During my last few months of grad school, I took extra time to read and reflect on the big transition ahead. That was over 25 years ago, and one book from that time continues to speak to me: Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan.
Yes, the language is not easy for those who don't enjoy challenging sentence formats and older English --there are modernized versions for the rest of you (ha! ha!)-- but there is something in this book that requires your attention if you want to hold a deeper vision of what the Christian life and direction is all about.
Written while Bunyan was in prison for preaching without a state sanctioned license, the book is a fictional account of one man's journey from life to life. The book's subtitle, "from this world to that which is to come", is rarely used. I picked up a copy of the book because I knew it was a classic, and wondered why so many people owned it and so few actually read the book. The term "progress" intrigued me. What was the pilgrim's progress? Was it more money, more comfort, more friends and influence? How was the pilgrim's progress measured?
The book's subtitle is the answer: "from this world to what which is to come."
There are dozens of summaries of the book all over cyberspace, and I trust you to hunt them down if you wish. The key concept of the book is this: the Christian life is a journey from things as they are to things as they will be -- not only in this world, but in the world to come. The measurement of our success as Christians cannot be made on this side of our eternal experience.
Since those days in the early 1980s, I've read Pilgrim's Progress about three or four times. I've taken it on trips, read it during solitary work lunch breaks, relaxed with it in my backyard or at the park, and retreated with it to my favorite corner chair with a cup of tea, cocoa, or coffee on winter afternoons. From time to time, someone at work would ask me about why I was reading it, or what the title meant. The conversation that followed was a chance to share life and faith experience.
It's no longer very politically correct to talk about the afterlife, and I've visited churches where no one ever mentions heaven or hell because it seems a little mean-spirited to talk about what may happen after we die. To me, it seems a little mean-spirited not to talk about our eternal natures, the fact that our spiritual selves are our truest selves, and that it is God Himself, from His eternal throne, who judges the effectiveness of our lives and testimonies and rewards us accordingly--not only in this world, but in the world to come.
With all of the uncertainly, frailty, and frustration of this world, it's tempting to forget we are on a journey---not just a journey to our next "spiritual victory"--but a journey from this world to the world to come. It is only there that final accountings of greatness, service, love, and faithfulness will be fully, completely, and fairly judged. I don't have a true picture of the worthiness of my work. I won't have that picture in this life.
Bunyan's story reminds me the keep the long view: I am on a journey from this world to that which is to come.