by Patrick Lafferty
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Peter 1:3–5
A mere seventy-five feet separates them. You can see one from the other without straining your eyes. Any duffer can hit a pitching-wedge shot from the sidewalk of one to the sidewalk of the other with only the slightest effort.
Seventy-five feet is all that separates the property line of NorthPark Mall from the property line of Sparkman-Hillcrest Cemetery.
It’s a fascinating juxtaposition of the purpose of each space, and of the underlying theme each space suggests.
Walk the bright, alluring, seasonally changing corridors of NorthPark and you see one persuasive message: Real life is for sale and it is found here; life is a vapor, so get all you can.
Amble through the serene, manicured spaces of Sparkman-Hillcrest, and the place intones just as persuasively: All human striving is for naught; purpose, meaning, and significance are all human contrivances; all persons and plans will one day be snuffed out, often unexpectedly and at the height of their activity.
Each place has its own stark message—calling out for us to give heed, and trying to shout down the other.
It is only the gospel—the “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” of which Peter speaks in verse 4—that equips you to walk the acreage of either property without being overcome by its slanted, unremitting message.
Without the gospel, your heart will turn NorthPark’s wares into something far too alluring. How many times have you made a purchase there or elsewhere motivated by a kind of emptiness in your own heart? And how long was it before that very purchase lost the capacity to change your world like you thought it might? In such moments, do we not share John’s sobering discovery in C. S. Lewis’s A Pilgrim’s Regress: “If [this] is what I wanted, why am I so disappointed when I get it?” It’s the gospel that reminds us what our hearts really long for, but what cannot be purchased.
Unbridled indulgence is not the only thing the gospel keeps us from, though.
Without the gospel, the sorrowful sidewalks of Sparkman-Hillcrest can easily overwhelm us with a sense that life is too uncertain to risk anything for—too random in its distribution of tragedy to warrant any hope in anything. Has death ever burdened you so deeply that all activities seemed meaningless (or, ironically, has it sent you scrambling to NorthPark more often to avoid thinking about the implications of your finitude)? It’s the gospel that keeps the reality of our deaths from siphoning away the vigor to face our lives.
The gospel has something significant to say whether you find yourself at NorthPark or Sparkman-Hillcrest. What’s it saying to you when you’re at either place?