Truman- “I want to be an explorer, like the Great Magellan!”
Teacher- “Oh, you’re too late! There’s nothing left to explore!”
-The Truman Show
When I was a kid I had this idea that someday I’d move west, found a town, and name it after myself. No kidding, I actually wanted to do that. Kirkville, Kirk City, Kirkton—they sounded amazing at the time, but they sound so silly to me now. I think my reasoning at the time was that I would have to go to the mountains in either Montana or Wyoming, since there is plenty of wide open space out there. Maybe I could find a few acres where no one lived and build away.
Now, my ten-year-old self didn’t have an overactive case of manifest destiny, nor was I obsessed with urbanization or city planning. None of that practical stuff was on my mind. No, what I was thinking about was going somewhere no one else had ever been before. Discovering, exploring, climbing mountains, wrasslin bears—I was going to be like the old heroes of the west. That was how I would become great and leave my mark. And I would see some pretty cool sights while I was doing it.
My family took a vacation to Yellowstone when I was thirteen, and I found out there was nowhere left to explore. Everything had already been discovered. The interstates had chopped the country up into little blocks so anyone could get everywhere. All I could do was visit historic sites and natural parks and stay on the trail and not reach across the fence. Modern day discovery is lame compared to what Lewis and Clark got to do. Even today I’m jealous of those two.
And so I grew up, but I still have this deep desire to discover. I want to be the first person to see something amazing. A couple weeks ago I found some paths that went down to the river two miles from my school. They were beautiful, and it seemed like not that many people knew about them. After all, I’d lived here for a year and a half without discovering them, and I thought I’d been everywhere. Turns out I’d been everywhere but the road that was right under my nose.
At the bottom of the trails, I found three waterfalls of decent height that fell straight down the cliffs that line the river. I was amazed—I hadn’t expected anything this awesome so close to where I live. I went back a couple days later, and I noticed that the falls were coming out of the side of the cliff, and I scrambled my way up the slope until I made it inside the mouth of a large cave the waterfall was flowing out of. It was incredible. And for the first time, I was pretty sure that I’d discovered something that no one (at least, no one I know) had ever seen before.
I told several people about all this when I got back to school. And wouldn’t you know, at least half the people I talked to said, “Oh yeah, I know those trails.” “I love those waterfalls!” “I climbed up to that cave last week!” And I cried a little in my head (Troy Barnes style, for any Community fans out there), “Stop ruining my dreams!”
Sigh. Just like Solomon said, there’s nothing new under the sun.
I went back last weekend. I thought I’d climb all the way up on top of the cliff this time. I mean, how many people have done that? Turns out probably about five people had done it earlier that day based on the footprints I saw in the mud near the top.
Anything new? Nothing?
This summer I’m going to Israel on an archaeological dig. I have to take a class on Biblical archaeology before I go, and I spent all weekend reading about excavations in the Transjordan of Edom, Moab, and Ammon. I read about the earliest archaeologists who went to Israel in the 1800’s to find out what was there. These guys were more Indiana Jones and less modern archaeologist. They rode around on horses and used geography and a bit of digging to identify the places we read about in the Bible. Most of them weren’t scientists; they were just really intelligent adventurers. They had the fun job. They discovered cities and unlocked history from beneath the dirt that had accumulated on top of it down through millennia. Once again, I’ve realized there is probably nothing awesome left for me to discover. I’ve been told that all I will probably find this summer is broken pottery.
Nothing is new in archaeology. It’s all as old as the dirt that covers it.
I want to do a PhD in Old Testament Biblical Studies someday. But before I do, I will have to figure out what I want to concentrate on. I will have to find something to write a dissertation about. And that worries me, because everything has already been done. Will I have a chance to be original? Is there anything that NEEDS to be written about? I don’t want to write something that’s a repeat, that just says again what everyone before me has said. I want to study something that will be fresh and bring vibrancy when I share it with the Church.
I need something new…
My favorite illustration of heaven is in the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle. The world of Narnia has come to an end, and the children are all in heaven, New Narnia, with Aslan. And they are running, all the time running towards places that they’ve never seen before. It is all new and exciting and they never get tired of it. Aslan joins them and encourages them to keep going, to keep discovering. “Further up and further in!” he shouts, and further up and further in they go. The best part is that the further up-ness and further in-ness of the new place never seems to end. It is never old; it remains always new.
Someday that will be true, and everything I see will be new. But for now, whether I follow a trail by a river or dig in the dirt in Israel or investigate the OT through scholarly research, my heart’s cry is still, “Further up and further in!” And I will look in wonder along with everyone else on the amazing things I see along the way.
Someday in heaven, in the New Earth, maybe I’ll get to be that great explorer I’ve always dreamed about. Whatever I’ll be doing, I’m sure I’ll be discovering new wonders of the goodness of God, maybe in his creation or maybe in his love. Revelation says there is no sun there, because God’s glory is the sun. That’ll be new. No more sunburns.
Solomon complained because there was nothing new under the sun. But, in the New Heaven and Earth: no sun, and everything new. Grumpy Old Solomon will finally have to shut his mouth.