“Only in God is there an ultimate loyalty that does not breed injustice and cruelty, and a meaning from which nothing on heaven and earth can separate us.” Gilky Langdon
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, My Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:5
In the epilogue of Tim Keller’s Book, Making Sense of God, he tells the story of a well-educated man by the name of Langdon Gilky. Gilky was a humanist who believed mankind could advance on the basis of his reason and goodness alone. That all changed while he was confined in Japanese internment camp in China. He was born into the family of faculty members of the University of Chicago. He was educated in the finest institutions, first the University of Chicago Laboratory School, and then later Harvard University, where he graduated magna cum laude with a major in philosophy. After his graduation in 1939, he taught English at a university in China. When the Japanese overran his region, he was put in an internment compound in the Shantung Province. Later he described his experience there in the book, Shangtung Compound.
Before his internment, Gilky not only believed that the “rationality and goodness” of mankind could and would solve life’s most pressing problems, he also saw that religion was “merely a matter of personal taste, of temperament, essential only if one wants it.” He believed that “secularity, with its techniques, its courage, and it idealism” was quite able to create a full human life without religion. Then, he entered the Shantung Compound.
A new reality was forced upon him by the inhumane conditions that the prisoners endured. He reported that instead of solving problems and working together as good and rational people, selfishness came to the fore as fights and stealing were common. Each person fought for what they wanted at the expense of the other prisoners. He came to see that the issue was not a matter of techniques but a matter of character. And, this problem was not restricted to the lower and less educated ones, it infected missionaries and priests in their midst as well.
His eyes were opened to a new reality: “I began to see that without moral health, a community is as helpless and lost as it is without material supplies.” It seemed self-sacrifice was impossible when men were faced with such demanding and threatening conditions. Each person naturally sought his or her own welfare at the expense of others. Gradually he came to this conclusion: Man needed God. He wrote, “Only in God is there an ultimate loyalty that does not breed injustice and cruelty, and a meaning from which nothing on heaven and earth can separate us.”
The prime reason for his radical conversion was the influence of one man who lived a radically different life among the prisoners. Gilky made this statement about this man: “It is rare indeed when a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.” More than anyone else, he was overflowing with humor, love of life, sacrificial kindness for other and had inward peace. He took it upon himself to minister to the teens in the camp, cooking for them, supervising their sports, and poured his life into them. The name of this man will be familiar to most of us. It was missionary Eric Liddell, the subject of the movie Chariot’s of Fire. The same devotion to Christ that would cause him to forsake Olympic glory overflowed in love for others in the midst of the worst conditions. When he died suddenly of a brain tumor, the entire camp was stunned.
I have an interesting story to add. When my friend Bracy Ball was traveling through Singapore on his way to India, he had the fortune to gain an audience with Hudson Taylor III, the great grandson of Hudson Taylor, the saintly pioneer missionary to inland China. He was then the director of Oversees Mission Fellowship. In their conversations, Taylor told Bracy about his time in a Japanese internment camp. His parents, who were missionaries to China when the Japanese invaded, were put into the camp with the rest of the family. He confessed, that at that time he was a rebel, not really interested in following the Lord with all of his heart. But, one man in the camp took an interest in him, having Bible studies, providing sports activities for him and his friends; just showing the love of Jesus in a dark and terrible place. Taylor identified the man as “Uncle Eric.” That’s right. The same man who impacted Gilky for God did the same for Hudson Taylor III. How awesome is that!
What made the difference? Why was Eric Liddell so radically different and so powerfully influential in every situation of life? The answer is as simple as it is profound: He put his hope in God. His hope was not in Olympic fame or comfortable circumstances or safe environments or trouble free conditions. It was a hope that rested in the faithfulness of God, far above the passing things of this world, safe in the unchangeable and unstoppable and eternal promises of heaven. Like the psalmist, he knew that the troubles of this life could not keep him from his highest goal and passion: praising Him, our Savior and our God.
Let me add one more story. Last week I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral of a grandmother who lived to be 96 years old, in the village of Chiole. This funeral was one of the largest congregations I have ever spoken to. The people were in the field, in the bushes, behind trees and in the gullies. I estimate that over 2000 people were in attendance. Dignitaries, chiefs, government officials, and church leaders, many of whom travelled from all over Malawi and even other countries, assembled to honor this precious servant of God.
Although a widow at a young age, with several children and siblings to care for, she became a missionary and church planter, founding several churches in the Ntcheu area. Her Sunday School classes and Bible studies are still remembered by her now adult students, as the instrument God used to birth their faith and their love for Jesus. Her powerful influence can be measured by the thousands who made great effort to attend her memorial service.
She had no money. She had no university degree. She held no important position. She came from an insignificant village. So, what was the source of her unbelievable influence? It was the same as Eric Liddell’s. She put her hope in God. The love of money was not her passion. The applause of men was not her goal. Happiness in this life was not her end. Her hope in God set the direction of her life. She would yet joyfully and eternally praise him then, and that was more than enough for now.
C. S. Lewis once wrote: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.” This is the essence of hope in God. We really believe that no matter what we go through here, it does not matter compared to the glory that awaits us there. Life is short. Heaven is long. Christ is there. The full weight of those truths must rest upon our living. And, for that to happen, we must pray like the psalmist did, constantly (Psalm 119:18,27,36,49,74,116,175). Whether we are a world class athlete, or university educated professor, or a widow living in the poor villages of Malawi, the Spirit must make these promises a reality that drives our daily lives.
So I pray, “Lord, help me to live the rest of my days with the same kind of hope-driven abandonment that these grace-shaped servants did, so that countless numbers of people will be influenced to joyfully praise Jesus now, in the hope that they will eternally praise Jesus then.” Amen.