A Personal Essay

Mark wrote this essay while attending East Christian High School in Grand Rapids. He permitted me to read it and publish it if l wished. I found it enlightening, and l hope you do too. The Editor


My world extends in all directions, as far as the eye can see, and beyond the horizon; I am broad-minded. Webster defines this term as “tolerant of liberal views.” I feel that this is a rather narrow-minded defini­tion because it does not include all possible facets or senses of broad- mindedness. Liberal is “not bound by orthodox tenets or estab­lished forms in political or religious philos­ophy.” I am not liberal in that sense. I do not mean to say that all liberal views are bad and harmful. All too often they are; but that is not my point. I am not liberal in the popular sense of the word, but I am broad-minded.

I want to see all that I can. To explore our country and others is one of my goals. I have traveled to the Rocky Mountains, and a more majestic and awe-inspiring sight I have yet to see. To stand in the shadow of a towering purple peak makes one hum­ble; it makes one realize that man, compared to nature, much less to God, is really quite insignificant, in spite of his boastings of achievement. It is impossible to forget a mountain sunset; the last rays of the sun are reflected from maroon faces and turn the snow-fields a deep pink. When darkness descends, the hope of a new day makes one eagerly anticipate the sunrise. To lie at night beside a thundering mountain stream; to explore beaver ponds and creeks; to come face to face with three deer at a turn in the trail; to watch the tremendous black clouds heap up, to see lightnings play among them and lash out in fury at the mountaintop, to view the vengeance wreaked by wind and rain; and then to feel the warm rays of the sun when the storm is past. This is what I want — to go to new places and to see new wonders.

But this is not the only way I am broad­minded. I want to do anything I can to widen my perspective on life. Travel alone does not do this. I want learning. I want to learn all I can about past history and events because I believe that the past helps interpret the present. By studying what has been done in the past we can see why the things that take place happen as they do. We can learn to avoid making the same mistakes that have been made in the past. We can see the unfolding of God’s plan in the organic development of sin; we are able to see how God works everything to­gether for his purpose, the salvation of his people.

I enjoy the study of the expressions of past cultures. I personally do not care much for poetry, although it is a legitimate art form, but I enjoy reading stories and essays that give an accurate picture of what life was like when the authors penned them. Literature shows methods of expression of people who lived before me; I can learn to communicate better to others by studying past ways of doing this.

Communication is vital in our world of today; without it our society would fall apart. Communication is the only way to spread the gospel, too. I would learn all I can about expressing myself clearly and forcefully, that I may spread the good news. I think that old methods of communication are valuable: there are certain laws and rules (e.g. those of grammar) that have stood the test of time. But there is also room for new development; this leads me to my next point.

I am somewhat of a traditionalist. I like old, warm, established forms and customs. They have value, partly because they have lasted a long lime. Speaking specifically, the traditions of our Reformed heritage have been proven to be good; we have followed them because they are in harmony with Scripture. These forms are the expres­sions of past life telling me how people lived. The grandeur and majesty of the past fascinates me.

Although tradition has its benefits, there must also be progress. We cannot always use only past methods, because these are sometimes outdated and useless in a changing society. Progress must be improvement; if it is not, it becomes no longer progress, but digression and regression. I am a firm be­liever in trying new experiences. If they are beneficial, perhaps they can become part of tradition, if harmful, they should be discarded.

All too often, though, what passes for progress is not progress at all. In order to understand what progress is, we must first ask the question, “What is man’s highest purpose in life?”, and answer it by saying, “To serve and glorify his Creator.” Hence, anything that serves to enhance and advance this purpose is progress. There have been advances in technology, sociology and the intellectual fields. But is this progress? Have we really improved on Calvin’s Christian state at Geneva? Are not our advances merely incidental, mere conveniences? Have they furthered the cause of Christ to any appreciable degree? I think not. The only value these advances might conceivably have would be that they have provided slightly better means with which to tell the good news.

Not only have these “progresses” not helped much; they have had the opposite effect in that they have provided man with more tools to be used in the service of sin. Take, for example, the radio and its records, TV, and the movie. They have done little eke but waste money and foster corruption. Before the radio and records, there was not nearly so much of the current wild, useless music craze. The movie, both in the theater and on television, has raised the crime rate by portraying adultery, killing, and other base sins. These are just two of the myriad examples that can be cited. We have not improved socially, either. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, illustrates well what the darkness of man’s heart does to even a simple society.

It is quite evident, judging by the stand­ard of true progress, that the world has regressed, an idea which is also Scriptural. Scripture tells us that man will become in­creasingly more evil as time goes on, and that we are to resist this trend. This in­volves the antithesis, the living over against the world by the Christian.

It is exactly because of my attempt to live the antithesis, weak though it may be, that I have been called narrow-minded. People who think of Christianity as a series of “don’ts” and “thou shalt nots” often say, “You mean that you don’t go to movies (or any other place where a Christian does not belong) because you think they’re wrong? Why everybody goes!” My response is often, “The whole world can and will run madly to hell, but that does not mean that I must run along with it!” I have little use for most of the surrounding world because it is wicked.

Does this mean that I sit all alone in my little corner because I might be harmed by contact with the world (as I have also been accused of doing)? John Donne said that no man is an island. Scripture says that a Christian must be in the world but not of it. No, I meet people, and I like to meet new people; but I try to keep in mind who I am, why I am here, and when in contact with the world, how I am different. All of this would be nonsense to an unbeliever, who would scoff, “What a bigoted, con­servative, narrow-minded, stiff-headed Dutchman!”

But indeed, there is no more narrow-­minded or short-sighted view than that of the world. It looks only to the here and the now; it gets all the pleasure that it can out of life, utilizing its modem inventions to produce more evil. How foolish! How in-expressably narrow and naive! Not only is it foolish, but also it is wrong, because that is not the purpose for which God cre­ated man.

In contrast to this bigotry, I consider my­self broadminded, because I do not live with a view to only the past and the present, but to the future and the hereafter. My goal is the same as that of the heroes of faith who sought for a better country, “confessing that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” I am a pilgrim here: this is not my home. I am attempting to prepare myself for the hereafter by learning all I can about God, doing this by studying past traditions and new developments, by exploring His creation, and by spreading the good news, in order that I may gain a better under­standing of the kingdom to which I belong.