struggling. EMTs poured through the doors and knew they were too late. They set about their solemn work. Eccles looked at the remains of his steak with pursed lips. He finished off his wine and sat the glass down. He glanced at his bill, mentally calculated 18%, laid down his cash, and left to go home. The waiter, as he later recounted the events of the evening, said Eccles went through door, putting on his hat, and muttering something about “half the distance.”

What meaneth this?

It is natural to be disgusted or angry with the Eccles character. How could he sit nearby, eating and drinking, while a man choked to death? How could he return home in his own cloud of abstract thought without being affected by what had just happened? It’s unthinkable, but do we well to be angry? In Eccles’ defense, he was a brilliant physicist. He was a man engaged daily in the great work of life. He had no medical training—not even a simple class in CPR. Staying consistent with the story, had he stood up and rushed over to the man, he would not have been able to save his life.

You recognize I have a point here. We can hardly fault the man for not saving someone’s life when it was not possible for him to do so. But…But, though he was not able to save the man had he tried, his indifference to the man’s suffering and death are inexcusable. Aside from the interruption from the waiter, his evening went on much the same it would have if the man had not choked. This is reprehensible. How could he simply not care?

Thou art the man

How can so many Christians be coldly indifferent to the condition of their lost family, friends, and neighbors? How can they go on about life while the lost are dying around them? Many Christians are scrupulous concerning abstract points of theology and distinctive doctrinal formulations, but are unmoved by the lost around them. We have all heard the excuses for indifference.

“I can’t save anybody. God does the saving.”
“No use pleading with sinners to come to Christ.”
“God’s going to save his elect regardless of what I do or don’t do.”
“Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine.”
“You will be eaten by cannibals!”

It is absolutely true that we cannot save anyone else. We cannot even save ourselves. However, to disobey the commands to evangelize and to be without compassion for the lost is to not follow or be like Jesus. Jesus was moved with compassion for the lost and wept over the lost (Mark 1:41; 6:34; Luke 7:12-13; 19:41-42). Paul was similarly moved concerning his lost kinsman (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). Paul plead with sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Even in the Old Testament we find a compassionate call to the lost (Isaiah 55:1-7; 65:2; Jeremiah 31:18-20). God has revealed himself as a God of wrath but also of mercy. Because he is so great in mercy, sinners are bid to come to him (Psalm 51:1; 130:7; 1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Do not blame doctrine for indifference. We could not produce a sounder theologian than Paul, or even Jesus himself, yet they both were moved with compassion toward the lost. Brother pastors and preachers, have we misplaced the emphases in our preaching such that we have lost Gospel-centeredness, and Christ-centeredness, producing a people with calloused indifference toward the lost and dying world? If so, we are actually leading people away from following Jesus and becoming more like Christ. Brothers, we must repent of such disobedience and misleading of God’s sheep and return to knowing nothing but Christ crucified and the preaching that manifests Christ in the sight of all (1 Corinthians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

May God break our hearts and loose our tears over those who go on in unbelief. Let us never sit coolly by, eating and drinking, while thinking abstractly with people dying around us. And as far as our moral fable is concerned, we have only covered half the distance.

About Jeff Short